The Station Inn
by Shelby C. Berry
Nashville. Music City and the home of country music. There’s no doubt that the second anyone mentions this southern city, the first thoughts that pops into your head are country music, lights beaming from late night Honky Tonks, Broadway, and the Grand Ole Opry.
While Nashville might mostly exist these days as the home of country music, it was at this same Ryman Auditorium that bluegrass music was born when Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe stepped onto the Grand Ole Opry stage. Almost 75 years later, that remains a night music never forgot.
Nashville is an epicenter of bluegrass, as well as country music, being home to The International Bluegrass Music Association. When you arrive in our beloved Music City, you’ll discover plenty of opportunities to savor its thriving bluegrass scene in places like The Station Inn.
This live music venue is tucked away on 12th Avenue in the heart of Nashville’s Gulch neighborhood—yes, the same neighborhood as the famous “What Lifts You” wings mural. Located in a small, weathered brick building, The Station Inn’s rich history lives within its walls and a bright red door.
While it may be small, The Station Inn is certainly not small in the significance it has had on the bluegrass community since opening in 1974.
For more than 45 years, The Station Inn has played a fundamental role in the growth of bluegrass music in Nashville. Many of the world’s most successful bluegrass musicians across the globe have played at The Station Inn over the years, including Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Dierks Bentley, Alison Krauss, John Prine, Bobby Osborne and Bill Monroe himself.
“When The Station Inn opened, there was no place in Nashville where pickers could just go and jam with each other,” said JT Gray, owner of The Station Inn. “If anyone ever came in with an instrument, they were always welcome onstage.”
This unique venue was opened by six bluegrass musicians to fill this need in Music City. Originally, The Station Inn had a very coffee house feel, and it became a gathering place for bluegrass performers and fans when bluegrass music was just beginning to gain popularity.
JT Gray bought the venue in 1981 and began booking more well-known acts along with the local house band to draw more interest. Eventually, popular musicians began dropping in unannounced, after a Grand Ole Opry performance or on a weekend.
Over the years, The Station Inn became the place to hear bluegrass in Music City, to hear new acts and to see your favorites. In the first four years of JT’s ownership, the venue grew tremendously, packing the house to capacity in 1985 with a performance by the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe.
Today, JT’s vision works just as perfectly as it did over 30 years ago, but one thing hasn’t changed – the bluegrass jam.
Every Sunday night, The Station Inn hosts what they call the Bluegrass Jam that is open to the public and completely free.
“For the Bluegrass Jam on Sundays, the band doesn’t actually get on stage. There is an old-fashioned jam session like they used to have at someone’s house. This started when The Station Inn was opened, and it’s a tradition that we still hold on to,” said JT.
The Bluegrass Jam is one of those incredible things that just needs to be experienced for yourself. Musicians of all ages, from seven to seventy, gather around a classic picking circle, and anyone who wants to observe gathers around the outside. There are no skill requirements, and there is a possibility that a young musician can end up picking with a bluegrass legend.
“A few months ago, Rhonda Vincent joined us for the jam, and she’s the queen of bluegrass music. You just never know who might pop in,” said JT.
The Bluegrass Jam really is a remarkable cultural product of the bluegrass community. There are very few places other than The Station Inn where a large portion of the crowd is proficient on multiple instruments. Bluegrass has such a jam culture, and fans and musicians alike love meeting one another and learning instruments well enough to participate in this unique bluegrass experience.
Today, The Station Inn and its Bluegrass Jam thrive like never before with top names in bluegrass, roots music and country dropping in to relax, enjoy music and sing a song or two. In 2003, The Station Inn received the IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award for their contribution to the preservation and promotion of bluegrass music.
“To still be going strong after all this time means that bluegrass music is holding its own now,” said JT. “Years ago, it was on the back burner when it came to music, behind country, rock and other genres. To see where bluegrass is now and that it is recognized as a major genre of music means the world to us. It means that we’ve all been doing something right to get it there and give it what it deserves.”
Bluegrass music aficionados and first-time bluegrass listeners will not be disappointed when they walk through that red door and breathe in the history. The Station Inn is something to be remembered.