On Garth Brooks, Chick-fil-A, and Lower Broadway

Garth Brooks is the latest high-profile country star to purchase property in Nashville’s Lower Broadway entertainment district with the intent of putting up a new multi-story bar and restaurant. Acquiring the three-story, 40,000 square foot property at 411 Broadway in December of 2021 for $48 million, it was the former location of the Downtown Sporting Club, and right across an alley way from the iconic Ernest Tubb Record Shop. Garth has partnered with the company Strategic Hospitality to open the location.

At this point, a country entertainer opening an entertainment concept on Lower Broadway is almost so commonplace, it’s hard to justify even as news. What’s newsworthy is when an artist eschews that obvious outcome and does something of more value to the community like Reba McEntire is doing by opening up her big restaurant/bar/venue near her hometown in Atoka, Oklahoma, where the economic revitalization is needed.

As some have pointed out, as opposed to opening up yet another Lower Broadway monstrosity, or perhaps in parallel with the move, Garth Brooks could also purchase the nearly adjacent Ernest Tubb Record Shop, which is about to be put up for sale, and will very likely be imperiled by development unless some wealthy benefactor like Garth Brooks swoops in and saves the iconic business and building.

Certainly, Garth Brooks is one of the few individuals in a position to pull off such a purchase. But is Garth Brooks really who we want to entrust as a caretaker of such a historical landmark? As a polarizing character in country music to many traditional country fans for commercializing the music like never before in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it’s easy to conclude, “No.”

As Garth himself recently said in an interview with Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn, “Traditional country music is coming back around, you can just feel it in the tracks and in the producing. But man, you’ll know this because you were right there with us … when we started, we were the bad guys, we were the guys that weren’t countryWe got our ass handed to us when we young, man.”

But as Garth Brooks goes on to say, these days, his music and the music of Brooks & Dunn is definitely considered country. And in truth, if the options were Garth Brooks purchasing the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, or some developer looking to erect Sam Hunt’s Lower Broadway club concept, the answer would clearly be to go with Garth. But since Garth is already committing to a business right across the alley that will have its own retail arm, it makes it less likely he’d be interested in the Ernest Tubb property than more. In fact, they already opened the Garth building temporarily to act as a Garth retail establishment.

But what has some worried about what Garth has in store on Lower Broadway was some recent comments before his shows in Nashville Friday and Saturday (8-15, 8-16) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, which were makeup dates for shows last July washed out by weather. Right before the shows, Garth spoke to the media, and said of his Lower Broadway bar that is called Friends in Low Places, “I want the Chick-fil-A of honky-tonks. I want a place where you go, where you feel good, feel safe, everybody’s got good manners. I hope that there’s, right when you walk in, it’s a love everybody…”

Local Nashville news station WKRN made the Chick-fil-A statement by Garth into a headline, and other outlets scooped up the statement as well, turning it into click bait. With the way Lower Broadway has been so commercialized, and how Garth makes himself such an easy target, it was hard for the media not to exploit Garth’s statement. And let’s be honest, it’s a very Garth-like statement.

But in truth, Garth was just trying to present an illustration of how he wanted his new place to be a friendly establishment, similar to the staff and environment at Chick-fil-A. It was just a passing comment in a much broader explanation. What WKRN and others failed to contextualize in Garth’s out-of-context comments was that he also said,

“I’d love for it to be a classic honky-tonk, because country music to me, has been so good to me. And I want to hear on Lower Broadway in 2022, I want to hear King George coming out of that honky-tonk. I want to hear Haggard coming out of that honky-tonk. And I don’t think that’s impossible to ask.”

Garth also went on to mention there would also be a place for more contemporary music from artists such as Luke Bryan and Kenny Chesney, along with “Yearwood, Dolly, McEntire.” But undoubtedly, whatever Garth Brooks erects on Lower Broadway, it’s unlikely to represent the worst of what the area includes. Along with Robert’s Western World and Layla’s, Alan Jackson’s place also offers a more authentic country music experience, so does Nudie’s. You can probably expect Garth’s place to be somewhere between these more classic country-oriented establishments, and whatever the bars of Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, and Kid Rock have going on.

The new bar from Garth Brooks is unlikely to be any more of a problem on Lower Broadway than anything else. And no, he’s not erecting a four-story Chick-fil-A. But country fans should also probably not look upon Garth’s move into the neighborhood as any sort of solution. Like the music and career of Garth Brooks, it’s undeniably country, but it also comes with the undeniably commercially-driven focus always at the center of the Garth universe.

In other words, it’s Garth being Garth.

See full press conference below.

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