John Rich watched as his thriving downtown bar, Redneck Riviera, saw sales plummet and crowds dwindle, as the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep the country early last year. Forced to close in the beginning of the health crisis, Rich proudly reopened his bar when he was legally allowed to do so, only to be required to close again for two weeks in July, as COVID-19 cases once again surged in Nashville.
For a successful businessman like Rich, it was a tough pill to swallow.
“I would say that it’s probably the roughest year any bar could possibly have, and not just mine, but any of the places down there,” Rich admits to Everything Nash. “You talk about Nashville in the past 12 months, we started off the beginning of 2020 with a tornado. It ripped everything up and then COVID came in, which shut us down. And then one by one more things kept happening. You couldn’t fly, you couldn’t stay in hotels. People that really wanted to come to Nashville couldn’t. And then here about a month ago, we had a terrorist attack downtown in Nashville, one block from my front door.”
The past year might have been tough for Redneck Riviera, and other businesses, but the Big & Rich singer has high praise for the visitors and country music fans who keep showing up, even amid different rules and regulations.
“Even through all that, one way or the other, we still have country music fans making their way to Nashville, and coming in that place to hear live music,” Rich boasts. “Now, it’s nothing like it was in ’19, or leading up to this last year, but they’re still coming, and they still love the music. And God bless our bands, our local bands. People move to Nashville from all over the U.S., and they want to make it big in music. A lot of them start out down there on Broadway, and they’re playing for tips. They’re playing for whatever they can get their hands on, because that’s part of the process to getting to a big place. They’ve been shut out, because there’s nobody to play to a lot of the times.
“And a lot of those bands they’ve moved back home, wherever they’re from,” he continues. “They’re back in Nebraska, they’re back in Colorado, wherever they came from. So it’s definitely taken a toll on the town, but our attitude remains the same. And that is that we believe live music and Music City is still the place to be. And, if you want to get here bad enough, you can still get here. We’re hoping it opens up soon though.”
Rich has been openly critical of the way Nashville’s mayor, Mayor John Cooper, has handled shutting down businesses amid the pandemic, but he insists he will still follow the laws in place, even if he disagrees.
“We’ve got politics involved a little bit in this town, like every town does,” Rich says. “There were some decisions made to shut down businesses because it was spreading coronavirus is what we were told, but later on, you find out actually most of it was not happening downtown. That being said, there were a lot of arm-wrestling matches going on. Even though I didn’t agree with the mayor of Nashville, and I still don’t — I’m not a fan of his — but he’s the boss of the town. He got elected and he put out his rules and he put out his mandates, and we followed them to a T. Matter of fact, I’ll be going down there in a couple of nights to get up and sing, and I’ll be following the rules when I walk in too, because he’s our mayor.”
Rich feels confident that business will eventually return to normal, in part because of the loyal fans that keep showing up, in spite of the challenges.
“At the end of the day, music lives on,” Rich affirms. “Music doesn’t stop. And that’s the great thing about it. You cannot box in music. People still want to hear it. People still want to make it. People still want to have that back and forth. And that is the essence of Nashville, Tennessee.”