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How Music City put on a show on hockey’s greatest stage

At the end of the Predators’ excellent season, we look back at Nashville’s musical past and how hockey and honkytonk collided.

Anaheim Ducks v Nashville Predators - Game Six Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Our music writer, Bethelhub, weighs in on the music scene that contributed to the Nashville-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Final.

There is a flavor to Nashville Predators fandom that is unequivocally Nashville. The hockey world got a glimpse of what Bridgestone Arena had to offer last year when the Predators hosted the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend. Then, star Predators’ defenseman P.K. Subban wore a different sweater, but was at the forefront of the weekend’s shenanigans and revelry. It was only natural that Subban and his superstar personality would find themselves at the center of this year’s playoff run.

Also at the center of the playoff run was Bridgestone Arena, which sits right in the middle of downtown Nashville on Lower Broadway, just feet away from iconic venues such as the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Johnny Cash Museum, and Ryman Auditorium.

Nashville’s music and its hockey are inseparable. During the playoffs, with the array of A-list country talent singing the national anthem at each game, there was no shying away from the Predators’ deep ties to its city.

Nashville’s inaugural season began with a a simple series of Garth Brooks ad campaigns featuring billboards where his two front teeth were knocked out, behind the slogan “Got Tickets?” Since then, Nashville’s country music stars have become entrenched in the culture.

A recurring theme of this year’s postseason had been the variety of country music stars who have performed the national anthem before games. The musicians have included Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Deirks Bently, to name a few. Justin Bradford, reporter with Nashville’s Penalty Box Radio, was recently interviewed by NPR’s Ari Shapiro. He had this to say about the team’s atmosphere:

Well, the thing that makes Nashville unique is the location of Bridgestone Arena - right in downtown in the middle of everything, next to Broadway where all the neon lights are, all the restaurants, everything. So imagine yourself walking down the street. You see these neon lights. You smell barbecue. You smell all these great foods coming (inaudible). You hear live music as you're walking into the arena. So just that alone helps paint the picture of how you can get excited go into this game.

And then after the game, what makes it different, too, you're right there on the streets - all the bars, all the honky-tonks, all the live music, restaurants. During the game, intermissions - it's not just advertisements playing on a Megatron. You have live music. So you have guys like Charles Esten from Nashville playing live music there. Sometimes you'll have people from different major bands, as well. You have country music stars singing the national anthem. It is a totally unique experience in every single way.

Throughout its history, Nashville has been a hub for printing and publishing music. Because of its commitment to the sheet music publishing business, Nashville began inspiring artists to play music beyond traditional hymnals and spiritual songs. Nashville began to attract a myriad of different types of musicians to perform at now-historic Ryman Auditorium.

It wasn’t until the birth of radio that Nashville really began to find its roots. Between 1925 and 1926, the national government granted WSM and WLAC, two major Nashville stations, clear-channel status, allowing the two programs to broadcast nationally. This paved the way for the music scene for years to come as both were committed to broadcasting new content. It gave country music a voice and a stage.

WSM established the Grand Ol Opry in the original Ryman building. It put Nashville at the forefront of the music recording business, and provided an infrastructure for everything from recording studios, to labels, to press coverage and booking.

The Predators came to Nashville relatively late in its history, in 1998. Along with Nashville, Columbus, Atlanta, and Minneapolis also were awarded expansion teams. The Predators accomplished the goal of 12,000 season tickets sold, and with the completion of an arena, the NHL swiftly awarded Nashville the franchise.

Originally named either the Fury, Attack, or Ice Tigers, based on a saber-tooth cat skull discovered in the 70’s when construction broke ground on the iconic UBS Tower, then owner, Craig Leipold, proposed the name Predators. Current Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, was the team’s first bench boss along with former Capitals VP David Poile.

Country music star Carrie Underwood and her husband, Predators’ captain Mike Fisher, are symbolic of the Preds’ relationship with Music City. You can find her rooting for the team through twitter or even during the NBC Broadcasts. Underwood herself is a performer with the Grand Ol Opry.

Bridgestone Arena also has a band stage that offers musicians the opportunity to perform during intermission. And of course, there’s the music outside the arena.

The Predators success forced the CMT Music Awards to relocate for the 2017 award show. Usually at Bridgestone Arena, the awards moved to the Music City Center this year to accommodate the Preds’ deep playoff run. The Country Music Association’s annual music festival was also held throughout the Stanley Cup Final week, and each celebration fed into the other. Nashville was a cacophony of music and hockey fandom as the Predators even had their own booth at CMA festival.

Although the Stanley Cup Final series ended in six games, it felt like the fun was just getting started. Nashville brought the hockey world to country music. The Predators deep playoff run even did the unthinkable: gain the attention of the non-traditional and traditional hockey fans alike to bring people together from a multitude of backgrounds to witness something special.

In light of their recent national fame, SBNation looked at the product the franchise itself creates and applied it to the potential market in Portland. Check out Sonics Rising page for more. As well as this piece, detailing the sports culture that preexisted the Predators and how it came to shape the Nashville sports landscape.

This playoff series allowed fellow sunbelt fans and the city of Nashville to show that hockey’s distinct southern flavor is hella fun — thus creating one of the most memorable Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent memory.