There are a lot of places to find bluegrass in Nashville, but whenever anyone asks me where to go, one destination is always at the top of my list: The Station Inn.
The little hole-in-the-wall club in the Gulch has been Music City’s unofficial bluegrass hub since 1981, when J.T. Gray bought the place. What he did with it is nothing short of remarkable, making it a “must” not only for fans, but for musicians. He started with local talent, then brought in the Bluegrass Cardinals. Other bands and performers followed. Bill Monroe graced the stage many times. On any given night you can catch Chris Stapleton, Vince Gill, hall of fame bluegrass bands, or talented newcomers.
He built a monument, and the people came. They’re still coming, and that’s why he’s the latest industry professional to be chosen for the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
The Mississippi native didn’t start out at the top, of course. He moved to Nashville in 1971 to play with the Misty Mountain Boys. After that came gigs with Vassar Clements, the Sullivan Family, Tom T. Hall, and Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys.
Then he bought the Station Inn. The early years were a struggle, as it is with many new ventures in Nashville. Struggling musicians wait tables or find gigs as tour guides. J.T. drove the bus for artists who had made it, and used the money to keep his dream alive.
The bus driving days are long past, thankfully, but the Station Inn is rolling along. When the coronavirus shut down live performances in front of crowds, J.T. and his crew offered digital performances to help satiate the musical appetites of many fans.
Soon, the tough days will be a memory and we’ll all be able to crowd around the tables, hear great bands, sip a cold beer or soda, and fill up on the Station Inn’s pimento cheese and crackers or pizza.
When we do, we should remember to thank J.T. Gray, whose dream made it all possible. He must have had doubts. He must have wanted to walk away a hundred times. That’s the music business, and many folks end up giving up.
Not J.T., thankfully. His dream lives on and a plaque on the wall at the hall of fame exhibit won’t change much. In many of our minds, he’s been a hall of famer all along.
It’s time for J.T. to step to center stage and take a bow.