Nashville. A city in the middle of an American state which is deeply conservative, where "everyone" prays to Dolly Parton, drinks whiskey, and owns a cowboy hat, a few guns, as well as real cowboy boots. Right? Or?
Broadway in downtown Nashville is filled with bars playing country music every night. People make pilgrimages here for bachelorette parties and bachelor parties, they might hope to get to see Kid Rock in his bar. But beyond the cowboy hat stereotype and drunken tourists, something is happening here. People have moved here from all corners of the world, to work with music, creativity, production, media - and hockey.
Companies moving in are Mitsubishi, Nissan, Google, and the cult hamburger chain from Los Angeles In-N-Out. The airport has built more international gates and secured direct flights to Tokyo, and rumored soon also Lufthansa to Frankfurt.
How can this place, in the deepest American South, feed creativity that beats out New York and LA? In music history, Nashville has been one of the top three cities in the US, with New York and Los Angeles, from the very beginning. Here Bob Dylan wrote “Nashville Skyline”, and Ringo celebrated his 70th birthday with a concert at the Ryman.
This influx of new residents has forced the city to grow, and entire blocks are plowed down to be filled with brand-new housing. Huge apartment buildings rising from the ashes of the defunct factories. Natives call Nashville "Nash Angeles" in an irritated tone, but with the settler Californians came new jobs, new stores, new restaurants - and new entrepreneurial and creative blood.
Celebrity chefs are opening restaurants here and have brought new life to premises that once were cinemas or churches. Throughout history, we have seen cities assume the role of the creative north star. Vienna was the birthplace for art nouveau. The advertising revolution took place on Madison Avenue in New York. In the 90s Stockholm and Amsterdam were the international hot spots for advertising and creativity, with agencies such as Paradiset and KesselsKramer. Soon Montreal in Canada took over, with an explosion of new musicians and commercials from Sid Lee globally aired for a global brand, Adidas.
But now when New York feels crowded and the beach in Los Angeles is filled with tents of the unhoused, both of these places have lost that creative spark that drew people to them in the first place. Suddenly Nashville is a perfect petri dish to birth new creative collaborations. The city has space, and thanks to the music there has always been sound studios and talented printers here, but now we also see production companies, media houses, and advertising agencies opening shop here.
Brett Craig, former CCO at Deutsch LA, has moved to Nashville to start a company
which is somewhere between advertising, media, and production. Why just be an advertising agency, or production company when you can be all at once? Just like Humanaut in Chattanooga, he has one office where half the house is a stage to be able to make films in-house, quickly and efficiently. Unlike the city of New York and sprawling LA, there is no lack of space here, and getting from one part of the city to another rarely takes more than 15 minutes by car.
New apartment buildings offer state-of-the-art gyms, a pool, virtual golf, meeting rooms, and at least one podcast studio for everyone who is looking for accommodation.
Dan Ekbäck, formerly at Polar Music, has lived in Nashville since the early 90s. He has seen Elvis play live here at the height of his career and still believes that “things are happening here” because he has seen how quickly the city is developing. “The neighborhoods that people are buying expensive homes in now didn't even exist ten years ago,” he notes.
Next to the old prison, a whole new neighborhood has popped up, filled with transplants who may mistake it for a castle. The old cottages are torn down and replaced with "tall skinnies", houses that have the same area on the foundation, but are three stories high. The prison has been the star of movies such as "The green mile" and "Walk the Line”. Now the building is being renovated to be able to get a new life, not as a prison but something completely different.
Musicians like Justin Timberlake, Jack White, and Keb' Mo' have all moved to Nashville because from here it's not far to any other city where they might play a gig. Star Chef Sean Brock moved here to open the Husk restaurant in 2016. "Here in Nashville, the energy is amazing. What you see now is a bunch of young, enthusiastic, creative people.”
History is everywhere, from the old plantation in Belle Meade where they now manufacture wine, to the wooden floor in Ryman Auditorium that has housed everyone from Dolly Parton to Wu-Tang Clan. Now, the cigar-smoking conservatives of Daily Wire host shows here, between gigs of emerging stars.
When the world plunged into a recession in the 30s, Hollywood had its golden years producing classic films still loved today. When America was in a controversial war in Vietnam, counter-culture brought us some of the best music and musicians, peaking with Woodstock.
Nashville itself is a lovely mix of old and new, conservative and innovative, and it is in the differences and contrasts that new ideas thrive. This is what has drawn people here. A new creative era has begun.