In this March 3, 2020, file photo, a man walks by The Basement East, a live music venue, on March 3, 2020, after a tornado hit Nashville, Tenn. It has been nearly a year since deadly storms tore across Nashville and other parts of Tennessee, killing more than 20 people and damaging more than 140 buildings. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Nashville music club owners recall night the music died

Nashville music club owners recall night the music died

NASHVILLE — When frantic messages started trickling in that a tornado had hit a beloved music venue in Nashville, Mike Grimes told himself it couldn’t possibly be that bad.

Could Basement East really be destroyed? Just hours before, the club Grimes co-owns had hosted a benefit concert for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Affectionately known as “The Beast,” the club was only 5 years old, but already had established a reputation as one of Nashville’s trendiest music spots, across the river from the city’s tourist-laden honky-tonks on lower Broadway.

The venue, with a capacity limit of 475, quickly became known as a premier site for hosting big-name acts in an intimate setting. Margo Price, Cage the Elephant, John Prine, Maggie Rogers, Maren Morris, Sturgill Simpson and many others played there.

Maybe, Grimes thought desperately as he drove over to the club, the people texting him about the destruction were exaggerating.

But when he pulled up to The Beast, his stomach dropped. The tornado had ripped the roof cleanly off a little after 1 a.m., crumbling the majority of the walls and leaving a tangled mess of destruction behind.

“You just don’t want to believe it,” Grimes said. “It was immediate shock.”

The March 3 storm killed more than 20 people, some in their beds, as it struck after midnight. More than 140 buildings were destroyed across a roughly 60-mile (97-kilometre) swath of Middle Tennessee, burying people in rubble and basements.

The six Basement East staffers who were cleaning up after the Sanders event escaped harm by running to the actual basement of the building just minutes before the powerful EF-3 tornado roared down the street. It took two staffers to shut the door against the winds, just as the twister passed over.

Right on the heels of the tornadoes, the virus outbreak slammed into the state with brute force last spring, and by Thanksgiving, Tennessee ranked among the worst hit in the country, with a record number of hospitalizations and cases. To date, more than 11,000 residents have died from COVID-19.

The pandemic hit Nashville’s renowned music scene particularly hard. Small, intimate clubs weren’t designed to factor in virus-control measures such as social distancing.

“It’s so strange to have a scenario where the building is gone and then we have something … like COVID-19,” a confluence of devastating occurrences “that has never happened like this in our lifetime,” Grimes said.

As the virus raged on, the dream of once again packing Basement East full of music lovers seemed shakier than ever.

“There were times that thought crossed my mind: ‘It’s not going to happen,’” Brown said.

The club first opened its doors in 2015, but it took nearly five years for the venue to turn a profit. It wasn’t until 2020 that Brown and Grimes felt they could breathe, that what they were doing was working. The partners — who describe themselves as grown teenagers with a love for rock ‘n’ roll — had wanted to celebrate their five-year anniversary in April 2020, but the tornado and pandemic had other plans.

Now, as the anniversary of the two catastrophic events approaches, the partners are hoping to finally reopen. Amid signs that virus cases are dropping and with more people getting vaccinated, they’ve set their sights on this spring. But they still plan to require patrons to wear masks and will spread tables out throughout the club’s 5,000-square-foot (465-square-meter) space.

When the tornado struck Basement East last March, it left one thing standing: A portion of a wall mural with the slogan, “I believe in Nashville.”

Like that wall, the city itself is steadfast and resilient, Brown and Grimes note. Both believe Nashville’s central role in the world of American entertainment and culture will ensure that it perseveres.

“The magic of music,” Brown said. “That’s what makes this place so strong.”

Kimberlee Kruesi, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kids at Lotsa’Tots West Day Care in Red Deer act out how a caterpillar moves with co-owner and instructor Shireen Sewcharran-Wiebe. Child care providers are hoping Alberta’s provincial government will help fund the national child care program announced this week. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alberta day care providers hope Alberta will get onboard with national child care program

Some question whether the UCP’s ideology will stand in the way

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Jason Nixon, minister of Environment and Parks after being sworn into office, in Edmonton on Tuesday April 30, 2019. Town council from the largest municipality in Nixon's constituency is concerned over the province's consultation plans for open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Town of Rocky Mountain House wants better coal consultation

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE, Alta. — Town council from the largest municipality in… Continue reading

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was in Red Deer on Friday to provide an update on the province's COVID-19 response in schools.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Alberta government aiming for more financial literacy learning in junior and senior high schools

Government providing grants to organizations who will help design financial literacy programming

Two roundabouts will be built at each end of the Highway 2 and McKenzie Road overpass in Red Deer County at the south end of Gasoline Alley. Major detours will be in place this summer while construction is underway. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Powerline work causes delays on Highway 2 in Red Deer

Southbound drivers on the QEII are experiencing delays Wednesday morning. Powerline work… Continue reading

Ponoka RCMP said Traytyn Okeymow, 22, was last seen at this residence at about 9:45 p.m. on April 4. (Photo contributed)
Missing man located by Ponoka RCMP

Ponoka RCMP seek public’s help

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks at a television screen as he listens to United States President Joe Biden deliver a statement during a virtual joint statement following a virtual meeting in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘We hope to help a little more’: Biden says he spoke to Trudeau about more vaccines

WASHINGTON — Canada can look forward to an unexpected shot in the… Continue reading

The Mission Correctional Institution in Mission, B.C. is pictured Tuesday, April 14, 2020. A new federal study found that people released from prison were much more likely than the general population to have trouble finding gainful employment, even over a decade after returning to society. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Ease employment hurdles for former prison inmates, federal study urges

OTTAWA — A new federal study found that people released from prison… Continue reading

Governor of the Bank of Canada Tiff Macklem holds a press conference at the Bank Of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Bank of Canada keeps rate on hold, sees brighter economic outlook

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada is keeping its key interest rate… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. Tam says new information on COVID-19 and variants prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to suddenly cancel its planned update on who should get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
AstraZeneca advice from national panel delayed by new data on COVID-19 and variants

OTTAWA — Canada’s chief public health officer says new information on COVID-19… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks at a television screen as he listens to United States President Joe Biden deliver a statement during a virtual joint statement following a virtual meeting in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pressured to adopt tougher emissions target for Biden climate summit

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under pressure to step up… Continue reading

Passengers from Air India flight 187 from New Delhi wait for their transportation to quarantine after arriving at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
ICU pressures mount as COVID fells younger people; Ottawa mulls India travel ban

TORONTO — Amid mounting pressures on critical care in hospitals and concerns… Continue reading

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Three confidence votes to determine fate of minority Liberal government

OTTAWA — A pair of proposed changes to the federal budget put… Continue reading

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland talks with parents during a virtual discussion on child care in Ottawa, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Freeland is calling for patience and “flexibility” in response to questions about the government’s criteria for reopening the economy and border. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Freeland urges patience as business looks for answers on reopening border, economy

OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is urging Canadian companies to… Continue reading

Most Read