CMT recently announced that next year’s sixth season of the hit television show Nashville will be the last. Creator and executive producer Callie Khouri’s vision made a big impact. Partners ABC Studios and Lionsgate Television took a gamble on the show and it paid off.
It’s been an exciting journey filled with amazing music. As the country music drama takes a final season bow, let’s look at how it impacted country music as a whole.
A new audience
When Nashville originally aired on ABC in 2012, it brought country music into millions of homes. And perhaps most surprisingly, it struck a chord with millennials and younger women.
While older generations had preconceived stereotypes about country music, Nashville proved that younger viewers didn’t. They loved seeing remarkable characters like Hayden Panettiere’s Taylor Swift-inspired Juliette Barnes. And they loved watching young characters work their butts off all for a shot at “making it” in music.
The show elevated the careers of folks like Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Clare Bowen, Chris Carmack, Sam Palladio and more. It’s also elevated careers of musicians who got cast on the show, like Lennon Stella and Maisy Stella who play Maddie Conrad and Daphne Conrad.
Millennials related to the hustle of characters like Gunnar Scott, Scarlett O’Connor, Avery Bradley and Will Lexington. Nashville gave a whole new generation a newfound respect for country music.
Nashville not only brought country music into the homes of millions every week. It brought millions to the home of country music. Of those who watch the show, an incredible 1 in 5 visitors to Music City said the show was a motivating factor for them actually traveling to Nashville. And the people who watched the show and visited Nashville stayed longer and spent on average 23 percent more money in town.
And when people spend money in Nashville, they’re usually also spending money to support music. Country music’s huge increase in popularity isn’t just thanks to genre-bending artists like Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line and Maren Morris. It’s also thanks to an increased desire to go see these artists and songwriters live before they make it big. Nashville showed how cool it is to hear music as it’s written before all of the production.
One of the most popular locations of all? The real-life Bluebird Cafe. While it was always a popular listening room, the cafe’s popularity soared after the show. Fans and tourists wait in line for hours just to see anybody perform there. The show actually built its own version of the historic cafe after the first season so it was easier to film there.
When the Nashville show first aired, the onslaught of bro-country in the music scene was in full effect. And for years, scandals like the whole “tomato” thing plagued country music reality. But on Nashville, strong women and meaningful music matters. A lot.
Connie Britton’s Rayna James was a walking embodiment of singers like Martina McBride, Reba McEntire and other female country musicians. And real life songwriters were so ready and excited to write songs for characters like James.
Perhaps one of the most important things Nashville did was take real songs from real songwriters in town. Literally, anybody had a chance of landing a song on the show. While country radio was all about tight shirts, beer, trucks and “pretty light things,” the show’s music was about heartbreak, hope, desperation, acceptance, struggle and everything in between. There was no shortage of songwriters and artists in town who wished the country music on the show was the kind of music actually making it to country radio.
But just because it wasn’t on the radio didn’t make it real. In fact, the Nashville soundtracks, an artist collectively known as the “Nashville cast,” sold exceptionally well. Six of the albums debuted in the top 5 of the country albums charts and four in the top 15 of the all-genre US albums chart.
Several members of the cast took the music on the road as a touring act. And every ticket sold was a validation of hardworking songwriters who weren’t getting a fair shake on radio. Plus, that’s money in the pockets of writers in an increasingly difficult career field. Nashville praised and elevating songwriting more than any major television show. And country music is better off for it.