The overflow of the Cumberland River in Nashville last week has claimed the lives of 21 Tennessee residents and sent the country music industry reeling, wrecking many of the city’s landmarks and destroying storage and rehearsal spaces used by Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Keith Urban and Old Crow Medicine Show. “I saw a Barnes & Noble at my [highway] exit and cars were under water,” says Paisley, who lives just outside Nashville’s city limits. “We don’t have a river there!”
Landmarks like the Grand Ole Opry have been flooded, causing organizers to relocate its weekly show while production and distribution at the Gibson USA guitar factory have also been affected. (A rep for Gibson tells Rolling Stone the company is doing everything possible to deter production delays.) But the biggest devastation has hit Soundcheck Nashville, one of the city’s largest rehearsal and equipment storage spaces that’s regularly used by 600 musicians. Paisley, who is prepping for an upcoming summer tour, has lost nearly all of his gear, including tens of thousands of dollars in instruments, amps and effects. “Everything you see us using onstage is underwater,” says Paisley, adding that his trademark paisley-painted 1952 Fender Telecaster was stored safely at his home. “I’m really bummed.”
Soundcheck owner Ben Jumper has not been able to completely assess damages to the160,000-square-foot complex, where instrument companies like Fender, Peavey and Shure also have offices. “It is unbelievable what the Nashville community is going through,” he tells RS. “It looks like we were under three-and-a-half feet of water, which is receding slowly. All roads leading to the facility are blocked by water and the power grid is still on. The authorities will not allow us in until the power has been turned off.” Once he is able to return to Soundcheck, Jumper says the company will set up temporary storage spaces for their clients and establish a “triage” to salvage any water-logged gear.
Some musicians are faring better than others. When Soundcheck customers go on the road, they take their gear but typically leave their cars at the complex, so while Old Crow Medicine Show’s equipment was spared, their cars are most likely destroyed. “You can’t get anywhere near there and not just because of police barricades,” Old Crow’s Ketch Secor tells RS. “You can’t get over that five feet of water.” Secor theorizes that the overdevelopment of Nashville is the main reason for the flooding. “You need room for flood plains and wetlands,” he says. “If someone is looking to point fingers, it’s an urban-planning disaster. The city is like a swimming pool with a concrete bottom. The water has nowhere to go. If land had been allowed to stay green, it would’ve absorbed more water.”
Despite the destruction, the country industry is rallying for the thousands of citizens whose homes were destroyed. Paisley, for instance, will be appearing on a national telethon along with Lady Antebellum and Dierks Bentley on May 16th at 8 p.m. Music City Keep On Playin’ – A Benefit for Flood Relief, which will be filmed at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, will raise money for citizens in middle Tennessee. “We’re trying to do a telethon to raise some money,” Paisley says, explaining he wants to bring music and relief to victims of the flood. “People are saying they don’t want to buy a ticket [to a show] when they’re trying find the sofa that floated away.”