Raucous Lower Broadway is the Bourbon Street of Nashville.

Raucous Lower Broadway is the Bourbon Street of Nashville.

The creator of Nashville shows off the town she loves

At Peter Nappi Studio in Nashville, Callie Khouri walked into the former meatpacking plant and hooked a hard left to the wall of handcrafted Italian leather shoes. From beneath a curtain of false eyelashes, she scanned the styles on the shelves, then pointed out the ones now residing in her closet.

At Peter Nappi Studio in Nashville, Callie Khouri walked into the former meatpacking plant and hooked a hard left to the wall of handcrafted Italian leather shoes. From beneath a curtain of false eyelashes, she scanned the styles on the shelves, then pointed out the ones now residing in her closet.

“I have those and those,” she said, directing my attention to a pair of roughed-up laced boots and Oxfords, to which she added, “I wear them without the shoelaces, like that.” As a visual aid, the store had displayed a model of the shoes sans laces, the strips of leather open like a mouth paused mid-sentence.

Peter Nappi, named after a 19th-century Italian immigrant shoemaker, doesn’t sell cowboy boots, despite its hometown address in Music City. And what a coincidence: The creator and executive producer of the TV show Nashville, which plumbs the country music scene, doesn’t wear the trademark footwear, either.

“I went through that phase,” she said. “I’m over it.”

Callie’s boots of choice — 15-year-old Ann Demeulemeesters — shatter the stereotype of hee-haw Nashville, as does her preferred form of chew (toothpicks, not tobacco or straw). She also steers her show, which debuted on ABC last fall and returned to its Wednesday night spot on Jan. 9, away from the cliched dirt track — although some of the characters do sport sequins and cowboy boots. Therefore, it was of little surprise that on a recent tour of Nashville, with Callie calling the shots, the Academy-Award-winning screenwriter (Thelma and Louise) flipped Music City over, revealing its rare B side.

“I just love Nashville. There’s something about this place,” she said. “The music, well, it’s not just that. This town has a wonderful creative energy.”

* * *

I met Callie on a sunny Saturday in the parking lot of the Ryman Auditorium, the legendary live music venue that hosted the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974 (it returns for a few months in the winter). She was dressed in the bicoastal uniform of fitted black coat, skinny jeans, petal pink scarf, diamond studs and those boots. Her sidekick and fellow executive producer, Steve Buchanan, was trailing a few steps behind. When he caught up, we three became the starter kit for a band, or a mini-entourage in Nashvillewood.

We set off down Fourth Avenue North toward Lower Broadway, the Bourbon Street of Tennessee, minus the hurricane cocktails and the harlots draped like curtains in the doorways. Signs trumpeted beer, barbecue and heel-stompin’ tunes. Cacophony is Nashville’s loud mistress.

“See that ‘CKS’?” Callie said of the only letters visible through a tangle of neon. “I hate to admit it, but it’s really good barbecue.” (The remaining letters: JA — Bar-B-Que.)

Callie has her culinary limits, though. “I never had it and I never will,” she said of the fried bologna sandwich at Robert’s Western World.

Few visit Robert’s for the vittles, except to sop up the booze puddled in their bellies. They come for the music, no matter the hour (roughly 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.) or the musicians (Rachael Hester & The Tennessee Walkers, Monte Good & Honky-Tonk Heroes, the Don Kelley Band, Jesse Lee & Brazilbilly).

“It’s a really great place to go dancing,” said Callie, who later showed me video footage of cast members twirling and dipping on the dance floor.

At the bar, Steve bumped into bassist Dave Roe, a Robert’s regular who has performed with such marquee names as Chet Atkins and Faith Hill. He also appeared on John Mellencamp’s 2010 record, which — small world alert — was produced by Callie’s husband, T Bone Burnett.

“You run into some of these musicians and say, ‘Wow, I wonder if people know what they are getting,’” said Steve, president of Grand Ole Opry Group. “These are some of the greatest sessions musicians.”

On the main drag heading toward the Cumberland River, we passed singers, guitarists and other quasi-instrumentalists, including a man with a child’s keyboard and a plastic tube that he blew like a trumpet. Every few yards we were treated to a brief concert.

* * *

“This town is actually thriving,” said Callie. “The music industry is going through the worst downturn in the last 30 years, but the town itself is incredibly vital.”

A high-energy supplement is definitely racing through Nashville’s veins; the city is on a redevelopment streak and shows no signs of taking a nap. Seminal moments in the resurrection of downtown and the waterfront include the reopening of the Ryman in 1994, following a fallow period; the construction of Bridgestone Arena and the creation of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, both in 1996; and the Old Spaghetti Factory’s bold and brave decision to move into an old shipping warehouse on Second Avenue back in 1980, when the area was a snake pit of vices.

“It reminds me of Pottersville,” Callie said of downtown, “but a cleaned-up version. It used to be really shady.”

Within the past three to 10 years, the revitalization shock waves have fanned out to such neighborhoods as 12th Avenue South, Five Points and the Gulch, proud recipients of new restaurants, stores and coffee joints, the gold star of gentrification. Urban designers have also circled Fifth Avenue for some special attention, with plans to transform the street into an Avenue of the Arts, complete with large shade trees, widened lanes, Old World street lamps and galleries.

“There are just so many nooks and crannies in this town,” Callie said. “If you want to take someone around, it’s not easy.”

We wrapped up the Lower Broadway portion of the tour, which was thankfully straightforward, at Hatch Show Print, a letterpress shop of museum magnitude. Posters paper every flat surface, a living diorama of a teen-ager’s band-crazy room. In the middle of the pulpy tornado, an employee rolled out prints of a Japanese samurai. The store has created show posters for the Canis Majoris of music, including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Manager Jim Sherraden also designed a limited-edition piece for the “Nashville” pilot.

“We should have a new one done, because now we’re full-blown,” Callie said to Sherraden, referring to the show’s full season of 21 episodes.

Another “Nashville”-Nashville collaboration.

* * *

Before piling into Callie’s SUV, we squeezed into a table at Southern Steak & Oyster, on the ground floor of the Pinnacle at Symphony Place (the office building was a “Nashville” filming site). The table struggled for open space as the waiter delivered plates of oysters (Long Island, Japan, Canada) and steak and biscuit Benedict, hold the eggs.

Between bites and sips, Callie explained her ties to Nashville. Family: Her mother, sister and cousin live in the area, in addition to assorted friends. Husband: Burnett, a multiple Grammy-winner who often works with local artists and is executive music producer on “Nashville.” Personal history: From 1979 to 1982, she resided in Nashville, waitressing around town and interning at the Advent Theatre, now Ocean Way recording studio. TV show: The series films on location.

Callie divides her time between her residence in Los Angeles and her hotel room at the Hermitage in Nashville. Yet she says, “If I say I’m going home, I’m going to Nashville.”

Though she grew up in Paducah, Ky., she talks like a local — meaning with the insider’s confidence of place. At lunch, for example, she debated such potentially divisive issues as dessert: “You’re damn right this is a pie town,” she said, throwing out such tasty candidates as the Loving Pie Co. and the Loveless Cafe. She also opened her heart, explaining how Nashville makes it flutter.

“If I have to say what causes this good feeling, it’s hearing live music every night. I’m not exaggerating,” she said. “It’s just jaw-dropping how good the musicians are. The bench is 20 deep.”

One of the creative centers in the show — and in the real Nashville — is the Bluebird Cafe, a greenhouse of songwriting talent. The Green Hills venue typically holds two shows a night, featuring artists up and down the ladder of success. On a recent Saturday evening, for instance, a quartet of songwriters sat in the round and belted out tunes associated with such big names as Keith Urban, the Dixie Chicks, Rascal Flatts, and, yes, the “Flashdance” soundtrack. For the finale, Dennis Matkosky pounded out “Maniac” on his keyboard, prefacing the song with a story about his inspiration: It was not a blue-collar woman pursuing her passion to dance but an imaginary serial killer living next door to him.

* * *

But Nashville can’t subsist on music alone. It needs to eat, a lot.

“The restaurant scene is exploding,” said Callie.

Brace yourself for the ka-boom: Catbird Seat, Lockeland Table, Rolf and Daughters, Silo, Watermark (which appears in the show), City House, Margot Cafe and Marche. During our driving tour, we also picked up Urban Grub on 12th Avenue South, Virago in the Gulch and the Mad Platter in historic Germantown, where you “can seriously, seriously hurt yourself” on the Southern cuisine, she said.

Callie’s family’s tradition is to stuff themselves with country ham and cheese grits at Loveless Cafe, a former motel, then wobble it off at Radnor Lake State Park. You might need to do several laps around the lake.

For this afternoon, however, our calorie burn was minimal. I practiced the art of the head swivel as Callie provided commentary on the passing attractions. I rotated my neck for the darling Craftsman bungalows in historic Edgefield and Lockeland Springs, and for Marathon Motor Works, a repurposed factory that houses retail shops such as Bang Candy (Callie recommends the marshmallows). We drove up Music Row, shouting out the names of studios and publishing houses like roll call: Ben Folds’ Ben’s Studio, Reba McEntire’s Starstruck, Garth Brooks’ Allentown Studios.

With so many neighborhoods to cover (nine, including Broadway), we stopped the car only twice. Taylor Swift’s house did not make the cut, but Peter Nappi and Imogene & Willie’s shop did.

At the tiny denim store on 12th Avenue South, rows of empty sewing machines dominated one half of the room. In the warmer months, bands perform in the back yard and food trucks line up out front. Depending on the tightness of your jeans, which should be second skin, you might not be eating or dancing much.

“They are so freakin’ skinny,” said Callie, who was wearing a baggier pair, despite instructions to wear them super-fitted and to not wash them for a few months.

We ended the tour at our starting point, the Ryman. Before going our separate ways, I asked Callie for suggestions for evening activities. She recommended the Grand Ole Opry show (“Nashville” star sighting: Jonathan Jackson, who plays Avery on the show), followed by speakeasy cocktails and sliders at the Patterson House (I couldn’t find it). I drew the night’s curtain at Bluebird Cafe.

Callie, meanwhile, had tickets to the Nashville Predators hockey game (against “I don’t know who”) and had received an invitation for drinks and dinner at Rolf and Daughters and Silo.

“You can tell I love Nashville, can’t you?” she said in the parking lot. “I couldn’t do a show about a place that I didn’t have a connection to.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Heather Buelow, owner of Aerial Edge Studio in Blackfalds, says she has spent all of her savings to keep the studio going through government-mandated shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Contributed photo)
Either open in-person or close permanently: Central Alberta yoga studio defying rules

A central Alberta woman is allowing clients back into her traditional and… Continue reading

Sandra Schmirler Foundation donates $10,000 to Red Deer hospital

Donation will go towards electronic fetal heart monitoring project

A sustainability audit for Westerner Park suggested 33 changes, including more city involvement. (Advocate file photo)
Westerner Park expands volunteer program

As Westerner Park refocuses the organization, they are reigniting their emphasis on… Continue reading

Ukraine’s leader requests a talk with Putin, gets no answer

Ukraine’s leader requests a talk with Putin, gets no answer

Madelyn Boyko poses along with a number of the bath bombs she makes with her mom, Jessica Boyko. Madelyn says she enjoys making the bath bombs with her mom as it is a special time for just the two of them. (Photo Submitted)
5-year-old Sylvan Lake girl selling bath bombs in support of younger brother

Madelyn Boyko is selling bath bombs for CdLS research in honour of her younger brother

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle
New regulator to stop sexual exploitation of children online: public safety minister

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the government will introduce… Continue reading

Gordon Greenwood Elementary Grade 7 students were assigned to write about climate change. The Langley Advance Times is pleased to present a selection of their writings. (Sasha/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

OTTAWA — A new report shows Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he will vote against a… Continue reading

Eugene Kwon of Gratia Bakery and Cafe says the business will be relying on take out orders and a small patio. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

OTTAWA — A group representing thousands of the country’s small businesses says… Continue reading

Ron Howard is photographed at the "Inferno" film premiere on Oct. 25, 2016 in Los Angeles. (Buckner/Rex Shutterstock/Zuma Press/TNS)
Brothers Ron and Clint Howard have memoir coming in October

NEW YORK — Filmmaker-actor Ron Howard and actor Clint Howard, brothers, former… Continue reading

FILE - In this Saturday, March 27, 2021 file photo, Buffalo Sabres’ Taylor Hall plays against the Boston Bruins during the second period of an NHL hockey game, in Boston. The Buffalo Sabres could trade 2018 MVP Hall, who signed for just this season and is a pending free agent. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
Boston Bruins acquire Taylor Hall to kick off NHL trade deadline day

Trade deadline day in the NHL has started with the Boston Bruins… Continue reading

Most Read