A few days ago, Cody told me his band Oceanray was looking for a fourth member to do something, “in the vein of sound manipulation/electronics/synth/utility,” so I thought I would spread the word here. Check out their songs on SoundCloud, and if you’re interested, drop him a line at codygaisser at yahoo dot com.
I was able score a free pass to Summer NAMM today at the new Music City Center here in Nashville. Since I haven’t had a chance to explore the brand new convention center and I hadn’t been to Summer NAMM in a few years, I figured this was a convergence of opportunities.
Parking at the Music City Center was surprisingly hassle-free. The center is so huge, 6th Avenue actually runs underneath it. From 6th, I entered the ground-level lot and quickly found a space. The parking cost was only $6 today, but I believe it’s normally $12 for up to 8 hours.
As gargantuan as the center seems from outside, it’s actually a little underwhelming indoors. I was expecting Summer NAMM to expand to the space, but the convention used only half of the available exhibit floor. Summer NAMM 2013 seemed no larger than Summer NAMM 2010 at the Nashville Convention Center.
My friend Paul Horton and I walked all over the new facility, trying to find a way out to the grass-carpeted roof. The closest we could come was a windowed view (see picture below). Sadly, the coolest part of the new convention center appears to be permanently off-limits to convention goers.
I enjoyed my time at Summer NAMM 2013. Scroll down for my picture and video highlights.
I have nothing against Jack White. I don’t personally connect with his music, but I really respect and admire the depth of his knowledge on music recording. His record store, live venue, recording facility and now movie theatre Third Man Records is a Nashville treasure, and I can easily see it with time becoming hallowed ground.
But something about his post on being selected as Ambassador of Record Store Day 2013 really rubbed me the wrong way. You see, it’s not really about being selected as Ambassador of Record Store Day 2013. It’s a diatribe against non-tangible media masquerading as praise for tangible media.
After mentioning a survey someone told him about “years ago” which revealed zero out of 1,200 high school students had ever been in a “stand-alone record shop,” White goes on to say
How can record shops (or any shop for that matter) compete with Netflix, TiVo, video games that take months to complete, cable, texting, the Internet, etc. etc? Getting out of your chair at home to experience something in the real world has started to become a rare occurrence, and to a lot of people, an unnecessary one. Why go to a bookstore and get a real book? You can just download it. Why talk to other human beings, discuss different authors, writing styles and influences? Just click your mouse. Well here’s what they’ll someday learn if they have a soul; there’s no romance in a mouse click. There’s no beauty in sitting for hours playing video games (anyone proud of that stop reading now and post your opinion in the nearest forum). The screen of an iPhone is convenient, but it’s no comparison to a 70mm showing of a film in a gorgeous theater. The Internet is two-dimensional…helpful and entertaining, but no replacement for face-to-face interaction with a human being. But we all know all of that, right? Well, do we? Maybe we know all that, but so what?
I’m not sure what annoys me most: the tired “back in my day” Luddism, the implicit assumption that format is more important than content, or the blatant hypocrisy. Since Jack White hates downloadable media, he surely did the stand-up thing and stopped selling his music on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon MP3, right? Or at least he donates his MP3 profits to charity?
And what about the survey that was the basis for the whole piece? Jack is a little scant on the details. I suspect he doesn’t know the details because he’s never read the survey. Someone told him about it. Years ago.
When and where was it conducted? Does “stand-alone record shop” mean a shop that sells records but not CDs or does it include all music stores? A number of things struck me as suspicious, especially the too-tidy-for-science zero out of 1,200 stat. I tried to find some shred of evidence that this survey even exists, but all I could find were countless re-blogs of Jack White’s speech. I suspect he might be referring to one of the semi-annual Piper Jaffray “Taking Stock With Teens” surveys, but Piper Jaffray do not even ask that specific question.
But we don’t need a survey to see that chain record stores are dying out. And yet boutique stores owned by passionate and knowledgeable fans are appearing, and vinyl records sales are steadily increasing. And that’s a great, great thing … which brings me to another reason White’s post irked me. He needlessly spreads the false dichotomy that there’s one righteous path to experiencing media, basically arguing “This thing is great because that thing sucks!”
I’m not going to argue that experiencing media on tangible formats is a bad idea. That would be as wrongheaded as arguing that experiencing media on digital formats is a bad idea. The truth is we have a plethora of options catering to different wants and needs, and that’s wonderful. My roommate loves the tangibility of vinyl. I prefer the freedom that digital brings. Jack seems to think we should be dueling to the death in a Highlander-style sword fight.
He’s making the assumption that everyone has the same wants and needs he does, and if you take umbrage, you’re a soulless, cave-dwelling mouse-clicker. You may even … gasp! … play video games! But there are ways to write about why you prefer one content delivery over another without proclaiming others are doing it wrong.
I still occasionally enjoy hard copies of books, music, and film, but more often than not, I’m experiencing media digitally. My primary place for listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks is in my car though my Android phone, connected to the car speakers via a dock. Digitally delivery means I can stream any song in my entire music collection via Google Play Music or listen to the latest episodes of my podcast subscriptions automatically downloaded via DoggCatcher.
Podcasting allows me to deliver my experimental improv music show Theatre Intangible instantly around the world with zero environmental impact, all in a mouse click. Podcasts are labors of love made by individuals who don’t have to answer to executives or advertisers. Lengths aren’t restricted by specific episode times. All of that means interview shows such as WTF with Marc Maron can have a level of intimacy and depth not possible on television and radio — episodes such as … oh I don’t know … this interview with Jack White.
Through Audible.com, I’m able to listen to a book while driving long distances, and through my Kindle, I’m able to take that same book into a restaurant and pick up right where I left off. It was an Audible audiobook, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking , that taught me not all people communicate best in social gatherings such as chance encounters at book stores. Some introverts like myself communicate best when quietly-typing away on a keyboard, enjoying the benefits of time and reflection to better articulate a thoughtful response. In fact, the digital distance empowers us to say things we might not have the courage to say face to face. Here on the internet, people will call you out on your shit. I can’t tell you how many skins I’ve shed in the comment-response cycle of denial, indignant outrage, self-reflection, heartfelt apology, and behavior change via Facebook and blog posts (and yes, Jack, amidst all the trollery, in forums too). These experiences can be exhausting or painful, but often, the call-outs were things I needed to hear, and I’m a better person for having my ideas /opinions /privileges checked.
And yes, browsing through tangible books next to tangible people can yield chance discoveries and personal recommendations. But browsing through the Internet does that too, except times a million. In web stores, I can sort alphabetically, by user rating, by release date, by author, by genre, by sales, by playlists created by my friends and more. I have the option of reading through dozens of user reviews and review aggregations that help me choose my next purchase. On my Kindle, I can bring 50 books to the beach. Or I can bring zero and select, purchase and download my book at the beach. Some people prefer the tangibility of turning a real page, the texture of the grain, and the mysterious scents trapped between the pages. And that’s totally fine. I’m just glad we have options.
>>The screen of an iPhone is convenient, but it’s no comparison to a 70mm showing of a film in a gorgeous theater.
I can’t argue with that. He and I are among the privileged few who live in a city with a 70mm projector. Still, I will concede that Nashville’s independent (35mm) theater The Belcourt is my church, and it always will be. But I also enjoy watching movies and shows at home on my television (not iPhone) streamed via Netflix, Amazon Instant, and hundreds of independent Roku channels. And with downloadable movies, I can support independent filmmakers whose films never make it to the local screens. The current streaming selection leaves much to be desired, but it will eventually surpass the selection available on any previous format. And instead of a DVD sitting on my shelf unwatched for who knows how long, I can make the decision to rent a film right before I watch it.
>>There’s no beauty in sitting for hours playing video games
This part really confuses me. He didn’t say “video game downloads.” He just said “video games.” Brick and mortar stores selling tangible video games still make up a huge chunk of overall video game sales, and you would think Jack would extend his support to independent video game stores. (Perhaps when boutique, limited-run NES cartridges gain traction …) Video game buyers presumably talk soulful romantic shop just like record buyers do. Ah, but I forgot. Video games are not “art.” He can slip this in without anyone noticing how out of place it is.
Clearly, he’s never played Portal 2, Bioshock, Journey, Fez, Limbo, or Braid. Just to name a few.
And though he didn’t frame his gaming argument on the basis of digitally-delivered content, let me just say that there has never been a more exciting time in gaming because of downloadable games. Four of the six games I mentioned above were released as downloads. Valve’s Steam, Xbox Arcade, the Playstation Store and mobile phone platforms have revolutionized the way gaming content is delivered to consumers and allowed individuals and small team to make masterpieces without the support of big gaming studios. And OUYA, an open-source and truly-democratic gaming console that exclusively runs downloadable content, will be released in a few months.
So, yes, tangible media is a wonderful thing and Record Store Day is a worthy cause featuring a host of fun events, live appearances, and special-edition albums. Please by all means support it; and when buying tangible media, support your locally-owned stores. But don’t mistake your own personal preferences for the one true way. And remember why you fell in love with music, literature and film in the first place: the content. Not the container.
I occasionally host out of towners at my Nashville residence, and more often than not, I’m asked, “What’s fun here?” I never feel like my extemporaneous answer is an accurate representation of what I love about this city. So I decided to make a list.
Absent are big ticket attractions like the Lower Broadway honky-tonks or Bluebird Cafe. These are well represented in your standard city guides, and while they may be fun for first-timers, they get old quick.
On the other hand, I do include other touristy attractions, such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Ryman Auditorium. This list is motivated less by notoriety and more by originality and fun factor.
I’m writing this list now instead of later because CSICon (Center for Inquiry’s yearly convention) and Geek Media Expo are happening this weekend in Nashville. I wanted to provide attendees a local’s guide to the city. Since this blog is primarily about improvised experimental music, you might not know that I’m a huge science geek and a big fan of Center for Inquiry’s magazines Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer and podcast Point of Inquiry. In fact, CSICon is just about the only thing that would lure me away from the incredibly fun Geek Media Expo. I truly wish I could attend both.
This list is a work in progress, and I’ll continue to update it as I remember old favorites and discover new ones. Feel free to post your favorite places in the comments section. And now, on to the list!
My Favorite Nashville Places: A Local’s Guide for Visitors
A list by Tony Youngblood.
The Belcourt Theatre is bar none my favorite place in Nashville. Why? In a town with a population around a half million, it’s a given that you’re going to have a cool record store, a unique comic book shop, great restaurants, bookstores, and so on. But not many cities the size of Nashville have a cinema half as wonderful as the Belcourt. (I can only think of two that come close: St. Louis’s Tivoli Theatre and Baltimore’s Charles Theatre.)
I could talk about the theatre’s rich history (it opened in 1925 and housed the Grand Ole Opry BEFORE the Ryman), but really, it’s the film programming that sets the Belcourt apart. Sure, many cities have a Landmark-style “independent” theatre that play one or two new release indies a week. But the Belcourt’s film choices are positively inspired. Consider that this week alone, on just two screens, the Belcourt features 21 films, including a live taping of RiffTrax riffing “Birdemic,” seven cult horror films screened back to back, six new documentaries, and two Universal classic monster double features. There’s also a live production of “Rumpelstiltskin,” a midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and a viewing party of the third presidential debate hosted by Tennessee politicians. Top that off with at least one Q&A with an actor and at least one live Skype conversation with a director. And that’s just what’s happening Monday, October 22nd through Sunday, October 28th 2012. Last week, they showed the original silent “Phantom of the Opera” with a live score by the Alloy Orchestra. Pick any other week and the programming is just as exceptional.
Gaspar Noé signed the Belcourt’s fire extinguisher. Harmony Korine called it his favorite theatre. I’ve seen more concerts here than I can remember, including Lucinda Williams, Henry Rollins, Iris Dement, Loudon Wainwright and Robyn Hitchcock. And did I mention they have local beers on tap?
With Nashville’s recent national buzz, I’m seeing celebrity “best of” lists crop up everywhere. But everyone seems to overlook our real treasure, a theatre that’s by all rights too good for a town this size. I’d place it in the company of Los Angeles’ New Beverly, New York City’s Film Forum, and Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse.
Belcourt offers free parking in the pay lot adjoining the theatre, however, many people accidentally pay before they discover this. The code to get free parking is printed on the movie ticket. Park your car in the lot, note the parking space number, buy your movie ticket, and then go to the parking lot ticketing machine. Stick the parking ticket in the dashboard of your car, and you’re set.
The Belcourt Theatre is located in Hillsboro Village, a fun neighborhood full of eclectic shops, great restaurants, and art galleries. While you’re there, check out Bosco’s Brewpub (IMHO the best local beer), Taps & Tapas (my favorite veggie burger), The Dog of Nashville (quick service and great veggie hot dogs), Pangaea Boutique, the world famous Pancake Pantry, Bookmanbookwoman used bookstore, and Davis Cookware. Just don’t let the Davis brothers lure you into a conversation. You’ll be there for hours.
Just north of downtown, the Nashville Farmer’s Market is the best place to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. But it’s also teeming with unique restaurants, an international market, a flea market, a gardening store, and a shop that sells hundreds of hot sauce varieties.
Monell’s Restaurant (Germantown location)
At Monell’s, your party is seated is seated right beside other parties at a long bench-style table. Before you can even ask for a menu, a waitress hands you a bucket of Southern-style green beans and tells you to pass it around. Then she hands you a bucket of fried chicken. Then rolls, corn bread, corn, mashed potatoes, turnip greens (you get the idea) until all the bowls have made multiple rounds. Your fellow diners may be strangers at the beginning of the meal, but you’ll be on first name basis by the fourth request to pass the pitcher of sweet tea. Monell’s is a Nashville institution, and you can’t leave town until you’ve experienced it.
Monell’s has four locations, and all are not equal. I recommend the Germantown location, just north of Downtown.
Cafe Coco – Late Night Eats
If you want to grab a bite in Nashville at 2am on a Monday night, you don’t have many options. Luckily, the slim pickings are delicious.
The only 24 hour restaurant worth mentioning is Cafe Coco in the Vanderbilt University area. They serve cafe style food, burgers, and plenty of vegan/vegetarian options. The downside of being the only good 24 hour restaurant in town (and being close to a university) is that the late night lines often go out the door.
Cafe Coco also hosts my favorite open mic night Tuesday and Thursday nights. Unlike the Bluebird and just about every other open mic night in town, you won’t be subjected to bad country song after bad country song. Cafe Coco’s open mic is known for it’s openness to all styles of music and an appealing weirdness that pervades the whole affair. When I first moved to Nashville, I played the Cafe Coco open mic every week and met friends there that I still hang out with. I can’t guarantee you’re going to like every act, but you will be entertained.
Athens Family Restaurant servers Greek and American food 24 hours a day Thursdays through Saturdays. On other nights, they’re open from 7am to 10pm. The place is very popular among the college crowd. Be wary of the vegetarian items on the menu. The last time I was there (which was admittedly a long time ago), the cook told me that almost everything contains chicken broth.
This warehouse-sized used bookstore has to be seen to be believed. If you love the thrill of discovery or just want to kill an afternoon, go to McKay’s. You won’t leave empty handed. Really, it’s HUGE.
Did you know Nashville is the Athens of the South? That moniker inspired the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition to construct a full scale replica of the Athens Parthenon. The 1897 Parthenon was only designed to last the duration of the exposition, but the building was such a hit that the city reconstructed it with permanent materials. The Parthenon is just about the best free activity in Nashville. Countless bad country music videos have been shot among the columns. Inside the Parthenon is a pay museum, which features plastic replicas of the Parthenon Marbles (hey, it’s cheaper than seeing the originals at the British Museum) and a breathtaking 42 foot statue of Athena.
Also, our Parthenon has a roof. Zing!
Very few large scale vinyl record plants still operate in the United States, but Nashville has one of the best. United Records gives tours Fridays at 11am, and you shouldn’t miss it. For one, watching people and machines turn beads of plastic into grooved discs is really fascinating. For two, the plant has history:
When the current URP plant opened in the 1960s, it was a very different time in the South, Nashville included. In the early 60s there were hardly any restaurants or hotels in Nashville that would offer their services to African Americans. With top clients like Vee Jay Records and Motown being run by people of color, the company was in need of accommodations for their clients and created what we now call the “Motown Suite,” an apartment located above the factory. The Motown Suite which is still viewable to guests touring the plant, displays the same furnishings that these execs were offered including a common room with a bar, a turntable, enough seating to entertain guests, a full bathroom, a double occupancy bedroom, a kitchen equipped with an old push button stove and other novel 60′s decor. URP still uses the kitchen as a meeting room, with our staff sitting at the same 60′s dinette set that Motown, Vee Jay and other label executives and artists used.
The Opryland Hotel is kind of like a Las Vegas mega-hotel without the slot machines but with the confusing floor plan. Sure, it’s garish, but it also has beauty. The hotel features four large atriums full of teaming plant life and maze-like passageways. The Cascades atrium even has its own river.
Don’t park in the overpriced Opryland Hotel parking lot. Take the exit for the Opry Mills Mall and park for free near the big Styrofoam boulder. Follow the path to the hotel, and it’s actually a shorter walk than some of the pay lots.
Did you know Nashville was the first U.S. city to legalize prostitution? During the Civil War, so many soldiers were contracting STDs in Union-occupied Nashville that the military decided to license prostitutes in order to enforce bi-weekly medical examinations. That’s just one of the many Civil War factoids you’ll learn at Fort Negley, the largest of the Union-built Nashville forts. The free walking tour takes you to the top of the now-in-ruins hillside fortification. The view is spectacular.
If you absolutely insist on seeing live country music, the Station Inn is the place to do it. The Tuesday night Doyle & Debbieshow always sells out, so make reservations.
Not to be confused with the slightly-more-prestigious Station Inn, the Stadium Inn is a, shall we say, budget hotel with a secret in its basement: a wrestling ring. The Friday night wrestling is as grass roots as it gets. The room is so intimate, you’ll probably get flicked with wrestler sweat. Although the audience is comprised mostly of colorful heavily-accented locals, the hipster crowd also represents, due in part to musician-turned-wrestler Josephus Brody and Stadium-shot music videos from Caitlin Rose and Lambchop.
This indoor climbing facility features over 12,000 square feet of climbing surface on walls 40 feet high. I used to have a membership, and it’s an absolute blast. If you’ve never climbed before, worry not. A first-timer’s package includes a 20 minute introductory class and all the equipment you need. Just be sure to bring a partner, so you can take turns belaying and climbing.
Are you new to Tennessee? If so, let me prepare you for a very peculiar state law that will leave you baffled the first time you go to a liquor store. Alcoholic beverages containing below 5 percent alcohol cannot be sold in the same building as alcoholic beverages containing 5 percent or more alcohol. In practice, this means that liquor stores have a partition in the center and separate doors and registers for the beer side and the liquor side. If you’re a craft beer fan, that means you’ll have to make two purchases: high alcohol beer on one side and low alcohol beer on the other. State law also prohibits the sale of wine in grocery stores. Crazy, I know.
If you’re from a big city, you’ll likely be underwhelmed by Nashville’s beer selection. We can’t get Three Floyds, Bells, Dogfish Head, Lost Abbey, Founders, Goose Island, Russian River, Alesmith, etc. But if you’re from a smaller town (or you just aren’t a beer snob like I am), you’ll be satisfied with what we have. Nashville has several breweries, including Yazoo, Jackalope, and Blackstone. My favorite local beer is made at Bosco’s Brewpub; but unfortunately, you can’t buy Bosco’s beers in stores or other bars.
Nashville has it’s own distillery: Corsair Artisan Distillery, and from what people tell me, the tour is amazing.
The best beer bar by a longshot is The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium located beside the historic Union Station Hotel and the Frist Center.There are well over 60 beers on tap, and that’s just what’s on tap!
The greatest concentration of bars and clubs would be 5 Points in East Nashville. It’s also the best place to go hipster spotting.
The best place to get cocktails is Patterson House, a very un-Nashville bar with speakeasy aspirations. They don’t have a sign, so write down the address. Even their website is an ode to minimalism: http://www.thepattersonnashville.com/
Nashville lacks an art museum with a permanent collection on the level of say, Art Institute of Chicago, but the Frist Center’s weakness is also its strength. The museum’s two floors of exhibition space rotate new exhibits every few months. That means we occasionally get incredible exhibits, such as Chihuly at the First and the current (at the time of this writing) German Expressionism from the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Completed in 1932 by the Cheek family, inventors of Maxwell House coffee, this limestone mansion and sprawling botanical garden makes for a peaceful stroll on a Sunday afternoon. The mansion houses an art gallery with rotating exhibits.
I’m not a fan of modern country music. But luckily, neither is the Country Music Hall of Fame. This massive museum pays homage to real country music, American legends like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins, Kitty Wells, Roy Acuff, and more. And if you’re a gear head like myself, you’ll also see vintage recording equipment, scuffed-up Martin guitars, Nudie suits, and plenty of memorabilia.
A tour bus departs from the museum hourly for a tour of the legendary RCA Studio B. This is the studio where Elvis cut over 200 records, Don Gibson cut “Oh Lonesome Me,” Dolly Parton cut “I Will Always Love You,” and Roy Orbison cut “Only the Lonely” and “Crying.” Seeing all those vintage Ampex tape recorders got me all tingly inside. The coolest part of the tour is when the guide lets you play the Steinway grand piano heard on so many country hits, including Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date.” (If that doesn’t ring a bell, click the link and prepare to say, “Oh that song!”)
Other Nashville Recording Studios
If you’re a recording fan, Nashville is the town for you. There are so many great recording studios here, it’s mind boggling. And most are happy to give you a tour if you call and ask. Some of the studios here include the newly-restored Quonset Hut where Patsy Cline recorded “Crazy” and Bob Dylan recorded ”Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” Quad Studios where Neil Young recorded “Heart of Gold,” Blackbird Studio where the White Stripes recorded Icky Thump, Oceanway Studios, The Tracking Room, and hundreds more.
Frequently listed among the best independent record shops in the United States, Grimey’s should be the first stop for all you tangible media music fans out there. Below Grimey’s is The Basement, one of the best rock n’ roll music venues in Nashville.
The mother church. Home of the Grand Ole Opry during its golden years. One of the greatest concert venues in the world. The daytime tour is pretty fun and informative, but the best way to see the Ryman is by attending a concert. I’ve seen Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, The Pixies, The Shins, Tom Waits, Rufus Wainwright, Bright Eyes, Regina Spektor, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and plenty more. The acoustics are great for lower-volume bands, but, contrary to popular opinion, loud rock n’ roll tends to sound muddy and echoey at the Ryman. Bring a pillow or cushion for the unforgiving church pew seating.
Other Places to See Non-Country Music
Most Nashvillians don’t equate Nashville with country. I never see a ten gallon hat unless it’s on a tourist. In fact, we’re starting to become known for our burgeoning garage rock and punk scenes, due in no small part to Jack White and the Black Keys moving here. In 2011, Rolling Stone said our city had the best music scene in the country. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far (better than Austin, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and L.A.?), but it is a great time to be a live music fan in Nashville. Bands like Pujol, Jeff the Brotherhood, Caitlin Rose, The Ettes, Natural Child and Turbo Fruits are breaking into the big time. If you want to see live music while in town, forget the honky-tonks. Instead, check out our emerging rock scene at venues like:
- Brick Factory
- Betty’s Bar & Grill
- Cannery Ballroom
- Dino’s Bar
- The legendary Exit In
- The End
- The Five Spot
- High Watt
- Marathon Music Works
- Mercy Lounge
- The infamous Springwater Supper Club
- The Stone Fox
- The Owl Farm
- Third Man Records
That’s my list for now. Coming soon: Nashville Zoo, Downtown Public Library, 12 South, Zanies Comedy Club, Eastland Avenue, and Hillwood Strike & Spare.