Sep 9, 2010 2:12 PM, By Tom Kenny
BACK IN BUSINESS
It would be hard to overdramatize the events surrounding the middle Tennessee floods of early May. And for anyone who checked in on the Soundcheck Nashville blog those first days, with the water still rising and aerial pictures coming in, it would be hard to imagine that the three buildings off of Cowan Street, butting up against the Cumberland River on the near east side, would be back up and running less than three months later.
But they’re back and hosting rehearsals daily. Fresh paint. New floors. New curtains. New Meyer Sound systems in all nine main rehearsal rooms, and six new Avid Pro Tools HD rigs. The tenants are back in—Fender, Shure, Meyer, Digital Console Rentals, DiGiCo, Tour Supply, Stage Call, Peavey, MooTV and others—and the lockers are open. They had a soft reopening on a Thursday in mid-July, and that Friday Kenny Chesney was in for rehearsal, with bookings by Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson and others soon after. The company handled backline for Fanfest in June and then the CMAs. Yamaha hosted a two-day live sound event August 11 and 12. And Mix will be there September 13 and 14 for Mix Nashville.
“It’s not how I would have chosen to repaint,” says owner Ben Jumper, with a trace of gallows humor and only a slight hint of exhaustion. “But we did it with the help of our manufacturers, and we will forever be indebted to them for helping us get through what we got through.”
Jumper is a bit of a throwback. He deflects credit and passes on the praise to his staff and partners and the volunteers who came out in droves as the waters receded. When we talk to him about the magnitude of what happened to his facility, and the millions of dollars lost in guitars, amps, keyboards, tour gear and artists’ collections, he responds, “We just lost stuff. Thirty-one people died, two are still missing, and three months out we still have 2,000 out of their homes.”
He’s right, but that doesn’t discount the fact that on Sunday, May 2, driving to the Chattanooga airport, he suddenly found himself knee-deep in crisis management. “We had rehearsals scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, and there were huge storms going on, but there were no warnings of possible flash floods. I’ve been here 35 years and never seen water like that. I was on my way to the airport when I got a call from Matt Herts and Chase Jumper, my son, who were opening up for rehearsals. They were driving down Cowan Street and the water was up to the headlights on a Subaru. I called back 35 minutes later after I had my bags on the curb, and the water had risen a foot-and-a-half and was rising fast. I told them to leave the facility, got in my car and made it to Nashville in 2 hours and 10 minutes. I was able to exit on the Jefferson Street offramp, but there was a police car blocking our street. It was flooded up to the stop sign, and it was still raining. We got 22 inches of rain in 36 hours, the most since records have been kept. And it crested at 52 feet 9 inches. The water was out of the Cumberland banks by 32 feet.”
With nothing to do but wait for the crest, Jumper brought his 17-person staff to his home in Germantown on Monday and began scouting warehouses for dry storage, preparing for removal of client gear. On Tuesday, he was finally able to reach Soundcheck’s front door—by bass boat—and get a first look inside. “My heart literally broke that first day back,” Jumper recalls. “We waded in the front door to three-and-a-half feet of water, across 160,000 square feet in three buildings. And my floors are five feet above the floodplain. I’ve seen tornados rip through concert sites, but this was just shocking and overwhelming.”
By the weekend, Jumper and his staff had put together a highly organized plan to get client equipment out and drying in three warehouses out near Clair Global’s facility. Guitar and amp triage commenced, and luthiers were hired to salvage what they could. Tour Supply, a tenant, handled amp repair. Stage Call, another tenant, was hired for transportation. There was never any question they would reopen, and after talking with tenants, the landlord and the remediation team in their Hazmat cleanup suits, it was decided that they would rip back to the shell and rebuild right there. Same footprint.
Jumper is effusive in his praise of the staff and his tenant support. He’s equally supportive of Nashville mayor Karl Dean, who mobilized 14,000 volunteers the day after the crest. But he’s most appreciative of the support from NARAS through MusiCares. “They did an amazing job here in Nashville,” he says. “The ones who really lost everything were the musicians, and NARAS put instruments and certificates in their hands. They helped sound engineers and lighting engineers with rent and car payments and food. That will be one of the charities I give to the rest of my life. It was just really cool to see the community together and help each other out. It’s an honor for us to be a part of that community.
“And I have to add that I have the privilege of working with the most amazing team here at Soundcheck. They really run the place, and we feel blessed today to have what we have.”
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