Several years ago, brothers Caleb and Nathan Followill, who form the Grammy-winning band Kings of Leon with brother Jared and cousin Matthew Followill, decided their hometown was missing something. And it wasn’t another hit single. Nashville’s void was a food and wine festival.
With the help of renowned chef Jonathan Waxman, Austin-based event-planning group C3 Presents and Vector Management’s Ken Levitan and Andy Mendelsohn, the Followills’ simple idea blossomed into one of the city’s highest-profile food, wine and spirits event, attracting esteemed participants such as Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Blackberry Farm, the Four-Star 1808 Grille and Jameson Irish Whiskey.
The inaugural Music City Eats festival will be held September 21 and 22 in Downtown Nashville. The two-day, star-studded extravaganza will overflow with panel discussions, demonstrations, musical performances and plate-upon-plate of deliciousness. Culinary personalities include Giada De Laurentiis, Trisha Yearwood and John Besh. The lineup for Petty Fest, Music City Eats’ all-star concert honoring rock legend Tom Petty’s career, may be even more impressive, with the likes of Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris and The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney on the bill.
And although Kings of Leon has a new album, Mechanical Bull, releasing on September 24, Caleb and Nathan still found the time to sit down with us to share their thoughts about the confluence of music and food, and to preview what festivalgoers can expect from Music City Eats.
While music was clearly a part of your upbringing, how (and when) did you come to appreciate food?
Caleb: I always was a fan of country cooking. At our family reunion, our Uncle Bozo was known for making a big pot of beans and every family would make their own cornbread; it was just that kind of food I always loved. But then, once we got on the road and went to different countries, I kind of had to start figuring out what it was about every country that I liked cuisine-wise.
Nathan: When I married an Italian girl who could actually cook! I mean, eating on the road, there aren’t that many options on tour besides unhealthy things.
You’ve been touring virtually nonstop for more than 10 years. What’s your go-to food and drink when you’re on the road?
Caleb: Oddly enough, we love beef jerky. I usually have wasabi peas. I like those because they’re good but they also kind of clear out your sinuses and that’s good for me when I sing.
There’s a kind of shared inspiration between chefs and musicians. Tell us a little about the creative link you see that exists between the stage and the kitchen.
Nathan: The kitchen is their stage and they are basically putting on a show every night.
Caleb: I think chefs are much cockier than musicians. It’s that pressure moment where you have to put up or shut up and that’s the vibe that chefs have in the kitchen and that’s the vibe that musicians have when they are onstage. And you know at the end of the day, you are there, you get to make what it is that you love — food and music.
Speaking of the link between the stage and the kitchen, part of Music City Eats is a Saturday night concert at War Memorial Auditorium honoring Tom Petty. What inspired you to add a star-studded concert to the schedule?
Caleb: Our friends, The Cabin Down Below Band, have been doing [Petty tribute shows] for a while now and they asked me to do a song in New York, which was a lot of fun. And I thought it was a no-brainer to do that [at Music City Eats] because everyone kept asking us if we were going to play at the food festival and we were like, “Of course we’re not going to have a concert at the food festival.” But this is a way for people to get to have that musical aspect and also it’s just a lot of fun. I think Petty Fest is going to tie in really well.
Before Music City Eats, Nashville didn’t really have an established large-scale food and wine festival. But then again, Nashville loves its status as an outlier — not overrun by too much pretense. How have you managed to combine what you’ve seen at other food and wine events, while keeping everything in line with Nashville’s casual spirit?
Caleb: I don’t feel like it’s going to bring the kind of crowd that is going to disturb Nashville. I think it’s going to tie in really well and I think a lot of the chefs are really excited to come to Nashville because we’ve been preaching about Nashville forever, but I think it’s finally getting to a point where everyone knows that Nashville is the next great city.
Nathan: Well, we keep it causal because we’re locals so it’ll just kind of have that laid-back vibe. But we’re friends with guys that promote food festivals all over America and all over the world and we’ve had a chance to go and do our homework seeing their festivals. But we’re also lucky enough to have a bunch of good friends that are chefs at great restaurants that are willing to jump in, no questions asked. You know, for our first year, we got a helluva lineup.
Photos Courtesy of Music City Eats