Nashville Makes a Play for the Grammy Awards

Nashville Skyline Taylor Swift - H 2012

Nashville Skyline Taylor Swift - H 2012

Taylor Swift and LL Cool J host the Dec. 5 nominations concert from Music City. Could the big show be next?

This story first appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The people of Nashville have a message for the world: The Tennessee capital is nicknamed Music City, not Country Music City, for a reason.

Sure, giants of twang and rhinestones are among the 1.5 million who call the area home, but so are such rock bands as Kings of Leon and The Black Keys, along with classic rockers Michael McDonald and Peter Frampton and hitmakers including Ke$ha and crossover star Taylor Swift. Now Nashville will host the Grammys' Dec. 5 nominations concert, which will air live on CBS. Could it be, after years of cowboy cliches, that the city finally has some cool cred?

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"Outside of the community, there's been a little bit of a hee-haw mentality, but Nashville is nothing like that," says Ken Levitan, co-president of Vector Management, who has called the income tax-free state home since 1975 and whose clients include Kings of Leon, Ke$ha, Trace Adkins and Emmylou Harris. "It's an easy place to live," he adds. "You have support systems here -- so many studios, songwriters, venues and great rehearsal halls."

Still, country has been its bread and butter for six decades (album sales in the genre were up 5.6 percent in the first half of 2012, a figure expected to grow with Swift's Red, which has moved 3 million copies since Oct. 22), and major Hollywood agencies have taken notice. WME and CAA have expanded their Nashville operations, the latter recently moving into a 23,000-square-foot space next door to famed Ryman Auditorium.

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To lure the Grammys, Mayor Karl Dean and the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau made the Recording Academy an offer it couldn't refuse: "We guaranteed that it would not cost them any more to have the show here," says Andrea Arnold, senior vp government and community relations at the CVB. Meaning, the city would pony up for additional expenses incurred by taking the show out of Los Angeles.

"To his credit, Karl Dean recognizes how important music is in any community," says Academy president Neil Portnow, adding that Nashville's “agenda” involves advocating for “all kinds of genres -- rock, gospel, pop, you name it, and also a lot of country.”

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Indeed, taking the stage at Bridgestone Arena will be a mishmash of acts, including R&B hitmaker Ne-Yo and the band fun. (of “We Are Young” fame), along with hosts Swift and LL Cool J. There's also talk of a Johnny Cash tribute -- the lone time the Grammys took place in Nashville, in 1973, the Man in Black was part of the show (a source tells THR that Dierks Bentley and The Band Perry will pay homage to the late country legend). Says Portnow: “Johnny Cash is an iconic performer from Nashville who, in many ways, wouldn’t be classified as strictly a country performer, either. He had an impact on so many musicians, genres and styles -- be it country rock, pure rock 'n' roll as well as country -- so we think he has been influential to the message about Nashville being very broad and reaching a lot of people.”

Music's biggest night is free to leave L.A.'s Staples Center after the 2013 show on Feb. 10; could it then return to Music City? "It would be about time," says Levitan. "The city will support it very strongly."

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin