No city is ever going to fully conform to its public stereotype.
This little axiom applies to people, too. And yes, I understand the fallacy of my broad categorization of people below. Thanks for noticing. Just read.
Los Angeles is not entirely glitzy boob jobs, New York is not entirely bitter cynicism, and Nashville is not entirely rhinestones and twang.
Actually, I've never met anyone in Nashville who actually listens to modern country music. Not voluntarily, at least. Maybe a bit of Johnny Cash here or there, but those tastes seem to lie in the hardest-core of punks and the elderly. The whole Southern hospitality idea is somewhat kerneled in truth- I'll personally give correct directions to any tourist who doesn't drunkenly ask me if I'm a skinhead. (And, for the record, NO. The Ryman Auditorium is five miles THAT way.)
It is possible to have a fulfilling experience here, though. I've spent quite a bit of time in Nashville, and I'm not in any fashion neurotic.
Several coffeehouses, such as Bongo Java, cater to a hugely diverse but well-knit population ranging from Vandy students avoiding Greek society, high-school drop-outs-turned poet/guitarist/body piercers, the homeless, the talented, the addicted, and sometimes just those who appreciate a damn fine cup of coffee. Much of the cast of the movie Gummo was lifted directly from Bongo's front porch.
The top of the BellSouth "batman" building. For such a heinous structure, it sure is fun to spit off of. Rooftop access varies, as it's kind of not legal. As an example of security, these guys guard their dumpsters with hungry attack dogs that have been taught how to use automatic weapons. Believe me on this one. It's quite a view, though.
Dragon Park. But only if you're special.
Vanderbilt's Sarratt Cinema and the Watkins-Belcourt both play a host of incredible foreign, indie, and tastefully strange retro flicks. Plenty of midnight showings with rowdy audiences to be found here. Annual animation and film festivals, also- I saw Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation and a documentary about John Waters in the same night.
Bars. Lots and lots of bars. There's about 6 microbreweries in Metro Nashville, and I will soon node every place you can get a nice frothy Guinness on tap.
In the same vein, there's a few notable dance clubs worth checking out. The Underground is small, smoky, hot, and spins mostly Bauhaus or Atari Teenage Riot, which explains the heavy Goth ratio most nights. eXceSs is an after-hours house and trance club seemingly populated entirely by very nicely built, shirtless men and high school candyravers looking for X.
Musically, Nasville does seem to lack any kind of ambient or IDM fan base, but then again, this species is sometimes hard to find... we tend to sit at home in headphones, mostly.
Out and about, though. There's fifty billion places to hear mind-blowingly good *live* music for the price of a beer here. Windows on the Cumberland is a nice cozy place to start, struggling yet talented bands play here for peanuts, upon the same tiny stage graced by Robert Moog a few months ago. The Exit/In is pretty infamous, it's the venue shown in Robert Altman's film Nashville, and I'm not even going to begin listing the legends who have played (and still do) here. 328 Performance Hall is of the same esteem, but catering more now to a pretty decent punk and electronica base- Sunny Day Real Estate played last weekend, and Stereolab last month.
That's not nearly everything, but it's a start.
There is refuge from reputation, you just have to know where to find it.