'Nashville' TV Show: How Does It Compare to Nashville the City?

As a Nashvillian, it’s been kind of hard to figure out where I stand on Nashville.

The show garnered nationwide attention for my hometown that I felt was under appreciated before. But a few glamorous articles in the likes of GQ and the New York Times later, everyone seems to be flocking to the whiskey well to get some of our Americana grit. Nashville used to be somewhere your Florida cousins came on vacation, and now it’s somewhere respected for its unique melding of urban and country culture, and that’s great. But when Taylor Swift waves her magic banjo and brings Jake Gyllenhaal to a coffee shop that used to be a quaint place where I did my homework and ogled skinny boys in high school, I have to cast a side eye.  

But as much as the Nashville buzz has inspired the expansion and creation of some bouji establishments, the show surprisingly doesn't feature those places much. I always expect to see Rayna furrowing her gilded brow with her annoying Irish sister at some fashionable bistro, but they really only go to Kroger. As for the little people in the show, apparently ABC did a poll and found out that we all only hang out at The Bluebird and The 5 Spot, ever, every single night. The Bluebird is legendary, and The 5 Spot is a staple of many a locals’ nightlife. But, they are still missing part of what is so cool about Nashville, that being there are so many dives around town with live music and a room full of whiskey drinkers. Or even better, a cash only, beer only bar in a trailer by the fairgrounds.   

The show has also been taking that reductive version of Nashville, and then turning it into a magical land where everyone is wildly lucky. You don’t play one show at The 5 Spot and then have a top artist manager stick their claws in you. You also don’t have one impromptu performance at The Bluebird and have someone like Cowboy Jack Clement call up Faith Hill to say you’re the new best thing, and also get a publishing deal. It does happen, but it doesn't happen to everyone. There are Grammy award-winning songwriters that have been working in Nashville for twenty years who can’t even hold on to a publishing deal in today’s climate.

Despite all of that, there is an authentic aura surrounding the show. It doesn't make us all look like Republican hillbillies, which is a huge plus. The show weaves together specific eccentricities, like the way high society Belle Meade functions in a Jack Daniels-drunk, Canadian tuxedo town. There are flashes of bona fide music city, like when Avery stalks by Charlotte’s house to find her in a sweaty, well-lit backyard band rehearsal. As for the whole Rayna James/Juliette Barnes power struggle, that’s a very real thing too. There is sort of misty question mark hanging in the air around town over how we grow one big ol’ tree out of the roots of the Opry country of the past, the 90s queens that took over, the country pop tarts that dominate the airwaves, and the indie and rock bands currently flourishing on Nashville’s nourishment.

After a month-long break, it seems though the show has been somewhat revamped to perhaps be a more well-rounded and recognizable representation of Nashville. On the last episode before the break Vince Gill, Pam Tillis and Dan Auerbach were all featured, which is exciting for both the show and the town. But you can’t have Pam Tillis sing backup for Rayna, and then not cut to her on stage one single time; that’s blasphemous. You also can’t cut to Dan Auerbach every 30 seconds, and call it authentic.

But in the March 27 episode, when Avery’s Atlanta manager quips, “It’s East Nashville meets Dubstep,” boasting the electronic mixing he’d done on Avery’s alt country tracks, well that’s a joke that anyone from Nashville would laugh at. When Deacon meets the veterinarian from the West Coast who doesn't like country music, well that’s a nod as well, because not everyone in Nashville likes country music, or is from Nashville. Even the kind of campy “Boy Named Sue” joke thrown in at the end is much more Nashville-centric and clever than random celebrity appearances. Juliett's character is even doing her part in performing at a real Nashville shop, Two Old Hippies (which of course goes awry and some tweens get hurt). Grimey’s would have probably been a more accurate venue, but no use crying over spilt records.

So, if you’re still with me at the bottom of this long rant about Nashville and Nashville, the show seems to be growing into the cowboy boots that it set out to fill. It’s curbing its soap opera tendencies to make a little bit more room for what happens in between Rayna’s sighs and Scarlett’s doe eyed stares. The last, and probably most important thing to say on the topic, is that the show has done Nashville a huge favor by bringing the production to actually film in town. But there is talk of ABC cutting costs to move the show to LA. If Nashville really wants to be true to the town its trying to portray, they should take a page out of Nicole Kidman’s book, who just had a whole big budget feature filmed in town, and pay their respect by supporting Nashville’s film industry.