Everyone knows about Nashville’s neon moons—the glowing red beer signs lighting the dark corners of honky-tonks all along Broadway. But just a couple blocks away at Public Square Park and a stone’s throw from the banks of the Cumberland River, people can find a place to dance under the real thing.
Thousands of Nashvillians and visitors alike gather every year in front of the city’s courthouse with nothing but grass underfoot and an open sky, the moon and freedom overhead. That’s part of what has given Live On The Green a festival vibe over the years. There’s hot sun before nightfall, cold beer, a diverse lineup of music and even some festival fashions like sundresses and flower crowns — and at least one woman with an actual rhinestone version. But this festival is free, and everyone’s welcome, which makes it a community gathering place for all types of folks.
Sure enough, just before sunset on Saturday when power-pop trio Jukebox the Ghost took the stage, toddlers splashed through fountains at the back of the park as a young couple twirled to the music in an embrace. Elsewhere on the grounds, people had kicked off their espadrilles or stepped out of Tevas to feel the nature beneath them as a kick drum thumped like a heartbeat and then ricocheted between the tall, concrete buildings circling the park. Grilled kebobs and smoked pork from rows of food trucks perfumed the grounds as twilight crept in and stage fog rose through purpled-hued lights. By the time the band covered Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the crowd bobbed in waves, heads banging in full rock and roll style.
And that’s another way Live On The Green helps rock Nashville’s reputation for the better. Locals know that a Music City show with too many music-business-types can result in a crossed-arms and stodgy kind of feel. But at this party, all those bets are off. Fans crowd up to the stage, hoot and holler and throw their hands in the air. And while it might be country music that wafts out of the barroom doors in downtown Nashville, Live On The Green helps showcase the true diverse spirit of Music City.
On the main stage, for example, soul followed pop when Devon Gilifillian took the crowd on a mellow magic carpet ride of jams. With nearly 40 acts over six days, Live on the Green has grown from a once per week festival when it began 10 years ago to an extravaganza that culminated for the first time this year in four consecutive days of music like you’d see at Bonnaroo or CMA Fest. It brings in major acts like Gary Clark Jr., and St. Paul and the Broken Bones, but it doesn’t leave out beloved locals either. Founding station Lightning 100, one of the city’s proponents of local and independent music on the radio, makes sure to feature talent like Aaron Lee Tasjan who took the 615 Stage on Saturday. He charmed the crowd with his trippy singer-songwriter rock as striped beach balls bobbed overhead.
Then to close out the main stage Grace Potter prowled on stage with her fearlessly feminine rock roar. She treated the crowd to her hits like Stars, an outdoor anthem if there ever was one, but also shared some special stories and songs for the Nashville crowd. “I’m bringing this one out of the crypt,” she said before playing Apologies, the tune that put her on Kenny Chesney’s radar leading to their collaboration.
But when it comes to capturing the spirit of a crowd that ranged in backgrounds and ages from babies to Boomers, Gilifillian probably summed it up best during his set: “It doesn’t matter what color you—what race or religion you celebrate…We’re all human beings, and it’s all love here.”