(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Welcome to Nashville, returning CMA Fest visitors and those attending for the first time. Most of us veterans here still refer to it as Fan Fair and fondly remember the old days when it was held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds with the shows at the racetrack, the autograph sessions in the un-air-conditioned livestock barns and the Chuck Wagon Gang from Texas serving up big plates of barbecue and pouring ice tea from 55-gallon barrels. The price for those barbecue lunches was included in admission ticket prices, which was a good idea.
Those were the days of people scrambling for cover when the lightning strikes started dancing close to the racetrack grandstands — as they always did. And it was also the days when Garth Brooks signed autographs for more than 23 hours straight. George Jones played one of the best sets I ever saw him do on that old wooden stage. And, not surprisingly, the Beach Boys played one of the best-received performances ever at Fan Fair.
Then Fan Fair proceedings moved downtown to the Tennessee Titans stadium and to the Nashville Convention Center.
And now, things are changing again, with the recent opening of the glittering and very spacious new Music City Center next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville. Many festival events are moving to the MCC, which signals yet another step in Nashville’s ascent to the honest big time. I hope you have been able to figure out how to navigate the new roundabout next to the MCC.
Other changes in town include the long-overdue new Johnny Cash U.S. postage stamp, which was unveiled in a ceremony at the Ryman Auditorium on Wednesday (June 5). It’s one of the most dramatic-looking stamps ever. Other country music stars featured on postage stamps include Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and The Carter Family.
Also recently opened downtown is the new Johnny Cash Museum on Third Avenue South. It was developed by Cash’s longtime web page designer Bill Miller, who has been collecting and curating Cash memorabilia for many years. It also contains many familiar items you may have seen at the old House of Cash in Hendersonville.
Closing downtown this week is the venerable Gruhn Guitars at 400 Broadway. George Gruhn opened up in 1970 but recently decided it was time to move out of downtown. His location right up against the raucous Lower Broad row of honky-tonks offered great visibility and foot traffic, but it was the wrong kind. His shop was constantly jammed with tourists who were only there to gawk at the high-end, vintage musical instruments, not to buy them. So he’s packing up and moving south on Eighth Avenue.
Something else on display in Nashville is an increasingly visible split between former co-existing but dissimilar personalities and talents in the many forms of country music and related Americana and roots and whatever else the music is being called these days.
There’s also the war between modern radio country — also being called old rock masquerading as country — and more traditional artists and then, of course, there’s also hick-hop music. You’ll see plenty of all of that on display this week.
But then there was also the recently-taped CMT Crossroads with Jack White hosting Willie Nelson as his Third Man Records studio downtown, with Leon Russell, Norah Jones, Neil Young and others, with music ranging all across the country music spectrum.
Then we have the spectacle of Natalie Maines — remember her? — declaring “war on Nashville” in the pages of Rolling Stone. Apparently, Maines’ war consists of angrily stamping her foot and saying, “Oh, fie!”