- Country Comes to Town: The Music Industry and the Transformation of Nashville by Jeremy Hill, and: Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport by Jonathan R. Wynn, and: Beyond the Beat: Musicians Building Community in Nashville by Daniel B. Cornfield
In his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class, sociologist Richard Florida proffered a provocative thesis: that the places that attract creative people—“people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music, and entertainment whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content”—would be economic leaders in the new century (Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class [New York: Basic Books, 2002], 8). In the decade and a half since its publication, Florida’s thesis has been scrutinized widely by sociologists, economists, and other scholars, with several scholars and the press challenging Florida’s sometimes Pollyannaish outlook and drawing attention to the challenges that emerge when economic leaders recruit “the creative class” to join their communities. But, until recently, musical communities have not been the focus of significant analysis in light of Florida’s thesis, despite their prominence in Florida’s enumeration. The three books under consideration in this review essay, however, provide valuable new insights into the ways that musical communities transform local economies and, conversely, how city residents respond to these communities in their midst.
Nashville, Tennessee—known to many music tourists as “Music City, U.S.A.”—serves as an excellent site for scholars to study the ways that musicians and the various industries that support them intersect with other spheres of social, economic, and [End Page 518] political activity in the city. Long a seat of government power, the city is probably best known for its role as one of the premier centers of global commercial country music production, a role that it began to cultivate deliberately in the 1960s as recording studios, music publishing houses, booking agents, and trade organizations began to call Nashville home. As a number of country music scholars have demonstrated, though, country music—and, in fact, popular music more generally—was not always linked closely with the city, and such cities as Atlanta, Charlotte, and even Chicago could easily be considered to be leading centers of country music production prior to the 1950s (see, for instance, Wayne W. Daniel, Pickin’ on Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990]; and Patrick Huber, Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008]). But, as Diane Pecknold has shown in her frequently-cited book The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), Nashville eclipsed the others during the 1960s as the newly formed Country Music Association launched a coordinated effort to promote the city’s music industry infrastructure and talents, as well as the products that emerged from the recording studios along Music Row.
American studies scholar Jeremy Hill’s Country Comes to Town: The Music Industry and the Transformation of Nashville extends Pecknold’s work by focusing not on the industry itself (although plenty of familiar Nashville music industry leaders appear as significant figures in the study), but by exploring the dynamics of the developing relationship between the music industry, Nashville residents, and government and business leaders. In Hill’s study, music industry leaders are cast not as creative figures, but as business leaders who are...