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RUTLEDGE: Music City hard-hat zone; this is not my father’s Nashville

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the first time in 30 years, I’m walking the streets of downtown Nashville. So far nothing looks familiar.

I’m in town with my wife, Sharon, who is working a booth at the summer convention for NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants. An audiologist, Sharon’s not filling anyone’s ear with music. She’s here with EARTECH Music to fill ears with a rubbery substance used to form in-ear music monitors.

The Nashville Convention Center is temporarily the world’s largest music store with thousands of eclectic people milling about. Amid the long hair, skinny jeans and black T-shirts, my wife assigned me the best job of all: “Stay out of the way.”

I spent a good portion of the morning doing my job near the C.F. Martin & Company booth and its incredible crew of marketing professionals. In a matter of minutes, and without saying a word to me, those people had me convinced that I needed five varieties Martin guitars in addition to the two I already own.

I didn’t even have enough cash for a “World’s Okayest Musician” T-shirt. It can get plumb miserable hanging around a five-acre music store with empty pockets, so I went outside for a walk. Somewhere behind all of those new glass curtains, I kept thinking, has to be the Music City I experienced 30 years ago.

I was here for three days back then for a college journalism class. I told Sharon during the drive over how much fun we had back then, and how one of the neat things about Nashville was how even the big-city folk talked country.

I think all those people must have moved back to the country.

My father was raised in this town. He talked country even though he was connected to the aristocratic Rutledge clan that came up from South Carolina to help lay out the place. Any remaining Rutledges here clearly were kicked out of City Hall long ago.

You’d need a helicopter to spot Rutledge Hill, assuming it hasn’t been jackhammered to make way for another high-rise hotel. And speaking of jackhammers, we were awakened by one outside our hotel window at 5 a.m. — our punishment, I suppose, for contributing to the demand.

Nashville really is beginning to look like one of those over-developed beaches where you can only see the ocean when you’re standing in it. I think it would make my father a little sad.

By Dad’s standards, the city was too big when he lived here in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. As a kid walking the streets between odd jobs at downtown businesses, a carload of tourists once asked Dad for directions to the Grand Ole Opry. He’d heard of it but had no clue how to get there.

To his later amusement, he learned he’d walked right past the Ryman Auditorium on his regular route just moments before those tourists had asked for directions.

Part of my mission during this trip is to map out plans for another visit coming up in October. My friend and former editor Scott Batchelor decided our annual weekend to honor our late fathers should be in Nashville this year.

I plan to honor my father’s memory by walking up to some tourists at 116 Fifth Avenue North and asking for directions to the Ryman — assuming it’ll still be there come October.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com, or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.

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