For more years than anybody can remember, the Best Western Music Row hotel on Division Street in Nashville was home to the Hall of Fame Lounge, so named because of its close proximity to the old Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. And even after the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was built in the SoBro area and the old location razed and made into a parking lot, the Hall of Fame Lounge continued to do what it had always done, but perhaps without the visibility it once had: It opened its doors to aspiring songwriters and singers from around the world who were looking for a place to try new material, build their chops, or pitch their songs to somebody. And, of course, the club was walking distance for Music Row types who wanted a drink after work or who were shopping for songs for their artists or publishing companies.
Eventually, though, without the cachet of being across the street from the actual Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Lounge saw a decline in business. A couple years ago the club got a shot in the arm with new ownership in the form of Wade Johnson, who thought that the tradition that was begun decades ago, when the room was one of the first clubs to offer a performance venue to up-and-coming songwriters, should continue.
“I was semi-retired and my family and I lived in Mayberry,” Johnson said, referring to Mt. Airy, North Carolina, the town upon which The Andy Griffith Show’s Mayberry was modeled. “Our daughter wanted to come to Nashville to give the music business a shot, and the first place we went when we got here was the Commodore, where we were just blown away by the talent. Soon after we decided that it might be a good idea to buy the Hall of Fame Lounge and be a part of it all.”
The daughter Johnson speaks of is Rachael Johnson, a singer/songwriter who, after graduating college in North Carolina, did indeed decide that the music industry was her true calling. Today, after nearly two years in town, Johnson is a regular fixture around Nashville, performing at Pick’s as well as such venues as The Stage and Paradise Park.
“Nashville was very different from what I expected,” Rachael said, “but I love it. Even though I’ve been playing out quite a bit downtown as well as the outskirts of Nashville – Columbia, Dickson and other places – it’s been a blessing to have the club (Pick’s) to perform at as well.”
Wade said that he isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel at Pick’s, but rather is trying to revive and continue the old tradition there, just under a different name.
“We just want to respect what the club has meant to so many people over the years, to keep that flame alive,” he said “Without the Hall of Fame Lounge, people who are successful today wouldn’t have been. We want to get the club back to that status again, to have it be a place where people want to go to both perform and listen.”
“The goal,” he continued, “is to have it be the kind of place where the writers, the artists and the publishers – or whatever industry folks you want to name – all come together, to get to know one another and to connect. We want to create that type of feel where there’s a camaraderie, to make it a place where, when you come in, you’ll know a lot of the people who are there.”
The original Hall of Fame Lounge was a place where people like Steve Bivins, profiled late last year in the Nashville Music Guide, invited all writers and artists, no matter how talented or experienced, to get on stage and show everyone what they had. Performers and writers from Craig Wiseman to Tim McGraw to Leann Rimes to Otis Blackwell are said to have taken the stage at one time or another in the old Hall of Fame Lounge. Now the Johnson family, which includes Wade’s son-in-law, Danny Whitaker, who is the bar manager, is continuing that tradition by having had such someday-to-be-legendary performers as Josh Thompson, Chris Young, and Trent Tomlinson take the stage. And they’re just getting started.”
“We’ve been meeting some outstanding people in this town, and we’re proud to be part of something like this,” Wade said. “It’s been a great ride so far, and we’re have a great time doing it.”
Pick’s is open Monday through Saturday and opens each day at 5 p.m. Monday night is an open mic night, with set writer’s nights on Tuesday and Wednesdays, and full-band karaoke on Thursday nights. Friday and Saturday are full-band nights, and the club has been known to stay open until 3 a.m.
For more information, go to www.picksnashville.com or call 615-242-1631.