NASHVILLE—Playing in front of a Nashville crowd can be tough—even when the internationally popular band calls the city home. The reason being many of the audience members are also musicians. They study “us like we’re circus freaks or something,” says Caleb Followhill, lead singer and guitarist of Kings of Leon. “Or everybody feels like they know us so they don’t clap,” adds Matthew Followhill, lead guitarist and cousin of the three brothers who make up Kings of Leon.
Before the show starts at Nashville’s relatively new venue City Hall, there are people in the crowd saying they knew Kings of Leon when. But most just seem excited to catch the band on their return to Nashville and many even show up several hours early to wait in line for a good viewing spot in the large, open venue.
Over the past several years, Kings of Leon have spent a lot of time away from Music Row, proving themselves as road warriors, touring with the likes of U2 and The Strokes, and acquiring a large fan base overseas. This year, they’ve been working on a new album. The eldest brother and drummer, Nathan, says the next album will be as different from Aha Shake Heartbreak as that album was from their debut Youth and Young Manhood.
The band is just now hitting the road again. Caleb says going back on the road has been scary because they’re used to being home and they wonder if “the same old demons” they used to have will come back to haunt them. “But we realized we’re doing what we love. We’re making a living. We’re making our family proud,” he says.
Family is an important element for the band. The brothers grew up traveling the country in an Oldsmobile with their father, Leon, who was a Pentecostal preacher. The bond between the brothers (and their cousin) is strong. Nathan shares a house with Caleb off the road and Jared, the youngest brother and bassist, lives next door to Matthew. They also still look to their mother for haircuts (not that they have too many) and for tailoring their clothes. “She’s like our Tina Knowles,” Caleb says, referring to Beyoncé’s mother and stylist.
Caleb credits their steady musical success to the family connection. “Because we’re family, we’ve always had a bond no matter what we do. When we played sports, we’d always win—and not necessarily because we were the best at what we were doing, but once you’d put us all together, we’d win,” he says. It’s the same for them whether it’s music or challenging another band on the road to a friendly softball game, such as the game they won against The Strokes when they toured with them last year.
In addition to being competitive, the guys all share a love for food and make sure to enjoy a good meal and several bottles of wine before they play a gig. “We’re all so skinny and we all sit around watching the Food Network all day long. It’s like we’d rather watch that than porno.”
Tonight, as the band is out enjoying some Nashville cuisine, people are filing into City Hall. In a city full of small, intimate venues, the 10,000 square foot space is unique. Originally a warehouse dating back to the 1920s, the exposed brick, large windows and steel rafters provide the perfect backdrop for tonight’s full house. With a mix of friends of the Followhills, hipsters and both known and unknown musicians in the crowd, Canadian band The Stills take the stage. One of the singers asks the crowd to “Show us you’re the musical town you’re supposed to be” as local musician Bobby Bare, Jr., grabs a beer at the bar and Kelby Ray of Nashville-based Bang Bang Bang wanders through the crowd.
Once The Stills wrap up their set, there are intermittent cheers for Kings of Leon and, finally, the band takes the stage. “It’s good to be home in Nashville, Tennessee,” Caleb shouts while tossing a guitar pick into the crowd. The crowd gets into the music, dances and sings along to new songs and old. Tonight, the Nashville crowd is no longer that overly critical outsider. Tonight, the crowd is the proud parent of their hometown kings.
Photo Credit: Dan Withers