supper + song

WEEK 64 - September 5, 2012

This is the story of our supper+song, a story thread that we hoped would grow and grow for years to come.  But probably now, it just became a legend.

Matt and I, along with our friends and family, spent April, May and June of 2009 renovating the gas station in preparation for the July opening of imogene + willie.

I will never forget one late night, about a week before we had everything ready for opening day… I took Matt by the hand and drug him out to the backyard of the shop.  We stood in the middle of the yard, which on that night was a big heaping mess… still just remnants of the building’s ancestors, an automotive junk yard.  I grabbed Matt’s shoulders and said something like, “ok, Matty.  I know it’s not in our plan, but we need to haul off all this junk, level out the dirt, bring in thousands of pounds of gravel, plant six 18 foot tall slender sweet gum trees and string some lights.”

He laughed his head off and reminded me that we were out of money.  I explained to him that, actually, I had held a nest egg back!  His tone changed from laughter to all seriousness, asking me why in the world I would want to landscape a junkyard when we hadn’t even sold a pair of jeans yet.  All I could explain to him: we were standing in a fenced in backyard paradise at our shop and that we needed to build it out and create a getaway for our neighbors… a place to meet, to visit, to eat… to listen to music.  A place that encouraged inclusiveness, not exclusivity.

I think he walked away without a final comment, other than a huff and a puff.

But, the next morning when we woke up, he said, “I’ll arrange for the dirt leveling and gravel.  Call and order those damn trees.”

A week after that night, we opened the doors to imogene + willie.  And then a few weeks after that, we invited everyone we had met in town thus far, plus car loads coming down from our hometown, to our grand opening celebration.

We did our best to personally show everyone around the shop and then shoo-d them out to the backyard to grab Teresa Mason’s Mas Tacos and corn on the cob.  A new acquaintance (now old friend), Joshua Black Wilkins, played an acoustic guitar set.  Then, two lovely men named DB Harris and Grant Johnson agreed to play a set after JBW.

Matt and I neither one made it outside until a couple of hours into the party.  But when we did get out there, I looked around and I literally felt like I was going to collapse to my knees.  The dark night, lit by only the stars and the string lights,  and over 300 people – a diverse quilt of our family and old friends and new neighbors – all gathered together… listening, eating, laughing.  Just exactly like the picture in my mind a month prior.

We found ourselves, by prompting of one of our employees, Louise, extending an open invitation to the neighborhood to come over again a month later.  We booked an artist to play.  And because we couldn’t imagine a backyard night without her, we asked Teresa, proprietor of Mas Tacos, to bring the taco truck back to serve dinner.   The grand opening celebration night tacos were on the house, but on this night, I think Teresa sold 300 tacos.

A third gathering happened a couple of weeks later, and before we knew it, a tradition had been created and its name would be supper+song.

That first fall, and don’t even ask me how, we had supper+song and the taco truck every week.  After near exhaustion from finding someone to play music and hosting 100-200 folks every Thursday night, we took the winter off.

In spring of 2010, we focused our efforts and planned supper+song as a monthly event.  As of that spring, as well as the next supper+song season of 2011, we no longer had to beg folks to play.  We had piles of emails and phone calls from artists or their management asking to play in the backyard.

We felt like we were getting into a good rhythm, until we received a call from a neighbor, expressing that the music was too loud.

As a result of our lack of knowledge about our zoning and the sound ordinance connected to it, we were by our own fault, uninformed, and did not understand how we were harming the peace of our neighborhood.  It seemed so ironic. Our intentions were to give to the neighborhood, not to harm.

We hired an attorney to help us better understand the sound ordinance.  After thoughtful review and by urge of many others in the community, we chose to continue supper+song, while diligently monitoring the decibel level, making sure to not go over the max decibel that we understood the ordinance to convey.

Even though music was always over by 8:30pm, and the decibel level was within code, the police did still show up several times.  On the few nights that they came, they were too kind, conveying that they had to come because there was a call.  Their sentiments… somewhat embarrassed, because they should be fighting crime, not tearing down an attempt to build community.

So, each month, we kept on going.

This year, now 2012, we made even more of a concerted effort to make sure to think of our neighbors living in the homes surrounding us while planning this season’s supper+song.  We chose acts way in advance to make sure they were comfortable playing a stripped down set.  We started right on time at 6:30, to make sure the music was finished around 8.  And we checked that decibel level religiously.  Why?  Because we get it.  We are a non-traditional business sitting on a corner: one foot in a thriving, ever evolving business district on a main thoroughfare.  And the other foot in a precious, peaceful neighborhood side street.  Seemingly, our earnest efforts to follow the somewhat vague rules, were paying off.  We haven’t had a call or visit from the police on supper+song night all summer.

I’m almost to the end of the story.

Usually at supper+song, Matt and I either spend the whole night visiting with guests or hiding up in the attic working.  But for some reason, 3 weeks ago, and unbeknownst to us, our last supper+song, I laid down flat on the ground, right up in front of the Odessa Rose, the musician, and listened intently to every word she sang.  I didn’t really feel like talking to anybody, but instead just wanted to take it all in.  I gazed all around me at the 200 or so mothers, fathers, toddlers, infants, dogs, doctors, shop keepers, young-in-love couples, older widowed women, fellow musicians, friends, cousins, strangers… and maybe a hipster.  I experienced that same overwhelming, knee-knocking emotion that I had 3 years ago the first time we walked in the backyard on the grand opening night.  We wanted to clean up the backyard for the neighborhood to pile in to as if it were their own.  And here they all were.  Every month.  Over and over.  More and more.

Several days after that supper+song, a very kind police officer came to see Matt at the shop.  He humbly expressed that complaints had been coming in on supper+song nights for many months.  He explained that the police were basically choosing to ignore the calls.  Unbeknownst to us that there was still an issue, the concerned neighbor or neighbors contacted our district’s council woman, because we had not quit.  The continued concern was brought to the police chief several weeks ago.  The police force had a long meeting the night prior to this officer’s visit to us, determining at that time that we would be asked to never have supper+song again.  Our business, although on a main thoroughfare in a growing neighborhood business district, is not zoned as such.  We are, by ordinance, not allowed to have any audible noise.  And if we do, we are breaking the law. And possibly worse, we are apparently upsetting anonymous neighbors.

So, supper+song is no longer.

Honestly, we are all really sad.  The end of supper+song definitely leaves a huge void for all of us at the shop.  And an empty backyard!  But, we are not defeated at all, as we will always cherish that we had a vision for that damn backyard and you fulfilled it.  We wanted to open our home to you, asking nothing in return.  We never charged a penny.  And, trust me… we spent a lot of pennies to pull it off every month!  We accepted with pleasure, that on that 3rd Wednesday of the month, sales would be little to nothing.  A neighborhood party is much more fun than trying on jeans!  And the plethora of musical talent that you have enjoyed:  not one artist ever asked for a dollar from us.

They did it for you.

So many of you (actually, thousands of you) accepted our invitation.  You either walked from your house down to the shop with your blanket and wine, or drove from the other side of town to meet friends.  And then this motorcycle gang started showing up as of late!  And this is true more-so than some of you would realize: so many of you planned trips to Nashville by plane or long road trip to join us just for the night.

We just thank you.  Matt and I, along with everyone on our team, really really really thank you.  I mean it.  You have no idea how much joy you gave us all by piling in that backyard.  And please, even if you are not needing a pair of jeans, still keep coming by to visit!

Goodnight supper.  Goodnight song.


Some Notes:

- We are sending this announcement out at 9am Thursday.  We have dreaded writing it, not wanting it to be true.  So, this finds me, still up at 3am, writing on behalf of Matt and the i+w team from the bottom of our hearts.  Please excuse the long stream of consciousness and lack of some capital letters and misspellings!

- The below BIG thank you’s are not an afterthought and many more names will be added after sunrise:

Teresa Mason and her crew at Mas Tacos, Louise Riley, Thomas Petillo, Kari Kragness, Allen Dowell, Rhett Murdaugh, Libby Callaway, Joshua Black Wilkins, The Civil Wars, Karen Elson, Patrick Keeler, Deer Tick, Apache Relay, Dan Auerbach, Justin Townes Earle, Nikki Lane, Michelle Branch, Holly Williams, Madi Diaz, Caitlin Rose, Rayland Baxter, The Ettes, Odessa Rose, The Hogsloppers, Lilyphone, Pete Molinari, Jessie Baylin, Shelly Colvin, Ryan Nole, Brian Cates, Brian Stone, Big Kenny, Kate Tucker, Ultras S/C, Kate York, Fred Ready, Caylin, Humminghouse, Mikky Ekko, Valerie June, Carl Broemel, Courtney Jaye, William Tyler, Peter Barbee, The Kopecky Family Band, James Wallace and the Naked Light, Sarah and Christian Dugas, Carey Kotsionis, Jennifer Nicely, Rolff and Mike from Blackbird Studio Rentals, Kevin Perryman, Patrick Kearney, Chancellor Warhol, Chris Scruggs, Keegan DeWitt, Bang Candy, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Bravo Gelato, The Peach Truck, Nick Dryden and Brad Northcut.

- If you have any questions (or answers), please always feel free to contact us, or our Mayor or City Council.