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Musicians play up Nashville food scene

Looking for the next big hit to come out of Nashville? You might want to watch the city's bustling food scene.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Looking for the next big hit to come out of Nashville? You might want to watch the city's bustling food scene.

Nashville has long lured musicians looking for a break, but lately the city has seen a rush of top notch chefs and restaurateurs, too. And it's largely thanks to those same musicians.

"Not only did the music (industry) bring money, stable money, into this town, it also brought people, people from all over the country and the world, to live in Nashville," says Roderick Bailey, who recently was named the Southeast's best new chef by Food & Wine magazine.

Those people brought worldly palates. And an expectation that those palates could be catered to.

The Kings of Leon, for example. Band bassist Matthew Followill says the band's constant touring exposed its members to all manner of great food. And they wanted it when they came home to Nashville.

"A lot of the people in the food industry are also big music fans," Followill said at the band's Nashville studio. "We kind of felt like Nashville didn't have a really good food scene going on. And it has changed for sure, in the past three, four, five years and there have been a lot of great restaurants that have come in. But for a while it was kind of lacking in that area compared to some of the other cities on the same scale."

That's changing. Fast. Last year alone nearly 75 new restaurants opened.

Now Followill's older brothers, Caleb and Nathan — the foodies of the band — are able to easily rattle off favorite Nashville eateries — Husk, The Catbird Seat, Rolf & Daughters, City House and Bailey's restaurant, Silly Goose, places that aren't just great locally, but known nationally.

And that has the players on the city's music scene lending a hand to spread the word that good eats have arrived. Bands and artists like Kings of Leon, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and even Taylor Swift have been talking up the city's fine restaurants and neighborhood favorites in national publications.

And last month, the Followill brothers brought in top chefs from the Food Network, New York and Los Angeles to serve their creations alongside local restaurants and chefs at the band's inaugural Music City Eats festival.

"So now the theme has changed, now it's a celebration of Nashville," Caleb Followill said of the festival. "Cause we have a lot of young, great chefs that are trying to do something special and I want Nashville to become one of the Southern food meccas that it has potential to be."

City House's Tandy Wilson, a Tennessee native who creates delicious Italian pastas and pizzas with Southern ingredients, said having musicians as regular customers fits into his style of dining.

"It's kinda opened some doors to a little bit of friendship and you figure out that we're not all that different," Wilson said. "I find a lot of these guys we can have the same conversations. When they go to a different city, they go eat somewhere. They want to talk about that. I have been taken to some really awesome meals by rock stars that I never would have found if they couldn't take me there."

And just like Southern music, Southern food has a way of bringing everyone to the table for a good time. At the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival in Nashville, created by country rocker Zac Brown, fans were seated at tables right beside the stage while more than 25 artists performed over two days in September.

Louisiana-born chef Rusty Hamlin has been touring with the Zac Brown Band for more than four years and creates the meals for the band's "Eat & Greets," which gives fans a chance to break bread with their favorite musicians. He said Nashville music fans were really enthusiastic about the local fare available at the festival last year.

"We learned from Nashville last year," Hamlin said. "We tripled the food we had last year. Nashvillians love to eat. And I love that about Nashville. It's not only the Music City, it's also the Food City."

Grace Potter, who played at the Southern Ground festival this year, said she likes to check out the new restaurants and food trucks when she tours with her band, The Nocturnals, and Nashville is bursting with new food options since she's been visiting.

"I just feel like there is this major insurgence of really well-curated restaurants," Potter said. "That's what is great about this city is it kinda nurtures growth in that way."