By Bob Doerschuk
© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
It was a typical afternoon in March at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Downtown Nashville. Browsers thumbed through CDs and vinyl rarities, arranged neatly in the middle of the room. Books lined the east and west walls — biographies, songbooks, cookbooks, histories — as well as coffee cups, T-shirts, bumper stickers and more, all tied to the theme of country music.
At the back, where Sissy Spacek performed in a scene from the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show was broadcasting his radio show, “Old Time Hour with Ketch Secor,” aired live once a month over WSM. A dozen or so visitors sat on folding chairs as he introduced his guest, Ken Berryhill, as “the world’s oldest living DJ.” They batted a few creaky jokes back and forth, with Berryhill observing, “It’s nice to be back in Nastyville … I mean Nashville,” before spinning a Carter Family track.
Listening from his office a few steps behind the stage, Rick Luningham, GM, Ernest Tubb Record Shops, reflected on the importance of live music at the store. When Country Music Hall of Fame member Ernest Tubb opened it in 1947, he launched the “Midnite Jamboree” as a means of promoting it. The live program aired every Saturday night, just after the Grand Ole Opry over WSM Nashville.
“I used to listen to the ‘Midnite Jamboree’ as a kid,” he recalled. “I got to see it for the first time in 1973, on this stage right out here. In fact, ET (Tubb) was here that night. I was hanging around this hallway and he came by. I didn’t bother him because so many people were grabbing at him and calling him ET like they were old friends. And then, all of a sudden, they moved all the racks on me, and my brother and I were trapped backstage. Boy, what a thrill! I was backstage at the Jamboree!”
Since then, that hallway and that stage have become a second home for Luningham. He was here when the store celebrated its 60th anniversary. “The year before, during Fan Fair, Eddie Stubbs was interviewing David McCormick, our CEO, out here on the stage. He said, ‘David, you’ve got your 60th anniversary coming up. Are you going to have a big deal?’ ‘Well, we’re gonna try.’ ‘When are you going to start planning it?’ And David said, ‘We probably better start next week!’”
Whatever they do schedule to mark this year’s milestone, it’ll be happening right in the thick of CMA Music Festival, at 417 Broadway. Even on non-anniversary years, Ernest Tubb Record Shop does its best business during those four days. “That’s our holiday,” said Stephen Bowen, Manager of the Downtown location. (Other branches operate at Opryland, in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and in Fort Worth, Texas.) “Just today, we had a bit of a line at the door, about 10 or 15 deep. I told a new employee, ‘See that line? Now, come Fan Fair, start it at 9 a.m. and it’ll stay that long until midnight.’”
During the Festival, live music usually starts in the early afternoon at the Downtown store and lasts until around 10:30 p.m. At the Opryland location (2416 Music Valley Drive, Suite 110), the music happens next door at the Texas Troubadour Theatre, from where the “Midnite Jamboree” and the Sunday morning “Nashville Cowboy Church” now broadcast. In 2010, though, the “Jamboree” moved to Robert’s Western World in Downtown Nashville during CMA Music Festival, where fans filled the venue to hear Rhonda Vincent and the Rage along with other performers.
Luningham admits to not remembering any particular highlights during recent CMA Festivals, though not for any lack of great music. “Quite honestly, the employees here don’t have a lot of time to pay attention to what’s going on with the show because we have a lot of customers in the store,” he said. “We really don’t know what’s happening onstage.”
During those four days and nights, the staff runs full speed on all cylinders. “We have around 20 to 25 employees, part-time and full-time,” Luningham estimated. “We have maybe another eight out of shop and at least another eight in the Troubadour Theatre. And during that week, everybody doubles up. Even when I was in mail order, I was usually here seven days that week. In fact, there’s an unwritten rule: Nobody cashes in their days off during Fan Fair.”
The good thing is that it’ll be just as hectic — and memorable — each year to come. “In fact, David and I were talking the other day about how we’d probably better get ready to start working on the 75th anniversary, if he and I are still around by then,” Luningham said, as both men laughed. “It’ll be here before we know it!”
On the Web: www.ETRecordShop.com