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Hatch Show Print has produced letterpress posters for such names as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

Brian McCord, Washington Post

Khouri

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Hitting the B-side of Music City

  • Article by: Andrea Sachs
  • Washington Post
  • February 9, 2013 - 2:26 PM

At Peter Nappi Studio in Nashville, Callie Khouri walked into the former meatpacking plant and hooked a hard left to the wall of handcrafted Italian leather shoes. She scanned the styles on the shelves, then pointed out the ones now residing in her closet.

“I have those and those,” she said, directing my attention to a pair of roughed-up laced boots and oxfords, to which she added, “I wear them without the shoelaces, like that.” As a visual aid, the store had displayed a model of the shoes sans laces, the strips of leather open like a mouth paused mid-sentence.

Peter Nappi, named after a 19th-century Italian immigrant shoemaker, doesn’t sell cowboy boots, despite its hometown address in Music City. And what a coincidence: The creator and executive producer of the TV show “Nashville,” which plumbs the country music scene, doesn’t wear the trademark footwear, either.

“I went through that phase,” she said. “I’m over it.”

Callie’s boots of choice — 15-year-old Ann Demeulemeesters — shatter the stereotype of hee-haw Nashville, as does her preferred form of chew (toothpicks). She also steers her show, which debuted on ABC last fall, away from the cliched dirt track — although some of the characters do sport sequins and cowboy boots. Therefore, it was of little surprise that on a recent tour of Nashville, with Callie calling the shots, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter (“Thelma and Louise”) flipped Music City over, revealing its rare B-side.

“I just love Nashville. There’s something about this place,” she said. “The music, well, it’s not just that. This town has a wonderful creative energy.”

All about the music

I met Callie on a sunny Saturday in the parking lot of the Ryman Auditorium, the legendary live music venue that hosted the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974 (it returns for a few months in the winter). With her sidekick and fellow executive prodicer, Steve Buchanan, we three became the starter kit for a band, or a mini-entourage in Nashvillewood.

We set off toward Lower Broadway, the Bourbon Street of Tennessee, minus the hurricane cocktails and the harlots draped like curtains in the doorways. Signs trumpeted beer, barbecue and heel-stompin’ tunes. Cacophony is Nashville’s loud mistress.

“See that ‘CKS’?” Callie said of the only letters visible through a tangle of neon. “I hate to admit it, but it’s really good barbecue.” (The remaining letters: JA--- Bar-B-Que.)

Callie has her culinary limits, though. “I never had it and I never will,” she said of the fried bologna sandwich at Robert’s Western World.

People come to Robert’s for the music, no matter the hour (roughly 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.) or the musicians (Rachael Hester & the Tennessee Walkers, Monte Good & Honky-Tonk Heroes, the Don Kelley Band, Jesse Lee & Brazilbilly).

“It’s a really great place to go dancing,” said Callie.

At the bar, Steve bumped into bassist Dave Roe, a Robert’s regular who has performed with such marquee names as Chet Atkins and Faith Hill. He also appeared on John Mellencamp’s 2010 record, which — small-world alert — was produced by Callie’s husband, T Bone Burnett.

“You run into some of these musicians and say, ‘Wow, I wonder if people know what they are getting,’ ” said Steve, president of Grand Ole Opry Group. “These are some of the greatest session musicians.”

On the main drag heading toward the Cumberland River, we passed singers, guitarists and other quasi-instrumentalists, including a man playing a melodica — what looks like a child’s keyboard with a plastic tube, blown like a trumpet. Every few yards we were treated to a brief concert.

Buzzing with energy

A high-energy supplement is definitely racing through Nashville’s veins; the city is on a redevelopment streak and shows no signs of taking a nap. Seminal moments in the resurrection of downtown and the waterfront include the reopening of the Ryman in 1994, following a fallow period, construction of Bridgestone Arena and creation of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, both in 1996.

Within the past three to 10 years, the revitalization shock waves have fanned out to such neighborhoods as 12th Avenue South, Five Points and the Gulch, proud recipients of new restaurants, stores and coffee joints, the gold star of gentrification. Urban designers have also circled 5th Avenue for some special attention, with plans to transform the street into an Avenue of the Arts, complete with large shade trees, widened lanes, Old World street lamps and galleries.

“There are just so many nooks and crannies in this town,” Callie said. “If you want to take someone around, it’s not easy.”

We wrapped up the Lower Broadway portion of the tour at Hatch Show Print, a letterpress shop of museum magnitude. The store has created show posters for the Canis Majoris of music, including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Manager Jim Sherraden also designed a limited-edition piece for the “Nashville” pilot.

Another “Nashville”-Nashville collaboration.

A stop for a bite

Before piling into Callie’s SUV, we squeezed into a table at Southern Steak & Oyster, on the ground floor of the Pinnacle at Symphony Place (the office building was a “Nashville” filming site). The table struggled for open space as the waiter delivered plates of oysters and steak and biscuit Benedict, hold the eggs.

Between bites and sips, Callie explained her ties to Nashville. The series films on location, of course. Her mother, sister and cousin live in the area, in addition to assorted friends. From 1979 to 1982, she lived in Nashville, waitressing around town and interning at the Advent Theatre, now Ocean Way recording studio.

Callie divides her time between her residence in Los Angeles and her hotel room at the Hermitage in Nashville. Yet she says, “If I say I’m going home, I’m going to Nashville.”

Though she grew up in Paducah, Ky., she talks like a local — meaning with the insider’s confidence of place. At lunch, for example, she debated such potentially divisive issues as dessert: “You’re damn right this is a pie town,” she said, throwing out such tasty candidates as the Loving Pie Co. and the Loveless Cafe. She also opened her heart, explaining how Nashville makes it flutter.

“If I have to say what causes this good feeling, it’s hearing live music every night. I’m not exaggerating,” she said. “It’s just jaw-dropping how good the musicians are. The bench is 20 deep.”

One of the creative centers in the show — and in the real Nashville — is the Bluebird Cafe, a greenhouse of songwriting talent. The Green Hills venue typically holds two shows a night, featuring artists up and down the ladder of success. On a recent Saturday evening, for instance, a quartet of songwriters sat in the round and belted out tunes associated with such big names as Keith Urban, the Dixie Chicks, Rascal Flatts, and, yes, the “Flashdance” soundtrack.

And more eats

But Nashville can’t subsist on music alone. It needs to eat, a lot.

Brace yourself for the ka-boom: Catbird Seat, Lockeland Table, Rolf and Daughters, Silo, Watermark (which appears in the show), City House, Margot Cafe and Marche. During our driving tour, we also picked up Urban Grub on 12th Avenue South, Virago in the Gulch and the Mad Platter in historic Germantown, where you “can seriously, seriously hurt yourself” on Southern cuisine, she said.

Callie’s family’s tradition is to stuff themselves with country ham and cheese grits at Loveless Cafe, a former motel, then wobble it off at Radnor Lake State Park. You might need to do several laps around the lake.

For this afternoon, however, our calorie burn was minimal. I practiced the art of the head swivel as Callie provided commentary on the passing attractions. We drove up Music Row, shouting out the names of studios and publishing houses like roll call: Ben Folds’ Ben’s Studio, Reba McEntire’s Starstruck, Garth Brooks’ Allentown Studios.

With so many neighborhoods to cover (nine, including Broadway), we stopped the car only twice. Taylor Swift’s house did not make the cut.

We ended the tour at our starting point, the Ryman. Before going our separate ways, I asked Callie for suggestions for evening activities. She recommended the Grand Ole Opry show (“Nashville” star sighting: Jonathan Jackson, who plays Avery on the show).

Callie, meanwhile, had tickets to the Nashville Predators hockey game (against “I don’t know who”) and had received an invitation for drinks and dinner at Rolf and Daughters and Silo.

“You can tell I love Nashville, can’t you?” she said in the parking lot. “I couldn’t do a show about a place that I didn’t have a connection to.”

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