Nashville has hit full stride in its It city-ness — the fancy new restaurants, carloads of transplants, and construction of high-rises are all unstoppable. But at its heart, Nashville still lives up to its very first nickname — Music City — as it has since the early 1800s. Here are eight exciting music-related happenings making even more buzz for the southern hot spot right now.
1. One Wild Week in June
?Unlike the Country Music Association Awards held every November as a stand-alone event, the annual CMT Awards signal the beginning of Nashville’s craziest week: CMA Fest (née Fan Fair). Following the televised awards ceremony on June 10, the city hosts a four-day smorgasbord of free country shows around town, culminating each night with a star-studded blowout at LP Field. (Carrie Underwood will perform at both events, marking her first major appearances since giving birth to son Isaiah in February.) Like a solar eclipse, though, every few years the festival overlaps with the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival an hour south in Manchester, Tenn. A few of the ambitious try to commute between the two, but considering variables like traffic and heat exhaustion, it might be smarter to pick one fest, stay put and pray for separate weekends next year.
2. A Huge Outdoor Venue
There’s always room for another music venue in Nashville. Upon completion, the downtown riverfront’s Ascend Amphitheater will be among the city’s biggest, seating up to 6,800 and offering unparalleled views of the skyline. Eric Church kicks off the inaugural season with back-to-back sellouts on July 30 and 31; rumor has it that he’ll be solo and acoustic. After debuting with country flair, Ascend rounds out its 2015 lineup with a mix of bluesy rockers (Grace Potter with Lake Street Dive), quintessential jammers (Phish and Widespread Panic), and ’90s nostalgia (a night with Uncle Kracker, Better Than Ezra, and Eve 6). The amphitheater will also serve as the Nashville Symphony’s outdoor summer home.
3. The Possibility of Befriending Reese Witherspoon
After earning an Oscar for portraying June Carter Cash in 2005, hometown girl Reese Witherspoon is tiptoeing back to her country roots. First, she and her husband, Jim Toth, quietly bought a house in the Nashville suburb of Oak Hill. Then she tapped Miranda Lambert to pen a song called “Two of a Crime” for her latest movie, Hot Pursuit. And in May, she launched an online Southern-inspired fashion and home décor line (think gingham and monograms) called Draper James; in the fall, she’ll open a shop, at a TBD location in Nashville, to peddle those classic, preppy wares. That latest news didn’t break the Internet, but a lot of Vanderbilt undergrads are really excited.
4. The Fourth Season of Nashville
Love it or hate it, the ABC drama has boosted Nashville’s revenue and international visibility just as well as any official media campaign — it’s basically a weekly hour-long ad for the city. (For some, that info makes the show’s flaws, like the pile of abandoned plotlines and Scarlett’s increasingly untamed hair, easier to digest.) Three roller-coaster seasons in, Nashville the show is now part of Nashville the city’s fabric: Locals can spend their day off as extras on set (while earning $8 to 12 per hour) and sightings of Sam Palladio (who plays musician Gunnar Scott on Nashville) — guesting at a live show, waiting in line at Crema, boarding a flight at BNA — are so routine that it’s super-weird he doesn’t follow you back on Instagram.
5. A Revamped Ryman Experience
How do you improve a National Historic Landmark without disrupting its historic-ness? If you’re the Ryman Auditorium, you save up $14 million and then renovate every part of the venue except the actual tabernacle where shows are held. (It’s like opting for Botox rather than a full-on facelift.) Upgrade highlights include a bigger retail space and lobbies, a brand-new outdoor box office, a museum-type exhibit called the “Soul of Nashville,” a café that’s both dine-in and grab-and-go, and the winning pair of smoother beverage operations and additional restrooms. A fresher Mother Church of Country Music will be unveiled in early June, just in time for CMA Fest.
6. The Existence of Chris Stapleton
Nashville songwriter Chris Stapleton is the writer behind No. 1 hits like Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer” and Kenny Chesney’s “Never Wanted Nothing More,” and he led his former bluegrass band, The SteelDrivers, to three Grammy nods in 2009 and 2010. Impressive accomplishments, for sure, but even they can’t top what he did last month: his own damn thing. Stapleton’s solo debut, Traveller, pairs his gritty, growly voice with Sturgill Simpson producer Dave Cobb and a swirl of country, rock, and soul, resulting in one of the best-reviewed albums of the year (seriously, try to find one disgruntled music critic). A hot new artist who’s 37, unironically scruffy, and 100 percent gimmick-free? Only in Nashville.
7. Another Shrine Honoring a Legend
The George Jones Museum opened in late April, almost exactly a year after Jones passed away at age 81. Inside is an unedited look at The Possum’s life, meaning the awards and instruments are surrounded by booze, booze, booze: There’s a John Deere lawn mower similar to the one he famously drove to the liquor store when his car keys had been confiscated, a retail space selling his White Lightning line of moonshine (named after his first No. 1 hit), and even a rooftop bar. The museum is the latest addition to Nashville’s collection of homages to the greats — it joins the painstakingly curated Johnny Cash Museum, the newly reopened Musicians Hall of Fame, and the Cash/Bob Dylan exhibit that spans an entire floor inside the Country Music Hall of Fame.
8. The Stones!
Those seeking the ultimate summer satisfaction can catch the legendary Rolling Stones at the Tennessee Titans’ LP Field on June 17. The gig is especially noteworthy because precious few non-country acts headline Nashville’s hometown stadium — Mick and the boys are preceded by last year’s One Direction tween-fest and an evening with ’N Sync and Sisqo (in 2000, obviously). The night will have some country flavor, though, since Buck Owens protégé Brad Paisley is opening the show. If the Stones don’t trot him back out during their set for a guitar duel with Keith Richards, feel free to demand a refund on your ticket.