Nashville has been abuzz with activity this past weekend leading into this week, not only with debate preparations but with traffic generated by a dozen major events each of which, individually, would clog the streets with participants and attendees alike.
Setting The Stage
The Al-Menah Shrine Circus is in the downtown municipal auditorium while the Bluegrass Fan Fest is in the convention center. An original copy of the Declaration of Independence, transported and displayed in a case faced with bulletproof glass, is on loan from Norman Lear and available for viewing at the relatively new state-of-the-art Nashville Library.
The First Tennessee regional chain of banks is sponsoring a free day at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, a museum created from the shell of the historic downtown Post Office on upper Broadway. Not to be outdone, Regions, a competing chain of banks, is sponsoring a free day of music in the brand spanking new state-of-the-art Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
There is the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure (Breast Cancer) which begins at Demonbreun and 3rd Avenue South, runs through Music Square East and ends at Broadway and 3rd Avenue, a section of downtown filled with honky tonks and showbars referred to by locals as lower broad because it slopes to the nearby end where it meets the Cumberland River.
If you venture out Broadway to where it turns into West End Avenue you can participate in the Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors Tour of Homes, an event held by the upscale for the benefit of the upscale; the Celebration of Cultures Festival in Centennial Park where there is the world's only full-scale reproduction of the Parthenon; and the Belle Meade (the ultimate combination of upscale old and new money folks) Free Day at Cheekwood Museum and Gardens.
If you were to stay with Broadway instead of venturing onto West End you would come to Vanderbilt whose diversified holdings (filled with activities) are so vast they rate their own zip code. In this area you will find the ESPN College Game Day at The Commons area on the Vanderbilt Campus and, of course, the Auburn-Vanderbilt football game at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Perfect Storm
Into the midst of this perfect storm of congestion and dazed-tourist wanderings comes the second political debate between Barack Obama and John McCain which will be held in the Curb Event Center on the campus of Belmont University Tuesday evening. One of the offshoots of this event will be massive road closings throughout the Vanderbilt, Belmont-Hillsboro area, and downtown in general.
The Tennessean, Nashville's largest daily paper, refers to this week as a "confluence of events most city tourism officials would kill for." Nashville will be teeming with as many as 25,000 visitors attending the various events. Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau President Butch Spyridon estimates that the city could see as much as $10 million from the visitors alone. Nearly all of Davidson County's 25,000 hotel rooms are booked and restaurants are running with full staffs.
At the Nashville International Airport the well-heeled campaign officials and other political folks, as well as members of the world media, will be greeted with live music. Students and faculty of Belmont's Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business will be performing in various areas of the airport.
Some folks liken it to having an extra Titans weekend; others think it might be the equivalent to the holidays; some feel that Nashville, now more than ever, has become the focal point of the country and everyone notes that it could be the topper, the ultimate week in Music City.
Belmont University is a private liberal arts university which dates back to 1951 when it was transformed from the Ward-Belmont College, a finishing school, into an instrument of the Tennessee Baptist Conference (TBC). In late 2007, after years of wrangling and court battles, Belmont severed ties with the TBC to become a university that maintains a Christian identity but no longer specifically a Baptist one. It is now the largest Christian university in Tennessee and the second largest private university in the state.
Meanwhile, at the Curb Center itself, preparations are proceeding at a hectic pace. There are a ton of decisions that have to be made. Things like the color of the drapes behind the candidates; how far can a cable go without a booster and still be effective; how do you see to it that the massive amount of cell phone calls that will take place Tuesday on campus can be handled; and the arrangement for thousands of internet and phone hookups in the media tent.
With regard to the media tent, there must be two absolutely identical areas (one for each campaign) draped off because you cannot give one of them so much as two square inches more than the other one.
Hundreds of people are involved in getting things ready. There are vendors; parking and transportation systems; and multiple musings as to how to minimize the disruption to the neighborhood.
The Main Event
If there's a big moment in the debate, then references to what happened at the Nashville debate will go on for years. If something dramatic happens, it will increase the references to the site.
And that could very well happen. The McCain/Palin ship has, of late, been floundering while the icebergs batter their hull; it lists while the captain angrily flails about assessing blame on anyone and anything to divert the passengers from the true realization of what is going on.
If this were the civil war, McCain would be polishing his sword and dressing up in his class A uniform as he prepares for a meeting at Appomattox.
But that could change with an outstanding performance by John McCain during the town-hall style debate. If he finds the right words at the right time, McCain might be able to right the ship and set course for 270 electoral votes on November 4.
Whether he does or not the week's real winner will be Nashville, a teeming metropolis that is light years away from its occasional caricature as a small southern town whose only economic engine is a small handful of honky tonk musicians.