Music City Roots, the 10-year-old live radio show and public television series, announced plans for a new venue on Thursday. Co-founder John Walker and community leaders unveiled The Roots Barn, a new concert venue to be built next year in the growing music scene of Madison, TN. When live broadcasts return to the WMOT airwaves, scheduled for late 2020, it will be known as Music City Roots - Live From Madison Station.
The show launched at the Loveless Cafe Barn in the Fall of 2009. It moved to the Factory in Franklin in mid 2014 and ran there until the end of 2017. Plans to move in 2018 to a distillery in Nashville's growing SoBro neighborhood came to a halt when that venue shifted its business model away from a music hall. In the background, MCR's ownership was laying the groundwork for owning its own venue, and the city of Madison welcomed the move as part of its own cultural and economic development.
"Today is the perfect day for us to think more clearly about what kind of place we're going to be, about what's important to Nashville and the future successes of this city," said Mayor David Briley at an announcement event at Amqui Station, immediately adjascent to the Barn site. "Music in Nashville isn't just about nostalgia. It's about creating new things. It's about building new neighborhoods. It's about inspiring new musicians to create. And that's really what this barn is going to be 100% about."
"We live and serve to showcase artists of the high integrity who are so often underserved in the mainstream," said MCR's John Walker. "Yet what is American roots music if not an expression of the very melting pot that defines America. Without the collision of cultures from Europe and Africa, North America and Latin America, ther would be no Americana, or bluegrass, jazz, country, blues, rock and roll, R&B and soul. In a world where there's much division, music unites."
Also on hand was Madison's Metro City Councilmember Nancy VanReece, who's been tenacious in her support of the Roots Barn concept and its place in a larger development called Madison Station. "Madison's future had to be deeply rooted in its historic country music and bluegrass past," she said. "After all, Johnny Wright and Kitty (Wells) called this place home. So did John Hartford, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, June Carter and Hank Snow."
VanReece also cited DeFord Bailey, the first African American to join the Grand Ole Opry, as having Madison ties. And she noted the new generation of talent that lives here now, including Elizabeth Cook, The Farmer & Adele and Allen Thompson. Generally speaking, Madison, a township that became part of Metro Nashville in the 1960s, has benefitted from the growth of East Nashville. As creatives and young professionals have found the city's bohemian enclave less affordable, many have found homes in the community north of Briley Parkway. Dee's Country Lounge, which opened several years ago near Due West Parkway and Gallatin Pike, is now a roots music hotbed.
The site has yet another country music tie, through the 1910 Amqui Station, which was the depot on the L&N Railroad in the 20th century. When it was decommissioned, Johnny Cash rescued it from demolition and moved it to his property in Hendersonville. After his death, the non-profit Discover Madison, Inc. was established to raise funds to return the structure to the community, where it is now run as a community center and museum. One dollar from every MCR ticket sale will go to the non-profit in perpetuity.
The Roots Barn is conceived to be among the best equipped music halls in the region, with a design partly inspired by The Barns at Wolftrap in Northern VA. It will hold about 700 people for seated shows and more than 1,000 for standing only events. MCR will also produce ticketed shows there and rent out the venue for special events.
Correction: This story originally indicated that Johnny Cash had made financial provisions to have historic Amqui Station returned to Madison, TN after his death. This was incorrect. The non-profit Discover Madison, Inc. was established as a vehicle to raise funds for the recovery and reconstruction of the building, along with the patio and second event building that now sit at 303 Madison Station Blvd. A community effort tapping private, public and foundation funding raised more than $1 million for that effort.