Boxoffice Insider: From Mastodon To Miley: Not Your Grandpappy’s Nashville

Miley Cyrus
Donn Jones / Invision / AP
– Miley Cyrus
Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.

While it’ll surely continue to be known as the epicenter of American country music, Nashville, with a modest metro population of nearly 2 million, is projected to soon overtake Memphis as Tennessee’s largest city and has the concerts to prove it.  

A major city may first require a major population, and Nashville continues to boom with U.S. Census Bureau data showing the metro area growing by 100 people per day over a period in 2016. The growth rate of the city more than doubled the national average from 2010-2015. It’s the 36th-biggest metro market in the U.S. Some of those people moving in may include booking agents, a potent symbol of the city’s inextricable connection to the live music business.

Nick Meinema told Pollstar he moved operations there to set up a “satellite” office for The Agency Group in 2012, and in short order has turned that into a fully realized Nashville agency. UTA acquired The Agency Group in 2015. Paradigm, citing explosive growth, just in December announced it had opened the doors to a larger office space in the city’s downtown, complete with a performance space and scenic views of the Cumberland River.

“Over the last few years we have watched our business grow and thrive exponentially, not unlike the city of Nashville,” office head Jonathan Levine stated at the time. Last year was still particularly strong for country music, as Garth Brooks playing seven dates in a row will do that.

But 2017 saw plenty of non-country arena acts grossing in the million-dollar mark and beyond at Bridgestone Arena, such as Ed Sheeran ($2.5 million), Bon Jovi ($1.5 million), Roger Waters ($1.4 million), Guns N’ Roses ($1.4 million), Tom Petty ($1.3 million), The Weeknd ($1.18 million), Queen + Adam Lambert ($1.17 million), Def Leppard ($1.13 million), John Mayer $1.09 million), and Jay-Z with $923,000 grossed. In 2016, the top two shows in Nashville, however, were not country.

Guns N’ Roses at Nissan Stadium grossed more than $4.5 million, while Adele at No. 2 for the year packed in 31,000 people over two nights at Bridgestone grossing just under $3 million. 2015 saw the kings themselves, The Rolling Stones, gross $8.4 million at Nissan Stadium (although Brad Paisley opened!), dwarfing otherwise monster grosses by Luke Bryan ($2.7 million, Vanderbilt Stadium), Kenny Chesney ($3.7 million, Bridgestone) and Taylor Swift, who of course started in country music but can only be considered pop in recent years.

Swift grossed $3.35 million over two shows at Bridgestone. Country or not, Bridgestone Arena is always a figure in Pollstar’s Year End charts, placing No. 12 in 2017, No. 16 in 2016, and No. 12 in 2015. Ryman Auditorium, while known as a country music Mecca and home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1975, also puts on a wide variety of genres, with acts like indie darling Bon Iver ($326,226, two shows) electronic duo Sylvan Esso ($57,947), comedian/director Kevin Smith ($55,875), and rock band Mutemath ($42,510) bringing an eclectic blend to the 2,362-seat room.

Ryman was No. 13 on Pollstar’s Year End Top 200 Theatres chart based on reported ticket sales, with 321,246 sold. The stadium trend seems to continue in the overall concert business, and Nissan Stadium has been busy in recent years with major shows including Guns N’ Roses and has upcoming dates with Ed Sheeran, Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift (Beyoncé and hubby Jay-Z are playing Vanderbilt Stadium just days earlier).

Meanwhile, the city has awarded Nashville a Major League Soccer team to play in a new 27,500-seat outdoor stadium, which could further that trend while giving a capacity between Bridgestone’s 20,000 indoor and Nissan Stadium’s 44,000-plus depending on configuration.

Jason Davis / Getty Images
– Mastodon
Gods of Nashville Thunder: Mastodon brings its pummeling prog-metal to Nashville as the city with country roots has fully embraced all formats of music. The 1,800-capacity Marathon Music Works in particular puts on a lot of metal and hip-hop shows.

At the club level, the 1,800-capacity Marathon Music Works is notable with sellouts or near sellouts from diverse artists in 2017 such as producer RL Grime (1,105 tickets, $31,144 gross) and DJ Girl Talk (1,435, ($35,533) and urban artists such as Jon Bellion (1,734, $39,679) Machine Gun Kelly ($37,400), Yelawolf ($37,804), Kehlani ($43,440) and Tech N9ne ($23,118).

A little smaller but just as notable is the 500-cap Exit / In, where acts like DRAM, TroyBoi and Manic Focus did strong business in 2017, and City Winery, where there’s a show almost every night, with last year’s sellouts coming from artists including Shawn Colvin, Marc Broussard (two nights), Toad The Wet Sprocket, and Tower Of Power to the 314-cap room. Artists seem to love Nashville as well, with Ryman Properties teaming with Blake Shelton to open the venue/restaurant/bar Ole Red, a $20 million, 26,000-square-foot entertainment venue.

But who wouldn’t enjoy selling out Bridgestone Arena? Katy Perry in 2014 (13,487 tickets, $1.56 million) proclaimed from the stage: “This is the city that taught me how to write all of these cool songs. Yeah, you guys definitely need a royalty,” and Paul Stanley of KISS, which sold 11,722 tickets and grossed $1.07 million, who said: “Nashville may be famed for its country music, but this may well be the capital of rock and roll music in the United States of America.”

Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus, the “Hannah Montana” pre-teen country darling daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus who has since become known as a provocative pop star, apparently likes Nashville enough to purchase a $5.8 million secluded farm about 20 miles south of the city last year, according to Variety. \

She grossed more than $1 million at Bridgestone in 2014, with 13,043 tickets sold for a stop on her “Bangerz” tour.