JACOB JONES: AN OBJECT IN MOTION
What started as 15 people listening to Huey Lewis at The 5 Spot is blossoming into a crazy Wonkaesque empire
Walk into the red light and smoky haze of The 5 Spot on Mondays, and you’ll find bodies of all ages and types dipping and spinning, shaking and shimmying. Classic tunes from Chuck Berry and Little Richard don’t dictate a certain type of hat for this party either, because you might find a fedora, green army helmet, hot pink ball cap and a Stetson.
And after celebrating a five-year anniversary recently — that’s 260 consecutive Mondays — Jacob Jones has pretty much seen them all. The man who started the Keep on Movin’ party on a whim with an iPod for about 15 friends around the bar now finds lines out the door weekly and props by GQ magazine, which called it the “Most Stylish Party in America.” But after founding Electric Western with business partner Reno Bo; making his own music and creating a new company called Jonestown that helps create yet more companies, he’s no longer just looking at hats. He’s wearing lots of them.
In a town where the dream used to involve a guitar and a Greyhound bus, Jones is a modern-day East Nashville success story: Take a different path and make a living doing what you love. He knows how to recognize a good thing, work it hard, evolve, stay open to possibilities and “keep being awesome,” as Electric Western’s tagline advocates. “I came here like anyone else,” he said, “to do music.”
Raised in Atlanta, Jones had been living in Brooklyn, bartending and playing music with longtime friend Brandon Wilson for about three years when he decided to move to Nashville where he knew, literally, one guy.
“We didn’t even know what East Nashville was,” he said. So they checked out a list of houses, all of them horrible, he said, until the last one at 16th and Shelby. It was 4:45 p.m., and almost time to give it up for the day. They signed the lease immediately.
“We had no idea that we were blocks from Five Points,” he said. “We were in this neighborhood that’s become what it has now. It was really lucky for us.”
After escaping “cold, expensive” New York in October 2007, they still had no jobs and no money.
“We could only go to 2-for-1, so we were always at 3 Crow or Red Door. And then we would stay home and play music.” They started a band called Danger Bear, which lasted about a year before they started working on solo projects.
Then in September 2008, at age 25, Jones’ plan took a turn. The weekly party he created and grew with Bo soon shaped his career and led him to where he is today.
“It started because they didn’t want to have bands on Mondays any more,” he recalled. “I guess because bands don’t draw on Mondays.”
Jones had been sitting at the bar with about 15 neighborhood regulars. It was late, and someone played Huey Lewis and the News’ “I Want a New Drug” on a computer. Then they wanted to hear the whole record. Jones had it on his iPod, so 5 Spot owner Todd Sherwood handed him the cable and more tunes followed.
“At the end of the night, I was like, ‘Why don’t you let me come back next week? I’ll bring my turntables, and we’ll make a thing of it and throw me a beer or whatever.’”
Jones returned with Johnny “8 Track” Moore, now of The Groove, and they played ‘50s and ‘60s rock ‘n roll, old-school R&B and soul.
“There were still 15 of us. Then there were 20 of us and 30 of us,” he said. “We used to DJ on the bar, and two months in we couldn’t DJ on the bar anymore and had to go to the stage.”
About that time, Bo — a friend of Jones’ from New York, just coming off a tour with Albert Hammond Jr. — had also moved to town.
“I’m sure it was a pain in the ass for him to sleep on a couch for four months, but because he was always in my house, we were able to brainstorm everything,” Jones said.
The pair realized they worked well together. “We said let’s do a company (Electric Western) where we can do design, put out records, throw parties,” he said. “I did not plan on this being what it is. It was just something to do.”
Jones’ other unintentional business in Nashville turned out to be wheeling and dealing in broken-down RVs. Before it became the Mas Tacos Por Favor truck, Jones bought a 1970s Winnebago as a mobile green room for his band. They drove it to Atlanta, and it broke down 11 times. They patched the radiator with eggs, working through a dozen before they made it home. Jones then sold the truck to Teresa Mason for her taco-making adventure and advised her to keep it in town.
While the dance party grew, Jones kept at his music, and in October 2009, he set off for a tour with girlfriend Molly — now his wife — in his second RV. By California the engine went kaput. So they camped out with Jones’ parents for a month, who were living on the West Coast at the time, until they could scrape together about $5,000 to buy a new engine. And with that much sunk into the vehicle they decided to just live in it.
After making it back to Nashville, they parked the RV behind Electric Western’s former offices, a house on Calvin that rented space to other artists. The RV leaked. They had to keep pots and pans on the bed to catch water. The cat’s water bowl froze over. Molly, who has a film background, entered them in a video contest for free rent.
“I’m surprised her dad didn’t kill me,” he said. Maybe so, but Molly doesn’t seem to mind.
“Jacob is the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met. About everything,” she said. “Whether it’s a new idea, a song he likes, or playing in the ocean, his energy is infectious. And really inspiring to a cynic like me.”
They won the rent contest, and after five months in the RV, they spent nine months living in a Cool Springs complex with granite countertops and three pools.
Meanwhile, neighbors kept showing up to dance on Monday nights.
“I used to work at 3 Crow for years. I would go on tour… and then over the years, it changed. It has become a business for us,” he said.
“We realized how lucky we’d just gotten so we nurtured it, promoted it and made it as good as it could be, and kept the branding really tight.”
Sherwood said the party established The 5 Spot as more than just an intimate music venue and opened the doors to events like Boom Bap and QDP.
“Jacob is an ambitious party hustler and musician,” Sherwood added. “I’ve never seen him do a half-ass job on anything.”
In addition to Nashville, the party now sells out to 500 people in Atlanta each month. Jones and Bo added a multi-city New Year’s Eve Big Band party, and all the while they’ve been putting out records by artists like Derek Hoke and Los Colognes, both on this season of ABC’s “Nashville.”
“In the last year, I’ve not had to work for anyone else,” Jones said of himself and his partner. “We don’t have to worry about working for other people, and can focus on all the creative stuff we want to do… . I have no intention of ever being a 9-to-5 guy.”
Ask Jones his favorite thing about Nashville, and he no longer says the music. While he still loves it, appreciates it and plays it, he most loves that Nashville “isn’t finished yet.”
Walking into one of East Nashville’s newest bars, The Crying Wolf, he ordered a gin and tonic while eating a protein bar on the fly.
Less scruffy and rock ‘n roll than when he first moved to town, he’s now 30 and more like a younger, thinner Ben Affleck — with dapper style and a few more tattoos.
“I just founded a corporation,” he said. “I know. It’s weird. I want to do more. I want to act right and build things.”
His new holding company called Jonestown is the umbrella under which other companies will be created. Partnering with Robert Hamm and Tom Melchior also as an employee, they’ve kicked off the venture with a yet-to-be-named creative agency.
“It’s basically like a marketing firm,” he said of the agency. “But the idea is to have a collection of people who are really good at what they do — photographers, designers, people who have good marketing brains.”
Some of these folks will freelance; others work full time. They’ll share space in a 2,300 square-foot office in Germantown with photo studio, conference room, high ceilings and room to breathe. “We can kick work to one another,” he said.
Jones acknowledged that this city is full of independently professional and creative people who could justify renting office space as a valid expense — a legit place to go work while freeing up a seat at the coffee shop.
“I was trying to create a place that your dad would not have gone to work at, and I know that’s generalizing it, but it will be stylized well. I want it to feel good.”
As for the additional businesses under Jonestown, he has lots of ideas.
“Maybe I want to start a men’s clothing store, a blog or a publishing company. When you say them out loud, you sound like a crazy person, and that was the idea. Why don’t we start a company whose job is to unify all these crazy ideas, and the unifying factor will be that they’re all done by this one group of people, so they have this certain aesthetic and voice to them… . That’s the long-term, crazy, cockamamie, Willy Wonka idea.”
While he still plays music — he put out a record in February and opened for Mavis Staples in September — he’s learned that he enjoys channeling his creativity in different ways. He looks to entrepreneurs like Russell Simmons for inspiration in building something out of nothing.
“It is just as admirable as writing a killer record or anything else. It takes talent, it take perseverance. I admire that savvyness. It doesn’t have anything to do with money. They saw some huge vision and were able to do it even if it took them 20 years.”
Jones also thinks there’s a common goal among many creative people in Nashville now to make that kind of mark.
Of moving here, he said, “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I met Molly here. I totally grew up here. Half the things I’ve done wouldn’t have happened in any other place… . That party has really led to all this.”
At the Keep on Movin’ anniversary party, records like Shake, Rattle and Roll kept the room bumping and rocking. Morgan Murray and her mother, Sandy, had visited the party for the first time from Chicago. “Everyone told us to come here,” Morgan half-shouted, and when the needle dropped on Jerry Lee Lewis, her mom took off for the dance floor.
Jones said he never tires of the party, because he’s spinning the best music ever made.
“We’ll have 21-year-old college students come in and ask for some song that doesn’t make any sense like Rihanna. I’m like, ‘Oh, we don’t do that. Here’s what we do. Just relax. Trust me.’ Three months later, I’ll see the same person singing all the words to Otis Redding.”
Over the years, he has seen new batches of folks cycle through, too.
“We’ve DJ’ed weddings of people who met at the party,” he said. He even ran into one of them recently at the grocery, expecting baby. Incidentally, Jones is expecting his first baby with Molly as well, due in March.
Wearing a sharp suit at the anniversary party, Jones paused to take a celebratory shot with Wayne Hanan, the 3 Crow bartender and friend who inspired him to name his latest record Good Timin’ in Waynetown.
As he marked the five years, he said he might not want to DJ for the rest of his life, but he still wants to grow the brand in different ways.
“As much as I love all the parties, I can’t throw parties forever, probably… . I should make some other bets.”
And so he’ll Keep on Movin’ no matter what.