The New Music City Center: First Impressions

Music City Center: The Gutar-Shaped Grand Ballroom

Music City Center: The Guitar-Shaped Grand Ballroom

I went to an event at the Nashville’s shining new convention center, aka “Music City Center” yesterday, for a Kelby Training Photoshop seminar.

I have been in the building on several previous occasions, having been afforded an opportunity to photograph the building while it was under construction. You can see the result of those safaris here.

Because I got a close, first-hand look at the place while it was still under construction, I feel like I have some stake in its realization and success.

This was the first opportunity I have had to visit the place since it officially opened last month – to enter not as an interested observer, but as an actual end user. So here are my initial impressions of Nashville’s newest landmark, and some feedback for the developers and administrators that I hope they will find constructive:

1) Impact: The entire edifice is absolutely impressive from any angle – although it is pretty hard to see the whole thing from any single vantage point. I say this knowing full well that if I’d been one of the people on the city council responsible voting to fund a monolithic gathering place in the era of virtual meetings, I probably would have voted “nay” and figured the money could have been better spent on, say, music education in our schools. But now that it’s built and open, I have to just admit that this is one of the things for which the over-used word “awesome” was truly intended.

2) Seating: As long as we’re over-using the word – and so that I continue on a positive vein before getting down to the “constructive criticism” – let me just say the chairs in the meeting rooms are also “awesome.” This is no minor point, because most people who use MCC will be there for meetings, which will require considerable amounts of just plain sitting. So my compliments to whoever selected the chairs. They are thickly padded and impressively comfortable. There were truly several times when I shifted my body into some awkward semi-slouch and notice how comfortably the chair responded. I actually made a mental note: “wow, these chairs are comfortable.”

3) Music: This point I want to make before I lose everybody with my wordy minutiae. It’s about the music.

“Music City Center” was so named in order to reflect and boost Nashville’s standing as “the” music city, and I’m completely on board with that. But there was only one place in this entire, gynormous complex where I heard any actual music.

In the mens room.

And it wasn’t just “music.” It was “country” music – by which I mean the cheesy, saccharine, under-conceived and over-produced mainstream country music which is the reason I never listen to country radio any more (and, yes, I did listen to country radio once upon a time, but that was literally a millennium ago…).

I object because making bubble-gum “country” the only actual music that a visitor to the “Music City Center” is likely to hear reinforces a stereotype that really needs to be crushed.

There is so much more to Nashville now than the crap they play on country radio! Hell, even country music has more to offer than what’s on the radio today – hello, Willie? Waylon? Johnny and Kris? Marty Stuart?? Dolly or Emmylou??? Where are you all now that Music City needs you? Lost to a an era of ear candy that doesn’t even serve well as Muzak.

Please… Let our visitors hear the Black Keys or Jack White or Jeff Black. Let ‘em hear how infinitely diverse is the musical universe that defines “Music City.” Yes, Nashville’s musical roots are more country than corn and dirt, but those roots have grown into a virtual rain-forest canopy, underneath which every imaginable kind of music flourishes.

“Music City Center” is going to be a lot of visitors central experience of Nashville. Please, don’t let them think that country-pop is all that “Music City” has to offer. 

(On the other hand, maybe a bathroom is an appropriate outlet for mainstream country…..)

Now that that’s off my chest….

4) Access: There needs to be a painted – maybe stop-lighted? – pedestrian cross walk between the egress from the underground parking garage to the entrance to the building – which is across a street.

Parking for MCC is found in some abundance (1,800 spaces) in an underground garage that is entered from 6th Avenue South, which is now a four-lane thoroughfare that runs right under the building. After you have parked your car, you have to cross that busy street to get to the entrance that leads to the ballrooms and meeting rooms.

It does not appear that the designers and architects who did such an otherwise outstanding job took this detail into consideration (I can hear them now: “Oh, you mean, people actually drive cars to the building and then want to get in, too??). So you have to take your life into your hands and cross an unguarded boulevard to get from the parking to the entrance. A crosswalk is definitely in order there.

5) WiFi: Anybody who has ever been to a tech-oriented event with me knows that I’m the wise guy who always wants to know the password for the WiFi – and squawks when there is none.

The good news about Music City Center is that it does appear to be equipped with a strong WiFi signal throughout the building. 

The bad news is the access is blocked by a login process that takes a virtual crowbar to crack.

It’s not a truly “open” WiFi service. My own experience – with THREE different devices – was that it was impossible to get the “login / create an account” page to come up on any of them (This is actually a recurring problem with WiFi in a lot of places; The local system hijacks your device, and then doesn’t present the door to which you can speak the password to actually get in). 

I only managed to get the login page when I saw the IP address for the page on somebody else’s device; I entered those numbers and got the page to come up on mine.

But that was not the end of the issue: once I’d logged in, if I let my device go idle for any amount of time – 5, 10 minutes – the login was lost and I had to log in again. And again. And again. All day long. In the 8 hours that I was at the MCC I must have logged into the MCC-Guest WiFI close to two dozen times.

Let me be clear about my attitude here, so you can all appreciate what a spoiled digital brat I really am: I think WiFi should be like air. You don’t have to register or login to breathe. It should be the same way with WiFi. Just open the damn gates and let me inhale the digits, OK?

And lest this seem like the overwrought whinings of a strung-out digit junkie, I hasten to add: this is NOT a minor detail. We live in a connected – maybe overly connected – world, and everybody who enters the Music City Center is going to be looking for a signal. WiFi is an issue in part because the availability of a conventional mobile wireless signal (i.e. 3G, 4G, LTE or even voice) is – not surprisingly – very weak in some places within the building.

If the authorities that operate the center truly want this to be a “state of the art” facility, then internal communications need to be as artful as the rest of the complex. Wireless services should be a first thought – not a second or third thought.

6) Website? I was surprised to discover the night before my visit that there is no current website for the Music City Center. Nearly a billion dollars for the building but… no website?

I wanted to confirm the access point for the parking, so I searched the web, only to discover that the website for the joint is still the “Under Construction” site that has been in place since construction began (was it three years ago?). You can watch a time lapse movie of the construction, but good luck finding out where to park.

I have it on good authority that the website will be relaunched before the end of this month, and that will be a welcome to development. I only mention it here to suggest that the effort go even further: 

Music City Center? There needs to be “an app for that.”

Again, it’s a matter of how mobile and connected the world is now – and how “state of the art” does Music City Center really want to be?

When I enter a complex like the Center, it’s tough to get my bearings. These days my first instinct is to reach for my mobile device and find that little blue dot that tells me where I am an orients me to where I’m going (like I wish there was an app that could tell me where to find electrical plugs at the damn Home Depot…) 

I don’t know if internal GPS is even possible, but Music Center is just so damn big. It would be cool to have an app that aids internal navigation. And while I’m at it…

7: The artwork hanging throughout the Music City Center is phenomenal. I dare say there is more artwork to admire there than there is at the Frist or Cheekwood. *

8: Restrooms (again): Can we please do something about those infernal infra-red activated paper towel dispensers?

God, how I hate all those infra-red gizmos – they never work for me. Maybe my body doesn’t generate enough heat? It’s bad enough just trying to get water to pour from a faucet or soap to squirt from a dispenser what with all hand waving to trigger the devices. If you do manage to get your hands washed, then you’re standing there with wet hands trying to get a paper towel…

So you look at the infra-red paper towel dispenser. There is a slot where the towels come out… and underneath the slot, a label that reads “place hands below to activate.” So you follow the instructions and put your hand below the dispenser and wave them around and… of course… nothing happens. 

Because as it turns out, you’re not supposed to put your hand below the dispenser. You’re supposed to put your hand in the slot.

How am I supposed to know that I’m supposed to put my hand ABOVE the label that says “place hands below”??? Hello… anybody??

1,800 parking spaces - ONE pay machine!

1,800 parking spaces – ONE pay machine!

9. Parking (again): Now it is 5:00 and time for everybody to leave. You’re not in any particular hurry to go home are you? Because we’ve got 1,800 brand spanking clean new parking spaces – and exactly ONE machine to pay for all that parking.

Yesterday when approximately 200 people were leaving the seminar at the same, everybody wound up standing in front of the pay-for-your-parking machine, reading the instructions, trying to figure out how it works, while the line is forming behind them. At one point there must have been 50 people waiting to pay for their parking.

Only at that point did somebody who was arriving for another event inform the people in the line that they could pay for their parking at a machine as they drove out lot. A sign with that information might have been really helpful. Or a pay machine on every level. 

With a sign…

And, especially in these early days of operation, there really needs to be some kind of human being around to explain all this to people. As I was walking to my car, I noticed that there was somebody riding around in the parking lot on a Seqway. When I got to the head of the line to leave, the guy in front of me had trouble with the machine and couldn’t get his parking paid for or get the gate to open. He just threw his hands up, and we all sat there behind him while he tried to figure it out. The guy on the Seqway woulda come in handy about that time…

OK, that’s my list. I realize that some of this is pretty minor shit – the sort of bugs bugs that need to be worked out in the first iteration of any new program.

But I do hope they do something about that cross-walk on 6th Avenue.

And the music. I hope they do something about the music – like hire a human to program the feed. Because it’s supposed to be the MUSIC City Center, not the cheesy country music center.

–Paul Schatzkin
[email protected]
June 13, 2013

*Correction posted 130613 2:30PM: the first version of this post included a suggestion that QR codes be posted alongside the artwork displayed throughout the Center. I have since been advised that, indeed, there are QR codes in the labels. So, two things: 1) I should take a closer look before suggesting the obvious and 2) the builders are more forward-thinking than I was giving them credit for.