Six Months Into COVID-19, Nashville’s Independent Music Venues Look Ahead

Todd Sherwood at The 5 Spot, August 2020

Independent music venues around Music City deserve praise for the resilience they’ve shown in the face of the sudden, dire and interminable crisis that is COVID-19. In the pandemic’s early days, a slew of them joined the newly formed National Independent Venue Association, as well as the local NIVA analog Music Venue Alliance Nashville, led by Exit/In co-owner Chris Cobb. MVAN convinced Metro to contribute money and other resources; NIVA successfully lobbied for federal funds; MVAN venues helped each other when it took months for that federal money to start trickling in.

When the Delta variant reared its ugly head, many clubs stepped up and instituted requirements that patrons, bands and staff show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test before entry. The pandemic isn’t over, but our venues keep doing their damnedest to make sure that the local-music ecosystem survives without suffering a superspreader event or catastrophic losses. The permanent closure of Douglas Corner, so far the only club in town to go under during the pandemic, was bad enough.

Throughout this whole mess, one of the smallest venues among the lot has consistently led the way. The 5 Spot, an East Side landmark for nearly two decades whose capacity is about 150, was the first local venue to announce a temporary closure and to establish a relief fund for its staff, even aiming to pay bands whose shows were canceled. Not every venue had the capital, physical layout or other resources to pivot to soundstage-type operation. But The 5 Spot did it with style and class, delivering multiple high-quality streams most weeks beginning in late summer 2020. Co-owners Travis Collinsworth and Todd Sherwood were among the last to reopen their venue to the public, in mid-June of this year. They weren’t the first club in town to put a proof-of-vax policy in place, but they made their announcement in early August hot on the heels of the first (that came from City Winery, which is part of an eight-location national chain).

For the foresight of what needed to be done and the fortitude to do it quickly, The 5 Spot stands out among its esteemed peers. Long may it bring bustling dance parties and unbeatable happy-hour gigs to Five Points, while serving as a home base for local acts and a destination for top-notch touring groups alike.

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