The Cumberland River flows directly through downtown Nashville. In a once-in-500-years event, the river crested in May, suddenly overwhelming thousands of Tennesseans with 13 feet of water coming in through windows and forcing them to huddle in attics. The Nashville flood, washing over the center of America’s Music City and a good portion of the South, killed more than 30 people and caused at least $2 billion in damage in Nashville alone.
The national media, though, had been distracted by two other man-made dangers when the waters came. They were preoccupied by 5,000 barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico each day, threatening wildlife and livelihoods on the Louisiana coast. News services that weren’t covering the BP oil spill were rubbernecking at the scene in New York’s Times Square, where a would-be terrorist had left an SUV packed with explosives.
Who was paying attention to Nashville? Musicians. Iconic country-music mecca the Grand Ole Opry House and Opryland Convention Center was drowned in flood waters and closed for months. Concerts were moved to the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, where the Opry was located from 1943 to 1974. Hundreds of working performers, including musicians such as John Fogerty, Keith Urban, Michelle Branch, and Brad Paisley realized that their favorite instruments — as well as costumes, gear, and audio recordings — had been destroyed in the storms. Water filled the basement of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the famous Gibson Guitar Factory, maker of the beloved Les Paul, was awash, many of its guitars in storage ruined.
The musicians who owe much of their success to Nashville didn’t forgotten their roots. Urban, Paisley, and others auctioned off their damaged instruments to help fund relief efforts. Garth Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, announced a benefit concert for the flood victims.
For many, the May floods — which could be one of the most expensive disasters in U.S. history — were their own personal Katrina. A full recovery could be years away, as many people have given up their jobs to restore their family homes, combating mold and rebuilding wrecked structures.
Some landmarks however have reopened in parts of Nashville: The Grand Ole Opry went back into business September 28, and the Gaylord Opryland Resort opened its doors in time for the holiday season, although the shopping mall next door will likely take another year. The four-year-old Schermerhorn Symphony Center, suffering $40 million in damages, has a New Year’s Eve gala planned.
Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators, had been among the first institutions to open after the floods, and hosted Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Nashville Rising fundraising concert. It’s also where Brooks will perform nine benefit concerts, scheduled for December 16-22: They sold out within six hours. Scalpers who bought the $25 tickets and resold them as high as $875, will also add to the flood relief: StubHub announced it would donate all profits to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.