Nashville Rocks

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 2003

Sure. I love Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks as much as the next natural-born southerner, but while making plans to visit Nashville for the umpteenth time recently, I got to wondering if there's any rock-and-roll to be found in the Home of Country Music.

On a long-sultry Saturday night, I set out on my quest and eventually wind up next to ultrablonde Gunnar Nelson -- son of Rick, grandson of Ozzie and Harriet, and, along with twin brother Matthew, a member of the eponymous band Nelson.

Gunnar Nelson is camped on a stool at midnight in the End, one of Nashville's many music clubs. Beside him is a dark-haired beauty in low-cut blue jeans and a high-cut red thong. She is wearing a sticker on her bumper that reads Spiral.

"I moved here from L.A. because of the rock-and-roll!" Nelson shouts. There is such a vigorous rock scene in the Tennessee capital these days, "it's like L.A. in the '80s," he says. "You'd be hard-pressed to find country music in Nashville tonight."

A bit overstated. But I get his point. On this soft night, under a half-moon, it has been difficult to avoid raucous, raunchy rock-and-roll.

In the beginning I was so naive. Before venturing out, I spoke with several folks. Everybody had a different recommendation. That should have tipped me off that the city is chockablock with rock spots.

College student/valet parker Jason Grollimund, 32, is sitting on the breezy-balmy patio of Merchants restaurant waiting for the evening to unfurl. Horses, drawing carriages of maturing country music fans, clip-clop down Broadway. The guides point to Ernest Tubbs's record store, the Second Fiddle bar and the world-famous Ryman Auditorium, once home of the Grand Ole Opry. Inside Merchants, people sup on delicious filet mignon smothered in Jack Daniel's sauce. Between parking assignments, Grollimund is reading "The Crucified God" by Jurgen Moltmann. He's got a flashy red ankle tattoo and some ear piercings. He likes the Nashville rock world, especially the Wooten Brothers, who are regulars at Third & Lindsley, which he recommends.

Blaine Music, 26, who buses tables at Sunset Grille and plays in an alt-rock band called Hoar, puts in a good word for the Exit/In on Elliston Place and, across the street, the smaller grass-roots club the End.

In a coffee shop, I pick up a couple of giveaway tip sheets -- Nashville Scene and the Rage -- and read of other rock shops: Guido's, the Outer Limit, 12th & Porter, the Sutler, the Family Wash and many more.

So much music, so little night.

The journey begins at Third & Lindsley, where aging rocker Andy Pratt gets the night off to a melodious start with his strange, upper-register ballads.

"The menus are limited," April, the waitress in an anime T-shirt, explains. "So as soon as those people at that table are finished with theirs, I'll bring it to you."

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