Nashville Underscores Reputation as Music City

New Venues Expand, Complement Live Music Scene With Touring Acts

(Straight From Nashville is a weekly column written by CMT.com managing editor Calvin Gilbert.)

Maybe it’s the infusion of new people and new money, but Nashville’s live music choices are becoming more impressive than ever.

As the area’s economy booms and longtime residents wonder how far the urban sprawl will extend — and, more importantly, whether we’ll be able to find a parking space — the recent announcement of the concert lineup at a new amphitheater near downtown underscores the reason Nashville is called Music City.

Live Nation’s Ascend Amphitheater — named for a Tennessee-based credit union — will open July 30 with a solo acoustic show headlined by Eric Church. Tickets for that date and Phish’s Aug. 4 concert sold out immediately, with Church adding a second night on July 31.

The venue also announced shows extending through October, including such double bills as Chicago/Earth, Wind and Fire, Steely Dan/Elvis Costello, Peter Frampton/Cheap Trick, ZZ Top/Blackberry Smoke and Smashing Pumpkins/Marilyn Manson. Other headliners include Old Crow Medicine Show, Counting Crows, Hall & Oates, Lynyrd Skynyrd and two nights with Widespread Panic. In the future, the amphitheater will host concerts by the Nashville Symphony.

The Ascend Amphitheater, which will accommodate a capacity of 6,800 people, is located near the banks of the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville’s Riverfront Park. Just a short distance away, First Tennessee Park recently opened as the new home of the Nashville Sounds, the city’s minor league baseball team.

From 1985 until it closed in 2006, Starwood Amphitheatre was the primary outdoor concert venue for the Nashville area. With a capacity of around 17,000, Starwood booked some of the top touring acts each summer, but it was a 30-minute drive (on a good night) to reach its location on Murfreesboro Road. Getting out of the parking lot after the concert could be a minor nightmare.

Filling the outdoor void in recent years was the Woods at Fontanel — now corporately named the Carl Black Chevy Woods Amphitheater. With a capacity of 4,500, the performance area was constructed on the property that includes Barbara Mandrell’s former home. This year’s concert schedule isn’t as busy as the one at Ascend, but they’ve got an impressive lineup, including upcoming shows by the Doobie Brothers, Brian Wilson, Bryan Adams, Amos Lee and Barenaked Ladies, among others.

On a smaller, more intimate scale, City Winery has already offered an eclectic array of performers since opening late last year. With other locations in New York City, Chicago and Napa, California, the Nashville operation is providing a stage to upcoming acts like Richard Thompson, Arlo Guthrie, Shuggie Otis, Dave Mould and several artists you’d assume play frequently in Nashville but don’t. Among them are local residents such as Delbert McClinton, Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris.

With some other venues such as the Ryman Auditorium, War Memorial Auditorium, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center — not to mention clubs like the Station Inn, Bluebird Café, Exit In and 3rd & Lindsley — Nashville has the bases covered when it comes to small and mid-sized venues for touring acts.

For anything bigger, there’s always the Bridgestone Arena, Municipal Auditorium and LP Field, where events in June include four nights of the CMA Music Festival’s evening concert series and another over-the-top show by the Rolling Stones.

And while longtime Nashville residents adjust to the transformation the city has undergone during the past few years, nobody can complain that there’s nothing to do.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.