Nashville and its leaders came out in droves Wednesday to show their support for music venue Exit/In, for its longtime owners and for sustaining the creative culture of Music City.
When the call for an impromptu display of solidarity and the opportunity to hear live music outdoors once more was presented to Nashvillians by the historic 50-year-old venue, it was answered not only by a swath of residents, but also by five Metro Council members.
Last week the property on which the iconic venue rests, 2208 Elliston Place, on Nashville’s historic Rock Block, was sold to hotel builders AJ Capital Partners, which made the purchase from the longtime landlords of venue owner Chris Cobb, Gene Nash and Anthony Rentals.
Currently, Cobb and company are working to raise $200,000 via a GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/f/preserve-exit-in, which at time of publication stood at $163,940.
All funds go toward owners Chris and Telesia Cobb making an offer to buy back the venue from AJ Capital Partners with the aid of Grubb Properties’ live venue recovery fund, which aims to help set up owner-operator scenarios at such institutions.
If the offer is not accepted by AJ Capital Partners, all funds with go to Music Venue Alliance of Nashville and the National Independent Venue Association.
When summoned, members of roots rock and soul act Matt Daughtry & Friends promptly left work at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to play for the gathered loyalists. And for the first time in a year, there was live music on the Rock Block again.
“(I’m) very thankful for this place. I grew up here, played at The End as a kid and dreamed about playing in this place lots of times,” Daughtry said. “I was so thankful when I got to do it. Anyone who ever got to play this stage knows the feeling.”
Chris Cobb, his wife, Telisha, and their son Spike took the stage to address the task at hand, with themes of gentrification and commercialization looming large.
“Progress is defined as forward or onward movement towards a destination. My question to Nashville is: Where are we heading?” Chris Cobb said. “As Music City continues to change, we must take inspired action to ensure it’s still a place we want to be.
“So many Nashville residents have to ask themselves: Does Nashville want me to be here? Songwriters, artists and the entire creative working class are the backbone of Music City. For decades they have done lifting and made Nashville a place people want to be. We must not displace the creative working class.
“If decisions are continued to be made by corporations, out-of-towners and luxury developers, our city cannot make progress. Nashville will head nowhere driven by decisions that maximize profits but minimize people, and this must stop.”
According to Chris Cobb, he and his wife offered roughly the same amount of money as AJ Capital Partners to purchase the property outright and that his landlords had held a grudge for drumming up opposition to a previous rezoning effort.
Council members on hand included Brandon Taylor, District 21; Tom Cash, District 18; Brett Withers, District 6; Joy Styles, District 32; and Jeff Syracuse, District 15.
“I’m simply here to be with all of you to say very loudly and very clearly this is a sacred space for Nashville,” Syracuse said. “If AJ Capital Partners thinks they’re just going to walk over us and get a zone change that means the demolition of this property, they’re wrong.”
Withers echoed that mentality through the duties of the council’s planning, zoning and historical committee.
“We’re going to have something to say,” Withers said.
“We have something cities all over the world would kill to have. Why would you remove that for something that can be replicated anywhere else? You could reopen somewhere else, of course, but it will never have that history, that vibe, those personal memories. That vibe and that spirit, it’s a palpable thing. It can’t be replaced.”
Styles, who has played at Exit/In herself, spoke on the creative culture Exit/In supports and advised attendees to donate.
“What we need is rock music, what we need are artists, what we need are creative juices flowing, coming out of this building, going out into the city. That’s what we need from you today,” Styles said. “I pledge to you that every council member up here, every council member that signed on to that resolution (recognizing Exit/In’s 50th anniversary), we are here in support of the Exit/In and this family. We are one family.”
One of Exit/In’s original founders, Brew Reynolds, also made an appearance.
The Cobbs thanked everyone for their support and reinforced their commitment to fighting the good fight.
“The Exit/In building may be for sale, Nashville’s soul may be for sale, but this family is not for sale, the people of Nashville are not for sale. We cannot be bought,” Telesia Cobb said. “If the past few days are any gauge of the passion, and the persistence, and the creativity, and the love people have shown our family and this institution, then we are in this fight not just for today or tomorrow, but however long it takes to secure this place for another 50 years for the creative working class of Nashville and for future generations of musicians who want to play that stage.
“We’re going to pour every ounce of energy and all of our love into it, and we will fight alongside all of you as long as you want to go.”