“I’m a resident, too. I walked here,” says master of modern day blues rock Joe Bonamassa as he took the stage.
The aptly named Dancin’ in the District brought about exactly that. It wasn’t Subtly Nod Along in the District. It wasn’t Look At Your Phone In The District. No, this was a bona fide riverfront party chock full of high energy dancing music for the local community. It also represented a good cause, which was to benefit the Music Health Alliance, which helps professional musicians find medical and financial solutions they might need.
Dancin’ in the District (DITD) felt special. It felt special in the way that it seemed to be for and about the locals, and not the tourists. It’s no secret many locals deliberately avoid downtown with the exception of select special events, and even then it feels like a chore to weave your way through the droves of drunks. It sucks to feel alienated and annoyed with your own downtown. And don’t get me wrong, sometimes it can be fun to partake in the madness, maybe if friends come to visit, or your girlfriend breaks up with you. It has its moments. But DITD gave us something that felt like ours.
There was a sense of community, and not once did I see a gaggle of bachelorettes with phallic straws or fourteen Chads all dressed in matching pink shirts that read “Chad’s Nash Bash.” Sure some incognito tourists trickled in, but it was probably just happenstance. This likely wasn’t something they sought out initially.
What’s so interesting about DITD is that back in the nineties it was meant to revitalize and bring the locals back downtown, which was a far different and seedier landscape then. Today, for different reasons, locals still are hesitant to go downtown for points stated above.
I really didn’t know what to expect, and upon first getting there around 4:30, it was a pretty casual environment.
I was greeted with a delicate Cumberland breeze as I strolled down the brick walkway, while aromas of what smelled like funnel cakes and deep-fried delights wafted in and out of my nose. The closer I got, the more I could hear the soulful booming of an electrifying voice, backed by an equally electrifying band- this was Alanna Royale. I got there right in the thick of her dynamic set, which set the tone for what would be non-stop high-energy music along the riverfront.
Royale’s funk and soul emanated up and down 1st Ave, across the river and everywhere in between. The band was loaded with sound: horns, bass, and keys worked together seamlessly, with riffing guitars and tenacious vocals. “I’m just so grateful it’s not 98 degrees. My God.” Royale said, rocking her leopard print pants and having a chat with the crowd about tour life and the brutal autumn heat. She also touched on a more serious note of the recent turmoil Kurdish people have been facing, and implored fans to support our local Kurdish community and their businesses.
The grassy knoll was already home to many an anticipating guest, as blankets were laid out and spots were claimed. A beautiful gray pitbull kept a watchful and playful eye on the surrounding action, tongue hanging out in sheer puppy ecstasy. To the left side of the pitbull was the sound control booth, where I stood watching the engineers for a moment, admiring how they know what the hell they’re doing.
After Royale left the stage, another local favorite, Space Capone, set up shop with their massive, 11-piece unit. And by God did they let ‘er rip. They surged through their set with a similar soulful funk-tastic energy to the previous act. I made sure to sit close to this one, where I immediately felt the pulsating bass in my throat and chest. If someone had played Space Capone’s music for me and told me it was some unreleased B sides to Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall,” I’d believe them.
After their set, as the sun started to call it quits and the near-full moon hung slightly veiled above the Pedestrian Bridge, I made my way towards the vendors to get some of their thoughts.
The first was Samantha Estes with Harpeth Conservancy. “We’re celebrating 20 years of conservation, specifically for protecting rivers in Tennessee. We’re here to help raise awareness, to be more mindful of our actions- I’ve actually been asking people if they even know what river this is, and some don’t! Mind you a couple of them were new, and others had guesses, but that’s what we’re trying to do is educate the community.” When asked her favorite thing about Nashville, “I think Nashville has a nice balance. If you want the city stuff you can do it, and there’s plenty of rivers to row, plenty of hikes to go on.”
I then spoke to a young fellow standing in the Acme Radio tent, Kyre Echols, who told me, “my favorite thing about Nashville is its quaintness. It’s cute and quaint.” He then told me, “Dancin’ in the District is about coming together and having a good time, listening to the music, and embracing what Nashville is all about.”
Lastly, I spoke to Delaney Wilson of Lightning 100, which helped curate and MC the event, and he said “my favorite thing about Nashville is all these free concerts we get to be a part of.” When asked about the event, he said “I’m excited to have this right downtown, because I think you see all these people who have a certain view of what Music City is, and I think it’s so cool to bring a different type of music to downtown.”
Then, after striking out on my first attempt to randomly approach strangers to ask if they were locals who’d attended DITD in previous years, the second time was the charm- and this local, who’s lived in Nashville since the seventies, who chose to remain anonymous, had some awfully interesting takes.
When asked if DITD played a hand in the revitalization of downtown, he said “it was good for it for sure. It used to be rough down here.”
When asked his favorite thing about Nashville, he had this to say: “The way it was. (laughs) You know it’s good for the economy, (talking about the onslaught of tourists) but it’s lost a lot of its character, man. It’s lost a lot of the juju it had. It’s all stressed. Infrastructure is stressed. But, it’s good though, because the kids are bringing in liberal attitudes, I mean we’re in Christian conservative Bible Belt country. So it’s good having all the kids coming in from their wonderful latitudes of Chicago, and LA, and New York, and I’m all about it. So that’s good- but then they need to just vote and go home.” We both shared a hearty laugh after that sentiment.
He went on to express his views on other aspects that were less than flattering, and proceeded to talk to me about the water levels of the Cumberland over the years, and the most recent flood scare in March.
The night proceeded to gain more and more smiling music lovers, and the energy never dissipated. Slim Wednesday followed Space Capone and never gave the people a chance to stop grooving.
The Nashville Legends Band then hit the stage which brought Kenny Greenberg, Michael Rhodes, and Chad Cromwell holding down guitar, bass, and drums respectively, with Pat McLaughlin, Joe Bonamassa, and Rodney Crowell coming in to sing and blow the crowd away. The headliner, Leftover Salmon, closed the night of mass musical elation and local togetherness. Success.
Much thanks to Tom Morales for being the driving force and visionary behind this, and getting it put together. The night was a proper acknowledgment of the local community, and as far as I was concerned, a fare thee well to the summer weather in autumn.