Songwriter Ben Folds has sounded the alarms. Studio A in Nashville’s old RCA Building – which Chet Atkins built in 1964, and has hosted the likes of Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and George Strait – had been sold to a local developer. Folds, who had rented, renovated and recorded in the historic space, penned an emotional letter aimed straight at Nashville’s heart. “The community needs to chip in and realize that if that’s gone, and a tipping point occurs, then we don’t have Music City anymore,” Folds tells Billboard.
Folds, 47, says he has reached out to musician friends like Elton John, a noted fan of country music. “We’ve had an overwhelming response,” he says. “It’s nice to see concern for the space.” With the support of other artists including Amanda Palmer, Folds intends to meet with the Country Music Hall of Fame, BMI and ASCAP, hoping they could persuade buyer Tim Reynolds that there are alternatives to tearing down the studio for redevelopment. (Reynolds did not respond to Billboard’s requests for comment). “It’s time to be utterly pragmatic and figure out what this means for city planning,” says Folds.
The specter of demolition has haunted Music Row since the early ’90s, when the Grand Ole Opry’s Steve Buchanan rescued Ryman Auditorium from a similar fate as the landmark 19th-century Pilcher-Hamilton House, which in April was replaced with a Virgin Hotel. “If your building’s sitting on land that’s worth a lot of money, where you could make a high-rise condo, why not?” adds Folds.
Today, June 30, he posted on his Facebook page that he would be re-routing his American and European tour to attend a 9 a.m. rally at Studio A. According to Folds, Reynolds was not aware of the historical significance of the building he had planned on buying. “He has a team of architects and engineers who will help him figure out if he can incorporate the Studio intact into a re-development plan,” Folds writes. “If he can afford to do so he says he will. If he can’t, then he says he won’t close on the property, which we were told had been scheduled to occur on Monday.”
While this is great news for #SaveStudioA, Folds acknowledges that the initiative behind his campaign and this rally might be moving toward #SaveMusicRow. “If Mr. Reynolds decides not to buy the property, what’s to ensure that the next developer shows the same integrity?” he adds. “Whoever buys this property will have the power to do what they want to it unless there’s a plan in place that requires development to factor in the preservation of our music heritage and existing music enterprises.”