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'Music Citizens' podcast explores the people behind Nashville's music scene

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

In Nashville, more people work in the music industry per capita than any other city in the world. And member station WNXP has started a podcast called Music Citizens about those people and the jobs that they do. The first episode, called The Lifer, is about an 80-year-old man who owns and operates a small music venue called The End.

JUSTIN BARNEY, BYLINE: For someone who has never been to The End, how would you describe the end?

DANIEL PUJOL: Tiny little rectangle stage.

BRENNAN WEDL: It's like a milk-carton-on-the-floor vibe.

AMY DEE: Just like an old-school music venue.

MICHELLE EGNASKO: Classy dive bar.

BARNEY: What's classy about it?

EGNASKO: Just... (laughter).

BARNEY: The bathrooms are bad. The stage is small and close.

ERIC: We don't have private bathrooms for the artists. We don't have parking. Right? That's the biggest thing. Everyone wants to know where they park their freaking trailers and trucks and we don't have it.

BARNEY: Can you give me a first name, last name?

JASON MOON WILKINS, BYLINE: First name, last name. I can give you all three names. Jason Moon Wilkins. I'm the host of Music Citizens. It's a new series from Nashville Public Radio about music's working class.

BARNEY: I'm Justin Barney, producer, reporter.

WILKINS: We're doing this series at a time when venues like The End are in trouble. You've got gentrification, rising rents, corporatization impacting booking, all of it. It's so much so that in the U.K., there's a wave of support for saving some of those venues. And in Tennessee, a bill just this year that would pave the way for helping those venues with leases just passed. And I think we're seeing this because even at the highest levels of government, people understand even the biggest artists need a place to start, and The End is a place like that.

BARNEY: Could you read some of the names on the wall?

BRUCE FITZPATRICK: Read some of the names...

BARNEY: Yeah.

FITZPATRICK: ...On the wall back here?

BARNEY: Yeah.

FITZPATRICK: Oh, what do we got here? White Stripes.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHITE STRIPES' "ICKY THUMP")

FITZPATRICK: I had never heard of the White Stripes when they played here, tell you the truth. It was on a Monday night, and we took a chance on it and wound up selling out.

ALYSON ESTES: Paramore played their first show First show in Nashville at The End. Bruce and Hayley have lots of pictures together.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISERY BUSINESS")

PARAMORE: (Singing) Whoa, I never meant to brag, but I got him where I want him now.

BARNEY: The Flaming Lips?

FITZPATRICK: Yeah, see, that's probably 20 years ago.

BARNEY: They played here?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU REALIZE??")

FLAMING LIPS: (Singing) Do you realize?

FITZPATRICK: A lot of bands play here when they first get started, you know, so.

WILKINS: It's a launching pad. And as we discovered, the one constant was Bruce.

FITZPATRICK: Get that right there.

BARNEY: I spent a couple days at The End. A thing that just blew me away was that this whole place, The End, the names on the walls and all of its lore is precariously held together by one 80-year-old man who does the job of 10 people.

What does Bruce do every day?

ANGELA: Come here. Without fail, he shows up every day.

FITZPATRICK: What I do?

BARNEY: Yeah.

FITZPATRICK: Bartend, book the bands, clean the place up.

EGNASKO: Restocks the whole bar, orders all the beer orders, changes all the garbage bags, puts the garbage in the dumpster. He does everything.

BARNEY: What are you doing now?

FITZPATRICK: Sweeping the bathroom floor.

BARNEY: Like, at one point, there is - there's a marquee. And he pulls this rickety ladder out of the yard, and he sets it up on the marquee. And this 80-year-old man gets up on this tiny ladder, and he puts up the new band on the marquee.

FITZPATRICK: You get all these empty beer bottles, beer cans and the craft beer and...

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS BREAKING)

ESTES: It's a long day. You're there from 10:00, 9:00 a.m. until 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 a.m.

BARNEY: That is Alyson Estes. She is the talent buyer at Exit/In across the street. She also kind of has a job at The End.

ESTES: Not a salaried employee or anything like that. It's understood that I'm going to help him do X, Y, Z and more if needed.

BARNEY: Why do you do it?

ESTES: Because I love him, and I love The End.

BARNEY: What are you doing now?

FITZPATRICK: Checking the beer coolers, see how much beer I need to put in there at some point. Pretty much all the money comes from beer sales.

BARNEY: There have been so many small, independent venues like The End that have opened and closed in the span that Bruce has been grinding away at The End.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEE: I'm Amy Dee from Dee's Country Cocktail Lounge.

BARNEY: Why do it?

DEE: Because I'm a lifer. I've been in this business since '97. I didn't go to college. I don't have a trust fund to look forward to.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEE: What else am I going to do? (Laughter) And then you see others fade, and you're still here.

BARNEY: And Bruce, fellow lifer, is just holding it together every night.

Bruce, we're between - just before bands are starting now. What are you doing in this time?

FITZPATRICK: Waiting for people to show up.

UNIDENTIFIED PROMOTER: Thank you. Hi. How are you? Can I just see your ID? Thank you. Perfect. I'll stamp the top of your hand.

WEDL: I like that he's the bartender, too.

BARNEY: Right?

WEDL: It's awesome. It's awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hey. Could I get a Michelob Ultra, please?

FITZPATRICK: Yeah. We do have a $10 minimum...

WILKINS: So Justin has been taking you through Bruce's day behind the scenes, all the nitty gritty, but a big part of every day at The End is the show.

REMO DRIVE: Hey, everybody. We're a band called Remo Drive.

WILKINS: So here we are on stage. Daniel Pujol knows what it's like to stand on this stage.

PUJOL: Tiny little green room. The ceilings are just high enough to where everybody can crowd surf.

FITZPATRICK: Lots of broken noses. We keep a lot of ice packs in the back on hardcore nights. We usually give out half a dozen ice packs.

PUJOL: It's just big enough is that when it's totally full, it is right before an audience becomes a crowd.

RICK WHETSEL: Bruce is able to do things economically at, you know, a smaller venue like The End that you can't do in a larger venue.

ESTES: You can play to 50 people at The End, you know. You can sell out The End and then move to Exit/In on the Rock Block, right? And then you can play Marathon. And then you can play Ryman. And, like, there's a lot of great stepping stones in this town.

BARNEY: And The End is...

ESTES: This first step.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, CHEERING)

REMO DRIVE: Thank you.

BARNEY: That happens every night, you know. And that's not something that's guaranteed in every city.

WILKINS: Absolutely not. I mean, some of these things are going to go away, and they have nothing to do with the powers that be not standing up for it. We live and work in an economy where if you own this space, and all of a sudden it's worth 5 million, and it used to be worth 500,000, you're probably going to sell it.

There is something that Bruce and The End represent within Nashville that we have seen change at an accelerating pace in the last 10 years especially, which is beloved institutions going by the wayside. When your city is known as Music City, and when those institutions start changing, it does change the fabric of who you are. And what is being currently built right now, the vast majority of money that is being invested in Nashville on the music side is to lure tourists, not locals. And that is the fear of what you might lose if you lose a place like this.

BARNEY: Bruce, how did we do tonight?

FITZPATRICK: Don't know. I don't know how many ended up paying. Do you have that figure?

ERIC: Thirty-eight at the door. And then I think presale is 170-something.

FITZPATRICK: Plus 38. What is that, 211?

ERIC: Yeah.

FITZPATRICK: Yeah, 211.

BARNEY: Is that a good night?

ERIC: Yeah. It's more than should be in here.

(LAUGHTER)

FITZPATRICK: Yeah, should be.

ESTES: You know, he's just here to run his venue, have a good time and to go home.

BARNEY: So, like, why do you think he does it?

ESTES: I think he likes being a part of the story, you know, having a small role in someone's success.

BARNEY: It's now 12:16 a.m.

FITZPATRICK: All right. That's it. Everything locked up. Time to go home. We're good to go.

BARNEY: You want to be an owner? This is what it is. This is the job.

WILKINS: This is the job.

BARNEY: Last words?

FITZPATRICK: Do it again tomorrow.

BARNEY: All right. See you, Bruce.

FITZPATRICK: All right. I'll see you later.

FLORIDO: Jason Moon Wilkins and Justin Barney host Music Citizens, a new podcast from WNXP in Nashville. You can listen at wnxp.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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