“You can see the hood ornament on the car when you go to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But if you want to look at the engine, and see what’s making it go, go to the Musician’s Hall of Fame.” –Neil Young.
The Musicians Hall of Fame has been “eminent domained” by the city of Nashville, and is scheduled to be bulldozed in a matter of days. Where The Hall sits is across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame, in the Lower Broadway district of downtown Nashville; the last bastion of what Music City used to be. Another institution founded to celebrate, honor, and preserve the music has fallen to another tool of industry.
The Musicians Hall of Fame, founded only four years ago, was created with the same idea the Songwriters Hall of Fame was: to show respect to the men and women behind the big acts and pretty faces who play an irreplaceable role in the music making process. Though residing in the home of country music, The Hall honored musicians from all genres of music.
It also housed many pieces of memorabilia, including the stand-up bass used in Hank Williams’ final recording session, and the red recording light from the studio where Tammy Wynette recorded “Stand By Your Man.” Overall The Hall had 30,000 square feet of musical memorabilia. Joe Chambers, the founder and curator of The Hall now has only 7 days to get everything out of the building before demolition starts.
Chambers lost an “eminent domain” hearing against the city of Nashville in court on Friday (2-13-09). He was the last holdout in the new convention center footprint. An independent appraiser valued the Hall property at $9.8 million, but Nashville only wants to give him $4.8 million. At that price, Chambers is concerned rebuilding the Hall in a new location with the same scope may be impossible, especially in Nashville. He has looked into moving The Hall to another city, but nothing has been decided. “You’re looking at one of the museum homeless. We really don’t have anywhere to go except storage at the moment.”
And to add insult to injury, during negotiations with Chambers on what to do with the property, the city of Nashville made offers of housing The Hall within the new convention center, and finding a temporary home for it during construction. But apparently when Chambers began to stand up to city hall, they became much less willing to work with him.
“We were told that they would provide us a place to go for free while the construction was goin’ on for the convention center for the next three years, and then we would move into the new convention center,” Joe said. “They brought plans over, they had the plans drawn out for us.”
The building of the new convention center is a controversy in itself. The $650 million dollar project is seen as risky, especially in the current economic climate. Nashville’s bet is that a new convention center will lure more business to downtown which will pay off in new tax revenue. Opponents are worried that the project will tax city coffers, leaving the city in debt and with less money for civil workers and social services. During the vote, opponents set up “luminaries outside of City Hall” one for every million dollars to be spent on the project.
The President of the Nashville chapter of the Musicians Union Dave Pomeroy summed it up best:
“Nashville became Music City through the work of these people [the Hall honors], on the backs of these musicians who never got the kind of credit that the stars got. If they don’t come to a settlement, all people are gonna remember is that the city of Nashville took a building that was honoring musicians in an eminent-domain court proceeding and that to me is a black mark on the city of Nashville. . . and that’s not gonna go away overnight.”
I can’t think of a better example than this story of how the priorities have shifted in Nashville, in country music, and in our society in general. We are bulldozing a landmark and a national treasure to put up yet another space for Industry to hob nob and money worship.
Lower Broadway in Nashville is all the city has left to tie it to it’s less and less relevant “Music City” moniker. There’s no music being made in those tall buildings, it’s just being manipulated. The Musicians Hall has fallen, like so many others before. Robert’s Western World, Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop still stand in defiance, but they will only feel like speedbumps when the bulldozers come.
I’m no hippie, but if I was in any reasonable driving distance of Nashville, I know where I would be the morning the bulldozers start rolling towards The Musician’s Hall of Fame: right in front of them, saluting them with a common gesture found on America’s highways. Soon country music itself might be eminent domained, if it hasn’t been already. Every day more ground is cut. Culture and history are shoved aside to make room for the profitable and efficient. Tammy Wynette is tossed aside for Taylor Swift.
REAL country music has gone from decline, to full retreat, to being outright deposed from what is supposed to be its home. Sure, we’ll get our silly mementos out of the way of your “progress” Nashville. But sure as the sun rises, the joke is on you. You may have your land. You may have your new shiny buildings. You may have a license to print money. But we still have the music; kicked out of the institutions where it once lived, but sheltered and loved for eternity in the hearts of true country music fans. And that to us, is priceless.
Long Live the Musicians Hall of Fame!