Embrace tourists, conventioneers for night in tourist district

Friday, March 29, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 13

A FGL House server with a plate of Dirty Kettle Chips. It’s not a dish a James Beard Award winner would serve, but so what?

-- Photograph Courtesy Of Fgl House Facebook Feed

In this current world of deep divides, I’m going to try to bridge the gap a little bit. I’m not getting into politics, but I will admit that this is a little bit of an “us and them” proposition.

There seems to be an assumption that locals don’t go downtown anymore because of the circus that is Lower Broadway and the throngs of tourists. Add to that the traffic worries and expensive parking, and some disgruntled Nashvillians say they might as well post a “Keep Out” sign at the downtown gateway at I-40 and Broadway.

First of all, I know plenty of locals who make the trek for Predators games and absorb some dinner and nightlife while there. Many folks who work downtown will stay and enjoy the renaissance of restaurants and bars. What I’m talking about here is locals who make a night downtown their destination.

So last Saturday I decided to head into the neon-stained night and conduct a very unscientific survey. My first decision was to Uber down from where my car was parked in the Vanderbilt area. Ride-share services are the first line of defense against arguments about traffic and parking, and depending upon your original or final destination (surge pricing excluded), they are an affordable and convenient alternative to driving yourself.

I decided to put my own often insufferable bias aside and headed straight to the FGL House, located a half-block off Broadway on Third Avenue South. I’ll admit, I felt a collective shiver just writing that line.

Am I the polar opposite of a Florida Georgia Line fan? Yes. Do I hate overly crowded bars? Yes. Do I loathe overpriced tourist traps? You bet.

I also know I am not alone in that trifecta of angst and loathing in thinking that the only locals at the FGL House would be FGL’s management, record label or publishing company employees.

Here’s the thing. A lot of folks really do like FGL, and they are not all from out of town. Of the roughly 20 individuals I spoke with at the bar (I told you this was not statistically sound, but hey, roll with it), just over half were from either Nashville or from the doughnut counties that ring the city.

For those folks, making the trek for a night out on the town was as big a deal as it was for visitors from points beyond. Cheatham County native Bill Trabue loves the energy of the city and the warm bodies that crowd the sidewalks.

“I remember when Lower Broad was so seedy your feet would stick to the sidewalk,” laughs Trabue, his eyes twinkling under the wide brim of his black Stetson.

“What’s happened to Nashville is great. I admit it’s nice to go home to the country at the end of the night, but this city is so much fun now, and has been for the last few years. I’m 48 now, so I don’t party like I used to, but me and my friends still enjoy coming for the music and just being part of the scene. The scene, man!” he says, punching the air with a thick index finger and throwing his head back with a gravel-strewn laugh and cough.

I asked Sandra Johnson, who lives in northwest Davidson County “past Whites Creek,” about why she comes and she tucks her chin and side-eyes me with a “it’s the music, stupid” look. I press her on her tastes and they run the gamut.

“Sure, I love the current stuff you hear on the radio, but you can also get the older stuff and bluegrass downtown on just about any night. That’s what makes Nashville “Nashville,” says Johnson before pausing to order another beer.

“I know a lot folks don’t like “new” country music,” she adds with air quotes, “But my generation grew up with country and rock, so I don’t mind where things are. There will always be more traditional music and you will always be able to find it in town. I’m not worried. We know what butters our bread.”

While it’s easy pickings and cheap blood sport to make fun of the bumpkins who are drawn to the neon beacons, it’s dangerous to present them as a monolithic block and just plain pretentious to judge them for their choice of entertainment.

Country music always took pride in presenting itself as part of Southern culture, not apart from it. And the paper money is just as green as the plastic thrown down by supposed sophisticates at upper-echelon steak houses and gourmet tables.

Some of the steroidal honky-tonk joints downtown are known to average sales in the $500,000/week range.

My point is that as locals we don’t have to fear the tourists and conventioneers, and we can find a way enjoy all that the city center has to offer.

We still know the backroads and secret ways to get downtown and where to park. We know that in the shadow of Johnny Cash’s museum chef Deb Paquette is still putting out some of the best food in the city and that east side hipsters can find solace at Green Pheasant on First Avenue across from Ascend Amphitheater.

Printers Alley is alive again with just a hint of naughtiness but still soaked in elicit vibe. And new hotels offer rooftop views that give us a twinkling light perspective of the old cowtown below.

Soak it in. It’s still our hometown no matter how big the britches get.