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  • “For the Children”Doyle and Debbie at The Station Inn; or, the Politics of Space in “The Gulch”

On the south side of downtown Nashville, Music City USA, nestled in a bend on Interstate 40, sits a refreshed, repurposed, re-gentrified urban mixed-use neighborhood called “The Gulch.” The Gulch is home to trendy condos, restaurants, organic groceries, and specialty stores aimed at encouraging a younger, wealthier demographic to move downtown. Once a “bustling railroad yard with origins dating to before the Civil War,” The Gulch fell into “neglect and blight” following World War II until an urban revitalization initiative took hold in the early 2000s.1 Today, The Gulch is, according to promotional materials, a “vibrant urban district and a popular local destination for shopping, dining and entertainment.”2 Those warehouses, industrial buildings, and railroad tracks have been replaced by high rises, high-concept eateries, and, of course, an Urban Outfitters (see figure 4).

According to the developer’s website, “The Gulch is the only neighborhood in Nashville governed by a privately controlled land use Master Plan.”3 MarketStreet, a privately held real estate investment and development company, was designated the Master Developer of The Gulch by the city of Nashville in 2001, the only such designation in the city’s history. As such, MarketStreet maintains and updates the so-called Gulch Master Plan, which, according to the website, “serves as a governing document guiding the future development patterns in the neighborhood.”4 The website proclaims that the most recent update of the neighborhood’s strategic plan “envisions greater density than ever before, encompassing over 4,500 residential units, over 1.5 million square feet of commercial office space, and over a half million square feet of retail and restaurants.”5 And the development has simultaneously managed a stellar environmental record, being recognized in 2009 as the first LEED ND–certified green [End Page 99] neighborhood in the southeastern United States and only the fourth Silver Certified neighborhood in the world, achieving “international recognition for excellence among the finest developments incorporating the principles of smart growth, urbanism and sustainability.”6 Sounds like gentrified heaven in repurposed cowboy boots.

Figure 4. The Gulch Development Project towers over The Station Inn. Nashville, Tennessee. Courtesy of Chase Bringardner.
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Figure 4.

The Gulch Development Project towers over The Station Inn. Nashville, Tennessee. Courtesy of Chase Bringardner.

Yet at the epicenter of all this redevelopment sits a small, rather unassuming building with a stack stone, sandstone façade identifiable only by its signature, weathered red door, and a worn, square, plastic sign from the 1970s. Just inside the door, perched on a battered wooden stool, is an older gentleman with a grey metal cashbox. Admission to all Station Inn–produced shows is cash only and strictly on a first-come, first-serve [End Page 100] basis with no reservations and no advance sales. Inside you find a 165-seat “club” with walls lined with old bus seats; a simple, rectangular stage against one wall; and long tables surrounded by dilapidated chairs, stuffing poking through torn faux leather. If you are hungry, you find the same offerings of popcorn, hot dogs, and pizza you would have found decades earlier. The entire experience feels as if you had stepped back in time into what has been described as “a 1970s rec room,” with signage and layers of graffiti on the walls that support that conclusion.7 You have entered a space in stark contrast to its larger location, The Gulch—a distant, defiant relic of an earlier, messier time.

Figure 5. The Station Inn. Nashville, Tennessee. Courtesy of Chase Bringardner.
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Figure 5.

The Station Inn. Nashville, Tennessee. Courtesy of Chase Bringardner.

[End Page 101]

The Station Inn, “Bluegrass and Roots Music’s premiere listening room,” was opened in Nashville by a group of six bluegrass pickers and singers in 1974.8 After surviving a series of managers and a change in location in 1978, The Station Inn quickly established itself as one of the most important live music venues in Nashville, a frequent hangout for the elite of bluegrass and country musicians, including Bill Monroe and Allison Kraus. Yet today, The Station Inn occupies an incredibly perilous space within the shifting urban geography of a gentrifying Nashville...

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