Less than two-and-a-half years ago, Taylor Swift sat nervously awaiting the moment when tickets to her first-ever headlining tour would go on sale. Her promoter at the time had advised her to take the more conservative route and hold her tour-opening Los Angeles show in a smaller venue than the massive Staples Center. But Swift insisted on going big. Then the moment came — and tickets sold out in less than two minutes. Now Swift is on the phone from the West Coast, having just completed a four-night run of sold-out LA shows — featuring cameos by Justin Beiber, Ellen DeGeneres and Nicki Minaj — and riding high in a world where going big has become the only way to go. Even so, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter-phenom says she's still caught off guard sometimes when she gets the call that tells her a show — or in this case, an entire tour — has sold out.
"These are 15,000 people who could be doing anything with their Friday or Saturday night," Swift says, "so the fact that we're playing these sold-out stadiums and these arenas, it just blows my mind."
Swift's Speak Now Tour, which comes to Bridgestone Arena for two sold-out shows — surprise! — will do its best to return the mind-blowing favor, featuring (in addition to the string of monster hits) "a giant bridge that lowers itself" and what Swift describes as "a flying gag at the end of the show where the balcony becomes more than a balcony." (What it becomes is something like a UFO.)
A few thousand Nashvillians got to see the act ahead of schedule back in May, when what was supposed to be the production's last dress rehearsal became its de facto first show: Swift decided to use the final run-through as an open-to-the-public fundraiser for Alabama tornado relief. But there are still a few surprises lurking amid the theatrical choreography, spinning aerialists and multiple in-song costume changes. Swift has been using the acoustic portion of the show to mix things up and play covers — often from artists who hail from the city she's playing. (Her cover of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" at a recent Detroit stop had the Internet tripping all over itself, even though she's rendered that song occasionally since 2007.)
"I love playing covers," Swift says. "It's a fun way to break up the show ... and it's a way to tell my fans which songs I'm liking at the moment."
The only problem with this more spontaneous portion of the set when playing her hometown: deciding whose songs to sing. "It's going to be a tough choice, picking a Nashville artist to cover, because they're all my favorites," she says. "It's going to be a painstakingly difficult choice. You've got to pick from all your friends, you've got to pick from all your mentors, you have to pick from all your heroes — people who took you out on the road when you just had one single out." And hinting that she might go in a Slim Shady-ish direction yet again for the 615, she adds: "Then there are all the amazing hip-hop and R&B artists in Nashville. ..."
If Swift plans to bust out a version of Young Buck's "When the Rain Stops" — it's not hard to imagine her rapping the lines, "In '08, I was '09, ahead of my time" — she's not letting on. But whatever Nashville-centric touches she decides on for the show will come from a place of deep affection.
"It's my favorite town," Swift says. "It's home." As for the season, she says, "Fall is my favorite for a lot of reasons. Things are really changing, and you can really see it." Put another way: In a hypothetical Venn Diagram, a circle labeled "Nashville" and a circle labeled "Fall" would overlap to create a third shape labeled "Taylor Swift's Favorite Things." Swift also cites autumn as a season steeped in meaning and creative energy. "I've had a lot of loves in the fall," she says, "and inspiration-filled songwriting moments." Given the way she's gone about making hit songs out of both having loved and having loved and lost, the two are as inextricable as the turning of the leaves and the end of summer. Sept. 16 and 17 at Bridgestone Arena
Sept. 21-24: SoundLand
Now in its sixth year, SoundLand (née Next Big Nashville) has undergone a significant image makeover. The name and logo are different, a renewed focus on national acts has been adopted, and the number of participating local venues and bands has been drastically pared back — all in hopes of eventually becoming a nationally recognized event of SXSW proportions. This year's event will take place at venues including War Memorial Auditorium, 12th & Porter, Mai, The Station Inn, Mercy Lounge, The Cannery Ballroom, The Basement, Third Man Records and a special outdoor stage on 12th Avenue, and will feature artists including M. Ward, Justin Townes Earle, Ghostland Observatory, Foster the People, Yelawolf and a slew of locals. At various locations; for more information, see nbnsoundland.com
Sept. 25: Elvis Costello and The Imposters
Think of "The Revolver Tour" as a live musical version of Wheel of Fortune — except instead of the Million Dollar Wedge, contestants spin for selections from one of rock 'n' roll's richest song catalogs. And instead of the lovely Vanna White, your host, ringmaster, raconteur and not-always-above-board emcee is Elvis Costello, reviving the spinning-wheel format of his legendary 1986 "Costello Sings Again" tour. The backing band has shifted a little: That role is now filled by the stalwart Imposters, featuring bassist Davey Faragher, Attractions drummer Pete Thomas and keyboard octopus Steve Nieve. But you can still expect special guests, dancers, and slots studded with classics, covers, rarities and wild cards — from signature songs such as "Accidents Will Happen" and "Everyday I Write the Book" to a rainbow-themed jackpot whose spectrum includes "Green Shirt" and Prince's "Purple Rain." There's one big difference from Pat Sajak's show, however — no matter where the arrow lands, everyone's a winner. 7:30 p.m. at The Ryman
Oct. 1-2: Wilco with Nick Lowe
What could be more noteworthy than one of the most influential and critically acclaimed products of the '90s indie boom playing Nashville's Mother Church? Why, only if they were playing two times, and if their opener was an absolute New Wave/power-pop legend. Wilco's two-night stand with Nick Lowe at The Ryman sold out weeks ago, but if there's one show at Nashville's most revered venue to beg or sneak your way into this season — and we certainly don't recommend the latter — it's this one. 8 p.m. at The Ryman
Oct. 4: Buddy Miller Band and Patty Griffin
While their membership in Robert Plant's Band of Joy has been among their most visible projects, legendary singer-songwriters Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin have — between them — collaborated with and written for artists including Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Dixie Chicks, Bette Midler and countless more. Marquee names in their own right, the two Grammy winners bring their tour to Cannery Row on Oct. 4.7:30 p.m. at The Cannery Ballroom
Oct. 4: Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
Pavement frontman Malkmus has enough cultural cred as an indie-rock architect for this show to be on any serious rock fan's radar. The question is this: Is Mirror Traffic, the brand-new Beck-produced LP from Malkmus and his Jicks, still of the quality we've come to expect from the 1990s' most unassuming guitar god? The answer is yes. Mirror Traffic is very good.9 p.m. at Mercy Lounge
Oct. 14: Sonny Rollins
For anyone else, Saxophone Colossus would have been an immodest album title. But for Sonny Rollins, it was just a statement of fact — in 1956, when the album came out, and still to this day. Arguably the greatest living jazz legend, Rollins indulged the same demons that sent many of his cohorts to an early grave, but managed to come out the other side wiser, stronger and better than ever. At 81, he's still a formidable performer, and one of the last living ties to jazz's golden age. This is the biggest jazz event to hit Nashville in years — don't miss it. 8 p.m. at Schermerhorn Symphony Center
Oct. 17: OFF!
Former Black Flag and Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris yowls and shrieks like someone half his age in his role as the mouthpiece for OFF! — his band with drummer Mario Rubalacaba (Rocket From the Crypt), guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides) and bassist Steven Shane McDonald (Redd Kross). But between songs he's every bit the ranting middle-aged dude with a giant dreadlock you'd expect him to be, spinning yarns about the days of punk yore and name-dropping like only someone who's lived it (and still lives it) deserves to. And hey: You're not going to see a better hardcore punk band than OFF! this year or any other, so be there. 9 p.m. at Exit/In
Oct. 19: Aretha Franklin
Despite a health scare late last year, Aretha Franklin's latest release — this year's A Woman Falling out of Love — has fetched critical praise, and at 69, The Queen of Soul continues to tour, filling rooms across the country with one of the biggest, most unmistakable voices ever committed to tape. If there's one voice that deserves the prestige of The Ryman's stage, it's hers. 7:30 p.m. at The Ryman
Nov. 5: The Black Angels with Dead Meadow
Let's take a trip, shall we? By way of Austin and D.C. respectively, two of the country's better psychedelic rock bands join forces for a night of druggy grooves, cosmic expeditions, swirly jams and plenty of heavy-lidded guitar riffs. It'll basically be like That '70s Space Camp on the Rock Block tonight. 9 p.m. at Exit/In
Dec. 1: Gillian Welch with David Rawlings
Gillian Welch's June release, The Harrow and the Harvest, was a long time in the making. While her longtime musical partner David Rawlings released a record with his David Rawlings Machine in 2009, Harrow was the first proper studio album from Welch and Rawlings since 2003's Soul Journey. For fans of meditative, narrative folk, the wait was well worth it, with this hometown show — the last on their fall tour — promising to be a season highlight.7:30 p.m. at The Ryman
Dec. 10: Carolina Chocolate Drops
North Carolina's African-American roots/old-time string outfit Carolina Chocolate Drops are easily among the most unique outfits on the modern popular-music landscape, with instrumentation ranging from accordion, banjo and guitar to jug, harmonica and beat boxing. Last year's Genuine Negro Jig won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album, and their live performances are known to feature instrument swapping and covers of contemporary songs. 9 p.m. at Mercy Lounge