The first time I went to Exit/In, I was alone. Perhaps the strangeness of my attending an event so social as a concert alone is why I remember it so well, although, when I really think about it, I’m not entirely sure if I can trust my memories of that first experience at all. It was a concert that I went to for a class assignment, actually. I was to attend any concert of my choice and write a review of the concert. Being a busy, naive freshman who had a knack for procrastination, I found myself standing in line outside the venue feeling rather vulnerable, anxious, and, frankly, stupid. At the same time, I was eager to hear what kind of Nashville acts would be playing inside and was also utterly transfixed by that wall.
Many of you probably know the wall I’m talking about, that black and white graffiti of now famous acts that–once just beginning their careers– took the stage at Exit/In. I’ve always wondered about that wall, especially how recently it must have been erected since I could easily recognize some bands that only began touring around ten years ago. Were their names listed one by one as act after act came through? Either way, there all these different bands were, on the same plane, brought to my present. It is a plaque– a sign of success, esteem and pride, but with a punk-rock, graphic bravado.
That bravado, that courage has been partly the reason why Exit/In has survived the ever-changing neighborhood of Nashville and even a bankruptcy in July of 2002 (Murray). Many people note that concert “dumps” like Exit/In seem to instill a sense in the audience that a good concert venue is about the people, not the place: music historian Robert Oermann notes,
“The Troubadour’s a dump. The Bottom Line is a dump.And the Exit/In to a certain extent was a dump. It was who was there and the music that was made. It wasn’t the club itself, although it was a good room. The Exit felt like a hundred-seat room even with 300 people in it.”
And the Exit/In is very open to any kind of music being made inside its walls. I am aware of this openness myself because of that battle of the bands event I attended. Or at least I think so–I don’t trust my memories, and I really barely remember the other acts that were involved except for a wildly energetic ska band. But at this battle of the bands concert, my memories tell me that I witnessed a group playing power pop in bunny suits. I can’t have constructed that in my own memory–its too strange. If for no other reason, that is why I still think that I may have seen a group wearing bunny suits. It seems like a rather strange memory to hold onto as well, but I think that that night made it clear to me that Exit/In did not discriminate in terms of acts that might bring more or less success to the venue. So really, there are only two things that I remember about that night: the wall and the bunny suit. First an indication of pride and esteem, and then an attitude of indifference and spunk, maintaining that through changes in the club, the original idea is there.
I also agree with Oermann’s statement that a place like Exit/In is about the people. For me, Exit/In became about the people I went to see shows with over my years at Vanderbilt. It became about the bands and people I saw play, or who made it onto the wall: Josh Rouse, The Donnas, G. Love, Linda Ronstadt, Dinosaur Jr. In that same way, I realize that the history of Exit/In is more about the people than the actual place, and any place that transcends the mere space it inhabits is worth saving. It has bounced from owner to owner, transforming its niche in Nashville with each change(a hippie hideout in the 70’s, a disco in the 80’s), but these changes have culminated in turning Exit/In into a rather rare type of rock club that remains open to all types of music. Finally, it became, I’ve realized more recently, a place of importance because of my family history–A place where my mother and father would go during their years as Law Students in the early 80s, just at the beginning of their relationship, and then a place where I would go almost half a decade later.
And when I asked my mother about their memories of Exit/In, she struggled to recall any memory but the company she kept when she went there:
“We would go see bluegrass bands there all the time in the 80s. Actually–that was the Wind in the Willows. Or was it? I can’t remember. I definitely remember going to see a show at Exit/In with your father.”
My mother called me back later that day and suggested I write about another place, one that she remembers a little better, because her memories of Exit/In are so fuzzy. But I couldn’t get past that initial moment of excitement and recognition when I told her I was going to write about this place: Oh yeah! What a great place, we went there all the time!Even thought this turned out not to be true, it simply proves that the Exit/In has a permanent and significant role in Nashville’s landscape, as well as a distinctive look and feel that infiltrates its shows.
After that first night, I spent my nights at Exit/In far from alone. I was surrounded by my friends, friends from school, home, and friends that I made while witnessing each show. Do I remember what I heard, or what my friends and I talked about or did before and after? No. But I remember the people, and I remember the feeling. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on about Exit/In, its that when one goes to a show at the Exit/In, there is a feeling that one is bearing witness to a special moment of rock n’ roll in Nashville: “Despite all the great stories, despite all the history, the Exit/In is quite simply one, old, dark, loud piece of Nashville rock stuck right in the middle of the Music City.” (Exitin.com) When I try to remember my experiences at the Exit/In 30 years from now, just as my mom did, I will at least remember that. Although, I’ll probably remember the wall and the bunny suits, too.
Murray, Noel. “Our Story.” Review. Nashville Scene 5 Dec. 2002. Exit / In. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.exitin.com/about/>.