A tour bus stops outside of Bobby’s Idle Hour in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, July 24, 2018. The historic bar and neighboring buildings are at risk of demolition to make way for a new music industry office building.(Photo: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean)
Several hundred musicians, longtime customers and locals packed Bobby’s Idle Hour to protest rampant redevelopment of historic Music Row late Tuesday afternoon.
The tavern is the last standing neighborhood bar on the 16th Avenue South stretch of recording studios and other music-industry businesses. It’s a haven for songwriters in all phases of their careers.
Owner Thom “Lizard” Case was evicted this week to make way for a new upscale office building that will raze the bar and four of its neighbors. He has until early next year to leave.
“It stunned us,” said his wife, Janie Case. “Songwriters are in here every night. It’s a lovely bar and all original music.”
Protesters bought “Save Music Row” T-shirts, signed a petition to block over-development, and shared stories about their memories at Bobby’s. Proceeds from T-shirt sales and other donations will go to preservation efforts, including signs marking historic Music Row buildings and walking tours.
The new Panattoni Development Co. offices would cater to major music industry companies. But they would also tear down Bobby’s neighbors Warner/Chappell Music, and the former offices of the Ed Bruce agency and Creative Soul Music Academy – where Bruce wrote “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” Rhinestone Wedding Chapel is also on the chopping block.
Dave Gibson, who wrote “Ships That Don’t Come In” and other hits, performed with Bernie Nelson, Jeff Prince and John Scott Sherill during Tuesday’s rally.
“Nashville has been notorious for not getting behind the music business – because of a little thing called money,” Gibson said. “But that’s why people come to this place from all around the world.”
Rally to save Bobby’s Idle Hour
In the past five years, 43 Music Row studios and other music-industry businesses including guitar shops and small offices have been razed, according to The National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Nearly all of them were replaced by dense apartments. Large upscale office buildings and the Virgin Hotel under construction were also part of the redevelopment.
Preservationists say the city hasn’t done enough to protect the strip’s rich cultural history, even though it’s the epicenter of the region’s multi-billion dollar music industry.
“There has to be something about the culture of a neighborhood that made this big impact on music history,” said songwriter Trey Bruce, who helped lead a successful fight to save RCA Studio A from being replaced by condos in 2014. “From this small neighborhood came one of the world’s largest musical footprints. We have to act now to save this place that is iconic and historically priceless.”
Dan Petti, a young musician, played his first Nashville shows at the dive bar covered in photos of country music legends.
Dave Gibson, left, and John Scott Sherrill, right, perform during a rally at Bobby’s Idle Hour in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, July 24, 2018. The historic bar and neighboring buildings are at risk of demolition to make way for a new music industry office building. (Photo: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean)
“You can feel the uniqueness in here,” Petti said. “i’m pretty upset. It’s a special place.”
In 2015, Metro Planning Department paused development projects on the strip to rethink its future. But they weren’t able to find consensus with the community on which properties to protect and how to do so.
Now, planning officials are working on establishing incentives to entice Music Row developers to build elsewhere. They’re also rethinking development code standards along the street.
Preservationists want the city to immediately stop handing out special permits to developers to build projects that don’t fit into the existing zoning code. The offices slated to replace Bobby’s and its neighbors would need a special city exemption to be taller than the five-story maximum height allowance.
“Right now, the only preservation on Music Row is the voluntary intent of property owners,” said Councilman Freddie O’Connell. “We can complete the Music Row Code, create a cultural-industry district, and have an intentional music technology-focused economic development” effort.
The National Trust and Historic Nashville, Inc. are asking for the creation of a cultural-industry district, and to encourage revitalization of small businesses like Bobby’s through tax incentives.
“Nashville doesn’t have preservation tools that other cities use as a matter of course,” said Carolyn Brackett, senior field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “There are practical solutions that would balance development with the preservation of Music Row’s historic fabric and retain the music businesses that fill them. We urge Mayor Briley and Metro Nashville leaders to adopt them before it’s too late.”
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