NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — With a nickname like “Music City,” it’s not uncommon to turn a corner in Nashville and hear bluegrass, country or even pop music ringing down the street.
On some nights, it’s live bands on the stage at honky-tonks or other restaurants and bars, but there are other times when people walking in downtown Nashville may wonder, “Where is that music coming from?” The answer is sometimes a rather peculiar place.
In 2004, the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp (NCVC) began transforming plain, black utility boxes into what are essentially decorated sound systems.
The boxes are primarily there to change the traffic lights, but with the help of Nashville’s Department of Transportation, Deana Ivey, President of NCVC, said they were able to give them a dual purpose by installing sound systems in several boxes.
Today, there are nearly 25 decorated traffic control boxes scattered throughout the city. Each box plays a variety of songs written by famous musicians 24/7.
“When we first rolled out the Music City brand, that was one of our first initiatives, along with the Live Music Venue signs that you see around town,” Ivey said. “Those were a couple of things that we did right off the bat.”
The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp brands, sells and markets Nashville as “Music City.”
In addition to transforming the traffic control boxes, Ivey said the organization has led a number of other projects that show visitors “they’ve arrived in Music City,” whether its live music playing at the airport or signs welcoming visitors.
“When you arrive in the airport, you hear the live music,” she said. “Then when you come down the interstate, you’ll see signs that say, ‘Welcome to Music City, home of the Grand Ole Opry’.”
Each of the utility boxes are wrapped with images of famous artists, many of whom have connections to Nashville. Just some of the faces include Elvis Presley, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Yola, Peter Frampton and Grant Morgan.
Johnny Cash can be found on one of the traffic control boxes that plays music in the heart of downtown Nashville. The box is located just outside of the Music City Center on the corner of Korean Veterans Boulevard and Rep. John Lewis Way South.
“I think it really adds to the experience,” Ivey said. “You want to know, if you’re going to a destination that’s known for music, that there will be music there… and they’re walking on every corner and there’s different kinds of music.”
The NCVC continues to transform a number of traffic control boxes each year, with the newest one added earlier in 2023. Ivey said they are primarily located downtown, but a few can be found in Green Hills, Music Valley, Germantown and East Nashville.
“Of course, we’ve changed them. Every few years we change to different artists and different music,” she said. “You’ll see there’s several new ones and a few old ones. The wraps are different, the design is different, but we’re in the process of changing them out.”
There are likely no other places visitors can find a similar experience in the United States as, according to Ivey, the idea is unique to Nashville.
“I don’t know of any other city, unless they’ve copied us,” she said.
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As a result, the project has brought in a number of comments and questions over the years as people stumble across the utility boxes. Ivey said it’s often comments like, “How did you do it?” or “How cool is that.”
The NCVC is working on creating a map of the boxes, but in the meantime, Ivey said visitors and locals should “be on the lookout” for more popping up throughout the city.
“We’ve had a lot of comments from visitors and convention delegates — they love it. Our colleagues across the country are like, ‘How did you pull that off?’” Ivey said. “It’s one of the coolest things about being in Nashville when you walk across the street and you’re like, ‘Where is the music coming from?’”