East Nashvillians of the Year
Business: The Basement East, Dave Brown & Mike Grimes
A little over two years ago, Dave Brown and Mike Grimes were at a crossroads. Their small, 100-seat-capacity music venue on Eighth Avenue South, The Basement, was a local institution, and they were ready to make the jump to something bigger. Driven by visions of epic rock shows, they signed the lease on a 7,500-square-foot former printing plant on Woodland Street and began working on The Basement East. Although the task seemed daunting, they were sure their experience would carry them through, but they had no idea just how much of a “Beast” — as the venue would soon be nicknamed — they were tackling.
“Everything we knew and thought about running a club had to change,” Grimes says. He and Brown are sitting in the worn but comfortable chairs in The Basement East’s green room, a room that has already hosted hundreds of musicians and regularly shakes with the clang of guitars, bass, and drums.
“At The Basement, we always had one door guy and one, maybe two, bartenders,” Brown says. “When we opened here, we just had a skeleton crew, and we had to expand our staff a lot.”
“We knew we’d have to change, but there was so much we didn’t expect,” Grimes adds. “Some of our ideas did not pass muster with reality. A place this big, 400-capacity, is a huge place to fill and staff. We had to hire security, an extra talent booker, a venue manager. We had to work way outside the model of The Basement.”
Finding that new model has been a challenge, but it’s one that Grimes, Brown, and their hardworking staff have risen to. Since opening in April 2015, The Basement East has featured a multitude of musical triumphs and must-see shows. They’ve also added the adjoining Pub at the Basement East and expanded the outside deck, creating a hypercool hangout that overlooks the main traffic corridor of East Nashville. As the largest music venue on the East Side, it’s played host to nationally touring acts (Cage the Elephant, MuteMath, Dawes, and Chris Stapleton), multiartist events (The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Tribute, Prince and David Bowie tributes) and special shows from many established Nashville-based bands (The Mavericks, The Wild Feathers, and Tyler Bryant) who quite deliberately chose to play The Basement East.
“One thing I really didn’t expect was underplays by acts that could easily sell out the Ryman,” Grimes says. “Because of the relationships and friendships we’ve made over the years, they feel like this is a safe place to try out new stuff. It’s very gratifying that people like Todd Snider and Buddy Miller want to play at The Basement East.”
DJ parties have also become a foundation of The Basement East’s schedule, attracting hundreds of dance-inclined attendees each month. The Boom Bap with DJ Metrognome and Queer Dance Party (QDP) both began in smaller East Nashville venues and made the jump to The Basement East as they grew in popularity.
“QDP had been at The 5 Spot for five years, and they just outgrew the space,” Grimes says. “The same thing happened with Boom Bap. Working with others in the music community and securing weekly and monthly shows have really helped us to secure our bottom line.”
The Basement East has excelled with its combination of great shows for good causes. Benefits for local musicians with medical bills or other unexpected expenses are part of the fabric of Nashville’s music community, and Brown and Grimes have been instrumental in organizing benefit shows for a variety of causes. Recent shows have benefited efforts to combat sex trafficking in Cambodia, Louisiana flood relief, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and many others.
“About 50 percent of the benefit shows we book are from people coming to us with the idea, and the other 50 percent are ones we think of,” Grimes explains. “Partially, it’s from wanting to fill our calendar with quality music, but we also want to pay reverence to great musicians, especially in a year like this last one where we have lost so many greats. When David Bowie passed away, I knew someone was going to do a tribute show. I felt like we could do it best, and we made sure the proceeds went to the Music Health Alliance.”
Giving back to the community is something that both Grimes and Brown see as the heart of their business philosophy.
“I think the strategy of a great business should obviously be to succeed financially,” Grimes says. “But it should also help other people and businesses, as well.”
“Not only in terms of charity,” Brown adds. “Hopefully, what we’re doing is a beneficial thing for the neighborhood. Some of our neighbors have told us their business triples on nights when we have really big shows. It’s awesome that there’s so much happening right now, right here in this strip of East Nashville, and we love being a central part of that.”
Despite the many day-to-day frustrations and challenges, Brown and Grimes remained true to their vision of rock & roll glory on the East Side and certainly have no regrets about their decision to give birth to The Beast.
“A lot of people think when you start a business it should explode and become a tremendous success,” Grimes says. “But success tends to come very incrementally for businesses that last a long time. Keeping that in my mind has been a challenge. I’m the guy who can panic because we have an off night. If it wasn’t for Dave, I would have lost my shit many times. He reminds me we’re on a 10-year plan.”
“The funny thing is most people would think those roles would be reversed,” Brown says, “because Mike is the biggest cheerleader in the world.”
“But get me behind closed doors and I can lose it,” Grimes continues. “Because I have high expectations for every event and when one doesn’t happen, I’m really disappointed. When you jump to that bigger scale of events, the disappointments ratchet up in scale, but the victories are even bigger.”