Fine at Five

When we began NATIVE, our goal was to grow and unite Nashville’s creative community through local writing and photography. Now, five years later, we’ve told the stories behind hundreds of the city’s best musicians, chefs, artists, authors, and more. For us, these stories have been insightful, hilarious, heartbreaking, and—perhaps most of all—inspiring. They’ve encouraged us to take a leap of faith, to try something new, to make tomorrow’s dream happen today. And we hope they’ve done the same for you.

To celebrate these stories and the people behind them (and because we’re feeling a little sentimental), we asked past NATIVE features to write something based on the following prompt: “What’s the most inspiring moment you’ve had in Nashville in the past five years?”

Thank you, NATIVEs, for your continued support and contributions to this city. Here’s to five more years of inspiration.


I decide to walk home from work. It’ll take me roughly forty-five minutes, but instead of taking the bus, I take a stroll.

As I come out of the Nashville Public Library, I immediately get a good mash-up of what is now “It City.” I see colorful murals on walls, homelessness around sculptures and fountains, tourists with cowboy hats, and Mercedes parked in front of Morton’s Steakhouse. I think about the conversations I had with my Dad when I was a kid. On Saturdays, we used to park on Broadway and pick up dog food or chicken feed at Acme Seed & Feed. He would tell me, “The city has changed so much.” I know I’ll tell my now-five-year-old son the same thing.

I’m on a hill as I come to Charlotte Avenue, so I can see my North Nashville neighborhood and the sun setting in the west. I take a deep breath and pick up the pace of my trek. As I walk past sites of major historical significance and Civil Rights activity, like First Baptist Capitol Hill, I witness more change: cranes perched above me from the HCA building; street congestion from people scrambling to get home; New Nashville hipsters heading to the Gulch for happy hour. I always appreciated the big Mayberry feel of Nashville, but I’m starting to question that feeling.

As I approach Jo Johnston Avenue, the streets are calmer and the air is quieter. I’m looking at what used to be a half-abandoned factory. Once upon a time, I went to rave parties there. Now it’s Marathon Village, a bustling area with antique shops, galleries, music venues, and distilleries. Who would’ve known.

I get deeper into my North corridor and a sense of familiarity washes over me. On three different occasions, neighborhood friends recognize me and pull over to see if I need a ride. I get into bench conversations with elders of the community about gentrification, Jefferson Street Joe, and our purpose on earth.

The sun has pretty much set, and I’m now at 28th and Jefferson. I make a beeline through the TSU campus, and man, does it take me back. I’m thinking about Africana Studies class conversations about Malcolm X and John Coltrane, experiencing my first real heartbreak, sketching my first nude model, and dorm conversations that cemented lifetime friendships.

I get home, and my neighbor—who is an antique collector and African art dealer—says, “I hear you’ve been playing a lot of Prince over the past few days. Take this.” He hands me a record draped in five vintage bow ties. “Yeah, I found those in the closet. You can keep ’em.” I’m smiling from ear to ear as I discover a promotional copy of Prince and Madhouse’s 1987 album 8.

As I loosen my tie, pour two drinks, and drop the needle, it all begins to make sense. I had a sense of connection while walking—connecting my feet to the pavement, connecting with the history of the neighborhood, connecting with the people and their stories. Oh, how inspiring a simple walk can be.


I was asked to coordinate a dinner at a boot store in Germantown. I had been to the space before and knew that it was beautiful, so I said yes, not really knowing what the gig was about. We would be cooking a dinner for about twenty-five people with minimal cooking equipment, which is generally how these things go.

Tom Bayless and I arrived with our mise-en-place. As guests arrived, I saw Josh Hedley, Shelly Colvin, and Nikki Lane, among others. Sitting with a cane beside him was Guy Clark, the man himself.

The artists took turns popping up on stage to sing for a bit, and in a beautiful Nashville way, even the people sitting at their tables were singing harmony, being part of the moment. The crowd was full of musicians, but there was no ego—just people making music because that’s what they love to do. Tom saw Guy Clark go outside to smoke and went to go meet him. When he got out there, a woman was saying, “They want you to play tonight.” Guy replied, “I know they do, but I just can’t.”

Later on, someone asked Josh Hedley, “Josh, why don’t you get up there and play a Guy Clark song?” I can’t imagine playing a legend’s song on the spot like that, but he got up and started playing with little hesitation.

“I wish I had a dime . . .” he began, which is the first line to my favorite Guy Clark song, “Anyhow, I Love You.” It was the most beautiful version of that song that I have ever heard. As Mr. Hedley continued playing, Nikki Lane, who was seated beside Mr. Clark in the front row, pulled out a white square of paper, filled it with something (obviously legal), rolled it up, licked it, lit it up, and passed it to Guy. He took a couple of puffs, and as Hedley finished up his last song, Guy Clark gripped his cane and started toward the stage. Everyone’s jaw dropped.

He told everyone that he wasn’t sure how this was going to go and asked everyone to help him if he got off track.

The first song he played was “L.A. Freeway.” It was perfect. He fumbled a little on his second song, but everyone was there for him immediately, singing the words until he got back on track. Finally the room got quiet and he said, “A friend of mine wrote this one, but I think I do it better.” He began to sing “To Live Is To Fly” by Townes Van Zandt. There was not a dry eye in the room.

I am not sure if he performed again after that. It was just a random event that I said I would help out with. As I was driving away that night, all I could think was, “Goddamn, I love this town.” Only in Nashville would something like that happen.


I have only lived in Nashville for four years, but having grown up in Western North Carolina and then shuffling between cities in the UK, Australia, and New York as an adult, it really felt like home when I arrived here. Being part of building a contemporary arts organization from scratch has certainly been no small feat, but the arts community in Nashville has a kind of camaraderie that is unparalleled. It was foretold to me that this was true, but to be honest, I didn’t believe it until I experienced it. And that happened pretty quickly. This sense of community has greatly impacted my most inspiring moments in Nashville, for which there have been many.

Since our first day at OZ, it has been a priority to offer the community of artists in Nashville an opportunity to make something new and big and bold. It is the courage with which each of these artists have brilliantly created, developed, and shared their most passionate works that has inspired me most. To put yourself “out there” requires confidence. To put your most honest work in front of others to experience and interpret takes a special combination of fear-driven determination and unfettered bravery. To the artists of Nashville with whom I have had the honor of working—you have created my most inspiring moments of the past five years in Nashville. Thank you.


Yes, it was a New Year’s resolution.

It was raining and I was nervous. After a long hiatus from writing, I decided to join a writing group (after googling “poetry in Nashville”) called the Lucille Clifton Collective, and, as usual, I was late. To my relief, another writer arrived late with me into the Global Education Center. We walked into the room where we were greeted warmly by stay-at-home moms, graduate students, nurses, professors, and therapists. We sat there under the soft drum of rain and wrote. It was such a simple pleasure: sitting in a room, writing with other badass women, continually being inspired and encouraged by each other’s poems. For me, this was one of the most inspiring moments I’ve had in Nashville, because it reignited a dream that I didn’t know could be possible, to have a community and a vocation immersed in poetry.

One of my favorite poems by Lucille Clifton ends with the line, “Come celebrate / with me that everyday / something has tried to kill me / and has failed.” Poetry for me is a means of survival, and that first Saturday on Charlotte Avenue in 2012 saved my life as my Nashville poetry family began to grow. Not only did I start writing again, but the woman who walked in late with me is now my dearest friend and rock-star-poetry-sister, Ciona Rouse.

Five years and an MFA from Vanderbilt (plus a chapbook) later, I still think about the lush soundtrack of rain and pens gliding across the page, the sound of women carving out a safe space to write and celebrate together.


So ten years ago, there really wasn’t anything special about this city to me. I was a small-town individual who’d never left the United States until we formed Cage the Elephant. Soon after forming the band, we moved to London and embarked on a journey that opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on this world and life in general. So at the time, the only thing significant about Nashville was that it was our final destination after our stuffy American Airlines flight from London. Then Mom and Dad, Grandma, or whoever picked us up from BNA to take the final one-hour trek back to home sweet home: Bowling Green, Kentucky. Skip ahead—because this could easily become a short story—we (CTE) all eventually moved to Nashville, and I’ve lived here for nine years now.

So now that we’ve done the backstory, we can get to the inspiration part: the Nashville Predators! In all my years in Nashville, I’ve never felt so proud and inspired as I did while watching what this team accomplished. They unified this city and gave us something special to believe in. I took my buddy Andrew Wessen from the band Grouplove with me to Game Six. He could definitely see the pride I had in our city and noticed something special going on as we both rooted on the Preds and chanted, “Crosby sucks!” The atmosphere in Bridgestone was electric, and you could tell everyone was there, together, as one after that night. Even though we lost, I’m very proud to claim Nashville as my city. Go Preds!


As a fashionista that’s lived in Nashville the past twenty-nine years, I find that in the last ten years, things have changed so much physically in Nashville. We have a super-city instead of the peaceful town we used to have.

But fashion has really taken over this Nashville of ours. And I think—and this is what I predicted so many years back—that this town is going to eventually be a great fashion center in America. Today, I think that people don’t need to go shopping in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, because we have high quality merchandise . . . That’s what I have the most room to talk about in Nashville, because I’ve been here working day and night for forever, man. And I just love it.

In my little world here, many things have changed also. We found great treasure: the students [interning for Manuel Couture] are fantastic . . . I’m just glad for them, and I hope we come together one of these days. Because we will get together one day! We’ll really get super-fashion going on in Tennessee.


When you guys did that article on me, that was the first time that business had started going up and I got positive feedback from clients, customers, and everybody saying, “We read about you in NATIVE, so we came over.” My business, it started to—I started to make some money, should I say! [laughs] . . . The funny thing was that Linus from Yazoo Brewery was on the cover. I’ve known Linus for years, before he even started Yazoo. I was a baker at Sweet 16th bakery in East Nashville—that’s where I met him and his family. But later, Linus would come into the brewhouse where I was the operations manager, and he’d tell me: “Al, just do it. Just quit and just do it.” And I’d say, “Linus, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the . . .” He’d say, “Al, things will always work out and fall into place fine. Just do it, you gotta try.” So it was great to see him on that cover, because he was a huge inspiration.

My most inspiring experience in Nashville has been the people. I’ve met the nicest people from all over the world coming to Nashville, living in Nashville, moving to Nashville, and coming into Big Al’s Deli. I tell everybody, not only do I have the best staff, but I have the best customers. Because no matter whether you live in Nashville or you’re visiting, you’re so nice, so warm, kind, loving, and caring it’s unbelievable . . . I just consider myself an average guy, and God’s been blessing me. I just try to spread love, cause it’s all about love.

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