December 10, 2022
Happy Saturday! As 2022 comes to a close, we wanted to reflect on who's made the biggest difference in our city this year.
- Today's special edition of Axios Nashville is all about local power players.
- Share this list.
Today's newsletter is 912 words — a 3.5-minute read.
1. Ward Baker, political strategist
The conservative powerbroker oversaw the successful campaign strategies of U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, to name a few.
- Baker served as executive director of the National Republican Senate Campaign committee in 2016, famously leading the GOP to a surprising turnaround.
- Baker Group Strategies, which he founded, has grown into one of the state's most influential consulting firms.
What we're watching: It's never too soon to look toward the next election. The 2026 gubernatorial race figures to be a free-for-all, so it will be interesting to see which candidate Baker backs.
2. Adrienne Battle, MNPS director
After a stint as interim director, Battle was hired by the school board for the full-time gig in a unanimous vote on March 13, 2020. It was right around the time the reality of the pandemic began to sink in.
- Although Battle took criticism for extended remote learning time, there hasn't been any political fallout. On the contrary, the school board candidates during the most recent election cycle who bashed the district's pandemic response were soundly defeated.
With a supportive school board behind her and pandemic restrictions a thing of the past, Battle can focus her full attention on improving a district that experienced substantial enrollment drops in recent years.
3. Sean Brock, chef
It's been about a decade since celebrity chef Sean Brock brought Husk to town. His arrival heralded a turning point for fine dining in Music City.
- Brock subsequently split from his Charleston-based restaurant group and Husk to focus full-time on establishing a new culinary empire in Nashville.
His concepts run the gamut — from burgers and fries at Joyland to the ultra-luxe June, where chefs use scientific components to draw incredible flavors out of world-class ingredients.
- Brock's flagship restaurant, Audrey, was recently named one of the best new restaurants in the country.
Several other bold-print names have set up restaurants here since Brock moved in, but his passion for experimentation and exquisite ingredients continues to set the standard.
4. Sheila Calloway, juvenile court judge
Nashville's leading voice on juvenile justice issues sailed to re-election this year, cementing her status as the leader of juvenile court for the rest of the decade. Calloway has spearheaded the city's embrace of restorative justice measures for juveniles, and she remains an influential voice for policy makers.
- Her yearslong push to upgrade the juvenile justice complex is coming to fruition. A new multimillion-dollar facility will be designed around her vision.
What we're watching: Leading state lawmakers have pledged to pursue more changes to the justice system — including juvenile cases — in 2023. Calloway's input could be crucial as the debate takes shape.
5. Cindy Mabe, president of Universal Music Group Nashville
Whether measured by critical acclaim or commercial success, Mabe has built one of country music's most consequential resumes.
- Top-selling heavyweights like George Strait and Keith Urban have thrived on Mabe's watch. So have critical darlings Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton and Mickey Guyton.
Mabe is known as a fierce advocate for her artists. For instance, last year she wrote the Recording Academy an open letter criticizing the decision to block Musgraves' "Star Crossed" from being considered for best country album.
6. @NashSevereWx, Twitter account
When the sky gets dark and danger closes in, Nashvillians reflexively turn to the Twitter account @NashSevereWx to keep them safe. It's a sobering responsibility — especially considering that the three men behind the account aren't trained meteorologists. But they've earned the city's trust one tweet at a time.
- Their reach is so ubiquitous that they sometimes partner with the National Weather Service to disseminate information.
If you haven't frantically searched for their updates while seeking shelter in the middle of the night, you haven't lived in Nashville for very long.
7. Charlane Oliver, state senator
After cutting her teeth on grassroots activism, Oliver a made the leap to public office this year.
- Her nonprofit, the Equity Alliance, has emerged as a leading voice on the issue of voting rights.
- She won a competitive primary to replace longtime state Sen. Brenda Gilmore.
The big picture: Oliver, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, represents a changing of the guard in Nashville politics. She's viewed as a top political prospect who could one day run for Congress or mayor.
8. Allison Russell, singer-songwriter
Russell is leading the Nashville music scene into a new frontier with her evocative brand of folk rock.
- The Americana Music Association recognized Russell's work with an array of award nominations, including for song of the year and artist of the year. Russell won album of the year at the awards show in September.
9. Butch Spyridon, CEO of Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.
Twenty-five years after he played a leading role in the approval of Nissan Stadium, Spyridon is now championing the construction of a new home field for the Titans.
- Whether regulating party vehicles downtown or throwing parties on July 4 and New Year's Eve, Spyridon is at the center of every major tourism decision in Nashville.
10. Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association
For the last eight years, Trahern has provided stability to the genre's all-important trade association. That was an especially difficult challenge when CMA Fest was canceled in back-to-back pandemic years.
Of note: Trahern has advanced the conversation about improving representation within the genre, including a showcase for ascending LGBTQ artists during this year's festival.
Methodology: We selected these power players using our own expertise, polling readers, and through interviews with influential people.
- The list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.
- People who made the power list were not notified of their selection until publication.