A Brief History of the Exit/In

There’s something about the music venue at 2208 Elliston Place. I’m not sure what it is, but when you walk through the door into that dimly lit music den to see a show, the world ceases to exist and you become a part of something greater. With its lax security policies and blackwashed interior, it’s a rather unassuming joint; however, when your gaze falls upon the list of names on the dark wall behind the bar, it dawns on you that you’re on sacred turf.

It takes a moment to register (or at least it did for me) that these incredibly famous artists all played on the affectionately dumpy stage at the back of the room. The history of the venue is absolutely incredible. Despite its appearance, Exit/In gave rise to the musical careers of many. From The Police to Jimmy Buffet and everyone in between, the venue has hosted a dizzying amount of famous faces. Nowadays, it’s known for hosting a wide variety of independent acts and musical performers.

Although the institution has been a staple in the Nashville scene for over 40 years, it hasn’t always been that way. Let’s rewind to 1971. Nashville was not the booming metropolis that glistens with shiny buildings and young professionals. The scene was, in fact, quite different – what we know as Music City was always preceded by the word “country.” Enter Brugh Reynolds, the soon-to-be father of Exit/In sought to break from the hokey honkytonk clubs of Lower Broadway and beyond. Reynolds’ brainchild was meant to be a home for the music that deviated from the norm – a place for artists of a variety of genres to perform.

Though it started off with a humble entrance fee of 75 cents and a capacity of around 200, Exit/In slowly became the go-to venue for rock and roll and alternative artists that previously had no connection to Nashville’s country music market. The venue’s housed performances by Steve Martin, the Talking Heads, Jimmy Buffet, The B-52s, and many more artists. Even today, Exit/In stays true to its roots by hosting artists from every genre and subgenre imaginable in its array of nightly shows. From band battles to comedy acts, the performances continue to fill a void for those who diverge from the archetypal Nashville country music fan.

I’ve seen a lot of shows in my career as an undergrad, but no other venue can begin to compare to the nights I’ve spent basking in the glory of Exit/In’s quirkiness. One of my fondest memories is attending a show of fifty people where the artist, masked for the entire duration of the show, brought his drum set from the stage into the audience and played the last few songs with a tiny crowd of intense electronic fans dancing around him in an almost tribal celebration. I’ve made countless friends at Exit/In from all sorts of places (I once met a Norwegian woman who flew in just to see her favorite artist’s show), and I definitely can’t say that about some of the other smaller venues in the area.

Exit/In has something reminiscent of a cult following, and it’s easy to see why. When you pass through the entrance, you become a part of an institution with a history much richer than the names on the building’s walls. It’s become a staple in the Nasvhille scene over the past forty years, and I have no doubt that its legacy will continue on even in the midst of the transformations around it.