Upstart travel guide series Wildsam Field Guides needs no better endorsement than its own launch party. Held last week at an East Nashville home, the party featured live music, Old Fashioneds, exquisite food prepared by the folks at Twelve at the Table, and a guest list of Nashville’s top artists, craftsmen, writers, chefs and other local creatives and thought-leaders.
With its inaugural guide (Nashville), the independently published Wildsam series has proven that it puts a premium on high-quality writing, looks for distinctness and resists the urge to gravitate toward a city’s newest, trendiest or most-promoted attractions — unless they’ve earned it. The locals who made up the guest list, to a large extent, are the book’s contributors, including party host and writer J. Wes Yoder.
“You are Nashville,” Wildsam Founder and Editor Taylor Bruce told the crowd. “We just get to be your microphone.”
Taylor said his goal is to publish 10 Wildsam guides, with one on Austin coming up next (aiming to be out in time for SXSW in March), and locations like New Orleans and Seattle in the queue. Taylor, a native Georgian, longtime magazine writer and former Southern Living editor, said he will take a similar approach on each – calling on friends and experts in their field who intimately know the city, to identify recommendations that a local is more likely to suggest to a friend than a travel guide would advise to a tourist.
“You want to find the people in the city who look past the surface,” Taylor told us, “who appreciate the good writing and great stories that cities inspire.”
And here it must be said that “travel guide” isn’t a fully adequate descriptor for these books that include essays, hand-drawn maps, artist illustrations, interviews with colorful locals from former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to chef Tandy Wilson, century-old newspaper clippings, an entertaining almanac and blank pages for notes and sketches, in addition to best-of lists and attractions.
The type of insight Wildsam provides is well illustrated by the inclusion of this brief, handwritten note by Johnny Cash, which now hangs in the New York apartment of his daughter Rosanne:
“I must remember that my
‘Internal Prime Time’ is early
morning and very late at night.
This is when I think best,
— when I should write.
Sometimes it is very important
that I just sit around
and do nothing
Rest every midday.”
“Nashville reveres Johnny Cash, and to have such a personal look into his life is amazing,” Taylor said. “You can flip to any page of Wildsam and find something that’s interesting.”
“If you come to town for the first time, this is going to take you to the heart of Nashville. And for people who have been here their whole lives, I think the book is still going to be interesting to them. Cities never stop surprising you.”
The series’ philosophy is embodied in its made-up name. “Wild” is a reference to the series’ commitment to telling the real story of a city rather than that pushed by the convention and visitors bureau. And “Sam” is a reference to Samuel Hamilton, a character in John Steinback’s East of Eden, who Taylor describes as “the embodiment of curiosity.”
It’s an excellent approach to looking at some of America’s most interesting cities, and, if the Nashville guide is any indication, it will be a well-executed one as well.
Wildsam Field Guides ($16.95)