As the band starts up, a host of shiny-shoed gents hastily usher their partner on to the dance floor. Before long, bodies of all shapes and sizes have merged into a colourful blur. It’s the total embodiment of Nashville’s musical heart – but not as you know it.
East Nashville is a short cab ride from the epicentre of country music and right off the guidebook bar crawls. And here, hidden in a dark corner and wedged between terraced houses and a busy highway is the local nightspot, where the coolest kids in town are pulsating to the rhythm.
This is The 5 Spot, a live music venue, after-hours bar and host to the Monday night Keep On Movin’ dance party. I knew it was a popular place for local hotel and restaurant staff to unwind after a day of being asked by tourists if Taylor Swift has ever been in for fried chicken. Feeling like I might be stepping on sacred land, I’m hesitant to try my luck on the door in case I’m turned away on hearing my English accent.
A heavy velvet curtain draped over the door provides a tantalising glimpse of what’s inside. “Can you swing?” asks a tattooed man with a southern accent and a leather jacket with no sleeves. I say yes, assuming he means dance, and paranoid that some Strictly-esque moves might be my ticket in. “I’m booking my song in now then,” he drawls before throwing back his dark beer.
Nightlife in Nashville generally amounts to neon country joints – popular with the stetson crowd – and trendy bars where drinks are twice the price and so hipster the cab drivers can’t find them.
But $5 and a smudged handstamp later, I’m in and surprised to find this dark, wet-floored dive bar is neither. Propping up the basic MDF bar are student doctors still in their scrubs, sequin-clad bar girls and a legion of beautiful young things dressed in the vintage clothes time forgot.
A hum of energy tingles at your fingertips before dancing up your arms and leaving a trail of goosebumps on your neck. I’m only one whisky down when a young lad asks me on to the floor. It’s not a romantic proposition. His loose-fitting slacks with front pleats and black and white saddle shoes tell me he’s here to dance.
Intoxicated by the thrill of the room rather than the booze, I say yes and within seconds I’m spinning and twisting along with the best of them. My terrible coordination and obvious tourist status doesn’t seem to matter. My partner, Karl, is strong. He’s clearly a professional and used to making hapless tourists feel at home in the bolshie crowd.
It’s boiling, and sweat flies off the dancers as they spin in sync with the records and grind low to the heavy beat. I break away, aiming to catch my breath and the bartender’s eye while Karl quicksteps his way into the arms of someone far worthier of his talents. Water is free, the drinks are two-for-one even though it’s 2am on a school night, this party is showing no signs of slowing down.