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East Nashville’s Music Community Takes Stock After A Devastating Storm

Shelly Swanger

Music venue The Basement East, destroyed just shy of its fifth birthday, quickly became a rallying symbol of ruination and resilience after a tornado roared across the city and the midstate early Tuesday morning. With its collapsed ceiling juxtaposed against its weirdly intact “I Believe In Nashville” mural, the building told a story to the world. 

On Wednesday morning, an aggressive clean-up was underway and the community’s vaunted spirit was on full display. Power line crews were out in force. Volunteers handed out food, water and coffee to workers and to civilians who’d showed up with rakes and tools. Along Woodland Ave. and at Five Points, owners and managers of the area’s music businesses were taking stock. 

Kari Estrin, a roots music manager and promoter, observed that Nashville in general and the 37206 neighborhood have experience with natural disasters, specifically the tornado of 1998, which took a weirdly similar path, and the flood of 2010. “I”ve had a hard time watching my community of East Nashville go through this a second time, and I’ve watched it go through a flood,” she said while walking on Woodland Ave. “But one thing that’s so perfect about East Nashville is how everyone just mucks in, as they say. I think we’re going to pull together and it will all be okay in the end.” 

Credit C. Havighurst
Woodland Studio at Five Points lost its rubber roof liner and was drying out on Wednesday morning.

Historic Woodland Studio was built in 1967 and hosted the influential Will The Circle Be Unbroken sessions in 1972. Now it’s owned by Americana stars Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who rushed to the site on Monday night to minimize damage to the instruments and equipment inside the building. The exterior is in tact, but part of its rubber roof liner blew off and is now on the sidewalk. 

Lori Condon, general manager of Woodland’s in-house label Acony Records, said a tired team had eight blowers running off generators to dry the place out. “We are feeling actually pretty lucky,” she said. “We have water damage, but we’re getting power back today which seems amazing. Most of our gear and instruments were able to be saved and we’re just working really hard to get the building dried out as soon as we can.”

Credit C. Havighurst
Dualtone Music Group, just yards from the Basement East, took a direct hit. The company's only signage depicts its mascot, a wooden bear named Bob. Bob was recovered from the rubble.

A few blocks away, the headquarters of Dualtone Music Group, home of Mt. Joy and the Lumineers, was devastated. A bucket loader cleared rubble and even trashed stereo gear from the building’s gaping side. “We’re spinning plates right now,” said co-founder Scott Robinson, while emphasizing that his staff is well and that “we have no problems compared to others in this community.”

The building, tucked away between Woodland and Main and a work home to a team of more than a dozen employees and interns, is being assessed to be repaired or rebuilt. The label will set up a temporary office but the plan is to stay at the address.  “East Nash is an amazing community,” Robinson said Thursday morning. “There’s a culture there. There’s a creative mindset there and that’s where we want to be. It’ll take a minute to get that beat back, but we’ll be there.”

As widely reported, The Basement East caved in just an hour after winding down a packed benefit show. Six employees and two passersby took hasty refuge in the ground floor and are all safe. Co-owner Dave Brown said the initial assessment suggested that the building’s floor and sub-structure are save-able. Questions remain, but not about their resolve.

“We’ve met and talked with our landlord extensively and our investors and all of are in agreement and have the intention to rebuild if possible,” Brown said. “The main floor is in tact so we might only have to do walls and roofs and everything on one floor. I hope we don’t have to raze the building entirely and start from the bottom up. That’s one good sign.”

Nearby, Fanny’s House of Music, a vintage instrument and clothing store on Holly Street, sits in one of the hardest hit zones of the neighborhood. Owner/partner Leigh Maples reported via Facebook that the “business got some damage, but we are okay.” The structure and its famous women-of-music mural were standing if dinged up. Also in the path in the historic Germantown neighborhood to the west was Oh Boy Records, which reported at least that the staff was all fine, with news pending on their early 1900s headquarters. Several major buildings were destroyed nearby. 

Benefit shows and options for people near and far to assist the recovery popped up immediately. Our friends at the East Nashvillian have compiled a detailed list of organizations and initiatives through which one can donate time or money

Tonight you can find Shelter From The Storm - A Concert For Nashville Tornado Relief at Dee’s Country Lounge in Madison, featuring Brian Wright, Aaron Lee Tasjan and many more.

Also tonight, The East Room at 2412 Gallatin Ave. hosts From The Ground Up:Eastside Tornado Fundraiser For Relief & Love. All donations will go directly to service industry workers whose places of employment have been affected by the tornados. If you are in this situation, please visit http://heartstringsnashville.org/tornado/ to sign up.

On Sunday, March 8, the Nashville Blues and Roots Alliance hosts Musicians Helping Musicians Tornado Fundraiser at Music City Bar and Grill, 2416 Music Valley Drive.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst.