Nashville is having a moment, y’all. Correction: Nashville has been having a moment, and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
September is my very favorite month in my Southern state, and the arrival of two beloved festivals does nothing to temper that feeling. For four nights each fall, more than 165 acts take the stage at various venues around town for Americana Fest.
I attended my first Americana this year, but only caught a few brief shows, mainly because I had three back-to-back visitors, but also because I suffered from the classic Nashville quandary: too much cool stuff going on at the same time. Jade was in town for a hot minute so on Wednesday night, we attended a CMT Crossroads taping—John Legend and LeeAnn Womack, airing on Sept. 26—and then hightailed it back from Franklin to City Winery for Sturgill Simpson’s show.
Two very dear friends arrived on Friday from Seattle to tackle the food and wine festival—formerly known as Music City Eats—with SVV and me, and I’ll be honest, we didn’t stop eating (or drinking) for a solid 72 hours.
On each of the two calorie-filled days, more than 60 vendors set up shop and served up their finest fare (one dish per booth). This is an excellent way for out-of-towners to Black Hawk in and try the best of Nashville cuisine all in one weekend.
Whereas last year, the only option was to buy a full weekend pass, this festival, there was the option to buy a Saturday day pass, a Sunday day pass or a Harvest Night pass—or you could go for the full monty and get the whole package. (Full disclosure: We were all there on press passes so got to attend the full shebang.)
If you’re going to survive weekends such as this, it’s important to take self-imposed breaks. We left each day around 3pm for a brief break from the heat (and the food), then reconvened at Robert’s with some other friends before the evening’s main event.
Last year, I missed the Saturday night entertainment, which was “Pettyfest,” an amalgamation of artists performing Tom Petty hits, because I was at the Taylor Swift concert; this year I was not missing Harvest Night. Fifteen top chefs—from Michael Symon to Ashley Christensen—each made a course, and attendees could go from booth to booth sampling the fare. My favorites were Sean Brock’s short rib, Levon Wallace’s quail, Tyler Florence’s shrimp and grits, and Andrew Zimmern’s “dead baby cow” sandwich.
After we had filled out bellies and mingled with the chefs, we stole away to Riverfront Park for a quick hour and a half to see the Avett Brothers perform for the closing night of Americana. Those guys are some of my favorite musicians in the world, and I really wanted Kent and Canaan get to experience the magic firsthand.
Luckily, it was just three blocks from where Harvest Night was taking place, so we were able to do both.
When we got back to Walk of Fame Park, the musical entertainment for Harvest Night was just gearing up. The Kings of Leon, who are backers in the festival, curated the evening and brought on a whole host of big names to perform songs, mostly classic country covers. Those who took the stage included Michael McDonald, Jamey Johnson, Charles Kelley, Phosphorescent, Ashley Monroe, Brendan Benson, Jessie Baylin, Clare Bowen, The McCrary Sisters, Moon Taxi, The Watson Twins and several others.
Toward the end of the night, I spotted Connie Britton sitting in the crowd nearby, and while it’s very un-Nashville of me, I went over and said hello. I’m sorry, y’all, but it’s TAMI TAYLOR; you would have done the same thing.
To cap off an evening filled with great food, stellar tunes and the most perfect fall weather ever, guitar maestro Hunter Hayes—who I recently interviewed for a cover story—played three songs.
As if that weren’t enough, his whole posse of musical pals—the Kings, Charles, Hayden Panettiere and several others—joined him after he was done for a rousing rendition of “Friends in Low Places.” It was epic.
The next day, I slept in and we headed back to Public Square Park for day two of the food festival. The roster of chefs was different, and I was happy to see that many of my favorites—like Trey Cioccia of The Farm House and Matt Bolus of 404 Kitchen—were adhering to the brunch tradition. (The first day was primarily full of lunch foods.)
And, of course, it being Sunday brunch and all, Bloody Marys were a necessity. I might have had five, no judging.
Something you should know about this particular festival is that each part of the equation—both the food and the wine—carry equal weight, so don’t be surprised to find there are as many booze tents as there are food. I’m OK with that. Particularly if said libations include Eli Mason syrups. Yummmm.
All in all, I was impressed by the second year of the fest. It felt fuller, more organized and better attended than the last. I probably consumed 10,000 calories over the course of the festival—not to mention, all the pre-events that preceded the weekend—so I’ll be fasting for the foreseeable future and eagerly looking forward to next year, which no doubt will be even bigger and better.