This past September, while selling our ceramic pipes at a street market in Austin, we met a family visiting from Nashville, TN. The family was out-going and sweet, singing the praises of their hometown. We talked about the ways Austin had changed during our time here, transitioning from a big college town, to a small city. Prior to meeting this family, neither of us had ever thought much about Nashville, but midway through the conversation we decided that we should find a reason to visit. The daughter provided the excuse right on cue, when she told us about Porter Flea.
Our flight landed in Nashville at midnight and we were starving. Google led us to Five Points and a local told us to go to Duke’s. We walked up to the Deli counter and ordered Cubans from a slightly salty red head. The people in the bar had a distinct edge. Having lived in Portland, Brooklyn, and Austin, the beards, high-waisted jeans, leather and vintage wool did not distinguish Nashville, but something did. There was a different edge about this crowd, what was it? A toughness? Is Tennessee considered part of the South? What part of the country is this? It’s not the East coast; it’s not the mid-West. There was a confidence in the crowd that was not at all smug or pretentious, nor was it over-anxious or trying too hard to prove itself. It was teetering right in between those two places.
When Porter Flea opened its doors to customers, the line to enter wrapped around the building, and never subsided until the market closed. It was Black Friday turned on its head: rather than elbowing each other out of the way for big screen TVs on clearance, Nashvillians rallied to support handmade art. The response to Hollow was stronger at Porter Flea than it was at markets we’ve done in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Boulder. Prior to our visit, we were apprehensive that Tennessee might be too conservative to embrace something associated with marijuana use. Even in larger more “liberal” cities, many shoppers will comment that they don’t smoke and they don’t know anyone who does. Those types of comments were much less frequent in Nashville. In fact, one middle-aged woman asked if she would be able to smoke hash out her new pipe. We admitted that we hadn’t tested that out yet.
Still buzzed from the energy of the people we met at the market, we headed out for the night. As we pulled up to an opulent, three story, Victorian, our Uber driver said, “so this is the Husk.” We were led downstairs to the bar for a cocktail where we met up with Charles. Charles moved here from Austin with his husband two years ago in search of adventure and affordable real estate. He told us about the development of the dining scene. He told us a story about how his cable repairman had made it a point to tell Charles that he was comfortable with homosexuals, but finished off their conversation with a racial slur. He told us about the thriving live music scene. He told us that Nashville seemed like the bachelorette party capitol of the world. He told us that he still wasn’t comfortable holding hands with his husband in public in his new city. Later we headed to Rolf & Daughters for a dining experience that was on par with anything Austin had to offer. Bellies full, we made our way to Basement East for what would prove to be the rawest experience we would have in Nashville.
At Basement East, we found a long line leading to the entrance. Huddling together against the cold, we struck up a conversation with the group ahead of us when we overheard that they had attended Porter Flea that day. We told them about Hollow and passed around the Gemstone, whose bowl was graciously topped off with “caviar,” a resin-y hash ball. Inside, the performance started, a debaucherous take on a Christmas pageant with Santa, the Grinch, and the band, Birdcloud. Beautiful and venomous, the female duo was unapologetically provocative and vulgar. We wondered if their act was a stage persona or the real deal? Unable to rip our gaze from Birdcloud, who had recently changed from ball gowns to men’s underwear, we edged closer and closer to the stage. Around midnight, the more outspoken band member yelled at a man in the crowd whose hand was outstretched toward her leg. She proceeded to pistol whip the drunken concert go-er with her microphone. Minutes later, the man was dragged by both arms backward out of the crowd right past us. His body was limp and there was a large, bloody gash on his forehead. His eyes looked eerily vacant. After that, the crowd dispersed. Walking out, we saw the injured man lying on the floor with people crowded around, his shirt off. An ambulance was parked outside and paramedics were bringing a stretcher up the stairs of the venue. Holy shit.
Killing time before our flight back to Austin the next day, we sat down for pints and slices at 5 Points Pizza. The young woman behind the bar was fresh faced and genuine. While chatting with her about our experiences, we realized that Nashville is having a moment. No longer limited to its reputation as a quaint country music town, but not yet homogenized and identity-less, Nashville is in a sweet spot. Authentic, gritty, and progressive… no stage personas here.
... and the winner of the Porter Flea pipe give-a-way is Griffin Dunn!
Griffin, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address to claim your prize!