If you haven’t been following along, here’s the quick and dirty rundown of the saga of the Exit/In, the historic music venue in Nashville that has hosted performances from legends like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, to Billy Joel, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimmy Buffett, Tyler Childers, Post Malone, and more recently, Miranda Lambert.
Back in 2021, the owners of the property put the building housing the Exit/In, as well as the neighboring bar Hurry Back, up for sale.
The building was eventually bought by AJ Capital, a vertically integrated real estate management firm owned by Ben Weprin that’s largely known for their chain of Graduate Hotels, but that also has several music venues in its portfolio, including venues like Minglewood Hall in Memphis, the Joy Theater in New Orleans, The Senate in Columbia, SC, the White Oak Music Hall in Houston, and Iron City in Birmingham. The company is also currently working with Eric Church to open his new bar on Broadway, Chief’s.
The concern with the news that the locally-owned music venue was bought by a large developer was that another piece of Nashville’s live music scene was going to be shuttered in favor of some high-rise or trendy new development. So the current operator of Exit/In at the time, Chris Cobb, launched a fundraising campaign to attempt to buy the building from AJ Capital.
Their bid was ultimately unsuccessful, but Weprin and AJ Capital assured Nashville that the iconic music venue would be protected, and even asked that the Exit/In be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Then back in November, Cobb and Exit/In released a statement that the venue would be closing after 51 years, which AJ Capital quickly refuted by saying that they planned to do some renovations to the building and reopen with an in-house booking team in the near future.
Well AJ Capital took over the property on January 1, and apparently when they got their first look inside the legendary venue, it quickly became apparent that they would have to do a lot more work than they originally thought – because the place was trashed.
According to The Tennessean, both Exit/In and the adjoining Hurry Back had been heavily damaged. Photos show mirrors and glass broken, the legends to the breaker boxes spray painted over, electrical wires hanging from the ceiling, liquor bottles smashed on the floor, and even the lines to the soda guns cut in half behind the bar.
A photo of Cobb was also left on the stage.
A mural was also painted over on the side of the building, along with the names and logos on the outside.
The cameras from the building were also allegedly removed so that none of the vandalism was caught on tape, and the windows to the building were papered over to block any views from the outside.
According to AJ Capital there were no signs of forced entry to the building, and they had to be let into the building by a locksmith after the first of the year when they didn’t receive the keys to gain entry.
The sign outside of the building was also changed to read “Sorry, Not Sorry,” though it was quickly removed once the new owners were notified.
In a statement to The Tennessean, AJ Capital says that the vandalism isn’t going to deter them from reopening the iconic music venue:
“Despite this awful and senseless act of vandalism and destruction, we remain committed to respectfully restoring the venue and faithfully stewarding it for the long haul. The Exit/In is Nashville’s Music Forum — her history, legacy and role in this community are nobody’s to own, hijack or destroy. And to that end, we look forward to making more lifelong memories with artists and fans in due time.”
In comments to The Tennessean, Cobb said that the venue was cleaned on New Years Eve before they left:
“We worked really hard to clean that place on New Year’s Eve. No one employed by me has entered the building since our lease ended.”
Cobb did say that they “removed their intellectual property” from the outside of the building, referring to the mural and the signs that were painted over, and that he removed pieces of memorabilia that they had collected over the years:
“I care deeply about the legacy of Exit/In and have tirelessly collected pieces of its history over many years. So we took them with us when we moved.”
There’s currently a legal battle over the intellectual property of the Exit/In, after Cobb received a trademark for the name in April 2021. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the application for a trademark was filed on April 10, after it was announced that the building would be sold to AJ Capital. An opposition to Cobb’s application has been filed by the firm, but is not likely to be heard for at least another year.
Such a shame to see all this happening to one of Nashville’s most iconic live music venues.