Bright lights, country music, the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium, and every honky-tonk along Broadway — these are the bones that make up Music City. I don’t see cowboy boots and shiny belt buckles going out of style anytime soon in this town, but the past few years have given rise to a punk pollinated, country-tinged aesthetic that's keeping Nashville's place as one of the most diverse and thriving music scenes around, complete with a refreshing dose of southern charm and a lot more facial hair and ink.
The Nashville Scene, Music City’s free alternative weekly, keeps a steady hand on what makes this town tick, the culmination being its' annual “Best of Nashville” issue. The Scene’s readers and writers include everything from burger joints to local bands, visual artists, honky-tonks, theaters, plumbers, butchers — you name it, even the best place to get your rabbit neutered (you know you’re dying to know!). I traveled south to meet up with a few of the Scene’s music picks, the Nashville bands we're friends with and various other locals and transplants I bumped into along the way to find out what really warrants the “Best of Nashville” title. So, herewith, the usual categories and a few new ones we added, which readers will no doubt keep in mind for next year!
First up, readers’ pick for Best Local Band: Moon Taxi, indie-prog rockers that aren’t afraid to jam and can actually pull it off. They released their sophomore album, Cabaret, in February, and have been touring steadily all year including a first ever appearance this summer at Bonnaroo. Upcoming shows include North Star Bar in Philadelphia, Bowery Ballroom in NYC, and they’ll be heading home for New Year’s Eve, playing at 3rd and Lindsley. Their BON picks:
Best Local Band: The Features (also a Scene BON pick)
Best EDM DJ: Wick-it The Instigator
Best Country Lyric: Jason Aldean, “We like cornbread and biscuits, and if it's broke round here we fix it.
Best Bar for a One-Night Stand: The Red Door Saloon
Best Dive Bar: Melrose Billiards
Next, writer’s pick for the Best Country Album of the Year, J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices' debut, I’ll Keep Calling. In a town that’s saturated with over-produced country music, it’s refreshing to see straight-up honky-tonk get a nod. After spending much of the past year touring, the guys are taking a short break from the road to shoot their first music videos for “Two For the Road” and “Gear Jammin’ Daddy.” Look for them in Austin in mid-November and Asheville, NC on New Year’s Eve. J.P.’s picks:
Best and Most Legit Male Country Singer You Haven’t Heard of Yet: Sturgill Simpson
Best Undiscovered Female Country Vocalist: “Honky Tonkin’ Darling” Sarah Gayle Meech
Best Drunken Perv with Talent: Joshua Hedley, fiddle player (currently touring with Jonny Fritz)
Best Fancy-Ass Man Salon: The Moose; Men’s Grooming Lounge
Best Place to Dance With Tourist Girls Out Partying For a Bahelorette Party: Robert's Western World
Two of our favorite Nashville-based bands have been kicking up some dirt lately, the surf-laced punk band Turbo Fruits and teasing glam garage outfit Bad Cop. Both are links in this scene’s maturing tight-knit chain, with members getting their music education a decade ago at all-ages shows at Guido’s Pizza. On this day, Adam Moult of Bad Cop and Matt Hearn from Turbo Fruits share their love for each other along with these notable BON picks:
Two Bands Not to Sleep On: Denney and the Jets “Pain Pills’ is one of my favorite country' songs,” says Adam, and, Promised Land (check out “Down On My Knees”, “goddamn it’s sweet.”)
Best Punk-Rock n' Roll Bands: Natural Child, Western Medicine, Useless Eaters, and Majestico (per Adam/BC); JEFF the Brotherhood, PUJOL, Heavy Cream, D.Watusi, and Fox Fun (per Matt/TF).
The Next Big band from Nashville: Ranch Ghost, “Good dudes, making some serious dreamy-surfy-tunes” (Adam/BC).
Best Record Store, Arts and Music Boutique To-Be: Fond Object owned by members of The Ettes (Matt/TF)
Best Food in Nashville: Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish, “That fried catfish there is serious. If you go there, get the catfish plate, spicy with everything on it… I’m still planning on writing a song about that place, and that specific meal.” (Adam/BC)
Best Bar to Smoke a Joint: fooBar. (Matt/TF)
BON picks from Rollum Haas, drummer in The Features:
Best Record Store: Grimey’s Music
Best Bike Shop: Halcyon
Best BBQ: Red Flag (Only open on Saturdays, on the corner of Wedgewood & 8th. Set up behind an old couple's house and the only indication of its existence is a small red flag hanging from a tree)
Best Drum Shop: Fork's Drum Closet
Best Unpretentious Burger: Brown's Diner
Best Yuppie Burger: Burger Up
Best Haircut: Courtney Krampf (Salon Ya-Ya)
I’m still learning my way around Nashville, but I have to say after 12 years in NYC, it gets my vote for my coolest city without the bullshit hipster-trustafarian attitude (or the annoying Wall Street/banker/yuppie vibe). On a recent Friday night, I decided to poll the fine new friends I made at Edgefield (Scene’s pick for best bar to shoot darts and play pool, my pick for best smoky bar with skeeball, and J.P.’s pick for the best badass bartender, Sarah “Shorty” Cross). Joshua Hedley, talented perv as noted above, shared these gems:
Best Make-Out Alley: Behind Dino’s
Best Place to Take a Piss While Walking to Your Car: The Masonic Lodge, downtown
Best Bar to Walk Out On Your Tab: fooBar (or any bar)
Best Person in Nashville to Overnight Your Passport to You: Joshua Hedley (John McCauley, Deer Tick/Diamond Rugs frontman and Scene’s pick for best new Nashvillian, undoubtedly agrees!).
Jeffrey Krantz of the Poor Boys (left) and JP Harris
BON picks from Shorty, bartender at Edgefield and Dino’s:
Best Nashville Rock Bands: The Ettes, JEFF the Brotherhood, Psychic Hotline
Best Act To Catch on Broadway: Slim Chance and the Cant Hardly Playboys
Best Video/ Photo Shoot Locations: East Nashville
Best East Side Bar For Day Drinking: 3 Crow
Best Bar to Score Drugs In: Springwater Supper Club
Best Side Pipe In a Rock Band: Benny Carl of The Poor Boys
Best Dinner Special: The Family Wash, Tuesday pie n pint night
The new guys about town that will likely wind up on next year’s list? Zach Ryan of Zach Ryan and the Renegades, Steven Ray Tankersley, and Carl Andrew Seals (a.k.a. Hot Carl) – these boys had, literally, just arrived in Music City, all the way from Sin City, and had that infectious youthful energy that goes along with hitting the road and chasing a dream. After 24-hours in Nashville, their BON experiences included the annual Scream on the Green Halloween Party, smoking weed in front of Robert’s Western World while the Titans bus took out the handicap sign, and hearing some guy on Music Row singing Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” — not a bad 24 hours, not a bad 24 hours at all.
A few more of my random BON picks:
Luella and the Sun, photo by Joe Fletcher
Best Band I Missed While In Town: Luella and The Sun
Nashville Band I Can’t Stop Listening To: Those Darlins
Best Overpriced Coffee: Barista Parlor
Best Bourbon Pour and Chicken Fingers: 3 Crow
Best Grits I've Ever Had: Urban Grub
Best Bar to Walk Into A Plate Glass Door: No. 308 (they also make a fine cocktail, hence the walking into the door)