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Food scene Nashville’s next star

– Looking for the next big hit to come out of Nashville? You might want to watch the city’s bustling food scene.

Nashville has long lured musicians looking for a break, but lately the city has seen a rush of top notch chefs and restaurateurs, too. And it’s largely thanks to those same musicians.

“Not only did the music (industry) bring money, stable money, into this town, it also brought people, people from all over the country and the world, to live in Nashville,” says Roderick Bailey, who recently was named the Southeast’s best new chef by Food & Wine magazine.

Those people brought worldly palates. And an expectation that those palates could be catered to.

The Kings of Leon, for example. Band bassist Matthew Followill says the band’s constant touring exposed its members to all manner of great food. And they wanted it when they came home to Nashville.

“A lot of the people in the food industry are also big music fans,” Followill said at the band’s Nashville studio. “We kind of felt like Nashville didn’t have a really good food scene going on. And it has changed for sure, in the past three, four, five years and there have been a lot of great restaurants that have come in. But for a while it was kind of lacking in that area compared to some of the other cities on the same scale.”

That’s changing. Fast. Last year alone nearly 75 new restaurants opened.

Now Followill’s older brothers, Caleb and Nathan – the foodies of the band – are able to easily rattle off favorite Nashville eateries.

City House’s Tandy Wilson, a Tennessee native who creates delicious Italian pastas and pizzas with Southern ingredients, said having musicians as regular customers fits into his style of dining.

“It’s kind of opened some doors to a little bit of friendship and you figure out that we’re not all that different,” Wilson said. “I find a lot of these guys we can have the same conversations. When they go to a different city, they go eat somewhere. They want to talk about that. I have been taken to some really awesome meals by rock stars that I never would have found if they couldn’t take me there.”

And just like Southern music, Southern food has a way of bringing everyone to the table for a good time. At the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival in Nashville, created by country rocker Zac Brown, fans were seated at tables right beside the stage while more than 25 artists performed over two days in September.

Louisiana-born chef Rusty Hamlin has been touring with the Zac Brown Band for more than four years and creates the meals for the band’s “Eat & Greets,” which gives fans a chance to break bread with their favorite musicians. He said Nashville music fans were really enthusiastic about the local fare available at the festival last year.

“We learned from Nashville last year,” Hamlin said. “We tripled the food we had last year. Nashvillians love to eat. And I love that about Nashville. It’s not only the Music City, it’s also the Food City.”