Welcome to Music City, USA! The reigning Queen of Country, Rayna Jaymes, wows the crowd at the Grand Ole Opry with her rendition of “I’m Already Gone.” Her longtime collaborator/confidant, Deacon Claybourne, is by her side on guitar. After the show, Deacon’s niece, Scarlett, lets Rayna know she’s a huge fan as she introduces her boyfriend, Avery. Coleman Carlisle is also in the house. He wants Rayna to perform at his campaign announcement for mayor. No problem. Anything for an old family friend.
Juliette Barnes is the hottest crossover act in the country. She has a backstage run-in with Deacon, who is flattered by her full-on fan girl gushing. Juliette wonders aloud to her manager, Glenn, why this guy isn’t playing in her band. It’s probably because he’s been with Rayna Jaymes for the past two decades.
Speaking of Rayna, the label wants Juliette to meet with her and play nice. Juliette opens by saying her mom used to listen to Rayna’s music when she was still in the womb. Ouch! Rayna hits back by pointing out that Juliette’s cleavage is tumbling out of her tight dress. That’s not playing nice.
Meeting with her manager, Bucky, and label reps, Rayna is presented with the harsh financial realities of the ever-evolving music industry. They pitch the idea that she co-headlines a tour with Juliette. This is the directive of the new record label head. The hits just keep on coming when Rayna is late to a day-naming event involving her powerful father, Lamar Wyatt. These two have contentious relationship to say the least. Rayna makes her sister, Tandy, promise that she won’t have to go through anything like this again anytime soon.
Rayna’s daughters, Maddie and Daphne, beg to go on tour with their mom, who promises to employ them only after they graduate college. When Juliette’s song comes on the radio, the excited girls sing along causing quite a headache for their mother. At home, Rayna’s husband, Teddy, doesn’t think doing the tour thing with Juliette is such a bad idea. After all, they are currently dealing with some financial concerns. Things escalate into an argument about Rayna’s issue with accepting money from her father.
Juliette records “Boys in Buses” at the studio, with a little autotune assist, while flirting with her music producer, Randy. Later, Rayna visits Randy hoping they could crank out some of the songs he found earlier, but he’s already cut them with other artists. After he mentions that he’s busy with Juliette’s album, Rayna goes on a tirade wondering why anyone would listen to such adolescent trash… only to be overheard by Juliette, who happens to be in Randy’s bed upstairs.
At the Bluebird Café, Deacon performs “Back Home.” Juliette watches, moved by the song. After the set, she tells Deacon she wants to record his song. She offers him the bandleader spot on her tour. Deacon says he can’t, despite them both knowing that they would, indeed, have fun on the road.
Lamar and Tandy believe that in order to be more in control of how things play out for the city and their interests, they should run their own candidate for mayor, and it’s not Coleman. It’s a discussion that leads them to Rayna’s husband, Teddy Conrad. Lamar’s backers love the idea, but Tandy knows Rayna is going to absolutely lose it. Later, Lamar lays out plans to his prospective political candidate. Teddy is skeptical, but tempted by a chance to run a city and move past his business failures.
At rehearsal, Rayna has trouble getting into the groove while performing “It’s My Life.” Later, she admits to Deacon that she’s fearful that Juliette is coming for him, Randy, and who knows what else. Juliette is also finding it hard to focus on her music. At a recording session, she cries on the phone to her mother, who is clearly still on drugs despite her lies otherwise. When Randy comes in to check on Juliette, she can’t help but pounce on him in her vulnerable state.
Teddy breaks the mayor news to Rayna. She’s concerned, saying that involvement with Lamar is never a good idea. Teddy counters that this is about getting back on track financially, and it’s something he’s actually interested in. He’s tired of being the man behind the woman. He asks his wife to now stand by his side. Rayna relents, but worries when she realizes she’ll have to cancel her commitment to Coleman.
Rayna meets with Marshall Evans, the new head of the record label. He hopes they can come to an understanding about her success helping the label’s past and her disinterest in touring with Juliette. She just wants support, but Marshall makes it clear that it’ll come with her commitment to joining Juliette. Unfazed by his power play, Rayna smiles, stands, and walks out of the room.
Rayna confronts Lamar and Tandy about luring Teddy into running for mayor. Her dad bitingly reveals that he made her what she is now by paying for her first album. He also brings up a painful family secret from her past. Elsewhere, Randy visits Juliette at her home, but she rebuffs him. That’s because Deacon is already there. Juliette seductively takes his guitar away. She’s got more on her mind than just songwriting.
At the Bluebird, Gunnar praises Scarlett about her writing. He convinces her to put her poems to music. Later, Gunnar volunteers a nervous Scarlett to go up on stage. He accompanies her in performing “If I Didn’t Know Better,” the song they wrote together. They are electric, clearly connected by the music. Watty White, a local institution, is floored by their performance, calling up Rayna and holding his phone out so she can hear what’s out there.
Teddy gives his announcement speech and Lamar comments that he’s a natural. Rayna dutifully goes out on stage to stand by her husband’s side. But her face grows concerned, still uncertain of her own career and the future of her tour.