Though its legacy as Music City is unshakable, Nashville might be ready for a new nickname: the Portlandia of the South.
"It's absolutely exploding culturally: There is an amazing food scene, there's all these young entrepreneurs who are opening tons of little shops, the city is pouring money into the arts," says NPR Music critic Ann Powers, who recently spent several weeks there. "It's a really great, bohemian scene."
That might be one reason why, alongside the glitz of mainstream country, the alternative side of American roots music is booming in Nashville as well. Powers was in town to attend the CMA Music Festival, but she also hit the local clubs to hear and see what's been happening on the ground. She spoke with NPR's Renee Montagne about a few of the artists she encountered; read her thoughts on each below, and hear the radio version at the audio link.
The New Sound Of Young Nashville
Steelism, 'Caught In A Pickle'
"When I was watching Miranda Lambert, I noticed a certain person playing pedal steel guitar for her, and I realized it was Spencer Cullum, who is from one of my favorite young Nashville duos, Steelism: Cullum and Jeremy Fetzer. They play what they call 'country soul.' It's instrumental music that ranges from surf music to kind of loungy music to Latin influence to straight-up country. It's really exciting to me because they're blurring the lines between traditional music and 'meta-modern' music, as another great young country artist, Sturgill Simpson, calls it."
Striking Matches, 'Trouble Is As Trouble Does'
"Striking Matches is a duo, Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis. They met as guitar students and they're really exciting, not only because they write great songs but because they're both just killer guitar players. And especially, it's fun to see Sarah lay down a really rock, almost Hendrix-like solo on a stage that you associate with country music. Their recordings are multifaceted: sometimes very sweet and slow, sometimes really lively and biting. But you've gotta see them live to see this total guitar throwdown that they do together."
Charlie Worsham, 'Mississippi in July'
" 'Mississippi in July' is a memory of young love, but it's not a memory about getting up in your truck and your painted-on pants, and all of these associations with what people call 'bro country.' Charlie Worsham is a great example of how many male artists in country music are not doing the bro thing. He has this really singer-songwriterly way about him that almost reminds me of someone like Jackson Browne. I feel like we're going to be hearing more of that in the future, as the idea of country and the scene in Nashville continue to open up."