John Clore, Nashville Tornado

A Tornado Hit Their Homes. Now Nashville Execs Are Picking Up the Pieces During a Pandemic

"More than anything else, what is keeping me going right now is that I have lived with other hard times and have lived to tell about it."

On March 3, several tornadoes touched down in and around Nashville, killing 24 people and damaging hundreds of homes and businesses. And while shortly afterward the country’s focus turned to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the destruction from the cyclones in Tennessee remains.

Billboard spoke with three music industry executives whose homes or property suffered varying degrees of damage from the tornadoes. They shared how they are grappling with the aftermath, made all the more difficult with the coronavirus and Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s March 22 “Safer at Home” executive order directing residents to stay at home for 14 days for all but essential needs.

John Clore, vp marketing Curb/Word Entertainment

Shortly after his house was hit by a tornado in Mt. Juliet, Clore and his wife, Sarah, met with Billboard at their home.

Days earlier, the couple and their eight- and 10-year-old sons and two dogs hid in a closet on the first floor in the early hours of the morning as a tornado ripped through their street. “That was the first time in seven-and-a-half-years in this house that we all actually got in there -- dogs included,” John says.

“As soon as I got in [the closet] and closed the door, almost immediately the doorknob hit me in the back of the head where that [window] blew open and pushed the door in,” Sarah says, pointing to the window behind her. “We spent the rest of the time just pushing the door closed.”

The side of their home took the brunt of the tornado. The roof is now covered in a blue tarp, while the destroyed garage and side of the house are held up by two temporary support posts. The fence in the backyard is gone, as are a number of trees, yet the basketball hoop still stands.

Courtesy of John Clore
The Clores' garage and side of the house saw the most damage following a tornado.

While the frame of the house is intact, the family’s prized possessions and irreplaceable mementos were stored in the garage, as they had staged their home to sell it. “We sold our house on Friday and it blew away on Monday,” Sarah says. “We bought a house in this neighborhood and it’s totally fine. We broke the contract today and found an apartment.”

One treasured keepsake that survived is the Clore family piano, once owned by John’s great-grandparents, that now sits in his office on Music Row. In an enormous gesture of goodwill, the neighbor whose house the Clores had bought helped with the move. “I don't know a better way to show the full picture of good people caring and helping than that,” John says.

Instagram and Facebook have helped the couple let their loved ones know that they’re okay and offer ways to help. Sometimes it’s a PayPal or Venmo donation, or gift cards. “We talk a lot in our family about being gracious receivers because we're gracious givers,” Sarah notes. “You need to learn how to also receive.”

As the Clores began to adjust to a new normal in their temporary apartment, Mayor Cooper’s shelter-in-place directive went into effect. The coronavirus pandemic and shutdown added layers of difficulty, both physical and mental, to their attempts to bring about some sense of normalcy.

“Coronavirus is already disruptive enough and frustrating and jarring, even if you're not actually affected by it,” John says. “We need to deal with it in a place that's not even our normal place to be.

“More than anything else, what is keeping me going right now is that I have lived with other hard times and have lived to tell about it,” John says. “The coronavirus for us in some ways is a bit of a blessing, which I shouldn’t be saying. It’s not only allowing us to stay together, but everyone else is [practicing self-isolation] so I am not concerned about being left out of something or not being in the office. If the coronavirus wasn’t going on I’d say, ‘I really should work from home a bit.’ If it wasn’t for the tornado, I think we’d be enjoying this time because we're together really more than we ever have been in the past.”

Courtesy of John Clore
John and his wife, Sarah, stand in front of their home days after the tornado hit.

John and Sarah say the financial support from the music community -- specifically MusiCares, ACM Lifting Lives and other colleagues who have pitched in to help them get back on their feet -- has helped tremendously during this difficult time. Listening to music has also proven a balm. After they were settled in a hotel the second night they were displaced (they have since moved into an apartment), John listened to Switchfoot, a band he worked with in the past, and their music struck a chord.

“I don't know what we would do without music at a time like this,” he says. “Music is what feelings sound like. This is that time.”

Jason Jenkins, senior vp pop marketing and creative touring Curb/Word Entertainment

The home of Clore’s colleague, Jason Jenkins, was also hit by the same tornado nearly 30 miles away in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood. He was asleep when the tornado hit and woke up to his husband screaming. The whole house was popping, shaking and vibrating, he says, likening it to “a tornado meets an earthquake situation.” The windows of their home were blown out seconds after Jenkins awoke.

Their front porch now hangs off the side of the house, while all the exterior columns are gone. The couple has since been staying in various Airbnbs in the area.

“That is the first time in my life that I actually thought I was going to die,” Jenkins says over drinks at his favorite bar Two Ten Jack, where members of the staff helped clean up his yard after the tornado. “It's a pretty traumatic experience because the more I comprehend it, the more we realize how lucky we are. All the trees around our house fell. The one huge tree that fell in between our house and our Airbnb, it literally could have fallen 10 feet the other way and been on top of us in our bed.”

Courtesy Photo
Damages to Jenkins' home following the tornado on March 3.

Neighbors immediately moved in to help, even before the sun came up. “Strangers were cutting down the trees before dawn. You couldn’t leave. We were completely trapped. Trees were under cars and debris,” he recalls. “Random people were coming up with chainsaws.”

Jenkins’ elderly neighbor is afraid she is going to lose her house, so Jenkins and his husband started a T-shirt campaign to help her and those in North Nashville who were hit badly and may not have the means to rebuild.

Jenkins’ husband runs the Experience Nashville blog, which has more than 40,000 followers. “He was like, ‘Let me use this and try to divert some of the attention to North Nashville,’” Jenkins says. “We picked up two charities that we know will go to this community and take care of these people and not be lost with a massive donation.”

While the coronavirus takes over the news cycle, Jenkins isn’t too worried that Nashvillians will forget about those in need from the tornadoes. “Nashville is going to take care of itself,” he says. “Research your source [and] where your money is going. I want to focus on the people that don't have insurance.”

Courtesy Photo
Damages to the street outside Jenkins' home.

While Jenkins admits that he’s thought of relocating to Los Angeles or Seattle in the past, the way the Nashville community has come together in the aftermath of the tornado has made him realize this is his forever home.

“The network we built here, the roots we planted here, the friendship and family infrastructure that we have is beyond repairable. We haven’t had dinner on our own since this happened. Friends have surrounded us every single night,” he says. “TPAC [Tennessee Performing Arts Center] and St. Jude reached out and helped us offering support. You can’t beat it. It’s pretty awesome to see people standing up and helping people.”

Patrick Clifford, Consultant

Another Five Points neighbor, Patrick Clifford, has a similarly optimistic outlook. While he admits that he felt quite “flattened” a week following the tornado, Clifford says it is exhilarating seeing the community and volunteers who have come together and are dedicated to rebuilding Nashville.

Courtesy Photo
Tornado damage on Nashville's Holly Street in Five Points.

The industry executive, who currently consults for the Concord Music Group and previously worked at Disney and A&M Records, lives on the same block as country artists Eric Paslay, Angaleena Presley and Pam Tillis. He says everyone banded together to help clear out the trees and debris in one another’s yards the morning following the tornado. Clifford’s home saw significant damage to its foundation and roof as well as the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and windows that were blown out, but he says the destruction pales in comparison to some of his neighbors. His first few nights following the tornado were spent at a friend’s apartment and he has since returned to his home.

“It's going to really impact a lot of people in the music community,” he says of the tornado. “It's a resilient community. It's to me one of the best places I've ever lived in regard to being part of a community and seeing your neighbors and citizens unite.”

While Clifford has worked in the music industry for several decades, he says his occupation now feels insignificant compared to the important job of being a good neighbor following the tornado. However, music is still what he turns to to express his emotions in the tornados’ aftermath.

“The one song that has been going through my head for this tornado and now pandemic is ‘Helpless’ by Neil Young,” he says. “Between this and all the other things going on with the coronavirus, it’s a very difficult time for a lot of people. Now everything is closed. There's no more night, meaning there's no more nightlife.”

Courtesy Photo
Damage to Nashville's the Basement East following the tornado on March 3.

The Basement East is one of the venues affected by the tornado, and countless other clubs in Nashville have since closed due to growing coronavirus concerns. While Nashville’s nightlife has since halted, there is no doubt in Clifford’s mind that Tennessee will continue to rebuild.

“The guys that run the Basement East, they're all dear friends of mine and to see what happened is just heartbreaking. That morning when the sun came up, I walked down to the Basement and ran into [co-owner] Mike Grimes at 6:45 a.m. What they put on there culturally is just stunning,” he adds. “They are going to rebuild. That photograph of the building and the ‘I believe in Nashville’ [mural], people will be looking at that 100 years from now. That will be a lot of their legacy and a lot of the town's legacy.”

Courtesy Photo
Dave Brown (L) and Mike Grimes (R), owners of the Basement East.