East Nashville music takes the fore in 'East Side of the River'

If you were to try and captured the zeitgeist of East Nashville in 2014, documentary style, it'd probably include more than a few tense conversations about growing pains. (See our March-April issue.) But when Ron Coons started work on the East Side of the River documentary a few years back, those pains were maybe just a little less hurty, which left a hair more room for music to take the fore.
After something of a long gestation, Coons has finished the film, stocked with sounds and statements from many of the musicians who make East Nashville sound so purdy. And while he's still working out broader distribution, our neighborhood, logically enough, is getting the first crack at East Side of The River, with a mix of East Nashville screenings.
Coons hosted an introductory look at the doc at The Building in February, and on April 16, The Family Wash will become something of a cozy film house for another screening of East Side of the River.
Ahead of that Wash screening, we reached out to East Nashvillian Coons to hear a little more about the what and the why behind his East Nashville documentary.
East Side of the River
The East Nashvillian: What inspired you to work on an East Nashville documentary -- and what drew you to focusing on the music scene, specifically?
Ron Coons: "Sitting at the bar at the Family Wash for 10 years, talking to world-class musicians, saying to myself, 'Someone needs to tell this story…' I'm largely focusing on where people came from, what brought them here, why they stayed, and what they love about being here."
How did you choose what musicians to include?
"I interviewed over 70 people for the film. The only criteria was that they be a musician and live in the neighborhood. I gave exception to a few people that drove the story or were influential, like Mike Grimes for example. Mostly just the working 'core' of musicians in the neighborhood. Those that were not in the film (a few famous ones) either refused to be a part of it or were too busy to be interviewed... but in my opinion, that did not detract from the story at all."
Did you find in interviewing and researching that there was anything most East Nashville musicians had in common -- backgrounds, approaches, feelings?
"People came from all over, [but] they all loved being able to do what they want over here, and the uniform acceptance of their peers. (There was) a lot of sentiment that 'Music Row is on the OTHER side of the river.'"
What did you learn about East Nashville and the East Side music scene over the process of making this film?
"I got to know some people that I already was acquainted with a little better. At its core, the music scene has not changed much -- maybe some new players, but there are still many here that love it just the way it is. I've been here 20 years, so there was not a whole lot to learn from making the film [laughs]."
Since its gestation period ended up being longer than you expected: What obstacles did you run into in getting East Side of the River completed?
"Just being able to give the project my time (and money). The Kickstarter [crowdfunding campaign] we did failed. No money. The Indiegogo was success, but was one third of the money needed. Plus, just trying to schedule interviews with people, shoot footage around the neighborhood ... along with the usual things encountered when making any film."
What guided your approach to the coffee table book of still photography with John Partipilo? Is it largely extras from the film, or did you approach still photography and the book like a totally different animal?
"The book was always supposed to be a companion to the movie. I have been shooting pictures of East Nashville since the late '90s, and always wanted to do a book. This seemed like a good fit. John is a good friend, and does some great portraiture as well. I thought it would be nice to involve him in the book. We included some people in the book that did not make it in the movie if we could."
What should people expect at the Family Wash screening?
"It should be a great party. I hope to have some of the 'cast' play some songs too. If we can get some funding together before then we'll have DVDs for sale, but at the least we will 'pre-sell' DVDs that night and use the money to finalize the movie and make DVDs. I'm looking for some kind of third party site as well to have it available as a digital download, but still haven't figured that out yet."

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