Bob Skoney has seen just about every kind of event during his 42 years working at downtown Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. Now, after 27 years leading the city-owned venue, Skoney is retiring at the end of March.
“The concerts — that’s what lured me,” Skoney, 63, tells WPLN. “Not to be around the artists, but to help make the shows happen.”
And they undoubtedly have happened — the proof hangs in the form of enlarged concert tickets on the outside of auditorium. Most of those on display were preserved by Skoney, who said he began saving extras in his desk drawer after every event, starting in 1977. (His first concert on staff was for the band Chicago, whom he loves).
“They called them ‘deadwood’ — it was leftover tickets or tickets that were not sold, so I’d pluck out a couple from every show,” he said.
Now when he looks up at the building, it’s like seeing both a record of the place and his own memory.
Although Elvis, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones pre-dated Skoney, he remembers moments from The Police, The Village People, the Charlie Daniels Band, Metallica, Foo Fighters and Kesha.
“Everybody’s played here,” he says, “except The Beatles.”
Reinventing Itself Since 1962
Skoney joined the 9,600-seat auditorium straight out of college, when it was in its early heyday for concerts and political events.
But competition soon rose from new mid-sized venues.
“We kind of had to reinvent ourselves,” Skoney said.
First, it was a move toward hockey and basketball. Later, it was the home for heavy metal bands. By the 1990s, the auditorium was taking in cheerleading conferences and religious assemblies.
The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum relocated into the exhibit hall in 2013.
“He was always open to change,” said John Landers, a member of the Metropolitan Auditorium Commission.
Skoney even had to come up with an idea to keep circus elephants cozy.
Landers recounted the moment when auditorium leaders realized that the addition of the Musicians Hall of Fame would mean the visiting elephants would need another place to rest before shows.
“ ‘We’ll figure it out,’ ” he recalls Skoney saying. “And they figured it out.”
‘Every Nook and Cranny’
Skoney was also tasked with the near-constant challenge of keeping up the aging facility.
“He knows every nook and cranny and leak and drip,” Landers said.
Or — “the ins, outs, good, bad and the ugly,” as commission member Aleah Armstrong says.
She credits Skoney for his skill at securing Metro funding each year — and then his thrift in stretching those dollars when the roof would leak or an appliance would break.
“Everyone in the city knew that if Bob was coming … it was urgent,” Armstrong said.
Skoney has tried to preserve the best of the old — like refurbishing the original 1962 seats — while modernizing facilities like the performer dressing rooms and the public bathrooms (a project coming soon).
“He held steady throughout all the tough economic times,” Armstrong said. “He has gone with the flow. He’s seen all of the other developments, in terms of Bridgestone and all the other event facilities, and still found that niche for the auditorium to play a major role in the city.”
Big Changes Considered
Politically, seeking Metro funds has been a challenge in some years, especially since Municipal Auditorium operated in the “red” for nearly three decades — often costing Metro about $250,000 per year.
But Skoney says the venue has been a downtown economic engine for decades, bringing people into the city’s hotels and restaurants long before the recent boom.
And in the past three years, the auditorium has finally broken even — or made some money.
Officials credit that change to a deal signed with Live Nation to take over concert promotions. That’s ushered in the latest era for the auditorium.
“We’re on a good trajectory right now,” Landers said.
Commission members say they’re using the transition moment to take stock of the auditorium’s future.
So while they are opening a search for an interim manager, they’re also discussing whether to contract that job out to a private firm.
Commission chairman Blake McDaniel said he expects substantial changes to bring the auditorium to its “full glory.”
“The status quo,” he said, “isn’t acceptable.”
Those talks could take several months.
By then, Skoney said he’ll be at work repairing his fishing boat — and he still plans on attending plenty of concerts, just as a paying customer at the Municipal.