It Took 30 Years, but Radiolab's Jad Abumrad Fell in Love With Nashville



From left: Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich
  • Photo: Courtesy WNYC
  • From left: Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich
In this week's Scene, I talk to Radiolab producer and co-host (and musician and composer and MacArthur fellow) Jad Abumrad about the show, which airs Wednesday and Sunday nights on WPLN-FM, its origins and inspirations, and the live production Radiolab Live: Apocalyptical, which will be at TPAC Monday night. More on that here.

We also talked about Nashville.

Abumrad grew up here, the son of a scientist and a doctor, and as many of us do, he had mixed feelings about his hometown. "The moment I went to school, Nashville didn't exist for me anymore," he told me. "I didn't have Nashville to go back to anymore. And ... I also just somehow had an idea of Nashville in my mind that I think is wrong, so I didn't want to go back." Then his dad moved back here a few years ago to take a job at Vanderbilt.

"It may be a combination of the fact that I was young and kinda clueless, or it may be that something really kind of crazy has happened in Nashville in the last 10 years," he said. "I just went down there for a music festival recently, and I was like, 'Wow, I don't recognize this place.' " ... There's so much more happening, so much more going on. It just feels like a completely different city than the one I grew up in. Just a more cosmopolitan city."

With family back in Music City, Abumrad has been coming back several times a year.

So I started returning back to Nashville, after decades had passed, and would see the place with completely new eyes, and I fell in love with it again. It's an amazing city. It's one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen, and somehow I didn't realize that as a kid! My god, Natchez Trace — we went biking up there, and I'm like, "Oh my god, this is amazing!" ... It's funny, I went through a long period of just not thinking about Nashville, thinking I'd moved past it, and now it's completely on my radar. Part of me sometimes, I'm like, "I could live here again. I could move back." We have two kids now. I don't know if you've ever lived in New York, but it's a hard to place to live with kids. ... It's doable, but it's just hard. We do think about it a lot. I come to visit my dad, and it's just, there's just a different vibration as you walk through Nashville. I just feel comfortable. I feel at ease.

So let's make him feel at home Monday night, OK? Featured performers are Reggie Watts, On Fillmore and Sarah Lipstate, and maybe some surprises, and also maybe Abumrad's dad.

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