Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Nashville Tennessee, Music City. Or The Bachelorette Capital; whatever your reason for visiting, Music Row is a must. Music Row, home to many historic country bars and music studios, is the heart of country music. While being notorious for country music, the idea that that’s all there is, is a common misconception. But this past January I had the opportunity of visiting and experiencing this slice of music culture.
The first night I hopped out of my Uber onto Broadway, it was evident not even the pouring rain could stop these tourists. The neon lights, music oozing out open bar doors, and the community is all intoxicating. I stepped into Margaritaville on a Friday night where there was a humble singer-songwriter singing with his Taylor, hits from Ed Sheeran to Chris Stapleton. Right across the street at Honkey Tonk Central, a three tier pub, is blasting contemporary country hits, while further down the street at Tin Roof there was a live band playing 90’s alternative hits while offering a 25 ounce can of Busch Lite for a drink special. Country music or not, there is some type of southern charm in each of these spots. Bars are playing a medley of tunes, and tailoring to every vibe that will walk into their town.
While their music may appear to be inclusive, their artist-owned bars are not. Broadway has turned away from the original style honky-tonk and began a boys-club with heavyweight artist owned bars featuring artists like Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and more. With big-name female artists in the ring; Kasey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, how are their names not in neon lights on Broadway? Unfortunately we’re following a domino effect. Following 2018’s statistics, only 7.5% of country radio Billboard chart hits were made by women. While it has become increasingly more difficult to rely on the evolving landscape of the industry; album sales, streaming and touring, having a namesake bar has created another stream of revenue for the artists. The music played on the radio controls the genre and the culture. The lack of women artists on the radio creates a lack of other ways to create revenue, while the men continue to have the upper-hand. And really, what’s a better way to build a brand than to have your own restaurant with your name in lights, all year ‘round?
While exploring Nashville, I made my way to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a featured exhibit for Kasey Musgraves highlighting where she came from and her recent exploding success of her 2018 album, Golden Hour. Of course there were mentions in the museums of historic female artists from Emmylou Harris to June Carter Cash, but the museum doors seemed to be where the appreciation ended. The only other spots you found Nashville recognizing women were in images of sexualized cowgirls on the neon marquees on Broadway. In a time where the inequality between men and women has become increasingly more apparent, Music City is clearly no exception. Moving forward will Nashville continue to be a hub of singer songwriters with places like The Bluebird Cafe, or continue to progress into an adult theme park with three tier DJ bars like the FGL House?
Since my trip, I was excited to hear about a new Dolly Parton themed bar, White Limozeen. While excited, I was also weary. This bar is not on Broadway, it is on the rooftop of The Graduate Hotel in Nashville. So what does that mean? This bar is just honoring Parton; she does not have a stake in the business or control unlike the bars on Music Row. So while everything is pink, precious, and Parton-inspired, this is not financially benefiting the superstar the way Luke’s 32 Bridge is profiting Luke Bryan. Although it’s nice to have a place to pay homage to the songwriting mogul, and perhaps this is a step in the right direction for women in music, this is not enough. It’s 2020, and we’re still just begging for equality.
LONG STORY SHORT: Nashville is hip, fun, and filled with music literally everywhere (of course). You don’t have to be a country music fan to enjoy everything Music Row has to offer. But if you asked me, I would say Carrie Underwood is overdue for her own namesake bar.