Ridin’ the Lightning

Ever since rock ‘n’ roll danced its way up out of the Mississippi mud and took to the highway in a Rocket 88, great tunes and a sweet ride have been inseparable. Musician Will Hoge would agree, though his definition of a sweet ride has expanded over the years from a rusty, third-hand Chevy to a fleet of high-tech autos.

“My very first car was a 1971 Chevrolet Kingswood station wagon — rusty, fire engine red,” he says. “It was a hand-me-down; my parents bought it for 500 bucks in 1980, and I begged them to let me have it when I was 16. I still have the key to it. That was my first real taste of freedom. I discovered rock ‘n’ roll in that car; I discovered girls in that car, and then there was just talking to my friends about music in that car, and solving all the world’s problems.”

After the station wagon, Hoge drove a 1972 Delta 88 convertible, maroon with a black top. “It was the first car I ever bought with my own money; I felt like John Lee Hooker riding around in that, a real bluesman.” With money he made waiting tables and touring in a band Hoge eventually got himself a brand new Mazda MX3, and then later, a motor scooter. “That ended poorly,” he says, cringing a little and recalling the near-fatal collision with a van on Main Street in 2008, a wreck that left him hospitalized in critical condition and set him on a years-long road to recovery.

“Then there were a ton of vans and tour buses along the way, a pick-up truck for a little while, and now I’m back to a fifteen-passenger van. And a whole bunch of Teslas,” Hoge says, smiling. A whole bunch of Teslas would make anyone smile, but Hoge is not getting all Jay Leno about car collecting. The Teslas he is talking about are the ones quietly whisking rideshare passengers around town with Nashville Electric Transportation, or NET, the business Hoge founded with long-time friend Bryan Johnson in 2017. As with other app-based rideshare services, cars in the all-Tesla fleet can be booked on a mobile phone through the NET app. But what sets the company apart from other services is NET’s exclusive use of electric cars, which offer users a ride that embraces green technology along with a touch of luxury.

Lots of musicians in Nashville have side-hustles; they open retail shops, put their names on gigantic downtown venues, operate recording studios, sell real estate, teach master classes, whatever seems to work for them in the ecosystem swirling around the music industry. For Hoge and Johnson the all-electric rideshare concept rose out of their long-standing love of cars and a desire to address local traffic problems. “We started looking at the transportation issues in Nashville and how it continues to grow and be more and more of a problem,” Hoge says. ”We wondered if we could provide a service that’s not dissimilar from the rideshare experience that people have come to know and love, but maybe with higher-end electric cars. You just get on your app, set up the ride, and a car shows up. I think the old-fashioned idea of a limo service is just a bit of turn off for a lot of people, me included. The rideshare all-electric service just seemed like something Nashville would embrace.”

So after doing some research (which included driving and shopping for electric cars) Hoge and Johnson started NET with one Tesla and two drivers: Hoge and Johnson. After a few months, they added another partner, Kyle Roelke, with each partner driving shifts to learn the business. “For us as owners, that’s been a huge part of what helped us to grow the company as fast as we did. We knew what we needed in drivers, knew what we needed to tell those drivers to do, where to go to find the right rides,” Hoge explains. “You really start to learn the parts of town where people are going and hanging out and why people are coming to Nashville.”

As the business grew, so did the fleet. They added cars, running six for a while, but found that four vehicles offered a better balance. Currently they are running three Tesla Model S sedans and one Model X, an SUV with showy falcon-wing doors. They’ve added drivers too, all of whom go through FBI background checks and a rigorous interview process. It’s an important feature of the business that helps the riders feel safe.

“We can provide a different level of service for not a huge level of price difference, and you’re guaranteed to get a great car; it’s a really cool ride,” Hoge says. “And the green aspect of it, really being able to NOT add to the traffic pollution in our city was important to us.”

The service can be customized as well. “With our app, there’s always a concierge available if you need to change something in your reservation, if you need to pick up flowers for your wife on the way, or the driver can stop and do that on the way to get you and have them in the car for a little upcharge,” Hoge explains. “If you’re going to a concert at the Ryman, you want to get there and have a nice night out. Why spend 30 bucks to get there with a guy who smokes cigarettes in his Civic when you can pay 35 bucks and use a local company, get a background-checked driver that’s going to be a person that’s well dressed who can help you with your bags, open your doors, and you know it’s going to be a car that’s world class.”

Hoge compares the Tesla experience to hearing his grandfather talk about the first time he rode in a Model A Ford. “It was just a point of transition. There were all these companies making cars back then and making motorized carriages, but there was this one that was just leaps and bounds above everything else, and from there it’s just sort of a well-spring moment. Everything is going to change after this. This is that same sort of big bang. I think when we first got in the car, we were believers in that.” He and his partners have looked at including other electric cars in the fleet, but none of them currently have the driving range (300+ plus miles), performance, and luxury of the Tesla. “The other cars only get a hundred miles to the charge, and when you’re talking about driving 18 hours a day, you just can’t do it in that kind of vehicle.”

With NET doing well and hiring more drivers, Hoge doesn’t need to get behind the wheel as often, so the chances he’ll be your driver are smaller these days. But with less driving, Hoge has been able to devote more time to writing and recording, and he’ll have a new album coming out this summer.

“It’s very much a rock ‘n’ roll record. It is not a political record in the way [his last album], My American Dream was, but I guess in some ways all records are political in nature. I think this new album is the widest range in terms of sound that I’ve made. There are some really wide soundscape cinematic songs, and also two of the most acoustic and mellow, and two of the hardest rockin’ songs that I’ve ever recorded. There’s an almost Big Star-like power pop song on it, and I’m pretty excited about the whole thing,” he says.

Running NET in addition to caring for his family and writing music has been quite the balancing act, but he’s still a prolific writer. “I’m up at 6 a.m. to mediate, and get the kids ready for school, get Julia [his wife, a school counselor] breakfast and get them out the door, and then try to be a normal functioning adult that has way more responsibility than I did in my 20s, and then still carving out time to write.”

And his years as a touring musician have helped Hoge face the challenges of running a dynamic car business as well. “When you’ve spent 20 plus years on the road with a band, you’re pretty hard to rattle,” he says. “There’s always a flat tire; there’s always a trailer axle that broke, there’s always somebody that doesn’t have an instrument that works, and without panicking, you just figure out how to make shit work. And that’s been really beneficial in the NET business. Something’s wrong with the car, well we can spin in circles and freak out about it or we can just take this car off the road and get the problem solved. And there’s a part where you start to welcome that problem solving. You start to lose your fear of that mountain. We’ll figure it out one step at a time.”

To sign up for NET’s rideshare service and to download their app, visit nashvilleelectrictransportation.com.

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