I’ve already written one post about dining in Nashville that focused on downtown restaurants – the ones closest to the Music City Center. But there’s more!

Rolf & Daughters (Twitter, Instagram)
700 Taylor St., 2 miles/8 minute drive from the Music City Center (MCC)

Just a short cab (or Uber) ride away is the Germantown neighborhood. During the digitalNow conference a bunch of friends and I went there to have dinner at Rolf & Daughters. Let me just say: if the bucatini fra diavolo with octopus, lardo, calabrian chili and breadcrumbs is on the menu… Oh. My. God. I’m a pasta devotee, but I don’t often order pasta in restaurants because, frankly, I’m also a pretty darn good pasta cook. Too often I’m disappointed by restaurant pasta dishes, but this one blew me away. I would have had two bowls if I was home alone.

The chef, Philip Krajekc, is a multiple Beard Award nominee – always a good sign. I started with grilled spring onions – it was the season – with egg yolk and bottarga (salted, cured fish roe – not everyone’s thing but definitely mine). Everyone around the table seemed pleased with their meals. And, I almost forgot, their cocktails too. They’re another one of those restaurants with a crazy good-looking craft cocktail menu.

Bucatini fra diavolo with octopus, lardo, chiles and breadcrumbs (photo by Rolf & Daughters/Instagram)

Bucatini fra diavolo with octopus, lardo, chiles and breadcrumbs
(photo by Rolf & Daughters/Instagram)

City House (Twitter)
1222 4th Ave. N., 2.2 miles/8 minute drive from the MCC

I went to City House for Sunday Supper with the ladies from the Nashville CVC. The chef, Tandy Wilson, was nominated for the Best Chef Southeast in the James Beard awards this year. Another great cocktail menu! I had the Samson: Averell Damson Gin, vermouth, lemon soda, bitters and grapefruit. We shared a bunch of dishes including a few pizzas featuring their house-cured meats and cornmeal-crusted North Carolina catfish with a tasty slaw of Savoy cabbage, rhubarb, Vidalia onion and an orange dressing.

Farmers Market (Twitter)
900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., 1.4 miles/5 minute drive from the MCC

If you’re in Germantown, the Farmers Market is also in the neighborhood. I’ve read recommendations for Professor Bailey’s pimento cheese biscuits, Betty Jo’s hot slaw, the cobbler table and Moosehead Kettle Corn.

Midtown Café (Twitter)
102 19th Ave. S., 1.5 miles/7 minute drive from the MCC

My friend Ben Martin of Online Community Results who lives in Nashville says the Midtown neighborhood is full of college kids and rowdy crowds, but he and his girlfriend, Teri Carden of ReviewMyAMS.com, took me to Midtown Café the night I arrived. Definitely no rowdy crowds there! I splurged on the chef’s menu – salad, foie gras with roasted mango, duck breast and the most amazing coconut cream cake I’ve ever had. Teri raved about the lemon artichoke soup.

The Catbird Seat (Twitter)
1711 Division St., 1.2 miles/5 minute drive from the MCC

If you want to get the best (and most difficult) reservation in town, that would be The Catbird Seat. But it’s only open Wednesday through Saturday. If you do get a reservation for Saturday, I’d love to join you. Their executive chef, Trevor Moran, is a Noma alum – a restaurant in Denmark often cited as the best in the world. It has only 32 seats with 20 of them at the bar wrapped around a U-shaped kitchen. Prepare yourself for a multi-course meal – the best kind in my opinion. Watch their Twitter stream to see if any seats open up while you’re in town.

Bound’ry (Twitter, Instagram)
911 20th Ave. S., 1.6 miles/7 minute drive from the MCC

In the mood for antelope? Or rabbit? You might find it at Bound’ry in the Music Row neighborhood. Ben says it’s an “upscale place with a few outdoor tables that have gas fireplaces in the center. Probably will be too warm in August for them, but maybe not!”

Charred Tennessee pork belly appetizer at Bound'ry (photo by Bound'ry/Instagram)

Charred Tennessee pork belly appetizer at Bound’ry
(photo by Bound’ry/Instagram)

In Midtown, you’ll find a Nashville classic, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. Now, we need to talk about hot chicken because you don’t know Nashville unless you know hot chicken. Hot chicken is spicy fried chicken usually served on white bread with pickles. Recipes are secret, but from what I’ve pieced together I think you first marinate chicken pieces in buttermilk infused with cayenne, paprika, garlic powder and other spices. Then dredge the chicken in a spicy breading, fry it once or twice, and then maybe rub it with a cayenne paste or oil. I’m thinking about coming up with a baked version of hot chicken and if I do, and it’s successful, I’ll post the recipe on my Grabbing the Gusto blog.

At a hot chicken restaurant, you specify the level of heat – mild, medium, hot or extra-hot. Stick with the lower levels unless you have an asbestos-lined mouth and digestive system. And, remember, the heat will stay on your fingers, so don’t touch your eyes and other parts. The chicken is cooked to order so expect a 15-20 minute wait. Update: looks like the wait is longer according to one of my kind commenters.

Here are some of the places to find hot chicken in Nashville.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
Hattie B’s is the only one that serves draft craft beer. Heat levels range from ‘mild’ to ‘shut the cluck up.’
112 19th Ave. S., 1.5 miles/7 minute drive from the MCC

400 Degrees Spicy Chicken
The only hot chicken place downtown at 4th and Peabody inside the Quizno’s building at 319 Peabody St., 0.2 miles/5 minute walk from the MCC
Closed Sunday and Monday.

Helen’s Hot Chicken
A couple who owned a soul food restaurant in the ‘80s just opened a hot chicken food truck in Germantown.
1222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. – 1.8 miles/8 minute drive from the MCC

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish
Closed Sunday.
624 Main St. in East Nashville – 2.3 miles/8 minute drive from the MCC

Pepperfire Hot Chicken
Closed Sunday.
2821 Gallatin Pike, 5.9 miles/14 minute drive from the MCC

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
I saved the best for last. Hot chicken began at Prince’s in the 1950s. The story behind the recipe is a good one. Restaurant owner Thornton Prince came home too late one night – something the ladies’ man did a little too often. His girlfriend tried to get back at him by serving him a breakfast of fried chicken dosed with lots of cayenne pepper. Little did she know her punishment dish would end up on his menu.
Closed Sunday and Monday. Cash only.
123 Ewing Dr., 6.7 miles/16 minute drive from the MCC

I’ve got one more food post coming in case you decide to skip sessions and just eat your way around Nashville. Sounds tempting to me!

This is the fifth in a series of posts about Nashville for ASAE Annual Meeting attendees. Thanks to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, I received complimentary registration and accommodations during the 2014 digitalNow conference – giving me an excuse to spend more of my money on Southern food and craft cocktails.

photo by Sean Russell/Flickr CC license

photo by Sean Russell/Flickr CC license

I’m usually a beer and wine drinker, but back in May, my first stop in Nashville with my friends Ben Martin of Online Community Results and Teri Carden of ReviewMyAMS.com was at Rumours Wine Bar in the Gulch neighborhood. It was happy hour so a selection of cocktails were $5 or $6. Ben recommended the Old Fashioned — a very fine choice.

We were heading elsewhere for dinner, but we split two small plates of snacks, including the Shishito peppers. In August, try this link (it’s not live yet) on the Nashville Lifestyles website for their Rumour of the Month food and drink pairing suggestions.

nashville craft cocktails #asae14

Shishito peppers at Rumours Wine Bar

The next night, I went to the Patterson House with the Nashville CVC ladies. When we got out of the car, I wondered where we were heading because I didn’t see anything resembling an entrance to a nice bar. But we walked up some steps to a non-descript entrance and went in. The hostess led us past a heavy red velvet curtain into a dimly lit room with a speakeasy atmosphere, not that I’d know what that is. The chandeliers and lamps look like they came out of your elegant grandmother’s attic. Booths and bookcases line the perimeter of the room. And, in the middle, a 30-seat bar is where the bartenders create their exquisite concoctions.

The bar opens at 5:00 p.m. and doesn’t take reservations. I’ve read that lines are common so go early. Their extensive cocktail menu is organized by spirit. If you can’t decide, Ben says, “Just tell the server what kinds of flavors you like and let them make you something custom.” I had a Bacon Old Fashioned made with Benton’s bacon-infused 4 Roses bourbon, maple syrup and coffee pecan bitters. Smoky goodness chilled by a giant spherical piece of ice. Ben also recommends the Clapless Belle — “ask for it to be made with Belle Meade.” That’s a local bourbon, more on that later. We shared some tater tots, truffled devils eggs and goat cheese balls, but the best were the hot-from-the-fryer donuts sprinkled with a mix of cinnamon, sugar and salt.

nashville craft cocktails #asae14

Dark and smoky – bacon old fashioned at Patterson House

Nothing compared to the craft cocktail experience at the digitalNow reception at Pinewood Social. I should have taken a photo of the menu so I could tell you exactly what I drank but I didn’t. I do remember having The Bitter Wife made with Corsair gin, Batavia Arrack, lemon and Lyle’s Golden Syrup. And a Marathon Manhattan with Corsair Triple Smoke, 1776 Rye, Carpano Antica and Regan’s orange bitters.

The mixologists at Pinewood, and probably at many of the other places I indulged in cocktails, are serious business about crafting the most exquisite beverages. To get a smoky aroma on another cocktail, the bartender let loose a few drops of Laphroaig single malt scotch from an eyedropper and then twirled that around the glass. Every drink had several ingredients including artisanal bitters and fruit oils. If you’re a cocktail lover, you owe it to yourself to check out Pinewood.

Plus, Pinewood has more than amazing cocktails. The food was fantastic especially their Things on Toast. Try their Crispy Pork Rinds with Adobo Spice, Fried Broccoli, Lobster Roll and Fried Chicken too. While you’re there, you can stay inside and bowl on one of their six vintage lanes, or go outside to play bocce or hang out poolside. According to Ben, you might even see celebrities while you’re there.

Did you notice Corsair was mentioned a few times in my descriptions of cocktails? Corsair is a distillery in Marathon Village – an old Marathon Motorworks Factory that’s been rehabbed into a four-block complex of shops and studios in the Germantown neighborhood. Corsair was our first stop the afternoon I arrived in Nashville but they were closed for a private party. You can take a tour but plan ahead – it looks like they sell out about a week ahead.

nashville craft cocktails #asae14

Still at Corsair
(photo by Callie Reed/Flickr CC license)

Green Brier Distillery makes Belle Meade Bourbon, described by Ben as “locally made and OMG so good.” I can vouch for that. It’s named after the Belle Meade Plantation which you can visit Saturday afternoon on the ASAE tour, “Puttin on the Ritz: Nashville’s Treasured Past.”

I never got to try Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream which was described as similar to Bailey’s but made with aged Tennessee whiskey, not Irish whiskey. Maybe this time, I’ll have it for dessert one night, or in my coffee.

Where do the locals go? Here are a few suggestions from Ben:

If you read any article about the Nashville cocktail scene, the Holland House Bar and Refuge in East Nashville is probably on it. Ben describes it as a “cozy neighborhood place with great food and cocktails.”

Another cocktail list favorite in East Nashville is No. 308. Try one of their $5 shots named after Beat writers. 

Couldn’t get into the Patterson House? Ben says, try the nearby Tavern, a “chill place with good food and drinks in the middle of the craziness.” I heard their fried chicken skins are a must. He also likes Red Door, “a dive bar with a huge outdoor deck.” 

Hard Rock Café is “the normal HRC experience, but the downtown Broadway location is epic and they also have a great rooftop patio.”

Pub 5 is also downtown “right next to Honky Tonk Central, but feels like 1000 miles off Broadway. Small, secret, classy spot. Rooftop patio if you want to be reminded you’re in Nashville — you can hear (usually bad) music from next door.”

Ben suggests taking a taxi to Whiskey Kitchen, it’s not far, for its dozens of bourbons and whiskeys.

If you find yourself in the Germantown neighborhood, I can attest that the cocktails at Rolf & Daughters, a restaurant I will describe in a future Nashville food post, are fabulous. 

This is the fourth in a series of posts about Nashville for ASAE Annual Meeting attendees. Thanks to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, I received complimentary registration and accommodations during the 2014 digitalNow conference – giving me an excuse to spend more of my money on Southern food and craft cocktails.


I’m interrupting my series of posts about eating in Nashville to tell you about some good spots to visit while you’re in town.

Nashville’s a great city for visitors because so many destinations are within walking distance of each other. You’ll have an even more carefree tourist experience if you register for one of the ASAE tours on Saturday afternoon, August 9, or Tuesday afternoon, August 12. I’m signed up for the “Behind the Music City: Be a Star for a Day” tour on Tuesday. Here’s where we’re going if you want to plan a copycat itinerary.

Some of the biggest names in country have recorded their hits at the Historic RCA Studio B on Music Row. When I was in Nashville in May, we drove down Music Row on our way to or from somewhere. Even though I knew Nashville was Music City, it really hits home when you see all the offices for labels, publishers and other music industry businesses.

I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on that trip but I’m glad I’m going again. As my friend (and Nashville resident) Teri Carden of ReviewMyAMS.com says, “It’s better than it sounds.” She’s right. The museum is packed full of cool stuff – instruments, stage costumes and personal belongings along with video and audio clips and a “well-tuned look-back on country stars’ musical, social, and political impact on America and the world.”

nashville ryman #asae14

The Ryman
(photo by Cliff/Flickr CC license)

Nearby is the mother church of country music, the Ryman Auditorium, or as they call it around here, the Ryman. This National Historic Landmark opened in 1892. With its wooden pews and stained-glass windows, you may recognize it as the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. Don’t miss the collection of Hatch Show Print posters in the corridor at the back side of the auditorium. Your can take a backstage tour and even record your own hit in the recording studio.

I’m looking most forward to visiting the Johnny Cash Museum. Sue Holzer, executive director of the Society of Interventional Radiology, visited the museum after the digitalNow conference.

“I had a two hour window before my flight and was walking by the Country Music Hall of Fame when I opted to follow the signpost to the Johnny Cash Museum. It did not disappoint. Much like the man in black, it’s located behind an unassuming store front. The museum showcases both his life and music. Displays range from school report cards, to show outfits, and even a few guitars; plus, you get a good fix of audio and video footage throughout the years.

“It can take you anywhere between 30-60 minutes to tour the entire museum, and it’s easy to go at your own pace. I’m a big fan, so I can’t say I learned anything I didn’t already know. But it was the perfect history break I wanted. And I did bring home the perfect souvenirs.”

johnny cash museum nashville #asae14

Photo by John Fischer/Flickr CC license

If you haven’t yet had your fill of music history, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum is located on the first floor of the Historic Nashville Municipal Auditorium. It celebrates the musicians and session players who played with famous rock, country and Motown artists.

Another intriguing spot is the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and General Store – “the oldest, continuously operated country music artist museum and souvenir shop in Nashville.”

If you ever dreamed of seeing the Parthenon, you don’t have to go to Greece, you can visit a full-scale reproduction in Nashville’s Centennial Park. Once the centerpiece for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, it now houses an art museum and a 42-foot statue of the goddess Athena, the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western world.

Teri recommends chilling on Bicentennial Mall with its “very well done Tennessee history wall, bigger than life granite map of the state, fountains and ahhhhmazing view of the capitol.” She suggests going first to the nearby Nashville Farmers Market to “grab fresh sushi, a gyro or the best best cheesecake in the world from the small vendor, Charlie’s Mini Cheesecakes.”

If you’re bringing your family, she says, “The Nashville Zoo is a little trek from downtown but it has the best playground I’ve ever experienced. The science center is well done too. My kids love it over and over again.”

For baseball fans, Teri says, “This may be one of your last chances to see the stadium where the minor league team, The Sounds, plays. A new stadium is going in downtown in the next couple years. The games are fun despite the low attendance. You’re sure to catch a fly ball–we caught three at one game!”

If you’ve been to Nashville, which touristy spots do you recommend?

Next up — craft cocktails in Nashville!

This is the third in a series of posts about Nashville for ASAE Annual Meeting attendees. Thanks to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, I received complimentary registration and accommodations during the 2014 digitalNow conference – giving me an excuse to spend more of my money on Southern food and craft cocktails.

I like to eat. I like to cook too so I appreciate chefs that use locally sourced ingredients to create fabulous dining experiences. Let me tell you, if you choose right, you’re going to have some fabulous dining (and drinking) experiences in Nashville.

When I was there in May for the digitalNow conference, I enjoyed some great meals. I also spent time with my friends Teri Carden of ReviewMyAMS.com and Ben Martin of Online Community Results who moved to Nashville last year. They’ll be chiming in here with some dining and drinking tips of their own.

Since we’re spending lots of time downtown during the ASAE Annual Meeting aka #ASAE14, let’s start there. I’m also including a few places that are located in The Gulch neighborhood.


My favorite meal in Nashville was at Husk, owned by chef Sean Brock who also owns and runs Husk in Charleston. I walked there for lunch after the digitalNow conference ended — what a great send-off meal. The restaurant, an 1895 home surrounded by gardens, sits on a hill overlooking downtown.

“If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” says Brock. My lunch was a celebration of Southern culinary culture, and that celebration started with The Commencement, a cocktail of Cynar, St. Germain, Cocchi Americano, Regan’s orange bitters, salt and soda. My oh my, that was tasty. I was in the mood for greens so I ordered a salad to start: Bloomsbury Farm lettuces, radish and onion with red-eye vinaigrette. I bet the Charcuterie Plate would be another great choice.

Whenever I think about Husk’s Parker House rolls, like right now, I can still smell the yeast and taste that butter glaze. Oh goodness, they are swoon worthy. The best rolls I’ve ever had. Really. I’m starting to think I should bake more regularly.

Husk in Nashville #asae14

A Southern Plate of Vegetables at Husk
(photo by Daniel Zemans/Flickr CC license)

Apparently I felt the need for vitamins because I chose A Plate of Southern Vegetables as my main course. I do love my vegetables. Who knew a plate of vegetables could be so filling, and mind you, I only had two rolls. My plate, a gorgeous slab of polished tree trunk, held four pottery bowls: grits with poached egg and mushrooms in soy broth, succotash with okra, heirloom tomatoes with blue cheese and buttermilk dressing, and hushpuppies.

I finished with a classic — buttermilk chess pie served with lemon cream sherbet studded with tiny little purple and yellow flowers and accompanied by Cruzes’s buttermilk crema. I’m glad I could walk it all off afterwards. What a fabulous lunch.

Husk (Twitter, Instagram) – 37 Rutledge St., .8 miles/17 minute walk from the Music City Center (MCC) or a 1.1 mile/4 minute drive.

The Southern Steak & Oyster

The day before digitalNow started, I had lunch with the Nashville CVC folks at The Southern. After hearing so much about hot chicken (more on that in another post), I knew I had to try the Hot Chicken Salad – mixed greens topped with spicy fried chicken, blue cheese, pickles, celery and carrots. Before I return to Nashville, I’m going to come up with my own version of hot chicken, but baked, not fried. Stay tuned to my Grabbing the Gusto blog for that one.

If I were to have dinner at The Southern, I’d have to try their Royal Red Risotto or Fish n’ Grits followed by Bananas Foster Bread Pudding. Burp. And, of course, there’s oysters.

The Southern (Twitter, Instagram) – 150 3rd Ave. S., .3 miles/7 minute walk from the MCC.

The Southern Nashville #asae14

The Howling Brothers at The Southern during brunch
(photo by Chris Connelly/Flickr CC license)


If you’re tired of southern food (are you mad?!?!), here’s one of Ben’s favorite sushi places. He says, “The view of the Nashville skyline from their rooftop bar is the best we’ve found. Take a taxi.” His insider tip: “Get the V5 edamame.” On their Instagram feed, Virago has promoted a $6 “Raw Deals” happy hour from 5-7 pm, along with #MakiSakeMonday at 5:00 p.m. featuring half-priced sushi and two-for-one cocktails.

Virago (Twitter, Instagram) – 1126 McGavock St., 0.8 miles/4 minute drive from the MCC.

Merchants Restaurant

The upstairs and downstairs dining rooms at Merchants each have their own menu and good-looking cocktails too. I’m intrigued by the sweet tea pork loin served downstairs with pimento cheese grits, molasses glazed green beans and bourbon jus with some duck fat tater tots as a starter.

Merchants (Twitter) – 401 Broadway, 0.3 miles/6 minute walk from the MCC

merchants restaurant nashville #asae14

Merchants Restaurant in downtown Nashville
(photo by Tom Bastin/Flickr CC license)


I’ve never been to a restaurant that has Butter Tasting on the appetizer menu. Not yet anyways. One of my digitalNow acquaintances was still raving the next day at lunch about her dinner at Etch. Everything on their menu looks delicious. And the readers of the Nashville Business Journal selected it as their favorite new restaurant. The chef, Deb Paquette, says the cobia – described on the menu as “turkish spiced, brown buttered oranges, capers, olives, raisins, almonds, feta, beignet” – has been a big hit.

Etch (Twitter) – 303 Demonbreun St., 0.2 miles/5 minute walk from the MCC. Closed Sunday.

Flyte World Dining and Wine

Located between downtown and The Gulch, Flyte also has a tempting menu. The chef has a family farm outside Nashville that provides much of the produce for the restaurant. Roasted beets with blueberry, juniper, chive puree and rye crumble are calling my name. Next, I might go for pork with caramelized ramps and onions, Carolina golden rice and pecan milk. All bets are off if the chicken and waffles are on the menu: “two-day yeast waffle topped with thinly sliced spicy pig ears, a silky buttermilk custard, bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup and spritz of house-made hot sauce.” Dang.

Flyte (Twitter) – 718 Division St., .6 miles/14 minute walk from the MCC. Closed Sunday and Monday.

The Farm House

You will see deviled eggs and pimento cheese on a lot of upscale southern menus, so you may as well give in and try them here. I’m looking at the southern natural pork chop with farro boudin, smoked carrot with hay honey, peach apple sauce and buttermilk demi. I can’t not get the charred cream corn and it only seems right to try the skillet plum upside down cake with bourbon butterscotch sauce and brown sugar bourbon ice cream.

The Farm House (Twitter) – 210 Almond St., 0.2 miles/5 minute walk from the MCC. Closed for dinner on Sunday.

Pimento cheese, just because it's beautiful (photo by Kristen Taylor/Flickr CC license)

Pimento cheese, just because it’s beautiful
(photo by Kristen Taylor/Flickr CC license)

Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant

If you want a friendly atmosphere with good southern food and some pickin’ on the side, make your way to Puckett’s. I’ll have the cherry smoked hot wings and southern fried catfish with sweet potato fries and cole slaw. And the cobbler.

Puckett’s (Twitter) – 500 Church St., 0.5 miles/10 minute walk from the MCC.

Pizzeria Al Taglio

Let’s say you have a few too many craft cocktails and you’re not feeling your best when you arrive at the Music City Center for a day of sessions. Nothing a few slices can’t fix! Lucky for you (and me), there’s a pizzeria right in the MCC. It opens at 11:00 a.m. You can make it until then. Plus, there’s beer.

Pizzeria Al Taglio – 201 5th Ave. in the Music City Center, follow the signs!

Keep your eye out for food trucks. You can follow Nashville food truck lists from Duly Noted and Charles Settles to find out which truck might be in the neighborhood.

Do you know Nashville? What did I miss downtown? Let us all know in the comments.

Stay tuned for more posts on good eats, drinks and other delights in Nashville.

This is the second in a series of posts for ASAE Annual Meeting attendees about Nashville. Thanks to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, I received complimentary registration and accommodations during the 2014 digitalNow conference – giving me an excuse to spend more of my money on Southern food and craft cocktails.

If you’re on the fence about attending the ASAE Annual Meeting in Nashville, let me tell you: Nashville will pleasantly surprise you.

No, that’s not quite right.

You are going to have a blast in Nashville! What a cool city!

That’s more like it. In May when I attended the digitalNow conference in Nashville, I wasn’t expecting to fall for the city like I did. What I also didn’t expect: writing eleven posts, at last count, to share my excitement about Nashville. Here’s #1.

I spent a good deal of my time in Nashville with two friends who moved there last year — Teri Carden of ReviewMyAMS.com and Ben Martin of Online Community Results. They have a lot to do with my newfound love for this city because of the places we went together. They’re also going to share some of their favorites in this series of posts about Nashville.

nashville basics #asae14

Photo by John Paul Endicott/Flickr CC license

Welcome to Nashville

I’m very pleased that Southwest has direct flights from RDU to BNA –Nashville International Airport. And, if I decide to come in earlier or stay longer, they don’t charge a fee to change my flight. And, as you probably know, you can check two free bags for free. I’m not on their marketing team, I’m just a big Southwest fan.

Check out the Bonnaroo-themed skylight displays and the other art exhibits in the airport. You’ll probably hear live music in the distance while you make your way to baggage claim.

Once you arrive, the Nashville CVB will take care of you. They’re offering complimentary airport shuttle service to all ASAE’s host hotels on a continuous basis Friday, August 8, 8:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m., Saturday, August 9, 8:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., and Sunday, August 10, 8:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.

If for some reason, you’re not into shuttles, the airport is about a 15-20 minute drive from downtown, or at least the Omni where I stayed. I don’t remember the taxi fare but according to the airport’s website, it’s $25.

nashville basics #asae14

Music-inspired art at the Omni Nashville

Home Away from Home at the Omni

I’m staying at the Omni Nashville again during Annual and, if it’s not sold out, you should too. It’s right across the street from the Music City Center where Annual is being held and is “fully integrated” with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on four levels. I read somewhere their mission is to be an authentic expression of Nashville’s vibrant music culture. Mission fulfilled.

Sometimes it’s the little things that add up to a great experience. Like the music played throughout the public areas of the hotel – a great selection of country AND rock. And then there’s the music-inspired art. I’ll go into that in more detail in another post, but let me just say, the hotel has an art curator in charge of its 350-piece collection. Make time to wander the halls.

The hotel’s design “incorporates local artwork, natural materials, exposed steel and regional limestone – all modern expressions of the city’s distinct character.” In other words, it’s beautiful and comfortable, or as the hotel describes it: “urban elegance with a vintage touch.” See if you can spot all the guitar references in the lobby — the frets on the ceiling and floor, music notes in the chandelier, and the bend of the body in the wood behind the reception desk. If you go into Bob’s Steak & Chop House, check out the cigar box guitars and vintage microphone collection.

Maybe this time I’ll have a chance to enjoy the biscuit bar or the rest of the farm to table menu at Kitchen Notes or have a late night cocktail and listen to a live band in Barlines. If the lines for coffee are too long in the Music City Center, walk across the street to the Bongo Java Coffee Shop in the Omni. For those who are into #poolcon, the rooftop pool at the Omni is stunning. And, it has an outdoor bar too!

nashville basics #asae14

Music City Center photo by Triangle Art Works

Music City Center

While I was in Nashville, the Music City Center (MCC) celebrated its first birthday. Outside on the front patio (across from the Omni), they were serving pieces of a huge cake shaped like the Center – which is shaped like a giant guitar. I passed because I was already too full from the three-dessert sampler served at lunch inside. The food at the MCC was top notch and much of it is sourced locally. I’m already envious of those who will be invited (because I’m sure someone will be) to the chef’s table and tasting room in the MCC’s kitchen.

Here too, the art is fabulous. They even have QR codes on the labels so you can learn more about each piece and artist. All but five of their 128-piece collection are by Tennessee artists. Like the Omni, they use local wood and stone throughout the Center. And art is everywhere – so refreshing. I loved how everyone I met during a tour of the MCC, including guest experience manager Regina Hicks, had a favorite piece of art.

After being at the Music City Center, your expectations of convention centers is going to rise to a new level. Meeting planners are going to love this place. One of my favorite quotes during my tour was when we in one of the green rooms: “This town understands green rooms better than any others.”

nashville basics #asae14

Marty Robbins suit in the halls of the Omni Nashville

Getting Around

Given the schedule, you probably won’t have time to venture far, but I know some of you like to play hooky during sessions. If you need a ride somewhere and you’re too cool for taxis, Nashville has Uber, Lyft, Scooter Squad and Music City Dream Cars if you want to rent a ridiculously sweet car for the day.

If you want to use leg power, Nashville Bicycle often offers 24-hour passes for $5, or at least they did during the CMA Fest and Bonaroo. Or you can rent a bike or take a bike tour with Green Fleet Bikes.

If you travel in large groups and need a bus, and not just any bus, check out the Big Love Bus.

We go to conferences to get inspired by the new knowledge and ideas we pick up in educational sessions. But usually the city is just a backdrop. It was different in Nashville. I left inspired, refreshed and recharged by the city’s music, art, food and good times. They’ve got something special going on there. You’ll see.

This is the first in a series of posts for ASAE Annual Meeting attendees about Nashville. Thanks to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, I received complimentary registration and accommodations during the 2014 digitalNow conference – giving me an excuse to spend more of my money on Southern food and craft cocktails.

For many years now, Mitch Joel, president of marketing agency Twist Image, has been manning the lookout post for the rest of us. His blog, Six Pixels of Separation, is a constant in my RSS feed and his podcast is a regular on my phone. Mitch dedicates each podcast to a conversation with someone interesting from marketing, media or another connected world. If you speak at conferences, you’ll like his recent shows with Nick Morgan and Nancy Duarte.

Mitch was a keynote speaker at the recent digitalNow conference in Nashville. In his keynote, as in his book, Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends On It, he described five massive movements that have changed how we interact with organizations. Unfortunately, many organizations, including associations, haven’t done much to change how they interact with us.

The power of direct relationships

The battle for direct relationships with your members involves everyone else who offers value to them, including your vendor members, media, consumer brands, thought-leaders and others on their screens. Mitch introduced us to someone who might change how we think about connecting with members. Bethany Mota is a teenage video star who shares her shopping “hauls” with 2-3 million fans every day. She’s successful because she knows her community and gives them what they want. Traditional media can’t even compete.

Do you have a Bethany Mota? Partner with people who know how to connect and communicate with your audience — people who can create direct relationships with them and give them what they want. These people may be on your staff or in your membership, but most likely they’re not. You’ll have to create new relationships (and new budget lines) to get them on your team. But you want them on your team.

disruptions facing associations

Mitch Joel at digitalNow 2014 in Nashville
(photo by Bill Sheridan)

Sex with data

Don’t be standoffish. Get cozy and intimate with your data. You can now capture two types of data:

  • Linear data – transactions, searches, email open rates and clicks.
  • Circular data – the social data we willingly put online that paints a picture of our behavior, interests and needs.

The magic begins when you put both types of data together for a deeper understanding of your members and a more personalized experience for them.

Amazon is the personalization king with their website recommendations and their PriceCheck app which tells you how much the product you’re looking at in a store will cost on Amazon. In the process, they’re learning more about you – your location, interests and shopping habits. In return for your data, they provide a better shopping experience. Check out what the Project Management Institute is doing for their members and website visitors. You don’t need an Amazon budget to do that.

Utility or death

Mitch said today’s prime real estate is the smartphone screen. “What are you doing that makes you valuable enough to be on your member’s home screen?” Members don’t really care about you and your promotions, but the old “what’s in it for me” is one marketing cliché that remains relevant today.

Successful for-profit online communities like Doximity for doctors and ResearchGate for scientists focus first on creating utility – tools and services that help their members do their jobs more effectively. That’s why these hugely successful communities have attracted millions in venture capital and millions of members.

Passive vs. active

Know when to make the distinction between passive and active media, and when a member is passive or active online. Press releases don’t belong on Facebook. Members don’t want to be hounded to like or +1 everything they read on your website.

But members do want the opportunity to be active when they’re online in a way that provides value to them. Give them regular opportunities to provide feedback, share an opinion or idea, help make a decision, or participate in a discussion.

One-screen world

No wonder we’re all distracted. Think about how many screens we have going at times: our phone, tablet, laptop and TV. And the Internet of things may bring even more. Yet, we can only watch one thing at a time. The screen in front of us is the only screen that matters. And soon perhaps all these screens will integrate into one screen.

He closed his keynote with a hopeful message: associations are pioneers who will decide how the future of associations will look. Will your association have a cozy relationship with your member in the one-screen world? Come on out of purgatory and into the light where you’ll find plenty of opportunity for those who can keep up and move onward.

disruptions to associations - fade away or become a pioneer

Emigrants Crossing the Plains (or The Oregon Trail), Albert Bierstadt, 1869, courtesy of the Butler Institute of American Art



We attend conferences so we can deepen our knowledge and relationships. Hopefully we’ll also get recharged and inspired too but that doesn’t always happen. I was fortunate enough to come away from the 2014 digitalNow conference in Nashville both recharged and inspired thanks to being surrounded by smart people, good friends, savvy conference organizers and the very cool city of Nashville.

After a bountiful breakfast from the talented kitchen at the Omni Nashville, digitalNow attendees entered the theater at the adjoining Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to await the conference welcome. I was expecting to see Hugh Lee and Don Dea of Fusion Productions, the brains behind digitalNow, walk on stage but instead the theater lights dimmed and I heard the opening chords of a familiar song. A spotlight shone on Nashville residents Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick playing a little something they wrote for Eric Clapton, Change the World.

Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick opening digitalNow 2014 (photo by Bill Sheridan)

Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick opening digitalNow 2014
(photo by Bill Sheridan)

…if I could change the world…

digitalNow’s opening keynote speaker, Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, is changing the world, one pencil, one school and one child at a time. By the time Adam turned 25, he had already been a Wall Street child prodigy, Brown University graduate, shipwreck survivor and world traveler.

During his travels, he asked a child who was begging in the streets of India, “If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” The little boy answered, “A pencil.”

The average pencil holds 45,000 words, Adam said. It provides access to self-education and unlocks a child’s curiosity and imagination. Adam started handing out thousands of pencils in his backpacking trips across six continents. Now, his organization, Pencils of Promise, builds schools (200 so far!), trains teachers and provides scholarships to students.

Adam shared several lessons he learned along the way – lessons that apply to both people and organizations.

We are not in the non-profit business. We’re in the for-purpose business. Adam hates the term “non-profit.” He believes “non-profit” is a negative term that doesn’t define our work and strips our organizations of their value. Pencils of Promise is “100% for purpose.” We all know that “non-profit” is merely a tax status, but I wonder how many organizations excite their community with their purpose.

When your members think about your association, do they only think about the products and services you offer, or do they think about being a part of a movement that is changing the world?

Nothing is more powerful than discovering purpose. Adam shared the journey that led him to discovering his purpose. Purpose, not possessions, gives life meaning. However, many of us are so busy living our ordinary lives that we don’t think about purpose. How can associations help members find and live lives of purpose?

True self-discovery is on the edge of your comfort zone. If your dreams do not scare you, then they’re not big enough. When you have big goals and do scary things, you end up becoming a much more grounded and happy person.

I can vouch for that even though I figured it out much later in life than Adam. Although I have very risk-averse genes, I moved across country twice, started my own business, climbed Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and, most recently, climbed over exposed slickrock domes, chimneyed in a slot canyon and rappelled down cliffs in Capitol Reef National Park.

I don’t list these experiences to brag. That’s not my motivation — although I do admit to still bragging about Angel’s Landing since I gave myself a 30% chance of doing it. I want to encourage you to go for the gusto. Prepare yourself and do it, whatever “it” is. Even if it makes you very uneasy. You’ll be a changed person once you stretch your comfort zone and overcome your fear.

Associations are on the edge of their comfort zone right now dealing with new ways of associating, learning and communicating, new technology, new competition, and new expectations. This is also a time of new opportunity. Associations who push through their fear will become stronger and better positioned to be agents of transformation for their members.

Angel's Landing - don't look down! (photo by Dale Beckett/Flickr CC license)

Hiking back from Angel’s Landing – don’t look down!
(photo by Dale Beckett/Flickr CC license)

The quality, not quantity, of an engaged and loyal following is key. It’s not about converting the masses; it’s about finding the one person in the room whose eyes light up. Adam told the story of one of their “torchbearers,” Chelsea, the only person who showed up at one of their meetings. She became a huge supporter and organizer. Are you paying attention to the people in your community whose eyes light up when talking about your mission? Not just the usual suspects but those on the periphery?

Take advantage of the belief people have that they can change the world. I wonder, do GenX and Boomers still believe they can change the world? I know some of us do. The members on your board better believe it too.

Thankfully, Millennials believe they can change the world. And Adam calls the generation after the Millennials, “Generation Why Not.” If younger people don’t see your association as a community where they can make contributions and create change, they’ll find another where they can.

Build a movement and mobilize people by making them the heroes of the journey. Stop talking about the association and start talking about the work your members and volunteers do – how they are creating (or can create) something bigger than themselves.

Find ways to make people feel like important members of a purposeful community. Adam gave business cards to early supporters of Pencils of Purpose. They built a digital platform where torchbearers can tell their own stories. They tag contributors’ name on social media platforms to show them (and their friends) what they’re creating.

Speak the language of the person you want to become — your future aspirational self. Use the language of self-realization, for example, instead of saying, “We’re hoping to build a school,” say, “We’re building a school.” Guess what happens? People will think of you in those aspirational terms and connect you with those who can help you do it. Say it and make it so.

Do you want to help change the world? Together, we are building a classroom for kids who never imagined they would sit in one. We’ll give little girls and boys the chance to unleash their minds and escape the worst kind of poverty. Visit http://www.thedigitalnowpromise.com and contribute what you can to digitalNow’s team fundraising page for Pencils for Promise.

Pencils of Promise's first students - click to watch the adorable 40-second video on YouTube.

Pencils of Promise’s first students – click to watch the adorable 40-second video on YouTube.


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