The Good But Ultimately Doomed
By John Thurgood
We got into Nashville around dark. I was with an old friend, Josh, whom I didn’t get to see very often anymore because we lived a few hundred miles from each other. We knew each other from high school (even though we didn’t actually go to the same high school), and most of our conversations spiraled in and out of stories from those times. His girlfriend Kimmie, whom I’ve also known for a good number of years, was with us; along with my girlfriend, Jen. Jen was lovely enough to provide us the car for this trip to Music City.
Driving into Nashville was the same as always: city lights with a few buildings worthy of the title ‘skyscraper’. Most notably the Batman Building, which, I guess, is a term of endearment more popular than what I had originally assumed. I always thought it was a made-up name by someone in the car when we were teenagers, but I’ve heard people use the term outside that circle of friends, so I guess the Batman Building is officially a thing. This trip was actually my first time back since those days, when I had first gotten a license and a few friends and I would drive down from Evansville, Indiana, for no other reason than to look at girls and get rejected somewhere new. We weren’t old enough to drink then, and the only shows we went to were at all-ages venues. So, this being my first time back, I knew little, if anything, of the twenty-one and up venues in Nashville. For help on the subject, I asked a friend, Jodie. She had moved to Nashville a few years back, and always had an ear to the grindstone about this sort of thing. Her brother was a punk-band kid in Evansville’s small scene, and she followed in his bootsteps without much effort. She told me about The 5 Spot and some other places. She had also mentioned a contest called 8 off of 8th at the Mercy Lounge. Eight bands played each Monday night, and the best band would go on to play at the up-coming Bonnaroo Festival. It was judged by the audience and sounded like a goodtime, but we couldn’t make it to town until Saturday. So, we missed it.
We wanted to go somewhere that was nice for drinking, and watch a few good but ultimately doomed bands and, from Jodie’s description of The 5 Spot, it seemed like the right ticket. The bar sits at 1006 Forrest Avenue, just on the outskirts of a nice neighborhood, with a lot of modest two-story homes. A block over, on Woodland Street, there is a nice strip of local restaurants and shops. We found street parking about a block away from the venue.Inside The 5 Spot were tables and stools scattered about the room, but it didn’t seem cluttered. The bar itself was lined with TGIF-esque flare and a more-than-healthy amount of chrome. A single television was mounted behind the bar playing college basketball. In front of the stage was a nice clearing for any boot-scooting one may feel entitled to. The stage was a raised wedge in the corner, and, when we walked in, a guy was busy setting up a white sheet on the back wall of it. When he was done, someone turned on a projector and old commercials played on the sheet (i.e. Crossfire, TMNT, and Slip’n Slide). Our conversation circled around the commercials for a moment while we ordered drinks. The barman was in good spirits, and we invited him in on our little conversation. He laughed, we laughed. And eight dollars plus a tip later, we settled over at the pool table with a Mickey’s Hand Grenade each.
Josh had always kicked my ass at pool. I paid for a game, and he shut me up pretty quick. We put the pool sticks back and sat by the bar with the girls. They were talking about school. Jen, my girlfriend, had been thinking about grad school, and it was pretty much all she had been talking about for the past few months. Josh and I—we stayed out of it. Josh had played a show in Nashville the year before, and we talked about that for a while. He played guitar for an Oi! band, 16 Tons, and they had opened for Straight Laced at The Muse. I wanted to go there, but he couldn’t remember where it was. So, we dropped it.
The reason I wanted to go to The 5 Spot was that every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday they have a handful of bands play from around 7pm to an indeterminate time. Playing time is a little murky because it usually depends on the number of bands that cancel or don’t show. That night all but one band had canceled, and they seemed to consider their appearance some kind of charity. They played seven or so bluegrass standards, interspersed with vague stabs at the audience from the singer and the band. I didn’t catch the singer’s name—a real jolly guy. He was a short fellow with a silver and gray beard, and he wore his guitar slung over his paunchy gut, ignoring it most of the time as if it were just another article of clothing made to keep up his pants. He was from the say-something-smart-then-drink-from-your-beer school of shit talking, which wasn’t quite as entertaining as the band’s version of “My Fare Lady,” but it held some weight. Most the audience didn’t seem to mind their remarks, and I got a pretty good feeling that everyone there knew each other one way or another. The whole experience had the feeling of a block-party barbeque without the barbeque. The string band finished their set, and after a while a lady in jean shorts and a homemade tank-top took to the dance floor with a multi-colored, flashing hula-hoop. Around this time we realized there were no other bands. And so, we left.
On the other side of the Cumberland River, just down the street from Vanderbilt University, at 2219 Elliston Place, The Exit/In and The End sit across the street from one another. The End has the distinct advantage though, being nestled in an alley fifty feet or so from Elliston Place, and it often has the cheaper cover too. That night The Exit/In was charging six and, from what we could hear curbside, the band playing sounded like some disco-punk band that we didn’t really want to see. So, we went up the alley to The End, which ended up being a good thing. They had a reasonable five buck cover, the doorman was a rather jolly fella, and the place was crowded—but in a good way.
The End is not necessarily a bar. It has a bar in the back and they do serve bottles and cans of beer (ranging from two to five dollars), but it’s all-ages, which I guess has its ups and downs. Like most all-ages venues, there’s a lot of standing room. But they have a separate area to the right of the stage with three small round tables for the old and disheveled types, and there are stools at the back by the bar if standing and feigning dance moves is not your thing. We missed the first band, but we made it in time to catch a few songs from The Grayces, a young trio that sounded similar to the Heartless Bastards but with less folk influence. A boy played bass and another played drums, and they had a girl on guitar and vocals. After their set, the night began to slowly fall apart. Josh’s girlfriend started complaining about not feeling so good. She hadn’t eaten very much that day, and the multiple Mickey’s from the previous bar were starting to disagree with her. She was a trooper though, and insisted that we stay for the next band.
As The Grayces cleared the stage, a girl hopped on the mic and explained that the show was organized by the Tennessee Teens Rock & Roll Camp, and that a portion of the night’s proceeds would go to help secure equipment for their upcoming summer camp. They needed money and gear. As she explained her organization’s needs I sipped from my beer, knowing that I couldn’t contribute, and felt like a dirt-bag for not being able to. This feeling was made even more apparent when three teens from the camp stepped on the stage to further explain their needs. While they talked, Jen brought up some similar camps out west. The ones she knew were all-girl camps. The three girls on stage had made her think of it. Josh kept saying that he wished he had had the opportunity to go to Rock’n Roll camp. He was being a little weird about it, the camp business, and I could also tell he was pissed about staying at the club when his girlfriend was sick. He had his arm around her, and he was giving me a look. I told him we would only see the first couple songs of the next band, and then we would go.
Once the teens left the stage, Hanzelle, the next band, began setting up. They were a five person group with a stand-up bass and cello. They had a guy on keys and electric drums, a guy on acoustic drums, and a guy on guitar. They reminded me of a poor man’s Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s. Good stuff. The stand-up bass player was a maniac. He had a handlebar mustache and a hairy gut. He took his shirt off after the first song, which was, I guess, some kind of band inside joke because they all thought it was hilarious, and I guess it was. He plucked away at his bass with a genuine smile. He was having a goodtime, and for a few songs I was too, but then, because Kimmie wasn’t feeling any better, we finally left. We tried to stop somewhere to get something to eat, but everything was closed. We stopped at a gas station to get some water, and a candy bar or something for Kimmie, and then we left Nashville altogether.
Locations in Nashville
The 5 Spot
1006 Forrest Avenue
Nashville, TN 37206
2219 Elliston Place
Nashville, TN 37203-5205
1 Cannery Row
Nashville, TN 37203
835 4th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37210