Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nashville's Starwood Amphitheatre To Close

According to a recent Nashville City Paper article written by my old pal William Williams, Nashville's Starwood Amphitheatre has been closed for the season by its owner, Live Nation, with the few concerts scheduled for this summer already canceled. The 65-acre property has been put up for sale by Live Nation but so far there are no takers. Supposedly Live Nation will work with other venues like the arena or the stadium to promote summer concerts.

I had heard this news a couple of days ago from Rev. Keith Coes via a MySpace bulletin. It's a damn shame about Starwood and, in a lot of ways, the closing of the venue spells the end of an era. Starwood opened in 1985 and as it changed sponsors, was also known as the First American Music Center and AmSouth Amphitheatre. A lot of big shows came through Nashville and stopped at Starwood, including at least one Lollapalooza Festival that I remember, one H.O.R.D.E. Festival and many shows by Bob Dylan, Aerosmith and Hank Williams Jr. among many, many others. The very first program at the new Starwood was Charlie Daniels' 1985 "Volunteer Jam;" ironically, the now-canceled 2007 Volunteer Jam was the only event booked this year in the venue.

The opening of Starwood Amphitheatre during the summer of 1985 coincided with the first issues of The Metro and they were an early advertiser with the rag, possibly the only one that Gus didn't piss off or alienate in some way. During the summer of 1989, Gus worked a deal with Starwood to publish a monthly "concert guide" called All Access. I was the editor of the tabloid and wrote most of the content, rush-to-the-deadline pieces that were a cross between artist biographies and advertising copy. They were often pieced together from label bios, but now and then we scored an interview with one of the performers and could write a proper piece. Mostly, however, the rag just sucked...or so I remember. In our move to WNY, I discovered a bunch of old word processor discs from that era that include all of my All Access pieces. I found a company online to convert the discs to proper Microsoft formats so I'll probably pay them to do so, if only to salvage a bunch of unknown writing files for future projects (like THE OTHER SIDE OF NASHVILLE).

On the plus side, putting together All Access every month netted me and my new girlfriend/future bride Tracey free passes to all the Starwood shows that we could tolerate. I remember seeing Dylan and Aerosmith and Joan Jett and probably a bunch more that we've forgotten. Plus, since Starwood paid Gus for the publication, he in turn threw a few dollars my way, the first (and last) money that I ever got from Palas for writing until he bought out my R Squared zine with Radio Lightning's money. It was a summer that I was trying (and failing miserably) to make a living as a freelance writer and the All Access paydays represented the bulk of my income that year, even if I had to pry every dollar out of Gus' clenched fists.

I hadn't been to Starwood, or whatever they were calling it, for years before moving. Even if you got on the guest list of an artist for a show, you had to pay outrageous parking fees and deal with obscene traffic jams and the resulting road rage going in (and out) of the venue. Beer and coke prices were too damn high, the crowd too often obnoxious, and during the past few years, the shows promoted at the venue held little interest. As is often the case, the best touring shows each summer passed Nashville by and fans had to travel to Atlanta or Charlotte to catch bands.

No matter how you slice it, however, Starwood Amphitheatre had a lasting impact on Nashville's music scene; it was the 800-pound gorilla that you couldn't ignore. It will be missed by many of the city's mainstream music fans who have fond memories of their favorite shows at the venue. In the end, Starwood proved to be another casualty of the changes and declining fortunes experienced by the music industry over the past decade, and I doubt that another venue like Starwood will be built in Nashville in the future...and that's a sad thing, indeed.

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Blogger Bone Machine said...

Everytime I checked Pollstar and saw a cool show was coming to Starwood, it was typically greeted with a mixture of happiness and memories of the frustrations associated with the place.

I was given free tickets to see Lynyrd Skynyrd around 1993-ish and in those days, I was always up for a Nashville road trip. It was my excuse to visit Great Escape, Tower (RIP), and Phonoluxe and yeah, there was a show. On this particular trip, we hit our usual haunts and en route to Starwood, we got stuck in a two hour traffic jam trying to get to the amphitheater. It was hellish especially when I put it in the perspective of that it takes a solid two hours to get from my house to Nashville itself.

Traffic jams were always an issue. Dealing with a bunch of drunken jackasses was always an issue. Scalding heat and humidity was always an issue.

Even taking all of these things into consideration, I will miss the place and I'm saddened to hear that it is no more.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was the assistant Project Manager with R.L. Scobey & Son, General Contractor, who built Starwood Amphitheatre. It opened in 1987, not 1985. The first show and soft opening was the Pointer Sisters. The grand opening was Bill Cosby - not Charlie Daniels. I was at both shows.

I had box seats, an all-access parking pass and a backstage pass for several years. It was a great venue. Sad to see it an empty parking lot now.

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correction, it was 1986 when the first show was performed.

5:40 PM  

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