City Winery founder and CEO Michael Dorf had an aching head when he arrived at Nashville’s City Winery construction site this past week—not from overindulging in the exquisite wine his latest venue is serving up, but admittedly because of it.
“I rarely get headaches, and while I arrived with a cold from last week’s flight from Napa, upon returning to the construction site 48 hours before show time, I immediately got a pounding headache.”
And understandably so: Dorf’s newest project, the incredibly buzzed-about City Winery Nashville, was due to open in 48 hours as the premier venue for the city’s highly-anticipated Americana Music Association Festival and Conference.
And given that construction on the existing 36,000-ft warehouse had only begun a few months earlier, the show was far from ready to “go on.”
As is the case with any grand debut or opening, stumbling blocks in the weeks and days leading up to the then-incomplete venue were anticipated—truthfully, they were expected, and Dorf admits he was surprisingly able to remain cool and collected. “I had complete confidence that both the operations team and production teams would be able to put on a show, move a crowd in and out, and serve them booze,” Dorf said. “I’ve certainly put on many a show in much worse, smaller, and less-than-ideal situations.”
But the obstacles facing Dorf in that moment of arrival extended far beyond the music. Questions about fire department sign-offs, insurance paperwork, legal and safety concerns—and not to be overlooked—the public’s perception of the venue all loomed over his already foggy head, thus explaining that pounding ache.
Luckily for the CEO, his dynamite team members were fully committed and deep in the trenches in those final 48 hours to showtime—experiencing a few headaches of their own on the road to success, some heartwarming and some downright hilarious.
Staff unloading venue chairs at Tennessee Brew Works who graciously let us store our tables and chairs with them during construction.
Michelle Albanese, Concert Manager for City Winery Nashville, was stressed, thanks to—wait for it: missing towels. “It’s my responsibility for making sure the artists are happy and have everything they need. Stage towels and water are basic requests for artists.”
Albanese recalls, “The day of the show, I knew I HAD to find them, and I so I went pod diving into a storage unity filled to the max with all the glassware for the entire space (a winery nonetheless). Crawling over boxes, under boxes, and wedged in between boxes, I was lots in a world of cardboard—and still couldn’t find them.”
One bad case of claustrophobia and one missing cell phone later, she located them, alright. “Opening that box was a wonderful feeling. End of story. None of the artists used them.”
View of the venue from Monday, September 15
Welding the staircase on Monday, September 15.
For Raúl Mesías, Director of Wine Sales at City Winery NY, the journey to the successful launch of City Winery Nashville began with David Lecomte, CW’s chief winemaker, in New York, and was a little more arduous.
“Sunday at 5AM, we head to the winery in New York to pick up the truck with a goal to be in Nashville by Monday at 10AM. David and I drove 110 miles…and then truck broke down. We knew at that moment we had to transfer the whole load by hand—but we didn’t care. We were just eager to get to Nashville.”
The replacement truck arrived, and Mesías recalls that moment: seeing his comrade rolling kegs of wine and remembers the inspiration of getting the job done against the odds, erasing all of the pain and exhaustion they initially felt. By 2PM on Monday, the two were rolling out kegs once more…this time at their Music City destination. “The trip itself was quite an adventure!” Lecomte exclaimed.
Meanwhile back in Nashville, Chris Torri, AV Installation Manager, was experiencing a few technical glitches of his own. “We had no power, were missing part of our lighting package, and had nowhere to set up the sound board, much less plug it in!” he laments. “We were under the gun and needed to pull off the show.”
Torri remembers those two days as “excruciatingly painful,” but says, “We never took our eye off the prize.”
On Wednesday morning, just one day before the doors were set to open, lights were still being hung and cues were still being programmed—but progress was happening, and as the team continued to tirelessly work throughout the day, the room filled, the band took the stage, and the performance went off without a single hiccup.
Bryce McCloud from Isle of Printing finished his wine bottle installation while the first AMA shows were happening in the venue. Wednesday, September 17.
It’s a million wonders that Marc Colletti, Production and Technical Director NY, recalls anything from those whirlwind 48 hours. Fresh off a plane from his honeymoon, Colletti had no time to prepare for the madness. “I only had time to go home, wash my clothes and hop a flight to Nashville from NY in time for sound checks.”
Firing up the PA system for the first time was both a thrilling and hectic experience for Colletti. “The floors were still being installed around me only hours before our first show.”
But once again, the hard work and dedication paid off. He says, “It’s hard to say what I enjoyed more. Being in the ‘do or die’ pressure cooker with the enormous weight and responsibility of facilitating the musicians to entertain their fans, or realizing that at the end of the evening, every member of the City Winery team came together to accomplish a fantastic evening without a hint of its actual urgency.”
Ed Greer, Chief Production Officer for City Winery arrived from NY just as the final 48 hours approached and immediately took charge of moving the site from a construction zone to a clean room ready to be set up and host the concerts.
“At 9.30pm we had 10 guys from the Rescue Mission next door arrive to move contractor tools, pallets of wood flooring and assorted building materials. They were great and at 10.30pm an overnight cleaning crew arrived and worked through until 4.30am to get everything clean and sparkling. The curtain installer arrived at 6.30am to hang the curtains in the now dust free space and the Nashville team were able to set tables and chairs and stock the bar.
Mike Simon who moved from CW Chicago to CW Nashville, clocked 13 miles on his pedometer during set up – I love that fact!
The floor install was completed at 2:30pm just as concert soundchecks were under way – a race for sure but one I knew we could (and had to) win.”
The floor being mopped in the very early morning hours on Wednesday, September 17.
For Phillip Katz, City Winery Construction Rep, the experience of opening City Winery Nashville meant making many personal sacrifices, including long days and nights away from his expectant wife, whose due date just happened to be this past week as well. “I had her full-on support—she’s amazing and I feel blessed.”
With his family far away, and his deadline a little too close for comfort, Katz decided to hunker down full-time in Tennessee, moving his Airstream (aka “Groove Tube”) to the So-Bro parking lot of the venue to serve as his home-base until the job was done.
He slept in the “Groove Tube” alone each night and was the first to unlock the gates for the contractors each morning at 6AM. Katz recalls, “I missed some significant personal, professional, and family milestones—some joyous and some painful, and I realized: if I was making the sacrifice, my efforts had to be successful. I realized: I could not confuse effort with results.”
And those efforts were rewarded. Katz was able to fly home for the birth of his first child, a beautiful daughter named Lilliana, and what’s more—he was able to bring his girls home back to Nashville and introduce them to the team as they worked around the clock until showtime.
David Richter, City Winery’s General Manager, remembers standing in the middle of the construction the morning of the big day. “I would have never thought we’d be standing in front of our doors ready and able to greet our first guests upon scheduled door time. Then I stepped back and remembered the teams that made it happen . . . all working in harmony with no fuss and plenty of smiles.”
Tuesday, September 16 at 5pm.
24 hours later: Wednesday, September 17 at 5pm
Rebecca Spindler, Concierge Director for City Winery, won’t lie: she cracked open a few cold ones in anticipation of the final 48. With an optimistic mind, she and the team cleaned, trained ushers, arranged tables, set barricades and even installed an ATM on their own. “The night went off without a hitch for a bangin’ show!” Spindler recalls.
Anthony Aquilato, Production Manager and Sound Engineer, felt right at home amidst the insanity.
For Aquilato, the hustle of a rush opening was a familiar feeling, akin to his former days on the road.
“While I was touring in the 80s, we road dogs used the term ‘no sleep until Sydney’ all too frequently. Days upon days of back-to-back shows with little or no sleep,” he remembers. “Your crew was your platoon. Everyone was in it together. There was never a question of how or why—at 8PM, there WAS going to be a show.”
Fortunately, Aquilato found that same kinship and incredible work ethic with his City Winery team—and once again, he got to experience the incredible rush and sweet taste of success.
“The last 48 hours leading up to the opening of City Winery Nashville brought me back to those glory days of Rock and Roll. We all hit it hard and got it done. Everyone focused and working endlessly—there was a show to put on and come hell or high water, we were going to be ready.”
And ready they were: the shows launched beautifully last Wednesday with one of the Festival’s big award winners and starring attractions, Sturgill Simpson. The festival closed out on Sunday with Americana icon Lucinda Williams who will return to City Winery Nashville for three nights of shows November 24-26.
But there’s still more to be done and still more to come as the official opening of City Winery Nashville commences on Wednesday, October 1st—or as CEO Dorf (now free from his headache) teases, “The story is not over. The fat lady will sing only at the Grand Opening.”
City Winery Founder/CEO Michael Dorf welcomes Singer/Songwriter Jason Isbell and wife, Recording Artist Amanda Shires to the opening night of the Americana Music Festival. Wednesday, September 17 at 9PM.
(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)
Caleb Klauder Country Band was the first band to perform on the City Winery Nashville stage. Wednesday, September 17 at 10pm.