NBN SoundLand: A Whirlwind Experience

by Daniel Podolsky

It was a whirlwind of sights, sounds, lessons, and people. From the Opening Reception at TPAC until My So-Called Band’s closing set, Next BIG Nashville’s SoundLand Music Festival carried over a hundred local and national acts through a very strong schedule of invaluable experiences.

Chancelleor Warhol performs at 12th Avenue Block Party. Photo: Jess Williams

The diverse talent lineup that spanned 11 downtown Nashville venues varied in genre and clout. On one end of the spectrum was the hot-fire spitting Yelawolf, a recent addition to Eminem’s Shady Records—to the Costello-laced dance-rock of Evan P. Donohue, who played the festival for the second year in a row. “Along with the headliners, we give new bands an opportunity,” noted Jason Wilkins, CEO and Creative Director of the Festival since its inception.

This year’s take on the event—which had been known as “Next Big Nashville” from the start in 2006—was a decidedly smaller, more focused event than 2010’s incarnation. Accordingly, the name shortened to SoundLand. “[Wilkins] made a smart decision doing fewer venues and fewer local bands,” remarked Donohue. “It kind of tailors it down to one, concise, really good weekend of shows instead of kind more spread out. I think he did a good job.”

Aside from some of the “field trips”—information panels ranging in focus from music supervision to fan-funding to the state of A&R—all the venues were conveniently located with proximity to downtown.

The festival kicked off Wednesday night with a VIP “SXSW Mixer” reception at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. A trio of performances from Jonny Corndawg, Dawes, and M. Ward, followed at the War Memorial across the street.

Thursday was the festival’s first full day. Field trips started at the Belcourt with a panel that showcased the team behind the success of The Civil Wars (more here). After the second panel, “How Brick & Mortar Labels Monetize Free Music,” the crowd split. At the NBN Registration House, The Low Anthem and Justin Townes Earle conducted Songwriter Sessions. At the same time, a more professional crowd could be found at the Recording Academy building for a legal discussion on the repercussions that a 1970s change in copyright law will have on the catalogs of labels in the coming few years.

Thursday night’s shows used seven separate stages across town. Reptar kicked off the night at the 12th Avenue Block Party stage, which serves as the anchor to an arsenal that also includes stages at 12th & Porter and Mai across the street. Block Party events here seem to happen every now and again, the most recent being a Three 6 Mafia Show in July. But here one can find the weakest link of the festival. It was Mai. The staff was overbearing, and the sound system is poorly equipped to handle a real band (or anything more than one man and his MacBook Pro, for that matter). The venue layout feels great for a sold-out crowd, but when attendance is dismal, it feels open and awkward. On a night where fans had so many choices, many chose somewhere else.

The Ettes perform at The Basement. Photo: Jonathon Kingsbury

Friday was the busiest of the four days, utilizing every venue besides the War Memorial and the Neuhoff Stage. Third Man Records was a popular destination. Alabama Shakes, Hans Condor, PUJOL, and Human Eye, all put on great shows for crowds that were more curious than energetic. Hilariously offensive (or offensively hilarious) Neil Hamburger closed out the night, the sole comedian on the SoundLand bill. Repeating any of his jokes in this article may be in bad taste, but I will say that I pre-ordered the limited, Black & Blue vinyl copy of Hamburger’s set. I look forward to playing it for future house-guests that have trouble knowing when it’s time to leave.

Nearby, Mercy Lounge and Cannery Ballroom were in constant play. Just south at the Basement you could find a great lineup that was capped by The Ettes. The Station Inn was packed all weekend, and concluded their night with a “Super Jam,” featuring The Apache Relay, Roman Candle, and Evan P Donohue. Across town on 12th, Yelawolf wrapped up one of the greatest rap lineups Nashville has seen in a while.

Nashville’s valuable but oft-ignored hip-hop scene was prominently featured at SoundLand, showcasing a blossoming community of artists and talented people. When asked about the state of Nashville hip-hop, Aaron Miller, of Boss of Nova, responded, “If you’d have asked me that five years ago, I would’ve told you that it was shit. But honestly, in these last five years, people like Chancellor Warhol, and Call It Dope!, and Dee Goodz, and Openmic, and Rio [have] opened it up for Sam & Tre. I’d be willing to bet that in the next five years, because of everything that’s coming out of Nashville right now… you’re gonna see the music business itself change.” Boss of Nova performed a set at Mai for their second SoundLand appearance. Miller also performed with Chancellor Warhol at the 12th Ave. Block Party Stage.

JEFF The Brotherhood performs at the Neuhoff Factory Stage. Photo: Steve Cross

Saturday was the Festival’s last, but definitely not least. The day was anchored by The Neuhoff Factory stage, a pop-up venue in Germantown that on any other night could be the setting of a developing story on the nightly news. JEFF The Brotherhood electrocuted the crowd to headline the venue’s lineup, but not before many of Nashville’s finest got their turn. The Black Belles played their fourth-ever show, while the Third Man Rolling Record Store sold tri-color copies of their newest single. Those Darlins rocked out. And Royal Bangs, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Apache Relay, and Tristen, made for a great day in the sun.

Cheer Up Charlie Daniels began an A-List Saturday night for Nashville talent at Mercy Lounge. 12th & Porter and The Basement had great lineups of their own. Waiting backstage at Mercy for the final set of the weekend—a 20th anniversary rendition of Nirvana’s Nevermind by local cover band My So-Called Band—the week of so much amazing music started to take its toll.

It was approaching 1 am Sunday morning, and I had slept about 6 hours since Wednesday. People say you can’t have too much of a good thing. I didn’t have too much—I just needed a rest. And besides, it wasn’t a good thing. It was a great thing. It was Nashville.

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