On Vanderbilt campus, tradition isolated from Music City

Saturday, October 5, 2013 | 4:14 p.m. CDT
Nick Termini, left, Mark Termini and Tom Sanford enjoy beers and free music Friday at Honky Tonk Central in Nashville, Tenn. Mark Termini and Sanford have children who attend MU, and they planned to attend the Missouri football game against Vanderbilt and the Kansas City Chiefs game this weekend.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The lawn sprawls for hundreds of yards with trees on either side, shading the students who walk by.

It's a Friday afternoon in Nashville, Tenn., but there's not a sound. Students pass from class to class, scattered throughout a campus large enough to handle a student body twice the size of the 12,000 students who attend Vanderbilt. It's peaceful — more peaceful than you would expect. 

Pillars stretch toward the sky, brick buildings line the massive plot of land, and tents are being set up to welcome back alumni. If you didn't know any better, you would think you were in a college town. 

A quick glance at the bulletin boards paints a picture of a more vibrant scene. Fliers advertising musical performances from Tim McGraw, Lynyrd Skynyrd and other big names cover the boards as a quiet reminder that this is the Music City. The towering buildings off in the distance form a skyline.

Sometimes that's easy to forget at a university devoted to academics and set apart from the rest of a city that serves as a popular tourist destination. It has been described as the "Vandy Bubble."

A different focus

Walk into the Sarratt Student Center, and the buzz doesn't grow much louder than it is outside. Students are scattered throughout restaurants and study areas. Conversations are kept in quiet tones.

Up the stairs is a desk for students to pick up their football tickets for Saturday's homecoming game against Missouri. Nobody is in a rush to get there. Three women sit behind a table, handling the slow trickle of students requesting tickets. 

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has made a point to urge students to attend games. The student section isn't usually crowded, and the Commodores don't consistently sell out their stadium.

But Vanderbilt has been trying to build tradition. The team has been to two straight bowl games since Franklin became head coach, and the coach has shown a commitment to the university. He shows his face around campus, wanting students to get excited about football. 

Football just isn't at the forefront of what people do at Vanderbilt. The Anchor is a symbol on campus, a tradition that the school is trying to implement into the athletic department.


The Music City

The sun is setting over Nashville, and the party begins. Five dollars for parking is your entry fee. The walk toward Broadway Street is sprinkled with history. The Country Music Hall of Fame juts out of Fifth Avenue with its pristine structure and modern glow.

Carrie Underwood's face stares down as you make your way toward Broadway. Women with dresses and high heels are accompanied by men in suits and ties to Friday night's exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. But the main attraction is a bit farther down the road.

Country music plays out of speakers on street corners near Broadway. The bright lights and blaring music give it way.

The formal attire from two blocks earlier has been replaced by women in leather boots and cowboy hats and men in flannel and trucker hats. Live music spills from the open windows of every bar or saloon. The words "Honkey Tonk Town" are painted on the wall just as you turn the corner.

A rush of flashing lights, the smell of barbecue and the sounds of music played mostly by amateurs overcomes you. You can't make a wrong turn in downtown Nashville. Crowds of people move in every direction, and each stop offers unique entertainment. 

The crowd is older. You'll need more than a few dollars to soak in lower Broadway to the fullest.

Tourists flock to Nashville for this experience. Locals call it Nash Vegas, and it's easy to see why.

Their own tradition

Vanderbilt's campus offers a contrast to the wild nightlife of downtown Nashville. 

Kensington Place is the party spot. But unlike Nash Vegas, there is structure to what is going on. Event security lines fraternity row, and a disc jockey provides music for the block party. But it's much more tame. Just a small group of students who know one another well.

Homecoming T-shirts are being distributed in an effort to build excitement for Saturday's game. A crowd gathers around the distribution table, and most leave after receiving their shirts.

In the heart of campus, alumni gather for reunions and homecoming festivities. The music at both gatherings doesn't match the honky-tonk flavor of downtown. 

The Vandy Bubble isn't lacking tradition. That tradition just doesn't involve athletics. The tradition is its own entity. Not unlike Vanderbilt itself.

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