To keep up with ever-shifting tastes, club owners are always making changes to their establishments. But when venues across town all start changing things around at the same time, you can’t help but wonder what it all meansis it just coincidence, or is some kind of trend afoot? Over the last few months, Nashville has seen a sudden surge of new clubs and new events. Looking at the list of new ways to be entertained, you can only hope that the result is better nightlife.
Until recently, the only place to find deejays spinning vinyl in Nashville was at private house parties. Then Pub of Love began hosting a deejay, and soon after that, deejays Egon, Count Bass D, and John Doe began their monthly Shapes of Rhythm, spinning and scratching the latest hip-hop and breakbeats at Mediterranean Cuisine on 21st Avenue South. Those are promising developments for people in search of something beyond the typical dance-club experience, but there are limitations: Shapes of Rhythm is only a monthly event, and the Pub feels crowded if more than 30 people show up.
The good news is that fans of vinylwhich in the nightclub setting tends to encompass everything from obscure vintage soul to the latest electronica plattersnow have a place to go every Saturday night. Leon Jackson has taken over the area of 328 Performance Hall once known as Soul Satisfaction, revamped and redecorated it, and renamed it the Electric Lounge. He’s also brought in a team of deejays, among them DJ Viper, who began spinning at the Pub of Love; Viper’s collection is centered around classic hip-hop and funk, and he’s also up on the latest house music. Mocha, a deejay at Fisk’s radio station, WFSK-88.1 FM, contributes her extensive collection of soul music. And next week, John Doe will join the team.
Viper says he would love to play more current and experimental discs, but he’s often forced to stick to music that patrons already recognize. ”This town still largely wants to dance to retro music,“ he explains. ”It’s still growing, and I have to be patient. I’ve played the latest house tunes that slam in other towns, and here people vacate the dance floor. Another night, I played a two-hour set of house music, and the dance floor was packed.“
Even when spinning classics, Viper finds a way to breathe new life into the tunes. One night, he began the evening by mixing Al Green with Sting, and later in the evening he picked up the pace by melding the Isley Brothers with A Tribe Called Quest. Though the Electric Lounge has been open for little more than a month and has spent little or nothing on advertising, the deejays are already building a scene. On the busiest nights, they kept spinning long after beer sales had ceasedand patrons were dancing until 4:30 or 5 in the morning.
The Electric Lounge represents only one of several current changes at 328 Performance Hall. Since 1996, Steve West has been told that at any time his building would be torn down to make way for the Franklin Street Corridor, a thoroughfare connecting Music Row and East Nashville. The latest update, though, is that the Franklin Street project will be shelved for at least three years due to a lack of funds. That was all West needed to hear to begin making long-sought improvements to the building. ”We have a new lease on life,“ he says. ”Now we are ready to move full speed ahead.“
Aside from cosmetic changes such as painting the walls and renovating the dressing rooms, West claims the most obvious change will be the increased number of bookings at the club, which in the past has been inactive for days at a stretch. In addition to doing his own promoting, West will start working with Rick Wetzel, who used to book shows at the Exit/In. With Wetzel’s strong history of booking interesting bands, 328 will likely become a more promising spot for concertgoers.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Broadway, Pub of Love is taking advantage of its intimate confines to try an interesting hybrid: Every Tuesday, the venue is hosting an evening of poetry readings backed by a deejay. Brian Burchette and Chris Miles organized the Gin Joint Jamboree in hopes of inspiring poets and musicians to come together. As various spoken-word artists take the stage, DJ Shortstroke (né Chris Aubrey) chooses a tune or breakbeat to create an ambiance during and between readings. Burchette claims that in addition to the first-come, first-serve format, no poet will be censored. Thus far, poetry contributions have been relatively sparse, although Shortstroke’s turntabling has been attracting attentionenough that he’ll be spinning at the Pub of Love on Thursdays as well.
Elsewhere in the world of restaurateur Jody Faisonwho owns and operates Pub of LoveKinny Winchell has begun managing Jody’s Dining Hall and Bar Car. In an effort to pump up flagging business, he has redecorated the Cummins Station eatery, has built a stage, and is now hosting entertainment nearly every night of the week. Mondays, Jim Nash books a weekly writer’s night; Tuesdays, Tim Northern hosts an amateur stand-up comedy night; Sensored magazine sponsors Wednesday nights, which offer a combination of live music and art openings; and on Fridays, Al DeLory’s 11-piece salsa ensemble takes the stage. Local deejay Johny Jackson has relocated Soul Satisfaction from 328 Performance Hall, and he’s now finishing out the week at Jody’s with his Saturday-night disco/soul dance party. By mid-February, Jackson will throw a yet-to-be-named party every Friday in the back Bar Car, where he says he plans to play ”anything and everything.“
There aren’t many live music venues in East Nashville, so Backwoods Studios, with its large stage and excellent sound system, is a welcome addition. The new venue began as a recording facility, but already artists such as P.W. Long, Hank Williams III, and Rosie Flores have performed there. Club owner Diane Carrier says she hopes to book live shows each weekend. Her first such lineup two Fridays ago included Mekons vocalist Sally Timms and Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire. If Carrier can continue booking this kind of talent, Backwoods may quickly put itself in the same league as some of the more established clubs in town, such as 12th & Porter, The Sutler, and Exit/In.
Alert the college students: The Underground has returned to its original Second Avenue location. The 18-and-over dance club briefly moved to Church Street, but owner Sam Abualrob now says he’s reopening in the original location because ”everyone wants the Underground back.“ He also says that the retro ’70s and ’80s format won’t change, because he’s bringing back deejay Jimmy, who spun tunes at the club for 11 years. The club is brighter and cleaner than before, and Abualrob claims that the club will also be friendlierapparently, the old bouncers were rough and sometimes physically assaulted patrons they felt needed to be removed.
Obviously, more venues mean more places for bands to play, and in turn more concerts from which to choose. And if all the activity helps shake Nashville audiences out of their legendary apathy, maybe more touring bands will start passing through Nashville. Certainly, the new surge of vinyl deejays suggests that Nashville may be catching up with the rest of the world’s major cities, where clubgoers flock to hear rare grooves mixed with the latest cutting-edge music. It’ll be interesting to see whether these trends continue to develop, or if this is just another fluke in our ever-fickle scene.
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