“East Nashville just felt right,” says Price, who has been a staple in the local music community for years, first with her band Buffalo Clover and now solo. “But it seemed to explode really quickly two or three years ago. Everyone was on to the secret.”
People like Wilkins came to Nashville for the same reason it enchanted Combs and Price — to be in a place where their country and songwriting idols like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark lived, worked and created. But more to chase a tradition of quality, not ghosts. East Nashville was affordable and it also happened to be where a bulk of their peers landed, but it wasn’t shaped to be some sort of outlaw redux with a desire to buck the system. They weren’t trying to be contrarian — the industry was just contrarian to them.
“I think we all like to think that some day Music Row might change,” says local songwriter Zach Schmidt, who just finished his new album The Day We Lost the War, with help from another East Side steel-player-for-hire, Adam Kurtz. “We all want to believe that the general population will want to swing towards something with more substance other than what is being put out on Top 40 radio. When I first moved here, I met with a particular PRO [performing rights organization] who said that they loved my music and wanted to work with me. Then they told me, ‘You could have a great career, if you want to be like John Prine.’ I took that as a compliment, but they did not mean it that way. They wanted me to change, to make more money, to write what was popular. Most people around here want nothing to do with Music Row because Music Row wants nothing to do with us.”
Lately, though, there’s been no shortage of people who are interested in everything East Nashville has to offer — though they might be coming less for the musical community and more for the image they think it projects.
“How long of a shelf life does that have? Is it going to be a Starbucks on every corner soon?”
“The way I see it, there are two kinds of people involved in any scene: the artists and the scenesters,” says Aaron Lee Tasjan, a vibrant, narrative songwriter who has toured with Ray Wylie Hubbard and released the excellent new album In the Blazes. “The artists are the ones who bring public attention to the scene in the first place — in this case, that’s your Sturgills and Jasons and Margos — they were doing it when nobody cared and doing it because it’s who they are and what they believe in. As soon as their music starts crossing over to wider levels of appreciation, that’s when the scenesters set up shop. They watch Heartworn Highways one night and figure, ‘Hell, I’ll just be like Townes or Guy or something. I’ll buy this cowboy/cowgirl-looking outfit and sit in a coffee shop with a leather notebook in front of me and ‘write lyrics.'”