This story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Nashville's stereotype as a country music backwater is now as quaint as a Hank Williams hit. With the ABC series Nashville casting the actual town as its sprawling backdrop, Music City is in the midst of a long-percolating renaissance abetted by new residents with SAG cards and mail forwarded from Beverly Hills and a surge in hip restaurants, hotels and clubs -- all without ceding the town's courtly country manners. "It was a very different town than it is now," says Greg Oswald, who co-runs William Morris Endeavor's country music division and moved to Nashville from California in the '80s to work for Barbara Mandrell. Bob Darwell, an attorney with Los Angeles showbiz powerhouse Sheppard Mullin, recently bought a second home in Nashville both for "the business opportunities it presents in entertainment" and for "a love of the city." Getting there is easy: Delta, American and Southwest fly nonstop from LAX; flying time is four hours.
The influx of A-list movie, television and music stars -- the latter often non-country musicians like Kings of Leon -- supports a growing infrastructure of management companies and talent agencies. CAA opened a new Nashville office last year; WME, Paradigm and APA also are present. The good news: The gentrification that undid a lot of the charm of former artists' haunts like Aspen and Laguna Beach isn't to be found. It's telling that Nashville creator Callie Khouri's favorite local venue is the Ryman Auditorium, former home to the Grand Ole Opry and totem of the "old" Nashville. "There is such a sense of history of music here, and to be on the stage makes you feel close to that," she says. A mix of highfalutin and down-to-earth -- accompanied by music pouring from every storefront -- keeps Nashville grounded. "I love the fact that you can have sophisticated food one meal and the best comfort food -- meat and threes, yes! -- the next," says Mary Steenburgen, who lives there part-time with husband Ted Danson as she pursues a second career as a songwriter.
Music City power couples such as Amy Grant and Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black mingle freely with civilians -- it's not unusual to run into Carrie Underwood at the Publix grocery store in suburban Franklin, Gill enjoying a short stack at the Pancake Pantry or Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman at Whole Foods or Sanctuary Yoga. "Keith and I love living in Nashville," says Kidman. "It's a totally musical city. We see members of the Black Keys walking by when we're in our favorite restaurant, and we'll go over to Jack White's and listen to music. And it's a great place to raise kids." Country singer-songwriter Luke Bryan, named Entertainer of the Year at the 2013 American Country Music Awards, lives on a farm in Franklin with his wife and children. Nashville, he says, "has everything you want out of a small town and big town."
Nashville's new restaurants serve twists on traditional Southern cuisine. At Etch (303 Demonbreun St.) diners can watch chef Deb Paquette's global fare prepared at the eat-in bar. The Catbird Seat (1711 Division St.) offers a whimsical menu prepared in front of 32 guests seated at the U-shaped bar. Nashville native and BMI vice president Jody Williams loves the Beausoleil oysters and Southern wedge salad with fried green tomatoes at Southern Steak & Oyster (150 Third Ave. S.). "It's a great downtown restaurant," says Bryan, who likes the fish and grits. For pub grub with superlative ice cream, The Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden (731 McFerrin Ave.) is unbeatable.
After a day of filming Nashville, former and now current resident Khouri likes to unwind at The Patterson House (1711 Division St.) with sliders and Tater Tots. She also frequents Germantown newcomers Silo (1121 Fifth Ave. N.), where "Pot Likker Kale" is popular, and Rolf and Daughters (700 Taylor St.), where Southern ingredients meet a Northern Italian- and Mediterranean-influenced menu. Lockeland Table (1520 Woodland St.) and Holland House Bar and Refuge (935 W. Eastland Ave.) in East Nashville also are favorites. When they're in town, Lionel Richie and Kevin Costner are regulars at Virago (1126 McGavock St.), known for Asian fusion and sushi. Kayne Prime (1103 McGavock St.), a rustic modern steak house, has an open-air bar and views of the downtown skyline (Kidman tweeted about Kayne's Tuscan kale salad). Tavern (1904 Broadway) is a favorite of CAA agents and Kings of Leon's Caleb Followill and Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum. Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant (120 Fourth Ave. S., Franklin) is a hit with local musicians hooked on its pulled pork.
Gwyneth Paltrow liked the spacious contemporary rooms at the Hutton Hotel (1808 West End Ave., rooms from $249) during the filming of Country Strong. The Hermitage Hotel (231 Sixth Ave. N., rooms from $300) offers stately Southern comfort just blocks from the Ryman Auditorium."It's one of the most beautiful hotels you could ask for," says Bryan. The restored Richardson Romanesque Union Station Hotel (1001 Broadway, rooms from $209) is steps from the bustling music scene on Broadway and Second Avenue.
Nashville real estate is attractive to those wary of big-city sticker shock. "You can be in the country and literally 15 minutes from the city, which is a huge selling point," says broker Mandy Wachtler. Prices range from $800,000 to $1.8 million, with square footages from 2,900 to 3,400 for a home in Nashville's popular Gulch neighborhood. Celebs who opt for a rural setting favor tony Belle Meade, Green Hills, Forest Hills and the farmlands of Franklin's idyllic Leipers Fork. Kidman and Urban purchased a 10,925-square-foot, seven-bedroom house for $3.47 million in Northumberland. The luxury gated community also contains Taylor Swift's Tara-like, 5,600-square-foot Greek Revival mansion, set on six acres with an equestrian farm. After several years of renting, Steenburgen and Danson purchased a 3,000-square-foot Tudor-style home in Green Hills for $765,000 and renovated it. They haven't looked back.
Hot Properties in Music City
What does $5.8 million get you in Nashville? A 152-acre farm formerly owned by Sheryl Crow, for starters.
1358 PAGE ROAD
The 20,500-square-foot, six-bedroom, 9.5-bathroom estate featured on ABC's Nashville is listed for $19.5 million by Fridrich & Clark's Steve Fridrich.
6664 CROSS KEYS ROAD
Previously owned by Crow, this 152-acre farm is on the market for $5.8 million from Bill Sample and Karen Mathus of Benchmark Realty. -- BRANDON KIRBY