Why is First Fridays the best African American event in Nashville? 

Because local blacks feel they have nowhere else to go

Because local blacks feel they have nowhere else to go

It’s a Friday night, the first Friday of the month, and you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant in the city busier than the West End Avenue Chili’s. There are customers waiting on the steps out front, customers lined up in the lobby before the dining room, men and women standing by the windows that separate the bar area from the restaurant. The servers navigate their way through the crowds with trays of drinks and food, and all of them have that bedraggled, adrenaline-exhausted look of people who’ve been in the weeds now for a couple of hours. It’s just another busy Friday night for the Chili’s staff—except for the fact that nearly all the patrons are black and there are two armed, off-duty Metro Police officers standing guard inside.

One of them, a black man as big as a tree, keeps watch over one entrance to the enclosed bar area, letting no one through. Despite the crowds, he doesn’t look on edge in the least. He leans back against the jamb with his arms crossed, and has the same sleepy smile on his face that any man would who’s being paid to watch kids all night, like a chaperone at a high school dance.

It’s his partner who’s got the tougher gig. He’s handling seating at the main entrance to the bar—which isn’t crowded at all. He’s got a clipboard in hand and is taking names of those waiting to be seated at one of the tables or stools inside. According to one of the officers, it’s policy that there be only as many people in the bar as there are seats—period. So this evening, the officer functions as a nightclub doorman. But instead of a velvet rope, there’s a chain across the entrance, which, for aesthetic reasons, is sheathed in yellow plastic.

It all feels like crowd control, and the contrast between the sedate state of things in the bar—everyone seated, no one standing—and the chaotic idleness of those in line and milling around the restaurant creates an odd tension in the room. In many ways, it’s more fun out here, where everyone’s talking on phones or to friends, cutting up to pass the time before entry into the promised land. In the bar, meanwhile, the patrons look like they’ve been put in a timeout.

Kelsey Stern, a salesman for Sprint PCS, is one of the many African Americans gathered here tonight, and as much as he likes getting together with friends and having a good time, there’s something deeply troubling about the scenario in which he finds himself. “It makes me uncomfortable,” he says, “because when my people are out, we don’t mean any harm. We’re not out to rob anyone or break anything. We jump from place to place, and it seems the police are there too.”

Look around, and it’s clear that the patrons at Chili’s tonight are from all walks of life. Some are college students, TSU and Fisk kids decked out in Hard Knocks and Sean John, urban dress apparel that looks to these white eyes like a cross between pro sports team warm-ups and pajamas. Some are professionals who got out of the office late and are still trapped in their suits, like attorney James Crumlin Jr. and UBS senior associate Shawn Shaw. There’s also plenty of men and women who are just plain decked out. Hey, it’s Friday night, and Chili’s is clearly a pre-party hotspot, even if most of the people in here haven’t had a chance to sit down at the bar yet.

It’s certainly a different scene than what’s happening a stone’s throw away at Bound’ry, The Trace, Easy’s or Sam’s Place, where the wall-to-wall bodies are predominantly white and the only security—if any—is an ID check at the door. In fact, the difference in patronage and security at Chili’s is so stark it’s almost surreal. The few white patrons in the restaurant look oddly uncomfortable. They have that look-over-their-shoulder expression of someone who got off at the wrong subway station—of the utterly outnumbered.

They look the way that most black people in Nashville, out for an evening, must feel all the time.

The occasion tonight isn’t just the end of the work week, and Chili’s is only the jumping-off point. It’s First Fridays night, a monthly party that appeals primarily to the 23-and-older crowd, the black college graduates and young professionals of the city who are looking for a good time among their peers. This particular evening, it’s in the basement of Cummins Station, currently the site of La La Lounge. But it’s been going on for more than a decade, started by groups like the Napier-Looby Black Bar Association, the Black Dental Organization, Black MBAs and CPAs and the Nashville Inroads Alumnae Association, to help young black professionals network in the community. If the NIAA’s mission was originally to develop and place talented minority youth in business and industry, First Fridays would be the place where they could take those skills and use them to make connections.

But that was back in the early ’90s. Now First Fridays is run by promoters trying to capitalize on the fact that black people—specifically young, upwardly mobile black people—don’t have many, if any, places to go in Nashville if they want to be around other blacks. (And when they find those places, there’s the unwelcome police presence.) As a result, First Fridays has become just a party, a chance to drink, dance and relax. Moving up the career ladder is clearly the last thing on everyone’s mind.

First Fridays is pay-at-the-door ($15 cover) with a strict dress code (no jeans, tennis shoes or jerseys). Gone are all the kids from Chili’s dressed in urban apparel. They’re off to other, rougher hot spots: to Prizm at the intersection of Old Hickory and Nolensville, or Static on Charlotte Avenue. At First Fridays, it’s an older, more mature crowd. The guys are wearing slacks and fine shoes, designer shirts so pristine you can tell they’re careful not to sweat in them. The women’s clothes—and the women themselves—are pure knockout.

“Dress code is key to this event,” says Jerome “Jay Dee” Davis, who has organized First Fridays since 1997 and now works with partner Teremy “T-Banks” Banks. “You put on nice clothes and you don’t want to mess them up. That requirement alone weeds a certain element out. Plus, the venues we choose are always nice places, the group of people are up-and-comers. They’re college-educated. They’ve got futures. They don’t want any trouble. They just want to have a good time and be around other folks who want the same thing.”

But First Fridays isn’t simply self-selecting because of the cover charge or dress code. Davis and Banks handle all of the event’s marketing, from invitations to e-mail party announcements and Web site postings (www.firstfridaynashville.com). To get on the list, you have to be in their database; to get in their database, you have to come to the party. There’s a sign-in at the door, and there are assistants walking around this makeshift club with clipboards to sign up new people. Davis and T-Banks do no radio advertising, and that’s not simply because of overhead. Radio, as far as they’re concerned, casts too wide a net in the black community.

There’s a cash bar in the back of the space, but DJ C-Lo, whose turntables are perched high up on a platform across from the dance floor, is the real engine driving this good time. Song to song, there’s a ripple of recognition from the crowd, an “oooh” of excitement—and soon the dance floor is completely jammed. Close to 500 people will pass through the doors by night’s end, though the place is so crowded it feels like there are a thousand.

“I love First Fridays,” C-Lo says. “It’s a feeling of relaxation. A lot of parties I do, the clubs are too biased to a certain kind of music—old school or slow jam, East Coast or hard-core hip-hop. Here I can play whatever I want. It lets me be the DJ that I am.”

That feeling of relaxation is evident everywhere you look. The partygoers shake hands and hug, or point to each other from across the floor. First Fridays feels like the reunion that it is. But it only happens once a month, and on the flip side of this revelry and these good vibes, there’s something profoundly lacking. When the lights go up and the party is over, one sad fact remains: Many African Americans feel like they have nowhere else to go in town.

“First Fridays makes me very happy and very sad at the same time,” Davis says. “There’s such a wanting among these people to affiliate, a wanting to be around each other. And this is one of the only times it seems like it’s happening.”

“There’s nothing here in Nashville—not a venue or an event—that consistently gives African Americans something to do, a place where blacks can be among blacks,” says Iris Johnson, a professor of speech pathology at Tennessee State University. “When I have people in from out of town and take them out, it’s embarrassing, because I can’t show them an African American presence in this city.”

“For me, being involved in the art scene,” says Carlton Wilkinson, owner of In the Gallery, “I find a lot of things to do. But in terms of events or places targeting African American audiences, they are few and far between. Especially ones that cater, if you’ll forgive the expression, to this white-collar crowd.”

These feelings among Nashville’s African American community are rooted in an idea that’s caught somewhere between fact and perception: the belief that any venue the black community discovers either closes down or shuts them out.

“You’re touching on something that black people talk about all the time,” says Reggie Mason, a.k.a. DJ Reggie Reg, the original First Fridays DJ from 12 years back. “Given Nashville’s track record, a lot of people believe that what’s here today won’t be here in a year or two.”

“Here today and gone tomorrow is a theme you could use to describe the lack of different sources of entertainment for the black community,” says Brian Haygood, a site director for the extended student program at Reeves Rogers Elementary in Murfreesboro. “The most frustrating thing is that it seems that when we do get something, it doesn’t last long. It’s so bad, I know guys who’ve set up independent production companies to throw parties just so black people can have something to do.”

Whether it’s gospel truth or something closer to myth, this dispiriting trend dates as far back as 15 years ago, with the closing of Spats restaurant in Hillsboro Village.

“This may be hearsay,” says restaurateur Jody Faison, “but I heard that the reason they closed was that their clientele became exclusively black, and that hurt them business-wise. It either unnerved the owners or scared away the white clientele, so they closed and reopened with a new concept.”

More recently, there’s the case of TGI Friday’s on Elliston Place: The legend goes that it became a popular spot among Nashville’s black community after a black manager there started telling friends to come by. Within weeks, it was perhaps the single most popular hangout for blacks in West Nashville—as popular as Chili’s is now—and was regularly jammed with African American patrons on the weekends. But once it “became black,” the manager was fired, a police presence was installed, blacks and whites both stopped coming (albeit for different reasons), and this drop in business forced it to close.

The same thing apparently happened at Applebee’s on Elliston Place, where Logan’s Roadhouse now stands. The restaurant, which used to have a Tuesday-night jazz show initiated by a black manager, was, according to anecdotal accounts, one of the most profitable restaurants in the Southeast. But after the restaurant became “too black,” the jazz was discontinued—and the whole business shut down. There’s a similar story about the Ruby Tuesday where Ted’s Montana Grill now stands. There’s even a rumor floating around that the Chili’s on West End Avenue is going to close.

Martini’s, also on West End, suffered a similar fate—though in this case the reasons were somewhat more complicated. A black-owned establishment, it started as an upscale spot for blacks and whites alike, a place where they could listen to jazz and eat in a mixed, urban setting. But then it began to be frequented by what some considered a “thug” element, which affected the atmosphere and chased away the original customer base. The owners, desperate for cash flow when business went on the wane, began a cover charge policy. By that point, clientele who’d initially come for the upscale ambiance fled altogether, and Martini’s had no choice but to shut its doors.

Where does the truth lie in all these stories? Are we in the realm of conspiracy theory, or does it just feel like a conspiracy? Is there a concerted effort on the part of white establishments to keep blacks out, to drive them off? Or are Nashville’s blacks contributing to the very problem they bemoan about their city?

There are plenty of professionals in the African American community who believe they understand the various and complex reasons why these scenarios keep playing out the way they do. For Darryl Moore, owner of clubs like Mo Betters, Palladium and Martini’s—all of which have ultimately folded—the problem lies somewhere between Nashville’s discomfort with race and the failure of the black community to support black-owned venues.

“When I took over ownership of Martini’s, it had some of the best food and entertainment in town,” Moore says, “and there’s no reason the place should have failed. My original clientele was maybe 65 percent white, but the more blacks that came, the less whites showed up. And that’s because most of white Nashville is uncomfortable around the black population.

“But at the same time, these trends began to hurt my business on a number of levels,” Moore continues. “On the one hand, I lost the white business. On the other hand, the fact is that a lot of blacks won’t come out and eat dinner, or go to happy hour. They just don’t spend money. They want to come out late, have two or three drinks and some chicken wings—and you can’t pay rent on that on West End Avenue. What people saw as Martini’s ‘changed’ to a younger crowd. All of a sudden, I was willing to relax my dress code, institute a cover charge and let kids in out of greed. But what the public doesn’t realize is that those same upper-middle-class blacks who talk about how much they miss my place stopped supporting it. And in the meantime, I had to survive.”

There’s real bitterness in Moore’s voice, but it’s not the bitterness of a man who’s suffered the vicissitudes of a fickle, brutally difficult business, or someone who’s been discriminated against or oppressed. Moore’s clearly too proud, too hardworking and proactive to dwell on racism. For him, the bitterness arises from having tried to change things in his city. He’s taken repeated risks to provide people with the very thing they’re crying out for, and he has been disappointed by those same people—his own people—every time.

“If blacks want a nice place and get it, then they should support it,” Moore says. “And if they don’t, they can’t blame anyone but themselves. White Nashville couldn’t stop me if black Nashville had supported me. But it was black Nashville that ran me out of business.”

The notion that black customers are cheap is a longstanding stereotype in the restaurant and club industry. Blacks, the saying goes, don’t tip well. “And they don’t spend either,” says Michael Barrett, owner of the China Club in New York City, a nightclub that’s been successful for more than 19 years. “Those are the stereotypes, and they’re there because there’s some truth to them. And because of the truth to them, servers and bartenders often don’t like waiting on blacks, they expect the worst from them, and when black customers are disrespectful toward them in turn, the whole thing gets reinforced. Blacks, the stereotype goes, want it now and they don’t give respect. They talk down to people in the service industry, because of their own authority issues, which makes them a very demanding clientele.”

Given these self-perpetuating phenomena, it’s not surprising that white restaurant and nightclub owners in Nashville would consider the arrival of a black clientele as a sign of certain death. Who would want a customer base that doesn’t spend money and drives out your (white) patrons? But some people don’t see it that way. Attorney Paz Haynes, a Nashville native, sees the problem stemming from the very lack of choices for blacks in Nashville.

“The problem with Nashville’s social scene is that it designates two or three places at a time as black establishments. Consequently, they attract a wide array of black people with different interests. The social scene is not such that you can choose between a 12th & Porter, a Virago or a Sam’s Place. These [African American-oriented] places have to cater to all people. There hasn’t been a lot of niche marketing, and consequently they suffer from a business end.”

It’s a problem that John Howard Jr. understands intimately. It can even be described as a trap he fell into. He was one of four partners, along with Vanderbilt football standout Corey Harris, in the failed Sports Café on the Water. Launched as a sports bar/eatery that catered to the large office community in MetroCenter, Sports Café opened in 2000 and closed two years later.

“When we first opened, it was perfect,” Howard says. “We had a completely unique, urban atmosphere. We played R&B and the radio-acceptable version of hip-hop in the background. We had 30 televisions and different events daily. Like most businesses, the place took on the personality of its owners: We were all African American, so it had an African American feel. But most of all, we embraced diversity. Our lunch crowd was 60/40 white to black, our bar crowd was 50/50 and, in the evenings, we were 70/30 black to white.

But ultimately, Howard says, there were four owners, each with different ideas about what the place should be. “One wanted it to be a laid-back pool hall, the other wanted an upscale sports bar. One wanted a club atmosphere, and I wanted a sports bar that catered to a broad range of people, where patrons could enjoy an urban flavor in a place that wasn’t rowdy. And these competing ideas were one of the main things that killed us, because patrons want consistency. You can’t just change your product on a whim.”

Go down the list of black-owned venues that have closed in Nashville, and you’d indeed think that opening a nightclub or restaurant for this market was the kiss of death: Palladium, Club Elite, Jubilee, Zodiac, Chrome, Sports Café, Mo Betters, Club 52, Club Malibu, The Grand, Oasis, Somethin’ Live, Club Venice, Modern Era, The Oxygen. All gone. The few currently in operation—Prizm, Static and The Castle, where the old Mix Factory used to be—are aimed at the younger crowd, have no dress code and are considered by the professional black crowd as potentially dangerous. (There’s a police presence.) Among older, upwardly mobile blacks, the rap on these places is straightforward: Go, and you might get shot.

That aversion is not only understandable, it disproves a misconception among some whites—that blacks don’t share the same fears. It’s only understandable, then, that local African Americans are going to end up at the same places that whites go: They feel, quite legitimately, they don’t have any other options. But when they frequent these places, they feel closed out, feel they’re sent a subtle but clear message to stay away. The upscale seafood restaurant Atlantis is a perfect example, many would argue.

Jay Dee Davis considers himself largely responsible for leading members of the black community to Atlantis. Along with his First Fridays work, he runs Urbanprofessionals.com, a marketing business that offers networking services and events for a monthly or yearly fee. One-and-a-half years ago, after holding a business card exchange at Atlantis’ bar, black professionals began frequenting the restaurant for its weekly jazz performances and its classy ambiance. But then it became too popular with the black community, Davis claims, and African American patrons started getting the typical indications that they were no longer welcome there.

“There’s an unspoken, very subtle form of racism in this town that you can see on people’s faces as soon as you meet them or want to talk with them,” he says. “With Atlantis, after we did two or three business card exchanges there, blacks started coming regularly. But next thing you know, the owners started having a cover charge, and then they changed the music. (Atlantis now has an ’80s cover band on the weekends.) Maybe there’s some merit to why places do this—why, say, Chili’s added security—because people were running out on tabs or some patrons were disrespecting the staff. I’m not saying that wasn’t the case. But I think you also have an element of management making it clear that they don’t want that group of people in there.”

Ask Darryl Moore about the alleged situation at Atlantis, and he takes a businessman’s viewpoint. “It’s an example of prejudice,” he says. “But it’s justified. They were scared of the black clientele for business reasons.”

Which puts this community back at square one.

In Chili’s defense, public relations spokesperson Louis Adams says the reason for police presence on the weekends is to ensure the restaurant runs smoothly. “We have several restaurants around the country that employ off-duty police officers for crowd control, for parking lot security and other things that fall in that category,” he says. “[This] location is near a college campus, and we have a lot of college-age people who frequent that restaurant. When you have a lot of people flooding your lobby, you risk being in violation of fire codes.... A server or hostess or a manager—their primary function is not crowd control. It’s running a restaurant. These are business reasons, not racially motivated ones.”

Whatever the company’s official statement may be, many African Americans nonetheless feel that Chili’s decision to place police at the restaurant is racially motivated. “It’s obvious that we’re the reason for security, and it’s obvious that we’re not welcome by the staff,” says Brian Haygood. “I pick up on the vibe. You can see it in the staff’s faces. But blacks are so desperate for a venue that they’re willing to overlook it.”

So what’s a brother to do? Increasingly for African Americans in Nashville, the answer is nothing at all. “I’ve watched this city grow in so many ways over the last 14 years,” says UBS senior associate Shawn Shaw, 31. “But Nashville still isn’t accepting enough to be a great city. The city still anticipates the worst with respect to race rather than expect the best. I get tired of going out and being made to feel I’m not wanted anywhere. Consequently, I’ve become very leery of going out at all.”

“In Nashville, I often feel like a transplant,” says TSU professor Iris Johnson. “I feel like I’m not being watered. I just don’t feel connected. That apathy, for me and my community, has a snowball effect. When people are used to not doing anything, people get comfortable staying home.”

It’s a response you hear not only from many African Americans, but from the black promoters trying to capitalize on the market—and the impact of this malaise only exacerbates the problem.

“There was a Frankie Beverly/Maze and Patti LaBelle concert in June,” says Taylor Latham, president of Premier Promotions, “that was cancelled well before it got here because there wasn’t enough general interest. We’re not a Top 20 black market—Clear Channel doesn’t even buy into it for a lot of black shows. Even a lot of the hard-core hip-hop isn’t as big here. Several weeks ago, I had a top rap artist, Bonecrusher, at The Castle, and it was a huge failure.”

Nashville’s black community appears to be caught in a terrible cycle: The places they try to open fail, because these businesses aren’t supported by their own people; meanwhile, white-owned establishments see them as potentially destructive. In response, it’s the venue-less events like First Fridays that succeed, hopping from temporary establishment to temporary establishment, never rooted, appearing only briefly and then disappearing.

Writer and historian John Egerton sees the phenomenon as one of the legacies of segregation. Unlike Atlanta, Memphis or even Birmingham, he says, the black population in Nashville hasn’t reached the necessary socioeconomic critical mass to address this problem adequately.

“Certainly, racism is an unresolved disease in American society, but it’s also an issue of income,” he says. “This is not to say there isn’t an invisible line in Nashville. There is. But only since the Titans came to this city has Nashville had a measurable number of rich black people with their attendant spending and investment power, and that’s still not a lot of people compared to other cities. The fact remains that there haven’t been enough rich blacks who are entrepreneurs who’ve wanted to open these places, while at the same time there haven’t been enough affluent whites interested enough to be partners in such ventures—so that, in the end, what you have is the underlying issue that people still struggle with race, are ultimately more comfortable around people like themselves and rather than find themselves mixing, even in the sphere of the restaurant and entertainment world, find themselves existing apart.”

What we’re witnessing in Nashville is the cycle of a post-segregation world playing itself out in the social sphere, Egerton says. This happens subtly, with venues changing their music and instituting a cover charge. It also plays itself out, obviously, with squad cars lined up outside clubs like Prizm and Static and The Castle. Or it manifests itself in a way that falls somewhere in between, like at a Chili’s, where off-duty cops make sure things run smoothly, but send blacks a message of deterrence.

At the same time, this cycle is about the black community’s struggle to earn an economic and political foothold—to make this city its own—with all the attendant effort and cohesiveness such a task demands. It’s an uphill struggle, and it’s one that’s been characterized by repeated failure, at least in Nashville. It’s also one that local blacks, in the opinion of some of their peers, haven’t owned up to.

“We have no pride,” says Darryl Moore. “We blame everybody for shit, and it’s our fault.”

“The perception among blacks,” says Jay Dee Davis, “is that maybe these problems will go away. But a lot of people just don’t come out anymore. A lot of people have given up.”

There’s hope, though. Some black entrepreneurs are dedicated to addressing the problem. Perhaps one of the most exciting developments has been the arrival of Robert Luke. A huge radio personality from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands (he hails from Cleveland originally), Luke made the move to Nashville six months ago after reading an interview in The Tennessean with Fisk University’s vice president of communications and public relations, Peter Woolfolk, who also serves as head of Fisk radio. Woolfolk had expressed concern over the fact that WFSK-88.1 FM had lost prominence both as a station and as a force in the community, and he wanted to change its format. He hired Luke, who in turn started “Smooth Side Up,” a jazz program that airs Monday through Friday, from 6 to 10 a.m. The program became so popular (recently beating out WMOT-89.5 FM and the legendary WVOL-1470 AM for the 6 to 10 a.m. drive-time slot in the Arbitron ratings) that Luke used the heat from the show to launch “Smooth Sizzle Sundays” at Café 123—five weeks of jazz featuring artists such as Denny Jiosa, Kevin and Kirk Whalum, Gabriel Katona and Joe Johnson. The shows were a smashing success.

“We had over 150 people at each of these shows,” Luke says. “The audience was predominantly black, and nearly every one of them came up to me afterward to tell me that I’d finally given them somewhere to go on a Sunday night.”

“It was a blast,” says Café 123 owner Jody Faison. “I knew there was a void there for that community, because when we’ve done jazz acts in the past, like the Barber Brothers, the African Americans in attendance that I spoke with always told me that there was nowhere nice for them to go where they don’t get frisked at the door. So for me, it’s great to see other parts of the city integrating, not just from a personal standpoint, but mostly from a business one: Everyone at this point of the game needs the business, and they were a well-dressed, upscale clientele that I was glad to have.”

Luke, meantime, has been so energized by the response to “Smooth Sizzle Sundays” that he’s currently negotiating with TPAC to make it the permanent venue for “Smooth Side Up” talent to perform in Nashville—a move that would help build a community relationship between the downtown performing arts center and Fisk University. Luke is also presenting a concert featuring popular jazz vocalist Kem at the Belcourt on Aug. 1.

“What we’re trying to create is something completely positive,” he says. “These people had somewhere to go for five Sundays in a row, and it was fabulous. The energy and the vibe was like people had been waiting for this.”

At the same time, Luke wants to reach out to both blacks and whites—and this is precisely the kind of thinking that could go a long way toward eliminating the frustration that blacks feel whenever they go out in Nashville. Luke was enormously popular across color lines in St. Thomas and was able to carry an urban radio station to both communities. He’s supremely confident that he’ll succeed. “The racial line is more invisible here,” he says, “but it’s really strong, and you have to work hard to get across it. My mission is to put on events that everyone can go to.”

Paz Haynes and partner Derrell Stinson are also working overtime to fill the void. Both share a tremendous love for jazz, and both recognized a lack of venues showcasing the music locally. So they started Renaissance Entertainment last year and have staged the first show in their Sycamore Sound Series at the Sycamore Pavilion at Nashville Shores. On June 15, they presented Norman Connors and the Starship Orchestra featuring Bobby Lyle, Marion Meadows and Jean Carne. On Aug. 17, Meadows and Steve Reid are slotted. (Legendary jazz organist Jimmy Smith was scheduled to appear this month, but the show was cancelled because the performer underwent surgery.)

The first two shows exceeded the two promoters’ expectations. “It went well from a ‘wow’ factor,” Haynes says. “People are so used to not having anything to go to on a regular basis. The ‘wow’ factor was being able to go out and enjoy jazz under the stars and not get killed on the ticket price.”

“I don’t think we’ve owned our identity in the city,” Stinson adds. “The entertainment side of things isn’t going to change until, collectively, the people doing these things...get together, decide where the change needs to happen and reeducate the public. ’Cause if we wait, we’re not gonna see it until we’re grandparents.”

John Howard Jr., undaunted by the failure of Sports Café, is looking to open another sports bar with the same urban atmosphere in 2004 and is also currently working with Brother’s Building Enterprises on a venue downtown.

And Teremy Banks and Jay Dee Davis are still doing First Fridays. They put on a white-linen party at Gibson Bluegrass Showplace on July 4, and they’re hosting a Hawaiian Luau in conjunction with the Nashville Storm football team at Nashville Shores in August. Davis was recently in Las Vegas to help with the launch of First Fridays United, a consortium of First Fridays promoters from cities across the country dedicated to pooling their respective databases and launching national events. As well, to meet the overwhelming demand for events for the 30-and-older crowd, they’re starting up a Third Fridays party this July.

Despite First Fridays’ success, for Davis it’s a bittersweet satisfaction he enjoys once a month. Staring out at the crowds during the June First Fridays event, which was also at Gibson Bluegrass Showplace, he couldn’t help but confess his deepest hopes. “That’s a corporation sitting right there. They have the power to do anything they want to do. But when the lights come on—that’s the important time. That’s when they can create a new reality.”

In the end, though, it’ll be up to people like Luke, Haynes, Stinson, Howard, Banks and Davis—people who have the energy and the initiative and the passion to get things happening in the first place. Davis, who has been here since 1994, is moving to Atlanta in the fall to bring Urbanprofessionals.com to a larger market. “I’m not quitting,” he says. “But in Nashville, I’m only getting to go so far.”

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