An article caught my eye as I was scrolling through Buzzfeed today, and I gotta say...
It kinda pisses me off.
A Buzzfeed writer named Anne Helen Petersen wrote a long, detailed piece called "How Nashville Became One Big Bachelorette Party". At first glance, it's like "oh, cool! The city got a Buzzfeed feature".
But then I read it.
What starts out as a foray into the events that led to Nashville becoming a destination city for more than just country music disciples quickly turned into a bitter, misguided, negative tirade against a growing city and...women with money? I don't understand.
Here's a direct quote from the article:
Nashville — or whatever city they’re visiting — becomes their playground. And in the case of the bachelorette parties, they get away with it (and have entire industries cater to them) in large part because they are white, and because they have money. Restaurants create rooms and reservation systems to accommodate them. The New York Times writes “36 Hours” itineraries for them. New businesses paint murals to attract them. New companies figure out new ways to get crazy while being contained in a kind of organized chaos.
At the same time, the people who make those experiences possible — the Uber drivers, the Airbnb cleaners, the dance teachers, the barbacks, the backup musicians — get pushed farther and farther away from the city, unable to “experience” it themselves in a context that doesn’t involve serving others.
Later in the article, this little tidbit
That change, of course, has already happened: Nashville’s increasingly white, increasingly rich, increasingly polished. “I look at the transplants, and I’ve been surprised by how airbrushed and packaged they seem,” Martin said. “A few years ago, I was interviewing a white supremacist for a piece, and when he found out where I was from, he told me, ‘Oh, I love Nashville, it’s such a beautiful town.’ And I said, ‘Oh, yes, the river, and the parks, and the...’ And he cut me off, and said, ‘No, no, I mean the women.’”
The women aren’t white supremacists. But they are very white. Same for the bachelorette parties and Draper James. “It’s all a packaged experience of how to be female: what you’re supposed to look like, what you’re supposed to act like, how to perform sexuality and hotness,” Martin told me. “It’s a cartoon of Southern white sexuality.”
That's not to say the article is complete trash. It highlights Nashville's murals, bustling neighborhoods like 12-South and The Gulch, and the rise of Instagram-friendly hotspots like Pinewood Social and Draper James. It tries to steer the tone towards the changing bachelorette party experience while outlining some very real challenges facing growing cities across America including our own. But so many times, seemingly unprovoked, it aims to make Nashville seem like a town full of racist, disingenuous and aloof transplants and paints it as a city that's focused more on catering to bachelorette parties than embracing its locals.
And I call B.S.
Look, I'm not a native Nashvillian. I grew up familiar with the city because I was born and spent my formative years in Huntsville, Alabama - about 100 miles down the road. That meant lots of weekend trips to Opryland, Hickory Hollow Mall, and 2nd Avenue. I remember River Stages, Gaylord Entertainment Center, and Adelphia Coliseum. I've seen Nashville change, even just in the 3 years since I became a permanent resident.
And I'll admit, I get annoyed every time I get behind a pedal tavern on a busy street. On a bad day, I find myself cursing under my breath at the long lines of girls in matching t-shirts lining Broadway on a Friday night. But this is GOOD for the city, and by no means should it be FROWNED upon that businesses are catering to this windfall of tourists with disposable income.
I loved Nashville 20 years ago too, but do we all remember that Broadway was NOT as packed as it is now? East Nash and 12-South? No one even THOUGHT about those neighborhoods as "trendy hotspots" worth a visit. Even Hillsboro Village wasn't as cool as it is now. And the tourism? Outside of your old-school country music fans, people weren't excited to visit Nashville. Now, Twitter is a flood of 20-somethings excited to visit Music City, and it's NOT just because of the Grand Ole Opry.
Guys, I get that this isn't the Nashville our parents and grandparents grew up with, but growth IS good, and bachelorette parties are a big part of the revenue that's fueling that growth. So why is it a bad thing that huge groups of girls WANT to come to Nashville because they feel like it's safer and more fun than destinations like New Orleans or Las Vegas? Why is it a bad thing that bars, restaurants, and shops are opening up every day catering to those people? And let's not forget they're hiring LOCAL employees to staff those bars, restaurants, and shops.
And how many servers and support staff on Broadway do you think are upset about a packed restaurant every night with great opportunities for tips?
Why is it a bad thing that people consider Nashville "cool"?
I get it, Anne Helen Petersen. Nashville isn't what it was 20 years ago. You're right, it's not. And maybe the "gentrification" of neighborhoods like 12-South and East Nashville rubs you the wrong way. Maybe it's gotten exponentially more expensive to live in downtown Nashville than it once was. That's true. It's a nasty side effect of growth. It's called demand-side economics.
But let's talk about the positives. At the same time that downtown Nashville has become more expensive, think about the exponential growth of Nashville suburbs like Franklin, Murfreesboro, Spring Hill, Columbia, Hendersonville...the list goes on and on. I live in Spring Hill...a town that used to pretty much be a GM plant and the Rippavilla Mansion. Now, it's a town that's growing at breakneck speed with local shops, restaurants, and a new "downtown" complex in the 10-year plan.
Let's talk about the slew of companies that want to build in Nashville and bring thousands of jobs to town. Do you think we'd be a finalist for an Amazon headquarters if Nashville wasn't "cool"? Let's talk about the boutique shops, the amazing food scene, the patios and rooftops that we all cherish so much. Do you think those exist without the revenue generated from tourism, and specifically bachelorette parties?
So, I ask you Anne Helen, what's so BAD about growth? Is it a little annoying sometimes for those of us locals? Sure. Does it take a little longer to get anywhere downtown? Yep. But this is the new Nashville. The millennial Nashville. It's a big city with southern charm, and that spirit still exists everywhere you look. So maybe next time you visit, focus less on the woo girls and instead head to Downtown Franklin for a day. Catch a movie at the Belcourt Theater and take a picture in front of the dragon mural in Hillsboro Village. Rent a bike and cruise through Centennial Park or take a hike around Percy Warner. THAT'S the heart of Nashville. And thanks to "one big bachelorette party" as you call it, it's a heart that keeps getting stronger by the day.