Mayor wants to put live music back into Music City

Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 12:00am

Apparently, Music City has gotten a bit too quiet for Mayor Karl Dean.

Starwood Amphitheater, once a major destination for concertgoers, is on its way to becoming a mixed-use residential development and retail center.

Dancin’ in the District, River Stages and Uptown Mix have been silenced. Summer Lights is a dim memory for Nashvillians who loved a good musical street festival.

And, like his predecessors, the mayor is looking to make an impact on Nashville’s Music City brand.

Then-mayor Phil Bredesen supported the museum/monument that became the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Mayor Bill Purcell followed by growing Fan Fair/CMA Music Festival into a pre-eminent international event.

Now Dean’s mission appears to be reviving live music options in this city.

“If you look at Nashville and what I think our future is, we are going to be a place, and continue to be a place, where I think creative people want to live,” the mayor said. “And that is really going to position us well for the years ahead.

“You can’t just rest on your laurels. Other cities are clearly doing the same thing, whether it’s Austin or Seattle, and we need to pay attention to it.”

Along with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Dean last month formed the Music Business Council. The MBC features music industry heavy-hitters and an eclectic mix of star performers, such as Emmylou Harris, Jack White and Kix Brooks.

Dean charged the MBC with quite a work order: increase live music venues in Nashville, bring in more music business locations, improve Metro’s public school music education program, expand the CMA Music Fest and develop a new multi-genre music festival.

The mayor followed that by introducing a free concert series (co-sponsored by The City Paper) to take place on the Public Square in front of his own office beginning this fall.

“We have some of the best live music venues in the world here in Nashville — whether it’s the Ryman, our symphony hall or the honky-tonks on lower Broadway,” Dean said. “But with a name like Music City, there is never too much live music.”

Will it work?

With it becoming increasingly more difficult for aspiring musicians to make a living through their craft, Nashville musician Aaron Winters said it was refreshing to see the mayor’s office put its support behind the local music scene.

Winters likened the creation of the new concert series — called Live on the Green — to the establishment of local rock radio station Lightning 100 and the local music festival Next Big Nashville as critical advancements in supporting Nashville artists.

“You’re saying you’re going to put some independent artists on the stage with some national acts — people just don’t know how seldom that happens any more,” said Winters, whose band Space Capone will play at one of the Live on the Green shows this fall. “Especially in a time when people are not getting paid to do music as much as they use to, we need all the help we can get. So it’s huge.”

Moving forward, one of the biggest questions is whether Dean can lead a Metro effort to bring an outdoor music venue to the city, which would fill the void left by Starwood’s closing two years ago.

“An outdoor venue has a lot of appeal to me,” Dean said. “I think the debate is whether you have another indoor venue, or you build an outdoor venue. [For] the outdoor — what it looks like or where it would be placed, are all issues that would need to be resolved.

“Having something where you could have perhaps the symphony play, or having something where you could have concerts, perhaps have theater, I think would be wonderful,” the mayor added.

River in the running

One idea that has been floated in the past was putting an outdoor venue on the riverfront. District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson, whose district includes downtown, said there is a real need to give concertgoers an attractive mid-sized venue.

“For a while it was feast or famine,” Jameson said. “You could see acts in small intimate settings and you could see them in stadiums but you didn’t have many options in between and that excluded a lot of acts.”

The recently approved Adventure Water Park for the east bank of the Cumberland River has an amphitheater component in its schematics. Jameson said such a venue could seat 3,000 to 5,000 people.

“I think we’ve got a great opportunity for an amphitheater on the river,” he said.

With the MBC starting to meet regularly in coming months, Dean indicated that the Live on the Green series was merely a first step in achieving his goal of growing more live music options.

“Nashville needs to be a center for live music, all types of music — be it country music, or the symphony, be it rock, whatever,” Dean said. “Anything I think I can do to encourage that, I think I should.”


7 Comments on this post:

By: Alphadog7 on 7/15/09 at 10:54

I'm glad he is taking a multi-genre approach. Country music made the Nashville music scene, but we have diversified beyond that, and Country continues to get be a disproportionate piece of the "Nashville brand".

There are all types of music here, and that part of the brand should get some long overdue attention. I love Country, but its Music City, not Country City.

By: jps13pat on 7/16/09 at 12:36

I hope it's not just talk, because "Music City" has really been hurting for music lately! Losing Riverstages, Dancin in the District, and Starwood really hurt Nashville a lot. I used to go to nearly 15 concerts a year. I don't think that I went to a single one last year...

By: pandabear on 7/16/09 at 11:10

Creative people don't want to live in a city bending over
from debt created by a convention center we can't afford
and won't even pay for itself.

Karl Deano's ego is big enough for all of us.

By: courier37027 on 7/17/09 at 7:03

Dancing in the District started out as an intimate, free concert between two buildings downtown. Eventually these free shows became the 12,000-strong Riverfront Park crowd of mostly wandering teenagers and anything but the music. DITD moved and began charging admission in corner of football stadium parking lot. Cost, traffic overload downtown, beer sales and security hassles during the free concert days became too great a burden for sponsors.

Summer Lights was another of Nashville's "we got to have this because Birmingham and Louisville have these, and they bring in so much tourism revenue". Two or three Summer Lights logistics nightmares later, what amounted to little more than fenced in drunks and too few port-o-lets casued this imagined revenue stream (pun intended) to go away.

Starwood is reflective of a national trend. Gone are days of the outdoor concert venue. Yes, some outdoor and stadium still remain, but where you have an indoor facility (Sommet, Wildhorse, Municipal) preference is given to the single act concert hall or indoor arena. Country Music Festival or large multi-act shows will need places like LP Field, but that becomes a once-a-year occurrence..

Mayor Dean, once you fill Sommet, Municipal, Wildhorse, TPAC and other small to large arena, then the market will dictate if a new Starwood is needed. Until then you are letting your pandering to music crowd and convention center type arrogance drive us to the poor house.

By: sidneyames on 7/17/09 at 1:59

Yeah and I live right near Starwood. "BEST USE" of land theory sure went out the door over 2 years ago when the developers wanted to build houses on a great outdoor music venue. So now the property has sat there for 2 years - vacant. So instead of investing some money and making Starwood more attractive, the planning and metro council just caused it to be a dead zone. And I agree with this: Mayor Dean, once you fill Sommet, Municipal, Wildhorse, TPAC and other small to large arena, then the market will dictate if a new Starwood is needed. Until then you are letting your pandering to music crowd and convention center type arrogance drive us to the poor house.
Courier I could not have said it better.

By: LanceCo on 7/17/09 at 7:08

Those venues are all regularly being filled. Even Municipal Auditorium, which is easily the worst major venue in the city (the acoustics in that place are terrible, it's more suited for a monster truck rally than a concert), pulls in sell-out shows from time to time.

I think a lot of people miss the big outdoor music events downtown and a outdoor music venue would facilitate that much more easily than having to dock a couple of barges and hoping for the best. It also invites bigger bands and larger productions like touring music festivals. Radiohead practically only plays amphitheaters these days, and we haven't had a Warped Tour date since 2006, to name a couple. I don't think I went to any concerts at Starwood that didn't have multiple stages.

I always liked the idea of building an amphitheater on the thermal plant grounds. The baseball stadium isn't happening and I don't think anyone in their right mind would be willing to build more high rises on that space, so why not an amphitheater? It's not like anything's happening with it anyway.

By: jps13pat on 7/18/09 at 12:17

LanceCo, I totally agree (though I rather liked docking the barges together!). One nice thing about a nice, bigger outdoor music venue is that it caters to the "cheap" seats. I took full advantage of the general admission grass seats at Starwood. The cost of tickets at these indoor venues often prices me out of concerts that I would love to go to.