After detouring via the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, I arrive in Nashville around four p.m. It had crossed my mind to skip the Tennessee capital and drive straight from Chattanooga to Memphis, but I couldn’t resist the name and fame of the self-proclaimed “City of Music”. I park for free up the hill south of the city at Lea Avenue and make my way downtown, awkwardly carrying both my big and slightly less big backpack.
My hostel couldn’t be more downtown: around the corner from a “Coyote Ugly” bar and a five-minute walk from all the neon-lit action on Broadway. Before arriving at my accommodation for the next two nights, the very first live music venue I pass, treats me to an incredible vocal performance by a young blond girl and a middle-aged man, both playing the guitar. The small bar is half-empty. I stand in the doorway until the song is finished, transfixed on this talented duo, feeling the warm caress of the Tennessee sun on my head and neck. Any skepticism I felt towards this town evaporates immediately. I can’t wait what the dozens of other “honky tonks” and “juke joints” have to offer.
The eight-bed male dorm room is clean but the only bunk available is a top one; not my favorite. A couple of guys – I’m guessing barely of legal drinking age – are catnapping, probably to reboot for another night on the town. I have an hour to shower and put on fresh clothes before Romy – whom I got in touch with through a mutual friend – her husband and two year-old daughter pick me up to go out for dinner. First, the young family of three takes me on a tour of East Nashville: the Gulch, Vanderbilt University, and some other sights of interest. I notice that Nashville is under constant construction to accommodate the increasingly bigger incoming groups of business owners, students and musicians. Like many other U.S. cities I’ve visited, Nashville really consists of several smaller towns, each with a unique identity and purpose.
Back at the hostel at eight p.m., I check my Hangout app to see if there are any Couchsurfers wanting to grab a beer. Two guys have already connected and I join their conversation. We meet on Broadway and spend the evening barhopping. There are bands playing everywhere. I’m surprised to find out it’s not all country music. We close out the night head bobbing to beats and song produced by a R&B band I’d compare to The Kyteman Orchestra or Typhoon back home. Great night.
Two weeks’ notice
The next day, I meet twenty-three year-old musician Trent Glisson for coffee at CREMA, around the corner from where I’m parked. He is playing the two to six p.m. slot at the legendary Tootsie’s bar later that day. Trent grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina, a six-hour drive from Nashville. He sang and played guitar in a youth group for years and counts the Black Crowes and George Strait as his early musical influences. After high school, Trent worked in a surplus store, selling used army and navy attire and equipment. His next job was working at a warehouse, building classic freight liners. All the while, he was playing every bar and coffee house in town, sometimes covers, sometimes original songs.
But Nashville beckoned and one Saturday in the spring of 2016, Trent successfully auditioned at Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge on Broadway. The Monday after, he handed in his two weeks’ notice at the warehouse and moved in with friends in Nashville in June. He’s since got his own apartment and now gigs every day in one of three bars on Broadway, including Tootsie’s where legends such as Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings once graced the stage.
Love and heartbreak
Trent tells me he calls each morning at six a.m. to hear where and when he’ll get to play that day. He feels blessed living in Nashville and supporting himself doing what he loves. His dream is to travel and play concerts all over the U.S. and in other countries. He doesn’t believe there’s only one path to success, but that connections are key no matter which road you travel. You need to be visible and interact with as many people as you can.
Trent describes his musical style as a mix of country and R&B. In general, he thinks country is getting more of a pop influence. A good thing, as it draws more people to the genre and affiliated styles of music. His recently released EP “Lose Our Sober” features three songs that were recorded in different houses across Nashville and then cut and mixed in the studio. Trent wrote all of the songs himself. His go-to topic is love and heartbreak. He listens to good songwriters, such as Lewis Watson and Ed Sheeran, for inspiration. He writes frequently and with as many different people as possible. The only way to improve is to work hard on your craft.
Later that day, I go to Tootsie’s to watch Trent perform with two other young musicians. They are taking turns singing in what is called a “Riders’ Round”. When asked whether there are requests from the audience, I, for whatever reason – perhaps my utter and total lack of knowledge of country music – suggest Oasis’ “Wonderwall”. Not one to shy away from a musical challenge, Trent performs the song from start to finish in his own, unique country meets R&B style. Glisson is going places. Watch out, Nashville.
One of the biggest country super stars is Chris Stapleton. At the 2015 Country Music Awards he teamed up with Memphis, Tennessee native Justin Timberlake to perform his smash hit “Tennessee Whiskey”. It’s a song I’ve heard a lot on the radio driving around the country side and I like it better every time I hear it. After visiting Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, I now also understand what makes for Tennessee whiskey: charcoal filtering. Read all about it here.