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.”