Music Row’s historic character is disappearing. Here’s what we can do.

NOTE:  My op-ed for the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the future of Music Row ran in today’s Nashville Tennessean.  You can see the original here.





These are essential elements of any great song or musical composition. They are also essential to any great neighborhood. Unfortunately for Nashville, the Music Row neighborhood is out of balance right now. In the last five years alone, 43 historic buildings that housed music related businesses – the lifeblood of Music Row – have been demolished. Only one single threatened building – the venerable RCA Studio A – has been saved from demolition. And that “save” was achieved not by public policy or by city initiative, but solely through the efforts of private citizens intent on preserving irreplaceable heritage.

Forty-three to one is not balance. High-rise residential condominiums in a neighborhood of small-scale business is not harmony. Demolishing five more historic buildings in the heart of Music Row is not the way to protect neighborhood character. It is definitely not the way to celebrate the unique and extraordinary cultural heritage that still exists on Music Row, nor how to ensure that the neighborhood remains a thriving cultural campus filled with creative people, talented artists, striving songwriters, and  myriad businesses that support, promote, and share their work with the world.

Music Row Treasures announcement

Music Row announcement as a National Treasure, with musician Ben Folds

Music Row’s past is deep, rich, and complex. It evolved into a singular ecosystem of musical production – a one-of-a-kind neighborhood that became the physical manifestation of the “business of making music.” It is the place where music emerges from the thoughts, dreams and experiences of songwriters, musicians and singers. It is the place of more than 200 recording studios, record labels, promoters, licensing agents, and a host of other small (and not so small) businesses dedicated to the singular and profound purpose of making our world a brighter, livelier, and more engaging place through music.

There is nowhere else like Music Row, period. The good news is there are solid strategies that Nashville can use to stem this current tide of demolition and keep the music on Music Row. We stand with Historic Nashville Inc., the hundreds of fans of Music Row who gathered at Bobby’s Idle Hour on July 24, and the many more who signed our petition in urging Mayor David Briley, the Metro Council and Metro Planning Commission to take immediate, specific steps to support and save Music Row:

  • Create a Music Row Cultural Industry District. This designation—the state’s first–would serve to strengthen, develop, and promote music related businesses in Music Row through the use of incentives, branding, promotion, historic preservation, infrastructure investment, and other tools.
  • End Specific Plan Exemptions. Currently Metro Planning Commission is approving Specific Plan exemptions for the Music Row geographic area. By consistently approving larger and taller buildings than allowed by current zoning, Metro is encouraging demolitions that destroy music-related buildings to make way for generic apartment buildings.
  • Develop Incentives to Support Music Row’s Music Industry. Although large companies are routinely awarded incentives to locate or operate in Nashville, no such benefits exist for the small music businesses. New incentives, including much-needed preservation tools, can help keep music businesses on Music Row and preserve the area’s historic buildings.

It is not too late. But the clock is ticking, and the song is growing ever more discordant. We call on city leaders to take immediate action before this unique cultural industry district is lost forever.

The public is encouraged to sign our petition to Nashville’s key elected officials at

More to come…


Just a Normal Day at the Office

Ben Folds at NTHP

With Ben Folds at the Washington Offices of the National Trust

Even though I already have one of the best jobs in the world, some days at the office are simply better than others. Tuesday was one of those as musician Ben Folds made a stop by the headquarters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation before his concert next door at the Kennedy Center.

The Trust has worked with Ben Folds and others to help save historic Studio A and Music Row in Nashville.  I had a chance to meet him first in January of 2015, when we announced Music Row as one of our National Treasures.  Ben has been one of the heroes of the fight to save Studio A – telling the story of this place as persuasively as he tells stories in his music.

I had the chance to introduce him to our staff yesterday at our headquarters at the Watergate.  I told them that Ben was the early and consistent voice for Studio A, shining a light on this special place when its future was darkest. He was the one who spoke out in the face of Nashville’s rush towards demolition and new development.  His consistent voice led our own Tom Mayes to reach out following a concert at Wolf Trap and offer National Trust assistance.  Ben saw that a wonderful purpose-built studio with incredible acoustics and a history of creativity that included Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett, and The Black Keys also had a future.  Thanks to his efforts, that future includes the change of management to producer Dave Cobb and last year’s recording of Traveler by Chris Stapleton – a record that swept every major award and is simply one of the best country music albums, from one of the best country music singers and songwriters, in years.

Finally, I told the staff that Ben helped me realize a life-long dream of a mention in Billboard magazine.

It was great to hear Ben tell his story to our staff and to thank them for all they do for people who want to save special places.

Yep, just a normal day in the office.

More to come…


Our Year in Photos – 2015

Sunday Brunch

A family celebration at Le Chat Noir’s Sunday Brunch before Claire heads to LA

As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, I continue my tradition of posting family photographs from the past year on More to Come… This was certainly a year in which we had much for which to be thankful – and to celebrate

2015 was – to put it mildly – a year of transition in so many ways.

The year began with Andrew and Claire halfway through their senior year in college.  I was busy with work at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, while Candice was keeping everything together from headquarters.

In January, I was fortunate to be able to join colleagues in Nashville for work to help save the unique heritage of Music Row.  As I say on the website designed for capturing Music Row’s stories:

“Music Row is the very definition of a National Treasure. The sounds created here have echoed throughout the country for decades, earning it an unparalleled place in America’s cultural life.” 

Studio A Press Conference with Ben Folds - Photo Credit Rick Smith

(Photo Credit: Rick Smith)

Studio A Press Conference, photo credit Nathan Morgan, Nashville Business Journal

(Photo credit: Nathan Morgan – Nashville Business Journal)

In a wonderful kick-off to our work in Nashville, I joined musician Ben Folds at historic Studio A to announce our designation of Music Row as one of our National Treasure campaigns.  The next month I was with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in Chicago at President Obama’s announcement of Pullman as the country’s newest National Monument.  I get to meet some very smart and talented people as part of my job!

Secretary Jewell with DJB

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell with DJB at the community celebration in Pullman

Candice and I were able to get away for family travel, and we especially enjoyed our final Pomona Parents Weekend in February in sunny Southern California.  It was bittersweet, in that we knew that we’d no longer have a great excuse to fly from the snow and cold of Washington to Claremont in February, so we could walk around in our shorts and polo shirts, grab a coffee and slider at Some Crust Bakery, and see Claire and all her talented friends at college.

Swimming Coach JP Gowdy with Claire

Swimming Coach Jean-Paul Gowdy with Claire following a Family Weekend practice

Then life threw us a bit of a curve.  Three hours before turning 60 years old, I was hit by an ambulance.  You read that right.  Needless to say, it made for a different type of celebration for my 60th, but the story – now that all is passed – gets better with each telling.


60th Birthday celebration

Celebrating my 60th birthday, along with my fractured shoulder and new sling

Andrew’s March was eventful…but in a better way.  Perhaps as a reward for enduring the New England winter of 2015, he traveled to Cuba with the Brown University Chorus over Spring Break.  Andrew loved the architecture, the music, the chance to use his Spanish extensively, and – most of all – the weather!

In Cuba

Andrew in Cuba

Andrew and Fred in Cuba

Andrew with Fred Jodry – director of the Brown University Chorus – wearing clothes in Cuba that would have led to immediate frostbite had they been in Providence at the time.

Candice also traveled in the spring, as the Hollywood Gang – friends from grade school in Hollywood, Florida – took in the sites around Atlanta.  This has become a much-anticipated weekend for Candice and her friends.

Hollywood Gang

Hollywood Gang in Atlanta

May was all graduations all the time.  We began on the west coast with Claire’s graduation from Pomona College.  It was a wonderful weekend, and of course I wrote about it and photographed it – all from the perspective of the proud father.  It was delightful to be together with the families of Claire’s wonderful classmates.

Graduation Lei

Andrew helps Claire with her graduation lei

Claire at Pomona

Our Pomona Class of 2015 Graduate

The Browns at Pomona

The Happy Family

Swim team cheers

The swim team cheers for the graduates

Sophomore and Senior Suitemates

Claire’s suitemates from her Sophomore and Senior Years – Susan (Sr), Ali (So/Sr), Jackie (So/Sr), and Kyra (So)

Parents celebrate

The parents celebrate graduation!

At Union on Yale

Celebrating the graduate at Union on Yale – Claire’s favorite Claremont restaurant

One week later, we all gathered in Providence to do it all again – this time in celebration of Andrew’s graduation from Brown University.  As an equal opportunity proud father, I covered it all from start to finish.  As I have told many people since then, the last half of May was among the happiest times of my life.  I was so proud of these two and all they have accomplished…and they’re just getting started!

Andrew and Claire

Andrew and Claire at the Big Dance

A D Phi Seniors

Andrew and his fellow seniors from the Alpha Delta Phi Society in the procession to Saturday’s Baccalaureate Service

Alex and Andrew

Alex Warstadt and Andrew, the two graduating singers from the Madrigals

Andrew waves from the procession

The happy graduate!

Andrew and Dietrich

Andrew with Professor Dietrich Neumann, Director of the Urban Studies Program at Brown University

Brown Celebration at the Salted Slate

Celebrating Andrew’s graduation at The Salted Slate, one of our favorite Providence restaurants

The celebrations continued in early July, as we flew to Tennessee to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday.  Brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins, and all sorts of friends gathered to honor Tom Brown and his wonderful life.  My father is such a down-to-earth yet holy man.  It was wonderful to see the love that came pouring out for him from so many different people and places.

Celebrating Tom's 90th

Claire, Candice, Tom, DJB, and Andrew celebrating Tom’s 90th birthday

The DC and Chicago cousins

Claire and Andrew with their Chicago cousins Zoe and Kelsey

With Brittney

Andrew and Claire with cousin Brittney

Pool time

In the pool with the cousins

Candice with Joseph

Candice and Joseph rest by the pool

TB and his children

Tom Brown with his children (clockwise from upper left) Joe, Steve, Debbie, David, and Carol on July 5, 2015 – his 90th birthday

Tom Brown and Family

Tom Brown (yes, the one with the suspenders) with all his family members to celebrate his 90th birthday

In July, Candice and I were also able to get away for a weekend in the Shenandoah Valley for roots music and time with our friends Margaret and Oakley Pearson at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival.

At Red Wing III

Margaret, Candice, DJB, and Oakley at Red Wing III

Watkins, Jarosz, and O'Donovan

Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan at Red Wing Roots Music Festival on July 11, 2015

A work-related trip took David to Southeast Utah, and some of the country’s most evocative landscapes.

DJB in Cedar Mesa

Hiking in Southeast Utah

Claire took off for her new adventure in Los Angeles in early August (see the picture at the top of the post), and so we had Andrew to ourselves here in DC for the month.  We decided to go all-in on Restaurant Week, and what a treat that turned out to be.  We also squeezed in a dinner of the Ambulance Survivor’s Club with our good friends Nancy Williams, Steve Cambell, and Sarabeth Watson.


Andrew gets ready to dig into the seabass at MXDC

At Fig and Olive

DJB, Candice, and Andrew wrap up DC Restaurant Week at Fig & Olive

Nancy and DJB

Nancy and DJB – the charter members of the Ambulance Survivor’s Club – toast our good health at Jackie’s Restaurant in Silver Spring

Work on the international front took Candice and me for a wonderful week in Cambridge at King’s College, followed by a family weekend in London.  It was a treat that we’ll long remember.

Candice in the rose gardens

Candice in the Rose Gardens at Anglesey Abbey

King's College Courtyard

King’s College Courtyard, Cambridge


Candice at a small London cafe during a day spent rambling, exploring, and connecting

2015 was a tough season to be a Nats fan…so much so that Claire defected as soon as she hit the west coast this summer!  Nonetheless, bad baseball is better than no baseball, and I did pick up a couple of new bobbleheads – including the most recent addition to the racing presidents.  (I have a request for a Bill Taft in to my family as a stocking stuffer this Christmas!)  As you can see, Claire has adjusted well to her work on the west coast, but Candice and I went out in October to check on her anyway!

Claire at a Dodgers Game

Claire goes over to the dark side – at a Dodgers game with Caroline and Graycie

Jubliee Consortium

Claire with other interns from the Jubilee Consortium in LA

Claire in LA

Enjoying life in LA

Silent Cal

Calvin Coolidge joins the Racing Presidents in 2015

Claire, Candice, DJB at the Getty Villa

With Claire at the Getty Villa

In early November, Candice and her friends from the Weavings group traveled to Binghamton, New York, to celebrate the installation of one of their members – Elizabeth Ewing – as the new rector of Christ Episcopal Church.  It was a joyous celebration!

Ewing Installation

The Weavings Group celebrates the installation of Elizabeth Ewing as rector of Christ Church, Binghamton

As we enter the holiday season, we have so many blessings to be thankful for.  From all of us – Candice, Andrew, Claire, and DJB – we wish all our family and friends a wonderful Thanksgiving and a blessed Advent.


A celebration at Pastishe in Providence fit for a year of celebrations and transitions

More to come…







My Turn on Music Row

Studio A Press Conference with Ben Folds - Photo Credit Rick Smith

(Photo Credit: Rick Smith)

I’ve often said I have one of the best jobs on earth.  I work with amazing people to save some of the best places in the country. I get to see some amazing sites. I have the chance to explain why these places matter.

Last Monday was one of those days.

The National Trust designated Nashville’s Music Row as a National Treasure. Nashville is undergoing an amazing transformation, where growth is putting pressure on some of the most important places in the history of country music. When a threat arose last summer, Musician Ben Folds and several other Nashville insiders worked hard to save historic Studio A from demolition. We joined them in this fight and – in the process – expanded our reach to all of Music Row. Knowing of my Tennessee roots and my love for roots and country music, our team asked if I would help launch our campaign.  It took me about 3 seconds to say yes.

As you can see above, we had a great turnout from the media and from friends in Nashville.  It was a great day professionally and personally. Ben and Mike Kopp of the Music Industry Coalition were incredibly articulate spokesmen for the preservation of Studio A and Music Row – and two very nice guys. Sharon Corbitt-House – who runs Studio A for Ben and Mike – was ready to fight the bulldozers to save this treasure. Aubrey Preston – one of the huge heroes in this saga in that he bought the building at the 11th hour – was already a preservation hero of mine for his work to save the historic Franklin Theatre, where my father had been a projectionist in the 1930s.  I had a chance to talk Doc Watson and Gallagher guitars with Congressman Jim Cooper. Heck, I was even in the “Picture of the Week” from the Nashville Business Journal laughing as Ben was taking a photo of the media taking pictures of him.

Studio A Press Conference, photo credit Nathan Morgan, Nashville Business Journal

(Photo credit: Nathan Morgan – Nashville Business Journal)

So, it was another great week in my job.  But the threat to Music Row is real – and it isn’t going away.  There’s much to be done. I know that my colleagues and I will work hard to help the good folks in Nashville to save this special place.  And I hope that my words last Monday will help.  Here are my remarks from the press conference last Monday in Studio A after I was introduced by Ben Folds:

Ben Folds has been one of the heroes of the fight to save Studio A – telling the story of this place as persuasively as he tells stories in his music. And he fits into a great tradition.

Singers and songwriters in Nashville have been telling stories of life’s ups and downs for decades. Some of the stories I remember are Sunday Morning Coming Down. He Stopped Loving Her Today. I Fall to Pieces. Jolene – which was recorded in this very space.

Music Row has had its share of ups and downs. But like so many characters in a country song, it survives. It is time we ensure that we tell the story of the place that produced these classics. It is time we ensure that the buildings that made that story possible have a bright future.

So as a native Tennessean who grew up with a deep love for the music of this city, I’m pleased to be with you as we look toward a future for Music Row that fits Nashville’s role as the heart and soul of country music.

We have much to celebrate today – the designation of Music Row as a National Treasure….

The formation of the Music Industry Coalition to help secure a future for this landmark….

And, of course, the fact that we are gathered here in this historically significant studio which was saved from demolition just a few weeks ago.

Although it seemed Studio A was destined to be lost, we can see today the new partnerships that emerged along with the enthusiasm and commitment to plan a future for Music Row that honors its unparalleled place in America’s cultural life.

I am delighted to be here today to officially name Music Row as one the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Treasures.

The National Trust is the nation’s largest private organization dedicated to saving America’s historic places, with more than three-quarters of a million members and supporters.

While the Trust’s awareness of Music Row’s challenges began with the short-term “save the place” campaign for Studio A, the need to address the long-term sustainability of Music Row quickly became apparent.

The challenges for Music Row are different from those we frequently see in our preservation work across the country. In many places we are faced with economic distress and a lack of jobs.

In Nashville, the opposite is true. By 2035, the city will be 20% larger. More than 12 million visitors each year come to experience Music City.

We only have to walk out this door to see the result. Construction is everywhere. Development has begun pushing toward Music Row creating pressures to sell properties to make way for new apartments, condos and hotels.

As residents have watched what is happening, a citywide conversation has emerged: What is the future of Nashville and where is the place for our culture and heritage? Particularly important for all of us here today is the question: Do we want to imagine a Nashville without Music Row? I don’t. It’s the heart and soul of this great city and a national treasure.

In 1954 Owen and Harold Bradley opened the first music business in a Quonset hut on 16th Avenue. For the last 60 years music businesses have worked here in late 19th and early 20th century residences or larger commercial buildings. This eclectic mix of buildings and businesses has created a unique environment – the kind of cultural district that cities across the country are spending millions of dollars to create as part of a creative economy. We have it here in Nashville. Right now!

Through events and activities in the coming months, the National Trust and our partners will continue to increase awareness and appreciation for Music Row’s history, the impact it has on Nashville’s economy and the worldwide recognition Music Row brings for Nashville.

Music Row joins a diverse portfolio of more than 50 places around the country that are threatened and face an uncertain future. These National Treasures include historic buildings, neighborhoods, communities, landscapes, ships, and engineering landmarks.

Our National Treasures campaigns demonstrate the value of preservation by encouraging Americans to take direct action to save places and promote their history and significance. As the Presenting Partner of the National Treasures program, American Express has pledged $2 million to help promote and enable the preservation of these cultural and historic places. The National Trust is mobilizing its more than 60 years of expertise and resources to help protect this place.

Although we know the music came from here, until now the story of Music Row has not been fully told. Nashville’s visitors know the singers and the songs that were recorded here. It is “their” music as well.

All of which bring us back to this building and the studio which holds so much of Music Row’s history. We look forward to working with the Preservation Partners as exciting plans develop to celebrate Studio A’s 50th anniversary and to position the studio for another 50 years as an irreplaceable part of Music Row.

But we will not work alone.

I want to applaud the work that Mike Kopp and the board of The Music Industry Coalition have undertaken in the past six months, bringing together property and business owners, musicians, artists, songwriters and others who will work together to plan and advocate for Music Row.

Historic Nashville, Inc. – with special thanks to Melissa Wyllie and Robbie Jones – held its annual “Nashville Nine” announcement here last September, adding more voices of support to save the studio while they contributed funds to our first project of documenting the history of Music Row. Historic Nashville is the newest official local partner of the National Trust, and we look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.

I want to thank Metro Nashville Historical Commission executive director Tim Walker for his leadership in raising funds for our historical research and documentation project, especially in his work to gain contributions from the newly formed Metro Historical Commission Foundation and our statewide preservation partner, the Tennessee Preservation Trust.

Our thanks also go to Terry Clements, vice president of government and community relations, and Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation for their financial support of the historical research project.

To Gail Danner and the Danner Foundation – thank you for your financial support of our historical research project.

I’d like to recognize Congressman Jim Cooper who is here with us today. Congressman Cooper is a hero to the music industry – thanks to his work to enact new legislation that now allows musicians to carry their instruments onto planes as carry-on luggage. For any of us who have seen our guitars disappear into the bowels of an airplane, we say “thank you!”

Finally, there are four people I would like to recognize individually:

• Thank you Mayor Dean for joining us today and for your support and encouragement these last few months as we have all worked together to organize and prepare for today and the work that will come in the months ahead.

• Ben Folds for sounding the alarm and making all of us aware of the impending loss of this historically significant building and the importance of planning for Music Row’s future. As he has said, “He was the one with the flashlight” shining it on this special place.

• Trey Bruce for organizing a “Save Studio A” campaign that quickly built a network that included over 13,000 Facebook friends and kept the media focus on the studio throughout the summer and early fall.

• And especially we say thank you to preservation hero Aubrey Preston for his understanding that this building holds much of Nashville’s music history and for stepping in to save it. We are also excited about the newly formed “Preservation Partners” with Mike Curb and Chuck Elcan joining Aubrey to renovate and revitalize this building.

The National Trust’s designation of Music Row as a National Treasure brings our commitment to demonstrate the value of preservation of this place and to plan for its sustainable future. We have assembled a team with expertise in historic preservation, real estate development, heritage tourism, community engagement and public relations to work with our local partners. Many of you have already met and have been working with our National Trust team, but I will quickly introduce them – Carolyn Brackett, who lives here in Nashville, is our project leader and an indispensable part of this effort. In addition, I want to recognize and thank Alicia Leuba, Grant Stevens and Erica Stewart. You will be seeing a lot more of them.

Four years ago I wrote an op-ed for the Nashville Tennessean, in which I said, “It matters how we build our communities and how we preserve them. When we lose the places that matter to us, we lose more than buildings—we lose the sense of community and the sense of civic pride and responsibility that follows. Being thoughtful stewards of these places is hard work. But it’s a job worth doing. We’re not just hanging on to yesterday, we’re building tomorrow.”

Some of my favorite country music songs – like the ones I mentioned earlier – are tinged with sadness. But that will not be Music Row’s fate. We look forward to working with all of you in the coming months to help forge a happy ending for this national treasure, so its studios and musicians can keep moving us with their stories for decades to come.

Thank you.

More to come…