The Sampler takes in Nashville’s Music Scene

Nashville is a small town, a few hundred souls, located in a rural county largely taken up with unoccupied lands, parks, forests and other public properties. And yet, for a town its size, Nashville exhibits a remarkably vibrant local live music scene.

Mrs. Sampler is always amazed at the numerous entertainment opportunities for an evening out without even leaving town.
“I’ve never seen a town this size with this much live music available,” she says.

And she’s right.

On a weekend night in town, one can hear a wide range of live musical performances ranging from the moody and sentimental acoustic acts to bawdy bar-room rock ‘n’ roll.

You might want to start up at the north end of town, where two venues, Muddy Boots Cafe, and the Big Woods Brewery juggernaut, literally make noise in the local entertainment scene.

Muddy Boots Café, in the old Democrat building on the north end of Van Buren Street, has made a serious commitment to hosting and promoting performers, most of them local musicians. Here, you might encounter a whole host of bands and individuals featuring a wide variety of styles and talents—the charming and talented Cari Ray, the intelligent and soulful Jonathan Hutchinson, or the inimitable local mutation Little Merrie Simmons. We caught LMS singer Mary Sloan in a duo with Brandon Hamilton there a few weeks ago that was excellent. When it gets crowded, it can get a little bumper-to-bumper in there. It wasn’t really designed as a performance space, but, on the upside, the coffee is really good and the dessert case is certainly worth a look any old time.

During warm weather, Big Woods Brewery often hosts local bands and singers out on their front porch, spilling music munificently down the alleyway and out of town. We wandered across local rock guitarist Forest Gras and at least part of his band down there last fall, and last summer we were lured there by local troubadour Robbie Bowden.

Bowden, a legitimate local legend, can often be seen in many of these venues, an iconic presence which should be treasured. Among many other exploits and accomplishments, back in the ’60s, he fronted the first real rock-n-roll band from Brown County, “The East West Wire Service.”

Big Woods Pizza, located near the brewery, also often features live music on weekend evenings.

On a recent Friday evening out, we found our way down to the tasting room at Chateau Thomas Winery in Coachlight Square. In a little room off of the horseshoe bar, a cozy group of tables face a tiny stage which hosts a wide variety of local entertainers. Some friends dropped by. We had a couple of glasses of a good cabernet and listened to an eclectic acoustic and vocal set from Sarah Flint with husband singer/songwriter Tim Tryon. Ms. Flint can also be seen around the local circuit fronting the jazz combo “Sarah’s Swing Set”.
It was a small crowd, an intimate room, and the obviously at-ease and accomplished entertainers led us through a mind-bending array of popular favorites, ranging from the Beatles to “Brother Can you Spare a Dime?” by way of Paul Simon, The Moody Blues, The Everly Brothers, The Righteous Brothers, Sonny and Cher, The Zombies, Carl Perkins, Elvis, and Bob Dylan. When a young female patron requested a Willie Nelson number, Tryon promptly delivered a faultless and satisfying “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”.
The unplanned evening gave way to a magical mood, intimate and communal. And that’s what’s great about living in a town with so much live music.

The Pine Room Tavern features live music on Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m. and jazz on Sundays.

In Summer and Fall, nice weather increases live local music options. Hotel Nashville has been putting on a Gazebo Party up on the hill which has featured loads of different local performers including the terrific guitar duo of Jeff Foster and Frank Jones.

Numerous other live music opportunities occur in more traditional spaces. The revived Brown County Playhouse has had some very fine musical offerings in the past year, including “Back to the Land” music and history with Jon Kay, Dillon Bustin, Grey Larsen, and Bob Lucas.

And through the warm months, the Bill Monroe Music Park hosts a series of festivals and events including the world’s longest running bluegrass festival.

As the evening wears on, rock’n’roll can be found at the lounges of two local hotels most weekend nights. The Corn Crib Lounge at the Brown County Inn usually has a jumping Saturday night scene. The Seasons, which has an excellent little bar room perched up above Salt Creek Park, recently hosted talented local blues guitarist Marvin and his “Marvinaires”.

A musician once told me that people like live music because of the possibility of failure; that we’ve become so accustomed to recorded and broadcast performances that are polished perfect that there’s an excitement to live performance—the possibility of a mistake, or even improvisation.

Life on the edge…

One thing is for sure—any live music scene is ephemeral. Like the morning dew or the last snowfall of spring—the song never lasts for long, at least not in its present form. It only exists in the moment, sometimes never to be heard again.

Musicians are…well, they’re musicians. They move on or things change or they wander off. Enjoy them while you may.

So get out there this weekend, or some weekend, and sample what this little town has to offer in the way of local, live music.
Like Mrs. Sampler, you may be amazed at what you hear.