After a COVID-19 case spike, Nashville’s most vaunted rooms eye safe ways to reopen — while the city’s indie venues struggle with a tough road ahead.
On June 13 and 14, over 200 friends and patrons of Nashville’s Douglas Corner came to an indoor yard sale. Wearing masks, they picked up pieces of the venue’s storied history — posters, stage equipment, merchandise — and said goodbye to a place they had never imagined losing. After nearly 34 years, owner Mervin Louque had announced the official closure of his singer-songwriter haven where artists such as John Prine, Jon Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks and Neil Diamond had once dropped in to watch shows.
“This COVID thing changed everything,” says Louque. When he announced Douglas Corner’s closure, the Nashville community rallied around him, from individuals offering to set up GoFundMe campaigns to groups of investors — including Nashville Songwriters Association International executive director Bart Herbison, who helps run the famed Bluebird Cafe — offering to help out. But “there was no real way of knowing when things would get back to normal, if they would,” says Louque, so he decided against fundraising, fearing expenses would leave him back at square one. He now plans to reopen Douglas Corner on his farm on the outskirts of Nashville as a livestreaming room available to a limited in-person audience.
Louque is just one of many Nashville venue owners facing difficult questions about whether, and how, to reopen for business. Tennessee’s initial efforts to contain the coronavirus came up short, and in early July, Mayor John Cooper announced that due to a spike in cases, the city would move back a phase in its reopening. A modified phase two allows music venues to operate at 50% capacity or a maximum of 250 people — but for independent venues like the 500-capacity EXIT/IN or 1,800-person Marathon Music Works, those numbers don’t add up to financial feasibility.