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Flooding Hits Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, Other Iconic Venues

PLSN Staff • News • May 10, 2010

NASHVILLE – After two days of relentless storms doused Music City with 13-plus inches of rain, the city's entertainment infrastructure is still drying out from the ensuing flood. Many of Nashville's iconic venues closed due to water levels on the Cumberland River that exceeded 50 feet – more than 12 feet above flood stage. They include the Country Music Hall of Fame (it re-opened May 7), the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Grand Ole Opryhouse, which are still using alternate venues for their staged productions. There was some good news – the 118-year-old Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, remained untouched. A Barenaked Ladies concert planned for Monday May 10 was still scheduled. On the other side of the river, LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans, was drying out: CMA Week, a four-day country music festival formerly known as Fan Fair, is also still expected to take place as scheduled in June.


Mixed Outcomes


For Nashville's touring community, it's been a mixed proposition. Several companies, most notably the massive rehearsal and rental facility Soundcheck, which also houses outposts for several pro audio manufacturers, including Shure and Meyer, was completely flooded and remains closed. Keith Urban and Toby Keith were reportedly among several artists whose backlines and other equipment were ruined or damaged by water. Spectrum Sound had equipment slated for Hank Williams Jr. concert dates in a semi in Soundcheck's parking lot. A Spectrum spokesperson said, "We don't know what's happened to it yet."


A block away, also on Cowan Street, employees of sound, lighting and staging provider The Mitchell Group (TMG) are in a similar situation, waiting for the Cumberland's water to recede, which may not happen completely until May 10. Jim Wakefield, manager of TMG's audio department, says he won't be able to assess the full extent of the damage until then, and estimating what it will take to recover will have to wait until insurance adjusters can enter the building. "We have some pretty serious contracts coming up at the end of the month," he said. "We'll have to see what will happen." He expects that at least some shows will have to be subbed to other providers.


Sound Image, one of the two largest SR providers in Nashville, narrowly escaped damage, said SI general manager Everett Lybolt. "On Saturday, the water kept coming and coming and we started moving lighter equipment like digital consoles and microphones onto the mezzanine," Lybolt recounted. "But the water kept coming." The staff sandbagged the loading docks while Lybolt contracted for four semi trucks, which backed up to the docks and took on heavier gear like analog consoles and PA boxes, transporting them to higher ground. "We barely made it," he said. "The water came up over the tops of the loading docks but the sandbags just barely kept it out."


Lighting and staging company Premier Global Production also had a close call. The company's vice president of sales, Steven "Creech" Anderson, says their office took on a half-foot of water from nearby Mill Creek, ruining carpets and leaving a layer of mud in the halls. A production trailer also floated off in seven feet of water until it was stopped when it hooked, ironically, on to a fire hydrant. Nevertheless, Anderson said that Premier was still able to send out tours including Tim McGraw, Rush, Santana, 311, Gary Allen and Paramour. That last band, Anderson said, "They got out just in time."


The fate of Soundcheck, which as of Wednesday was still flooded and blocked off by Metro police, will be crucial to much of Nashville's touring community. "They house probably 70 percent of the personal touring equipment of artists here," Lybolt said. Ben Jumper, Soundcheck's owner, was not available to comment, but it's expected to take several weeks before all of the equipment can be checked to determine what can be salvaged.


However, a company didn't have to be flooded to have sustained damage related to the water. Rick Shimer, president of Blackhawk Audio, which was not damaged, said that nonetheless, his business had been immediately impacted by the disaster, as a result of the closure of the Opryland Hotel, which was forced to evacuate all of its guests over the weekend due to the same rising water that overwhelmed the Opryhouse. "Events that we were scheduled to provide sound for there have been cancelled or are leaving the state," he said. Shimer also said that he is already getting calls for equipment sub-rentals to companies and individuals who lost gear in the flooding. He's offering a discount to impacted companies for the time being.


Just as what's under the water at Soundcheck will determine the immediate extent of the impact to Nashville's touring community, time will also tell what the long-term effects might be. Coming at the very beginning of the annual summer touring season dramatically compounded the disaster. But most seem to feel that Nashville will get through it intact. "There's enough equipment in town to make artists comfortable; many of them are endorsed and the manufacturers will get more gear in here quickly," says Lybolt. "I don't [anticipate] anyone canceling shows."


Steven Anderson at Premier Global is even more optimistic. "It's going to affect a lot of people – probably 40 to 45 percent of the work here in Nashville is plugged into the entertainment business directly or indirectly," he says. "But we do a [logistics] job here that even the military can't figure out how we do so efficiently and effectively. So we'll bounce back."


As important, those most affected are finding that catastrophe can bring out the best in a community. Rick Shimer of Blackhawk Audio said that he is already getting calls for equipment sub-rentals to companies and individuals who lost gear in the flooding, and he's offering them at discounted rates to impacted companies for the time being. Surveying the damage apparent at Soundcheck, Everett Lybolt said," I'd do anything to help Ben Jumper out. I'm sure most everyone else would, too. That's just how we are down here."

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