Nashville, TN (May 10, 2010)—In early May, devastating floods slammed Nashville and its pro audio community, causing millions of dollars in water damage and lost business.
A record 13+ inches of rain fell in Tennessee over the first weekend of May, resulting in 19 deaths across the state. Waterways across the region flooded, but perhaps most prominently, the Cumberland River, which goes through downtown Nashville, rose to just shy of 52 feet at the high point—roughly 12 feet above the city’s flood stage, and the highest flood point since 1937.
As a result, many businesses were flooded, like Soundcheck Nashville, a 160,000-square-foot rehearsal facility/vendor complex that rents storage and office space to an estimated 1,000 musicians and businesses, including Meyer Sound and Shure. With the facility closed by police for nearly a week, much of the industry was focused on finding out the extent of the damage inside. Buford Jones, touring liaison manager for Meyer’s Nashville office, guessed, “The water looks to be about 4 feet deep inside the building; for Meyer, we can’t do anything but wait until we can get in and evaluate.”
For many businesses in Nashville, the waters were not kind. Jim DeMain carefully sandbagged and taped up the door to Yes Master Studios, but returned midweek to find deep flooding throughout his facility.
“It’s an acoustically designed PhantomFocus room by Carl Tatz, and now there’s water knee-deep in there,” said DeMain. While hard drives and some equipment remained above the waterline, the studio’s floating floor and low-racked gear were ruined, along with soundproofing that absorbed water to the ceiling. While Yes Master was covered by flood insurance, DeMain expected he would have to finish mastering the next Robert Plant album in his home.
Despite the setbacks, he remained upbeat about the situation. “I’ve been amazed by the unbelievable generosity of friends,” he said. “People showed up at my studio yesterday who I hadn’t seen in years, and everyone pitched in: ‘What do we need to do? Let’s move this stuff!’ I felt like George Bailey!”
Nashville was not the only part of Tennessee hit with flooding. In Hermitage, TN, Creation Audio Labs was flooded by the Stones River, a 20-foot-wide, 4-foot-deep waterway that usually sits half a mile away from the company’s offices. After removing tools, documentation and gear on floats, Alex Welti, vice president of research & development, initially thought that the company would be homeless. Tenacity changed the picture after a few days.
“We are starting to clean up, and it is not as bad as it looked at first for us,” he reported. “I think we will be able to get two or three benches operational by week’s end, and shuffle operations from side to side as we replace drywall and refinish the floors. Thankfully, we will not be forced to move in a hurry, and we will be able help others get sorted out while we think about the long-term plan.”
“Helping others” was a common thread among the pro audio community. Roger Gibbons, account manager at the Nashville outpost of SR provider Clair, recounted, “We’re trying to help out wherever possible. The Grand Ole Opry is completely flooded, but they wanted to continue the tradition of keeping their shows going, so we got a system out to them for Tuesday night’s show at the War Memorial Auditorium. This weekend, they’ll be holding it at the Ryman Auditorium [which has its own installed system], and next week, if they need gear, we’ll help them out again.”
Across town, national SR provider Sound Image missed being flooded out by less than an inch. “It was an unscheduled load-out and load-in,” said Everett Lybolt, general manager of Sound Image’s Nashville Touring division. Speakers and lighter equipment are kept on two mezzanines above the shop floor, but when floodwaters began rising, four semis carried consoles and amp racks kept on the ground floor off-site. “Water came as close as it could get—literally thousandths of an inch away on the dock plate—and it never came into the building,” Lybolt reported.
The same couldn’t be said for many venues in the region, as LP Field, where the annual CMA Music Festival’s main stage is typically located, and the Bridgestone Arena were under multiple feet of water. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center had a near-miss situation, where its basement flooded, destroying two Steinway grand pianos and a multimillion-dollar pipe organ, but waters crested less than 8 inches below the hall level. The Country Music Hall of Fame sustained some damage, mostly the economic kind, as it lost an estimated $25,000 of ticket sales a day due to closure from loss of power caused by nearly 6 feet of water in its underground mechanical rooms. Fortunately, its priceless collections were safely located on floors above street level.
It’s an old saw that collections are just a form of nostalgia, but after the events of the past week, Nashville’s pro audio community is determined to look forward. “Nashville will bounce back,” said Gibbons. “The death toll could have been a lot worse; gear? It’s only stuff, and you can replace it. So it’s a horrible thing, but there’s a very good spirit here. People are pulling together to help each other and try to make things work. Everyone’s pitching in; Nashville is that kind of town.”