I have been in and out of Nashville since the mid-1980s and I have heard that great city called many things.
Of course, it is the “Music City,” but I am more fond of the nickname “Guitar Town.”
Southern Baptists used to refer to the national convention’s large, strategically located headquarters as the “Baptist Vatican.” Then again, the United Methodist corporate presence in Nashville is also important.
This points to another reality: The historic synergy between the country music industry and the world of gospel music, in a wide variety of forms (including Contemporary Christian Music). Nashville is also home to a hub of Christian publishing companies that has global clout. All of that contributes to another well-known Nashville label: “Buckle of the Bible Belt.”
It’s an amazing town, with a stunning mix of churches and honky-tonks. As country legend Naomi Judd once told me, in Nashville artists can sing about Saturday night and Sunday morning in the same show and no one will blink.
This brings me to a massive New York Times feature that ran with this sprawling double-decker headline:
Nashville’s Star Rises as Midsize Cities Break Into Winners and Losers
Nashville and others are thriving thanks to a mix of luck, astute political choices and well-timed investments, while cities like Birmingham, Ala., fall behind.
That tells you the basic thrust of the story. What interested me is that the Times covered the rapidly changing face of Nashville — many Tennesseans moan that it’s the new Atlanta — without making a single reference to the role that religious institutions have played in the city’s past and, yes, its present.
That’s really, really hard to do. But the Times team managed to pull that off.