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2208 Elliston Pl
Nashville,TN 37203
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Last year, when the Nashville Scene realized that local rock club the Exit/In was about to mark its 30th anniversary, we decided that the occasion was worth a story. So we called the club to let folks there know our plans. We got the answering machine and left a message. When we didn't hear back after a few days, we called again and reached a person who said that it wasn't a good time to talk, but that someone would call us later. We never heard back. The Exit/In closed suddenly in July, after months of failing to pay sales tax and what some observers describe as a year of overall degeneration. A few weeks ago, local promoter Rick Whetsel purchased the club; by the time this story hits the racks it will have reopened "for good," although when the Exit/In's original owner, Owsley Manier, hears that phrase, he laughs sardonically and interjects, "theoretically." When his laughter subsides, Manier adds, "I hope Whetsel does great with it. I think if anybody can, he can. There's an old adage that says any place that fails twice or three times in one location is doomed, jinxed, etc. Man, I don't know how many times that place has gone down." This isn't a story about the failure of the Exit/In--though the history of the club is peppered with spectacular failures. Nor is this a story about the rebirth of the Exit/In--though most seem to agree that the new owner has the experience and business sense needed to make a go of it. This is a story about a space and the people who helped create it. Stripped of its name, and stripped of the memories associated with it, the Exit/In is little more than a block of real estate where--thanks to the imagination and good taste of a handful of determined people--some amazing things occurred. But those moments might've happened anywhere, and when asked about the Exit/In, it's not unusual for former patrons and employees to misremember, to put dates in the wrong order or to recall shows that actually happened elsewhere. And most local musicians will admit that as a performance space, the Exit/In is far from the best in town. But people remember the nights they spent there, and the nights they only heard about. That's the nature of live music. It tends to linger, starting with the low buzz in the ears the morning after, and the smell of beer, sweat and cigarettes clinging to last night's clothes. Liz Thiels, who was one of the club's co-owners from 1972 to 1976, probably knows more about the Exit/In than all but two or three others. She came on board during the club's second year and maintained a periodic association with it even after she ceased to be a partner. More importantly, Thiels kept a scrapbook, full of old menus, news items, advertisements and photographs. The story of the Exit/In's early days is in that scrapbook, and even though Thiels let the project lapse when her ownership interest in the club did, if there's any way to understand what's so special about the old room, it's in the accumulation of images and mementos that keep the legend alive.
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