Ben Folds is Right

Like most of Nashville I have no day to day, personal connection to Music Row.  My only experience there was in the summer of 1977 cleaning out the basement of a flop house on 17th Avenue South.  Also, like most of Nashville I do have connections that are less concrete.  I have friends who moved here because of the music scene, Nashville musicians have transformed the neighborhood where I live, and I love music made in Nashville. That's how Nashville's music scene makes life great for me. 

Nevertheless, it was only with passing interest that I read Ben Folds' letter regarding the potential loss of historic RCA Studio A.  However, after I read his letter and reply a couple of times, looked over the owner's response and took in the commentary online, I concluded not only that Ben Folds is right but also that people outside the music business ought to back him up. 

I don't know Ben Folds, so I'm not speaking for him but: 

I read his letter as simply pointing out that RCA Studio A, and more generally the physical surroundings of Music Row have played an important role in the culture that made Nashville into Music City and that the loss of these physical surroundings is a real threat.  I think that's correct.  It's correct because these few blocks have promoted as much musical collaboration, creation and invention as any city in the nation.

So, what is special about Music Row?  There are not two buildings that look identical there.  It's a hodgepodge of 20th century low rise office buildings, churches, 1970's infill, and pre-Great Depression four squares and bungalows.  This hodgepodge has welcomed Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe and Elvis Presley to record music - can any other city our size can boast that?  I look at this hodgepodge as symbolic of the unpretentious, accessible feel that Nashville has had for at least the 50 years I've been alive. This lack of pretense is part of the feel of our City.  It is important that it be maintained. 

The Tennessean's editorial missed this point entirely.  Ignoring how important Music Row has been to Nashville, they wrote: "Generally, we should err on the side of the preservationists, but realize that we don't live in a theme park, or a museum."  This language insinuates that preservationists (including Ben Folds, I guess) are being unrealistic in their desire to preserve our past.  It also insinuates that building anything means building something alive - something that betters the City.  It is far from clear that construction of more condos everywhere will better Nashville or make make it easier for the next star to be born in Nashville as opposed to Austin.

The most expensive houses in Nashville are in our old neighborhoods.  East Nashville has been revitalized beyond imagination in the last two decades.  These examples should guide us and areas like Music Row which are woven into our history should be preserved.     

#savemusicrow is not a statement against progress.  It is a statement against decline.  That's why Ben Folds letter matters, why he's correct and why I'm with him.  #savemusicrow

 

 


Showing 7 reactions

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  • commented 2014-07-10 22:19:58 -0700
    Gary and Jake—
    Try to think positively.
    Share some examples you like.
    Let’s hear your ideas.
  • commented 2014-07-10 07:11:06 -0700
    For the comment on Soho in NYC, are your saying that it is a good thing. Soho is a gross shopping mall for the richest of the rich. Nothing more. Not many cafés left of any kind and super high end stores such as Prada. The only artists who could possibly afford to have space there are people who have been in rent control for decades, or the top .01% of successful established artists. Soho is a must not-see in NYC as far as I’m concerned.
  • commented 2014-07-09 16:31:46 -0700
    No one said turn it into Lower Broadway or Colonial Williamsburg.

    Think SoHo in NYC or DUMBO in Brooklyn, downtown LA, Abbott Kinney in Venice Beach, Milwaukee’s Third Ward, the fashion district Quadrilatero d’Oro in Milan, downtown Kansas City, the list goes on and on.

    These are thriving places where vital new creative work is done by professionals everyday, and the riches of old and new architecture, a mix of businesses, culture and commerce are enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The history in those places shines brighter because the story continues, and the energy comes from the concentration of talent in play on a daily basis. It’s inspiring. Being able to get a coffee doesn’t turn it into a theme park, it helps create a culture.

    And when you’re holed up in a studio all day? It might be nice to have a couple of delicious and healthy lunch options within a block or two walk.
  • commented 2014-07-09 16:18:16 -0700
    I’m not from Nashville, just a big fan of Ben Folds. And I understand the issues of urban design and development. Why is it that condos is such a bad word? Urban cores need residences more than anything to keep them alive. Most places are happy to see condos being built to help revitalize the neglected areas of their city. I suspect that this new development that some ( including Mr Folds) are complaining about will do more to save music row than destroy it.
  • commented 2014-07-09 16:04:32 -0700
    We can aim higher.

    Music Row is a ghost town at night, and because many of the music businesses have moved out, there seems to be a lot of property presently unused, creating gaps. If I visited as a tourist I think I’d view it with the feeling “is that all there is?” We love our history in Nashville, but we’re letting it lie fallow.

    Development doesn’t have to be in opposition to embracing our history and continuing to enjoy it. Music Row needs people, foot traffic, something to see and a reason to spend time there. I would love to see Music Row revitalized with considered, intelligent development— a mix of residential, restaurants, hotels, retail, and yes, the history that gives Nashville its soul, prominently featured and enjoyed by many more people than it is presently.

    That won’t be easy to achieve, but for Music Row, and Music City, it’s worth trying. How are the thriving arts and historic districts in other cities doing it?

    #RevitalizeMusicRow
  • commented 2014-07-09 08:38:20 -0700
    I disagree with Anonymous and agree with Mr. Briley. Why? Because Music Row is not a tourist attraction nor a living history museum like Colonial Williamsburg. The people on the Row aren’t on display writing and recording in a glass viewing booth for the public because they aren’t reinacting. They are working. Music Row is a thriving, working, music industry business district, so of course it’s quiet at night, as it should be. A ton of tourist foot traffic, restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops simply do not belong there. Let the tourists have the music venues and Lower Broadway where they can enjoy the performances and the kitsch, but leave Music Row for those who make that music to work and create in peace. If Music Row becomes overrun with tourist foot traffic, the actual creative artists who work there will abandon the Row for a place where they can work in peace and Music Row as we know it will cease to exist and become no less than a theme park.
  • commented 2014-07-09 07:06:41 -0700
    We can aim higher.

    Music Row is a ghost town at night, and because many of the music businesses have moved out, there seems to be a lot of property presently unused, creating gaps. If I visited as a tourist I think I’d view it with the feeling “is that all there is?” We love our history in Nashville, but we’re letting it lie fallow.

    Development doesn’t have to be in opposition to embracing our history and continuing to enjoy it. Music Row needs people, foot traffic, something to see and a reason to spend time there. I would love to see Music Row revitalized with considered, intelligent development— a mix of residential, restaurants, hotels, retail, and yes, the history that gives Nashville its soul, prominently featured and enjoyed by many more people than it is presently. I believe it’s the best way to honor and enjoy the rich history of Nashville.

    That won’t be easy to achieve, but for Music Row, and Music City, it’s worth trying. How are the thriving arts and historic districts in other cities doing it?

    #RevitalizeMusicRow