Music City appears in pop culture frequently today, but few remember its first foray into TV: long-running musical-comedy program “Hee Haw.” Hosted by country entertainers Buck Owens and Roy Clark, the corny weekly variety show was filmed here and featured all the greats of the 1960s and 1970s.
Television retains a presence in Nashville, though the city is most frequently used as a backdrop for reality TV or filmed music events. ABC’s “Nashville” was filmed here before it was canceled, rescued by CMT, and finally died a (blessed) death in 2018. “Bachelorette Weekend” also premiered in 2018, capitalizing on the city’s bachelorette party trend. Further proving Nashville is a true reflection of our current culture, the city has also become a favorite city for ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” franchise castoffs.
Along with myriad country artists, Nashville is home to big-name talent in other musical genres, including pop, rock, bluegrass, jazz, and Christian music. Too many stars to mention have come here to write and record music, including Bon Jovi, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Kid Rock, R.E.M., and Elvis. Musicians as diverse as the Black Keys, Michael McDonald, Donna Summer, and Jack White have homes in Nashville today.
With rags-to-riches stories around every corner, Nashville was the inspiration behind several memorable movies. In 1975’s “Nashville,” late director Robert Altman made a comic parody of characters who converge in Music City in the early 1970s. In “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980), Sissy Spacek earned an Oscar for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn, a poor Kentucky girl who becomes a female country music legend. The film offers an especially accurate portrayal of Nashville’s heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, when such country pioneers as Hank Williams were in their prime. Another unforgettable biopic is “Sweet Dreams” (1985), in which Jessica Lange plays music star Patsy Cline, whose hits included “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces.” The film follows the singer’s tumultuous marriage and short-lived career. Cline was killed in a plane crash at the height of her fame.
One lesser-known coming-of-age story filmed in Nashville is “The Thing Called Love” (1993). It featured a then-unknown Sandra Bullock and was the last movie made by River Phoenix, who died shortly thereafter. Sibling Joaquin Phoenix would strike box-office gold years later with “Walk the Line,” in which he channels the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, whose career was launched at Sun Records in Memphis. Nashville native Reese Witherspoon portrays his wife, June Carter Cash (and won an Oscar for the role).
In 2011, Gwyneth Paltrow also threw herself into the country fray in “Country Strong,” a melodrama about a country singer who drops out of rehab to pursue a comeback. The film co-stars Tim McGraw, who earned acting accolades opposite Sandra Bullock in 2010’s “The Blind Side,” which is set in Memphis.
Last and little remembered among movies filmed in Nashville is “The Green Mile” (1999), starring Tom Hanks. Novelist Stephen King’s gripping story focuses on death row guards at a penitentiary in the 1930s and was filmed at the closed Tennessee State Prison in West Nashville neighborhood The Nations.
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