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Inside FirstBank Amphitheater: ‘Music City in the Country’

MAY 17, 2023

By Julia Masters – Reporter, Nashville Business Journal

May 17, 2023

Gavin Rossdale, lead singer and gutarist of Bush, performs at FirstBank Amphitheater.

MARTIN B. CHERRY

Driving past Williamson County’s FirstBank Amphitheater on Interstate 65, it’s hard to tell that the 150-acre property holds an outdoor concert venue — and owners Rick and Nancy McEachern wanted it that way.

The McEacherns, former Silicon Valley residents, purchased the property in 2014 and converted the abandoned 1960s rock quarry — removing 900 tons of trash — into a 7,500-capacity entertainment venue with multiple event spaces. Its third concert season kicked off at the end of April and will run through early October.

“We wanted to preserve the rural feel from the roads that surround the property. … That’s intentional so that when people come in, it feels natural, it feels green. It’s a completely different feeling than what you have in downtown Nashville,” Rick McEachern said. “It is Music City in the country.”

FirstBank Amphitheater partners with Live Nation for booking and acts change from season to season. This year, fans have the chance to see Chicago, The Doobie Brothers, Jason Mraz, Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson and more.

The plastic-free venue has already gained recognition since opening in 2021. It has been nominated for Pollstar Outdoor Venue of the Year and 2023 Academy of Country Music Venue of the Year, after being a 2022 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards honoree.

The amphitheater is surrounded by the walls of the rock quarry, lit up during concerts, and has a range of seating, with three different VIP section offerings.

Multiple concessions offer pizzas, barbecue, burgers, chicken and more. The culinary offerings are led by executive chef Katie Waynick, whose career began at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center and has since worked at Nashville-area restaurants like Marsh House and STK as well as Chicago’s Michelin-starred restaurant Alinea. 

“This is really more of a destination and we want the food to be more like a restaurant,” Rick said. 

The amphitheater can park 3,000 cars, in addition to VIP parking by the gathering hall, and has Tailgate Kitchen situated in the lot, which is open for happy hour 90 minutes before doors open and 30 minutes after the show.

For events, ranging from corporate gatherings to weddings, the property features the gathering hall and the hillside pavilion. Though concerts are the main focus, the property hosts events every week.

The gathering all is two levels with slide-away glass doors that give way to outdoor spaces overlooking Moonshine Cove and Falls. For seated dinners, the space has a capacity of around 300, however it can accommodate crowds of up to 700 for nonseated events.

The hillside pavilion, with wood grown and milled in Leiper’s Fork and benches from Jack Daniel’s storage barn, opens up onto a 3,000-square-foot terrace.

The artist building, based off feedback from artists, has private spaces, separate men and women’s showers, a workout area and a washer and dryer.

“We bring the outsider perspective, but I’ll tell you, the outsider perspective is not the cheapest perspective. We add a lot of things and keep adding more things as we think about the customer experience,” Rick said. 

One product of customer experience is the addition of a mile-long road running toward the entrance of the amphitheater to help alleviate traffic flow. The project is slated to be completed soon.

The McEacherns’ encore

Rick and Nancy McEachern always wanted to work on a project together, after having separate careers.

Rick spent years working at Apple in product management and then at a string of software companies. Nancy was an event planner, author and blogger. Their son went to Belmont University and after multiple visits, the Nashville area began to feel like home.

“We started thinking about doing a project together and what that would be and we thought an event venue sounded like a fun thing to do,” Rick said.

They drew a circle withing a 30 minute drive from 12South and began to weigh their options.

“We looked south and realized that’s where we wanted to be. That’s in the growth path of all the traffic down 65 South and just at the perimeter of our circle on Google Earth, we saw a big hole in the ground and as we zoomed in on it more and more, we though, ‘this looks pretty interesting, it’s right at the intersection of two highways, plenty of land around, its unlike everything else we’ve seen, maybe this is worth a look,’” Rick said. 

They purchased the 76-acre quarry in 2014 and expanded the grounds to reach its current 150 acres which the McEacherns live on, striving to be immersed in the neighborhood.

They visited amphitheaters across the country to decide what works and what doesn’t, and their research resulted in FirstBank Amphitheater, a more updated model of an amphitheater that still feels like its anchored in history.

Looking into the next year, their goal is to continue to let the local community know about FirstBank Amphitheater and encourage them to come to a show.

“It’s a lot to work to get the place where the facility is right and the shows put on, but at the end of the night when you’ve got 7,500 people with their flashlights on their phones going and singing their favorite songs to their favorite band, you feel great, you made a lifetime memory and that’s the reward for us,” Rick said. 

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