In the Scene: Unpacking the Year in Music issue Pt. 2

Here’s our latest conversation on what the alt-weekly The Nashville Scene is covering with its music editor Stephen Trageser.

Jewly Hight: There are two artist interviews in this year end package, one of them with Brittney Spencer and the other one with Alanna Royale. Why did they seem like important voices to focus on, and what do they have to say?

Stephen Trageser: Brittney Spencer has had such an incredible breakout year this year. She got to share this awesome voice and songs that she has with the world in a much bigger way than she’d gotten to before. She talked a lot about how deeply rooted her inspiration is in classic country storytelling and harmonies and just how important country is to her. And also talked about being open to embracing some new ideas. And she addressed being a Black artist in the country field and how what she needs is equity, not just people saying nice things.

Alanna Royal is an incredible soul singer who loves touring. And this year gave her that first opportunity to get back on the road since the pandemic started. We talked to her about what that experience was like, how some things, as the pandemic is not totally over, are different and unusual. She found that that’s really still inspiring to keep her pushing ahead and moving forward.

JH: You also broke the happenings of 2021 down by genre and music scene. What action did you see in the Nashville hip-hop scene this year?

ST: We saw a lot of maintaining that really strong momentum from 2020, saw a ton of great releases and shows. Plus, there were stories about folks getting sync placements, getting their music in film and television, and also new publishing deals and things of that nature that can help build that financial stability that makes infrastructure possible for the scene to help keep growing. So we’re hoping to see some of that in the future.

JH: What kind of momentum did contributor Ron Wynn find in jazz, blues and soul in Nashville this year?

ST: We saw venerable institutions coming back, like the Nashville Jazz Workshop reopened. They had started to move their headquarters before the pandemic and were finally able to have audiences and students back this year. We also had the opening of the National Museum of African American Music, which, you know, they do just an absolutely amazing job of telling the story of Black music, which in so many ways is the foundation of American music and modern music in general.

JH: What about country music? How did Brittney McKenna make sense of what happened in that world in 2021?

ST: Well, you had something of a mixed bag. You had lots of great records and people getting attention that deserved it. You did see more space being made for Black and brown artists, especially on spaces like the CMA [Awards] stage. But you still have situations like the Morgan Wallen debacle and his extraordinary success this year, in spite of what had happened with him, that kind of point to the industry as a whole, not really confronting racism in a meaningful way yet.

JH: Stephen, you also wrote about the year that Nashville venues have had. How did you sum up the reopenings, the health measures and the real estate squeeze?

ST: That has also been a bit of a mixed bag. You had great news like the Basement East being able to reopen right before the pandemic. You know, they were taken out by a tornado. You had Brooklyn Bowl [Nashville] opening up. You had Bobby’s Idle Hour coming back, some venerable Nashville venues. And you had audiences responding, for the most part, positively to vaccination requirements, making it safe to get out and see music, which was a great thing for everybody.

But then at the same time, you had stories about where the rampant real estate market in Nashville has been putting a squeeze on historic venues like Exit/In, ones that are sort of integral to the scene, like the Mercy Lounge complex. They’re getting ready to move out. And The Groove, that record store in East Nashville that’s also hosted lots of shows, is running this campaign to raise money to buy their building. So we’re hoping for some good news in 2022. We’ll see how that all plays out.