Walnut House To Revive M'boro’s Music Scene, Starting Friday With WMOT

Dec 4, 2018

If a guy named Ricky Martini offers you a tour of his building, how do you say no to that? The building in this case is The Walnut House, once a mid 20th century appliance store one block off the main square in historic downtown Murfreesboro. Martini, the new general manager, is showing me how flexible the place is, including one nicely appointed second story room that’s recently served as a board room and a bridal lounge. Then next to that is an isolation room for recording vocalists. “It’s connected via conduit to the big space downstairs,” says my guide.

And by that, Martini means an open space with a modular stage, trusses for lights and room for  a band to record an album or up to 300 people to see a show. Which is the idea. After years of use as a church and rehabilitation residence, Martini and several partners are renovating the Walnut House into a role it last played in the early 2000s, a listening room and full service audio/video recording studio.

The larger mission is to revive a once lively music scene in Murfreesboro. That effort launches with a live broadcast this Friday produced by WMOT featuring Raleigh, NC roots pop band New Reveille and Rounder Records songwriter Sean McConnell. It marks the first music showcase under the Walnut House roof in years and the first WMOT member appreciation show in the radio station’s home town. WMOT and Walnut House are anticipating an ongoing promotional partnership.

“What I want to put on here are some beautiful, intimate shows where, number one, people in the Murfreesboro area can go see music without having to drive to Nashville, because there’s a large audience here that’s got nowhere to go (in town),” Martini said. But that wasn’t always the case. He remembers moving to the area in the late 90s when Spongebath Records was breaking national acts like Self and The Features and its colorful headquarters on the square was complemented by several venues for original bands. The Walnut House became a recording studio, rehearsal and performance space in that era, thanks to the investment of a parent of an MTSU Recording Industry Management student. After four years, that family took out the gear but left the studio booths and wiring, and those outlived the next iteration of the building.

Martini brings a lifetime of live music experience to the partnership. He bailed on performing early to become a recording engineer. For 35 years he’s been a tour manager and production manager for a variety of roots acts, including Nanci Griffith, Sam Bush, Raul Malo and Lyle Lovett, with whom he worked for the past nine years. He says he was ready to stop moving and build something in a town he calls home.

“I’ve always wanted to have a building and a venue that I could operate and book the shows and make everything happen. The best sound. The best lighting. Video projection. I finally met two other people who wanted that same thing. So that’s how I got here,” he says. The venue is already renting out for weddings and private events, and that will continue, but in the coming weeks and months, ticketed shows will become commonplace. Martini says he’s already serving clients interested the studio, and he’s nurturing some artists there himself.

WMOT members are encouraged to reserve spots via an email invitation, and the general public is invited to attend and will be admitted at the door on a first come, first served basis. Doors open on Friday, December 7th at the Walnut House (116 N. Walnut St., Murfreesboro, TN 37130) at 4:00 pm and the show runs from 5:00-7:00 pm. Beverages will be available for purchase.