The news on Monday that Music City Roots co-creator John Walker had resigned from his position as President and Executive Producer of Roots Productions, LLC — the company that produced Music City Roots — due to “fundamental creative differences,” followed by the resignation or firing of most of the Music City Roots staff, came as a shock to many in the Nashville music scene. With few hard facts available, speculation as to what happened ran high on social media channels.
The East Nashvillian reached out to both Walker and the head of The Roots Barn, Fred Kennedy for their comments. Although both men were cordial in their statements about the current situation and regarding each other, they declined to offer many specifics on what led to the split.
Kennedy began with comments on him and his brother Duncan Kennedy’s history as financial backers for Music City Roots. “We became involved with Music City Roots 10 years ago,” Fred Kennedy said. “We have a brother who’s lived in Nashville for 30 years now and he said, ‘There’s this show that’s started up and I think it’s got some real legs, but I think they’re going to need some fuel to keep it going.’ We came to a show in January 2011 when it was still at the Loveless Barn, and we were impressed. John [Walker] and [co-creator] Todd [Mayo] were a great team and we loved the vibe and everything about it. So we’ve been the sole financial backer for the last 10 years.
“When they needed a new place to play and they kicked a few tires downtown, but they weren’t a good fit. That’s when we decided to find our own dirt and build our own venue. Todd lives in Madison and he and John found the property where we are now. We were able to purchase the land and start making plans. It ballooned from there — from a $3 million project to five times that. We now have this fabulous venue we’re building that will serve the public good and the community where Music City Roots will be produced one night a week. It is true that if Music City Roots continues, it will not be with John and with that original staff and that makes us sad. I want to make it clear that John is a great guy and I’ve enjoyed our relationship. He’s been the guide to get The Roots Barn this far. The Music City Roots show had a great run. It’s been on hiatus and hasn’t run for four years, but we still believe in what it represented to Americana music. We will continue to look at programming and how we will address that great genre of music.”
Although some of Kennedy’s comments seemed to indicate that Music City Roots may continue in some form, his primary focus was on the venue itself. “Nothing has changed about what The Roots Barn’s mission is,” Kennedy said. “That is to create a Best-in-Class venue with live music and entertainment and to be a functional venue that serves the local community and beyond. Just some personnel have changed. We’ve already started the process of talking to a number of people we’re excited to work with and hope to put together a great team.
Kennedy also emphasized that The Roots Barn will remain an important part of efforts to revitalize the Madison area. “We’re happy to be in Madison rather than Lower Broadway because we serve a different purpose. We’re going to be something different, and we think it will complement the fabulous place that Nashville is.’
Walker also began his comments with some history. “I created Music City Roots back in 2008,” he said. “Over the years, investors got involved and with the expansion to The Roots Barn, millions of dollars were being put into the project. As a result, my equity became diluted to the point I was no longer the majority shareholder.
“The initial inspiration for the venue was Music City Roots and as things progressed there was more and more concern about profitability, and while we wanted it to be profitable, there are more profitable business models in the world. Our thing was to shine a light on all roots music, and I’m not saying they’re not going to do that. I don’t know what they’re going to do. I was just uncomfortable with some of the conversations and some of the influences that were going on to the point that I had to make a personal decision as to whether I wanted to be affiliated with the project or not, so I resigned [on November 11] and sold my interests in the company.”
Walker noted his decision to resign was not one he took lightly. “I feel like I’ve just given up my 12-year-old child for adoption and it’s heartbreaking, but I’m going to continue to do what I do, support the artists and the arts in our community. I just can’t do it under that name anymore, and for the short term, I’m going to enjoy the holidays. But I’m not ready to retire and I wish them the best.”
The East Nashvillian also contacted Metro Councilmember and former Roots Productions Vice President Nancy VanReece for comment. VanReece resigned from her position with The Root Barn following Walker’s resignation and expressed her shock and sadness over the situation in a Monday morning post on her blog.
After further discussions with Kennedy, she now feels more optimism about the future of The Roots Barn. “I am hopeful and look forward to continuing cooperative collaborations with the community on the beautiful new venue.”
The East Nashvillian and our sister publication, The Madisonian will continue to follow and report this story.