[UPDATE 4/6/21]: Despite the groundswell of local support from the Nashville music scene, the historic Exit/In has gone under contract with a development firm that reportedly plans to develop the land for commercial real estate. While owner Chris Cobb still holds the lease for the venue, the long-term future of the oldest rock club in Nashville—and a staple of the city’s “Rock Block”—remains uncertain.
In the face of financial opposition from wealthy developers, Cobb has launched a GoFundMe campaign to save the Exit/In. With help from friends and fans throughout the music scene, Cobb aims to raise enough money to offer the firm that was awarded the contract what they have offered to pay. As of Tuesday morning, the campaign as raised just over $100,000, though Cobb says this latest effort is “still up in the air.”
Consider donating to Cobb’s “Preserve Exit In!” GoFundMe to aid the historic venue. Should the bid fail, all of the money will be donated to the National Indepdent Venue Association (NIVA) and Music Venue Alliance – Nashville (MVAN).
[2/17/21]: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force small and mid-sized concert venues across the United States to remain closed, the owners of many of the country’s most treasured musical landmarks have been forced to make some tough decisions on whether to remain open. This includes Chris Cobb, owner of the iconic Nashville venue the Exit/In, who has put the venue up for sale in its 50th year of operation.
According to a report from the Tennessee Lookout, Nashville’s oldest rock club and the neighboring Hurry Back are both on the auction block. Both venues are owned and operated by Cobb, though he does not own the property that houses the Exit/In.
There is a glimmer of hope in this story, however, as Cobb and his wife Telisha signed on with Clay Grubb and his development firm Grubb Properties to join the “Live Venue Recovery Fund.” Grubb described the project as, “Partnering with live music venue operators to help them establish long-term ownership. By increasing the number of owner-operators, the fund is creating a more diverse and sustainable independent live music ecosystem.”
“Exit/In has been a valued asset to Nashville for 50 years,” Cobb told the Tennessee Lookout. “My dream is for the club to see 100! Unfortunately, development threatens Exit/In and venues like it across the globe. The live venue recovery fund provides trusted operators the opportunity to own their buildings, which is a MUST for the long-term health of our independent ecosystem.”
Cobb was one of the initial members to join the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) in spring 2020, which helped lobby for the inclusion of the Save Our Stages Act as part of the CARES Act that Congress passed late last year. While government assistance afforded in that legislation aims to keep venue owners afloat as they continue to ride out the pandemic, the reality of the situation in Nashville is dire for proprietors like Cobb. A selling point of the Live Venue Recovery Fund from Grubb Properties is that any funds generated over a certain amount will be donated back to NIVA.
Both of Cobb’s commercial properties were under siege barely a year ago when a zoning battle and a Holiday Inn threatened the future of the Nashville club. A team of developers had asked the Tennessee city for a special exemption to municipal parking guidelines which would allow them to open the hotel directly across the street from the Exit/In. This was met with a grassroots campaign by thousands of music fans who delivered comments in fierce opposition of the variance, which was ultimately denied.
Several years before that, concert giant Live Nation made a push to purchase the Exit/In that Cobb denied. In the intervening years, as the “Rock Block” stretch of Elliston Place in Midtown has become more desirable, the Exit/In has also been threatened by looming gentrification. The ever-rising quality of the neighborhood has attracted numerous development firms to the area. In 2019, The Mercy Lounge complex south of downtown, barely two miles away, was purchased by a New York real estate firm for $32 million.
“Exit/In represents the epitome of cultural preservation in Nashville right now,” said Metro Councilman Jeff Syracuse, a local advocate for the live music industry within the city government. “This venue highlights the ecosystem that is critical to the nature of the very soul of the city. If we as a city don’t step up to support and preserve those venues that have contributed to the artists that have benefited from this for over 50 years, then we are allowing a crack in the foundation of our stature as the global capital of music.”
[H/T Tennessee Lookout]