With: Tonic frontman, Emerson Hart
My Nashville Background:
I moved to Nashville in 2000. My family has been season ticket holders since day one of the Predators franchise. My father-in-law went to St. Lawrence University. He played hockey growing up. A lot of players came out of St. Lawrence. I grew up in New Jersey and was a Rangers fan. Even when I moved to Los Angeles, I was never a Kings fan, I remained a Rangers fan. It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville and started going to games, about six years into their existence, that I became a die-hard Predators fan. I fell in love with the team, the spirit and the fans. When you think about Nashville, you think about SEC College Football. You don’t think about hockey. This franchise has single-handedly inspired youth hockey, inspired understanding a different sport, what goes into it, loving it and supporting it. It’s been one of the greatest things for our city.
Jeff Russo and Dan Lavery from my band Tonic, still live in Los Angeles. When I realized that playing music was what I was going to do for a living, I thought there had to be someplace else in between New York and Los Angeles that is a small town, with a good feel and is more my speed. I had to know I could start a family there. Nashville has turned out to be one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life.
The Smashville Evolution:
We are seeing the most growth in the city in Nashville’s history. There has been a huge influx of people and culture from places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and areas where hockey was a way of life. That has made it special. Our Mayor, Megan Barry, who used to be my neighbor, is a big hockey fan. You’ll see her in a Preds jersey. I also have to give it up to Bridgestone. They’ve really spent the money on making a nice venue. It’s a place where a team wants to be. We just love sports here. When you get people spending the right money and the right timing, it pairs perfectly with the added people and culture. Our downtown, where the arena is, has also thrived. People want to go out and be around there — whether it’s going to dinner, going to the symphony or a Predators game. About ten years ago, Bridgestone arena was around 25th on the list in the country as far as bookings and sport events. Now it’s five. That’s even before the Stanley Cup.
A friend of mine was recently apologizing to me for being a bandwagon fan. I said to him, “Man, that’s not what it’s about.” When you follow hockey and you fall in love with it, that’s what happens. If you find it and you love it, that’s what it is. It doesn’t take away from people who have been following the sport for their whole lives and it doesn’t make you any less of a fan. I’ll take any kind of fan that comes and supports a team, especially their home team, and falls in love with the sport.
Nashville always felt like a town and now it’s starting to feel like a city. Having everybody’s hard work — the team and the fans that stuck by the team has been a huge deal. You talk to people who have spent their lives going to UT football games, after they go to one Predators game at Bridgestone, they are in. They see and believe in Nashville. The team’s expression “Stand With Us” is for real. It’s a rabid fan-base. I love every second of it. It reminds me of going to Ranger games in the 80’s. It’s made a real difference in why our city has embraced it.
Nashville: A Sports City:
It’s been strange to see sports take center stage in Nashville, the Music City. But a good strange. We’ve had the Titans, we still root and push for them obviously. We are talking about getting a soccer team now too. The Nashville Sounds are a great staple — one of the best $9 you can spend to grab a ticket, sit on the lawn and watch a ballgame in the summer. Last week was CMT week, Bonnaroo week, Stanley Cup week, and it all worked together. It’s amazing. There were about 150,000 people downtown. It has been interesting to watch the gears shift from complete music focus or football focus, to the sport of hockey — which I think many did not understand. You can grow up watching hockey, but you don’t fully understand it until you go to a game. That’s the difference. You can go to a Nashville Predators game and become a hockey fan. I don’t know if you can say that about any other city.
We are Western Conference champs and we are going to have a nice couple years here. Players that come here are going to want to be here, because they will submerse in the spirit.
The Arts Embracing the Predators:
It’s been so great to see how the music community has enjoyed and taken to the success of the Predators. I’ve seen a lot of fellow musicians at games even before we got into the Cup. It’s just part of the community that makes Nashville special. There has been no standoffishness about it with the majority of artists, everybody has been really excited.
Playing Live at Game 4 of the Stanley Cup:
I’ve been trying to do something like that for a while now, but I was either out of town or not available. It finally lined up right. They called me and asked if I wanted to play and before the sentence was even finished I said, “I will be there. I don’t care of it’s just me and an acoustic guitar, I will go in support and play.”
Tonic has had some big shows in our career, we played for 250,000 people in Poland six years ago and it was amazing. But playing at Game 4 of the Stanley Cup at Bridgestone was one of the most electric nights. Not only was I there to support a team I love, I was there to support a sport I love, and I was there with my daughter and wife, having a great time. Everybody was on the edge of their seat. Even if I opened my mouth and nothing came out, I would have had the best night. It was so much fun to be there and be part of that history for our city.
My setlist with Small Time Rock Stars was: “Open Up Your Eyes”, “You Wanted More” and “If You Could Only See”. (2nd period)
I had never gotten to play with those guys before. Steve, who is the lead guitarist and band leader, was telling me how much fun it would be, and it was. It was so great. I could hear people singing along. It was a huge honor. At our shows, the people are there to see my band. In this setting, for people to not know, hear the songs and then sing a long was so special.
Aside from me playing, that night was the highlight of the hockey season for me. I was thinking about how many injuries the team had this year and the fact that we came so far with all of that was amazing.
The Lasting Impact:
This season has been huge for our franchise. We are going to get a lot of options for players. Being seeded where we were, the visiting team in every series, end up in the finals and being conference champs has already improved our team. We defied all odds.
The thing that I am the most excited about though is that somewhere out there either in the seats or at home watching the game on TV, some kid is going to fall in love with hockey. That’s what I love. It’s going to improve our youth hockey here in Nashville. We’ve got it pretty good, and it’s growing rather fast, but the Preds are going to be building a practice space in Bellevue and it’s going to be killer. I can take my daughter there and we can ice skate. That’s what it’s about.
Catch Tonic on tour this summer — starting June 16th in Reno, NV
Check out Emerson Hart’s 20 things I’ve Learned From 20 Years of Tonic
~all photos courtesy of Emerson Hart
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In collaboration with/produced by Jeff Gorra