For the love of the Down Home this weekend with The Steeldrivers

We’ve all heard and seen a lot in recent months about the effects of the COVID-19 restrictions on artists and entertainers of every stripe, and how they are trying to weather a whole season without work. But we don’t always think about the impact show cancellations has had on venues, especially the small independent ones that focus on niche and alternative music.

Without ongoing support from cities, foundations, or universities these venues are also operating without income. While they don’t have to face the expenses associated with live shows, they are still responsible for taxes owed to the very municipalities who have shut them down, not to mention rents and utilities, and salaries for owners and employees. How are they supposed to survive?

Well folks in Johnson City, TN have decided to do something to help their legendary local music spot, The Down Home, which has been the haven for bluegrass and traditional music in east Tennessee since 1976. Especially since the growth of the Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music Studies program at East Tennessee State University, the association between The Down Home and bluegrass music has been well established in Johnson City, with the club hosting not only national touring acts but ETSU bands and regional artists as well.

The Down Home, just like the favorite music venues wherever you reside, has had no live shows since mid-March, with no immediate relief in sight. But a pair of drive-in concerts have been scheduled at The Mall of Johnson City, in cooperation with Visit Johnson City, that will benefit The Down Home.

The first is this Sunday afternoon, November 8, with The Steeldrivers. Attendees will arrive and remain in their cars for the 4:00 p.m. show, with a suggested donation of $100 per vehicle. The Mall parking lot will open at 2:00, with limited spaces available, and the show will go on rain or shine.

Ed Snodderly, the owner of The Down Home, says that he and his staff are delighted to be back in the business of live music.

“We’re thrilled at the opportunity to host a live show, and do it in a safe way that allows more people to attend than our typical shows. We’ve got two national acts lined up and they’re excited to play in Johnson City.”

Marketing costs are being covered by Visit Johnson City, says their Executive Director Brenda Whitson.

“We’re grateful to have received CARES Act dollars from Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. The funds will allow us to support the hospitality industry in Johnson City which has been decimated by the pandemic. Since March, more than $15 million in visitor spending has been lost, which adds up to nearly $200,000 in local taxes. This is our way of giving back to the community.”

Parking spots can be reserved by calling The Down Home at 423-929-9822. This is no option for online purchases.

Your vehicle donation is good for up to five occupants, and reserves not only a parking spot but a seating space adjacent to your car. Camping chairs are suggested for outside seating. Pets will not be allowed, nor RVs and campers without prior registration.

A second show is scheduled for December 6 with singer/songwriter Scott Miller.

Hats off to Visit Johnson City and The Down Home for highlighting independent music. If you have a local venue in need of support, you might consider contacting area tourism agencies to see if something similar can be done in your region.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.