U-Haul, one of the nation’s largest moving rental companies, compiles a lot of statistics to keep track of their moving trucks.
Their reports show in the past two years, more people leaving California than moving here.
And the most one-way trips? California to Tennessee, where greater Nashville appears to be transforming into one big California cul-de-sac.
They call it the Music City, and the music is everywhere. But Nashville, the heart of country music, is changing fast. Residents joke that the construction crane is the new state bird and the real estate market in middle Tennessee is on fire.
“Obviously politics sometimes can bring people into different states, but one thing we are seeing is people from Southern California,” said Riley King, a Nashville real estate broker.
While country music blaring on Broadway is the big attraction in Music City, the real story is what is happening in the communities outside of Nashville where things are booming.
In the community of Spring Hill, neighborhoods that several years ago didn’t exist now have brand new homes, more homes under construction, and they are clearing more land to build even more homes. Many of these new homeowners hail from Southern California.
Michael and Taylor Seits left California after a visit in 2019, which caught the attention of their boss at Bandits Grill and Bar in Thousand Oaks.
“A lot of people are just over the ways of California,” Taylor Seits said. “A lot of it had to start with COVID, all the laws and all the things that happened there.”
For Michael Seits, he says seeing first hand the difference between how Tennessee operates and what it’s like to live in California, was the turning point.
Jennifer and Shawn Berger are another pair of California transplants.
The two were at odds with each other about leaving the Golden State. Jennifer Berger said she “planted the seeds” for the move and wanted to make sure her parents could come with.
Her parents, Howard and Mindy Yaras are both retired. They followed their daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren to Tennessee and now live right down the street.
“I play golf, my golf course is only five miles away,” Howard Yaras said. With the grandkids so close, the grandparents say they have become the “Uber driver” for all the kids’ sporting events and activities.
“We love it here,” Mindy Yaras said. “We have neighbors from California – Southern and Northern.”
As for employment, Michael Seits is now a contractor with AT&T. Taylor Seits is a broker working a hot real estate market
Shawn Berger, a one-time KTLA guest who appeared on a segment about preparing barbecue, is now managing a popular restaurant in nearby Franklin.
“There is an adjustment period, and I am blessed to have a very committed wife who is very understanding and worked to find a great home within our community, and great home at the current position I am at now,” Berger said.
Another factor that drew the Bergers to Springhill: the Williamson County schools, compared to the schools back in their old home in Moorpark.
“There is more classes, the work is harder, the academics harder, the kids don’t run the schools, the administration does,” Jennifer Berger said. “I love my neighborhood, I love watching my children grow and adjust so well.”
For the Seits family, they say moving to Tennessee is the “new American Dream.”
“We wanted that all-American Dream picture and we got it. We got the acre of land, and it’s just been great so far,” Michael Seits said.
Keeping Nashville Nashville
That “American Dream” is certainly more affordable in Tennessee. The average price of a home in greater Nashville is just over $400,000. That is half of the average cost in Southern California, and Tennessee does not take state income tax out of paychecks.
But there is concern. Is Nashville growing too fast?
Some residents worry that middle Tennessee could be over run by urban sprawl.
Nashville is a booming city in the new south with condos, high rises and single family homes. But there’s a problem: they can’t build them fast enough.
What initially attracts many people to Nashville is the Music City’s version of Broadway – right around the corner from the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. It starts at an intersection which looks like Bourbon Street for country music. It’s three blocks of neon signs and honky-tonks.
Instead of partying or performing on Broadway, Kevin Roentgen, a long-time rocker who grew up in the San Fernando Valley is content creating music inside his home studio that sits on 1.5 acres outside Franklin. Kevin, his wife and 13-year-old daughter left L.A. six years ago.
“It was pretty simple, a quality of life thing,” Roentgen said. “We wanted to buy a house, too, and we just couldn’t see it happening in Los Angeles.”
Six years in, Kevin says he can see subtle changes that remind him of Los Angeles.
“We do notice traffic more than when we first moved here and there is a real rush hour thing,” he said.
Some cars sport bumper stickers that read: “Don’t California my Tennessee.”
“We are seeing a shift in middle Tennessee,” said Erica Francis, a news anchor at KTLA sister station WKRN in Nashville. “It’s not just the cowboy boots, the farmland and just country music anymore. This is turning into big city life, turning in a 24-hour city and the outskirts are filling up.”
Even though the median home price is about $400,000, for Tennesseans, that’s entirely too high, and some people feel that Californians are pricing locals out of the market.
“That is why Californians are moving here. We don’t have enough supply and we have too much demand right now, so the prices keep going and going.”
Another issue, Francis said, is infrastructure. The state just can’t keep up with the growing demand of new arrivals. But Francis doesn’t believe Tennessee will ever be a mirror image of Los Angeles, simply because there’s just too much room to expand.
“There is a different amount of land. It’s never going to be like that, sure you can take any suburb or community. The San Fernando Valley used to be all farmland,” Francis said. “I mean you could look 50 years from now, it could start to go there. It’s never going to get there. There is so much land.”
So Tennessee’s California cul-de-sac continues to expand with transplants like Evan and Brianna Shepard. With one child and another on the way, their two-bedroom apartment in Sherman Oaks just became too small.
“Even if we wanted to rent another apartment, let alone a house, what would be in our price range was practically nothing,” Evan Shepard said.
So after nine years, they left and found a new three-bedroom house east of Nashville in Mt. Juliet
They say it was “unbelievable” what they could find in their price range.
Of all the California transplants that spoke to KTLA for this story, all had the same answer for whether or not they will ever move back to California: a resounding “no.”
City of Lights
Hollywood is known as the entertainment capital of the world and there’s possibly no better symbol of that than the iconic Capitol Records building. But people in the business say when it comes to music, the place to be now is Nashville, Tennessee.
Hollywood and the Sunset Strip was once the place where rock stars were discovered, but now many musicians are staking their claims down south in hopes of getting that big breakthrough.
“I’ve spent too many years in The Roxy and the Whiskey A-Go-Go,” said Tom Ross, a long-time music agent who is now retired.
“Nashville was known as a songwriters town,” Ross said. “And it was really an artistic community. It was kind of what L.A. was in the ’60s when the folk scene was happening.”
Ross, never one to wear a tie, believes the music industry in Hollywood became too corporate.
“What used to be free-wheeling record companies that were really artistic-driven and they would take chances, suddenly they had people they had to answer to,” he said. “‘Why did you spend this? Why did you put this group in the studio? We don’t like them.’”
As Hollywood went corporate, Ross thought Nashville music was going mainstream. So after starting the music division at the Creative Arts Agency (CAA), Tom had the foresight to open a CAA office in Nashville. That was 30 years ago.
“You saw a lot of crossover acts that country was getting airplay on pop radio,” Ross said. “I saw the acts starting to pop like Faith Hill, and certainly, Clint Black was one of the first, but Tim McGraw … he could have been a rock star or a country star.”
For Kevin Roentgen, who left the L.A. scene six years ago, the writing was on the wall about Nashville’s rise. He said he could see a decline in people coming to Los Angeles for the music scene.
“I played in bands where nobody was from Los Angeles except me,” Roentgen said. “People used to flock there.”
Roentgen played guitar in several rock bands including Buckcherry and American Pearl. He represents that talent pool that was part of the Los Angeles music scene that now calls Tennessee home.
“I like the idea that music was higher up the cultural ladder,” Roentgen said. “It felt like Los Angeles didn’t look at it that way anymore”
California native Ryan Caris, another musician, said COVID-19 dried up gigs in California. Now he plays six or seven nights a week in Nashville.
“I have no really aspirations of getting famous or anything,” Caris said. “I’ve always wanted to do what I love and get paid to do what I love and I’ve never got to do that up until now. And this is what I’m doing here.”
But Michael Weinberg, who grew up in Sherman Oaks, took a detour from the music industry to the corner or 12th and Porter in a building where both Dierks Bentley and Keith Urban were discovered. Weinberg is the founder and CEO of Nightscape, a one-of-a-kind concert venue that uses state-of-the-art technology which can take your party anywhere from Tokyo to the Final Four.
“We actually have our own in-house visual and audio team that develops these types of events and experiences, that you see and hear inside of this space,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg moved to Nashville in 2015, knowing it was the place to be if he wanted to establish himself in entertainment.
“I love the music industry and wanted to be in entertainment and I came down here,” Weinberg said. “It just felt like a great place to establish roots.”
While Nashville is booming for obvious reasons, political climate and cost of living being two obvious drivers, Ross the former music agent, said the city will always be a music-first town.
“Nashville is exploding as a city but it’s based on making its living from music,” Ross said. “Right now, Nashville is the city of lights.”