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The 130,000-square-foot building has 40,000 square feet of exhibit space and also performance venues.

JACK WEATHERLY — Nashville: city of big britches

JACK WEATHERLY

JACK WEATHERLY

NASHVILLE – This city reminds me of Atlanta 30 years ago.

We moved from Little Rock to Atlanta where I had landed a job with the Journal-Constitution, the biggest paper in the Southeast.

We were struck by the perpetual motion machine – driving, building and dealing.

For the past decade or longer, Nashville has taken on the mantle of a new Atlanta. But by now, the city tucked into the hills of Middle Tennessee may have gotten over that.

Still, you couldn’t tell it from the looks of downtown — including the 130,000-square-foot Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a steel, glass and concrete creation whose profile has been described as a crescendo, like the ostentatious fin of a 1959 Cadillac, the automotive statement for so many country music stars of the past.

On the other end is a replica of the tower at WSM, which began broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry in 1925 from Ryman Auditorium, the bricks-mortar-and-wooden-pews soul of the genre.

A couple of other journalists and I are visiting this city in a quick turnaround during the maiden voyage of Southern Airways Express’ commuter service between Jackson and the Tennessee capital.

After consuming some Nashville barbecued pork, we Uber through the bustling streets and construction to the museum.

It has four times the exhibit space of the original museum, a barn-like structure I wrote about after a travel junket 30 years ago.

It has an admirable chronology of exhibits, taking visitors from the early films of mountain musicians to pioneering  commercial musicians – including Patsy Montana, Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams Sr., rockabilly stars Carl Perkins, and, of course, Elvis (though he was shunned by the Opry at first). There are objets d’country, such as  a Hee Haw diorama and Webb Pierce’s silver-dollar and six-shooter festooned convertible.

It would be hard to deny that, in terms of popularity, Blake Shelton, best known to most as a judge on “The Voice,” is Mr. Country these days.

Perennially named top male vocalist, he is currently given a block-long string of exhibit space.

It’s as if the museum seems to be stretching to fill itself in some ways (such as Taylor Swift’s Education Center), raising the country question about it, and, by extension, the city itself:

Is it getting too big for its britches? Or are its britches too big?

WSM for sure has global reach these days. It can be heard 24/7 online. Right now, I am listening to Dolly Parton and Porter Wagner’s first recording made in 1967, folkie Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind.”

That was about the time the “sophisticated” world was beginning to discover country music.

A couple of years later, the ever-mercurial Bob Dylan made it official – country was cool – with his shockingly different 1969 album “Nashville Skyline.”

The New York Times wrote an obituary of Hall of Fame member Jean Shepard, the female vocal pioneer who died Sunday. That’s nice, and a tribute to country music, but nothing compares with the listening to her sing “Satisfied Mind” on WSM, which keeps it real.

The aspiring musicians who continue to move to Nashville are hardly alone. Our Uber driver estimated, correctly, the influx at about “a hundred a day.”

The city has grown to nearly 700,000 in a historical nip-and-tuck contest with musical rival Memphis, my hometown, for the biggest in the state, though Nashville’s 1.8 million metropolitan area – only about a third of Atlanta’s – takes the Tennessee prize.

For some residents, the fear is the city will lose its identity

Or put biblically, in this staunchly evangelical community: What does it profit a town if it gains the world and loses its soul?

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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