While developers and investors continue to roll out plans for more upscale, stylish condominiums, trendy eateries, and sleek office buildings in and around Nashville’s Gulch area, music venue Station Inn— a one-story stone building with boarded up windows—provides a no-frills musical harbor amid a glossy sea of modern structures.
Inside, wooden walls along with a bare-bones assortment of tables and
chairs, greet visitors, and lights are focused on a modestly sized
stage. A wooden bar offers an array of snacks and drinks. “I’ve always
said it’s more of a listening room than a nightclub,” says Station Inn
owner and operator J.T. Gray. “It’s the hardwood floors
and the wooden walls. It’s not a flashy place. People come in here and
try to start getting rowdy, they find out fast it’s not that kind of
place.” Instead, it’s one of Nashville’s premier venues where music
aficionados flock to revere and to become immersed in the music and
history within its walls.
The Station Inn has called Nashville home since 1974, when it was
opened by a group of six bluegrass performers and located near
Vanderbilt. The venue has resided at its current location at 402 12th Ave.
S. since 1978. Ownership of the Station Inn changed hands several times
before Gray took over in 1981. “The previous owners didn’t really know a
lot about bluegrass, so I said I’d be interested in taking over. I had
been touring with musicians and it was a good way for me to get off the
road.” At the time, the Station Inn’s popularity had declined. Gray
spent the next few years reaching out to the bluegrass community in
Nashville to bring back local and national performers to the venue.
Grand Ole Opry performers including Jimmy Martin and Bobby Osborne would drop in after an Opry performance on Friday and Saturday nights.
Bill Monroe, known as the “Father of Bluegrass,”
played to a packed house at the Station Inn in 1985, and was often seen
dropping in to watch bands play, and sometimes, to sit in for a song or
two. “Bill Monroe would come and stand back by the side of the stage
with his mandolin, and he would walk up onstage with whomever was
picking onstage and just play with them. He loved us and we loved him.
He would always say ‘Hi’ to the bartender and servers and the
doorkeeper. You never know who will come up and start performing.”
The venue became a favorite performing spot for some of the most illustrious names in bluegrass and Country, including Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Dierks Bentley, Ricky Skaggs, and more. Before she became a household name in bluegrass and Country music, Alison Krauss held court before an audience at Station Inn. Vince Gill, as part of the Time Jumpers,
took up a regular residence at Station Inn on Monday nights a few years
ago. The Time Jumpers had been regular performers at the venue for
several years, and occasionally brought along friends such as Bonnie Raitt, Reba McEntire, Norah Jones, and Robert Plant. In 2013, Alan Jackson held an album release concert there for his aptly titled project The Bluegrass Album.
“He wanted to take it to where the bluegrass people are,” says Gray.
“It was completely his idea to do the party here, so we really
appreciated that. It was one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever had
Given the stark contrast between the earthy music venue and the
growing number of polished structures accumulating in the Gulch and
Nashville overall, community members have pondered if Nashville’s
ambitious expansions will overtake the beloved Station Inn.
According to both Gray and Gulch area development company
MarketStreet, Station Inn’s future is secure. “MarketStreet has always
envisioned the Gulch neighborhood to be a mix of new and old. This
unique combination is what gives the neighborhood added character. The
Station Inn is, and will continue to be a landmark destination to be
enjoyed by all,” states Dirk Melton, Development Director of MarketStreet.
Gray says the property’s owner, Charlie Wehby,
assures him there are no plans to sell the property. “I’m told the
Station Inn will stay here as long as I want it to,” says Gray. “They’ve
definitely had numerous offers to purchase the property, but they’ve
assured me they won’t sell.”
Though Gray plans to keep carry on with Station Inn in the Gulch
area, that doesn’t mean he isn’t supportive of the overall growth
Nashville has seen in recent years. “I’ve watched the development over
the years and I think it is good for the area. We have more people that
walk through the Gulch area. Of course some of the businesses that have
grown up in the area don’t cater to the kind of people that like to come
to a place like this, but it used to be a real industrial place and
this was the only kind of music venue in this area.”
Given the perennial popularity of Station Inn, Gray says he has toyed
with the idea of expanding or opening a second location. “I’ve
definitely thought about expanding, but there’s not much space to expand
on this lot. Besides, it’s a small place and has so much history here.
I’ve also definitely thought about opening up a second location over the
years, but it would be difficult to replicate the feel of this place
elsewhere—it’s the wooden walls, the wood floors. There’s a homey feel
to it. “
Though Gray has expanded the diversity of music styles that flow
through the walls of the Station Inn in recent years to include blues
and western swing, its bedrock is still bluegrass and classic Country.
“We’ve tweaked the programming a little bit over the years, so it gives
us something different to offer,” says Gray.
The Station Inn will celebrate its 40th anniversary
with an event in late 2014, which Gray says will feature many of the
biggest names to walk through the doors of the Station Inn. “We are
working on it right now and have several artists pending.”