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Revered Nashville Venue Exit/In Gets New Talent Buyer Under AJ Capital Partners

todayDecember 19, 2022 1

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AJ Capital Partners, the new owners of revered Nashville music venue Exit/In, have named a new talent buyer for the iconic entertainment hub and plan to re-open the shuttered venue as early as this Spring after it temporarily closed in late November.

Though there had been local speculation and concern that AJ Capital would turn to a large promoter such as Live Nation to book the 51-year old independent venue, the new owners are utilizing an in-house team with Dan Merker serving as Exit/In’s lead talent buyer. Merker, who oversees talent buying for all AJ Capital properties, has previously worked at Outback Presents, HUKA Entertainment and Tortuga Music Festival.

“We are honored to carry on the legacy of this iconic venue and raise the bar for both the fan and artist experience,” Merker said in a statement to Billboard. ‘We look forward to announcing 2023 shows soon and as the calendar will reflect, restoring Exit/In as a welcoming place for artists that span all genres and everyone within our community.”


After moving their headquarters from Chicago to Nashville in 2020, AJ Capital Partners in July 2021 acquired the beloved Exit/In, located at 2208 Elliston Place, as well as the adjacent Hurry Back bar, for $6.45 million from Anthony Rentals (representing property owners the Nash and Anthony families). AJ Capital says they plan to continue Hurry Back as a restaurant/bar concept. A representative for the Nash and Anthony families declined to speak for this story. AJ Capital Partners officially take over operations of Exit/In on Jan. 1, 2023.

In addition to the Graduate Hotel chain, AJ Capital owns and developed the buildings that house two current music industry entities: Live Nation’s Nashville office in the Nashville Warehouse Co., and newly opened Nashville headquarters for the Academy of Country Music, both in Nashville’s Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood.

AJ Capital Partners also owns the Memphis, Tennessee venue Minglewood Hall. Other venues in AJ Capital Partners’ portfolio include New Orleans’ Joy Theater, The Senate in Columbia, S.C., Houston’s White Oak Music Hall, and Iron City in Birmingham, Ala. AJ Capital also has plans for a 4,500-capacity music venue in Nashville’s Wedgewood-Houston area.

“The Exit/In has been Nashville’s music forum for 51 years, under the stewardship of more than two dozen operators over that time,” Tim Ryan, Principal focused on live music venues, boutique hotels and other experiential real estate, AJ Capital Partners, told Billboard via a statement. “Ultimately, the venue’s history, legacy and soul belong to Nashville. As the next stewards in line, we’re committed to doing whatever is necessary to restore her to good health and set the stage for another legendary half-century and beyond. AJ’s track record of restoring and reviving historic spaces speaks for itself, both here in Nashville and across our portfolio.”


After AJ Capital takes over the venue’s operations on Jan. 1, 2023, it plans to renovate the Exit/In’s bathrooms and green room. Updates will also include refreshing of the building’s west-facing outer wall, which previously showcased a mural featuring artists who have performed at Exit/In. The mural has since been painted over.

Since opening in 1971 with a performance by Jimmy Buffett, the bare-bones, 500-person capacity Exit/In has been one of the city’s most enduring and popular venues, and a mainstay of Nashville’s rock music scene, hosting a diverse slate of artists, including Billy Joel, Etta James, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Muddy Waters, Jason and the Scorchers, R.E.M and more. On the back cover of The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta, Sting is seen wearing an Exit/In shirt. Episodes of the CMT series Western Beat with Billy Block — which grew out of Block’s Western Beat Roots Revival — were taped at Exit/In beginning in 2000.

In 2021, AJ Capital filed a request to designate the Exit/In as a historical landmark, and historic overlays were approved for a section of the property.

The switchover in ownership has not been without controversy as the most recent operator, Chris Cobb, had been passionately opposed to the change. Cobb, whose name had grown synonymous with the venue, has been an integral part of Exit/In for 18 years. In 2012, he partnered with Josh Billue to oversee Exit/In, and became its sole operator since 2019 until the last show under his watch on Nov. 23.

In February, as Exit/In went on the block, Chris Cobb and his wife Telisha, partnered with Grubb Properties’ Live Venues Recovery Fund, an entity that helps club operators become owners, to try to buy the property. The Cobbs also launched a GoFundMe campaign that reached its initial $200,000 goal, ultimately raising more than $271,000, but were unsuccessful in buying the club. Cobb pledged to donate the money raised to the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and to Music Venue Alliance (MVAN). Cobb was unavailable for comment by press time.


In April 2021 Cobb also filed trademark applications for the name “Exit/In Nashville’s Music Forum,” as well as “Exit/In Nashville Music Forum Fifty Years and Counting 50,” which were subsequently opposed by AJ Capital in October of this year. The opposition filing from AJ Capital contended that according to license agreements, tenants were granted a limited license to use the name Exit/In on the leased premises only, and that the landlord “at all times shall retain sole and exclusive ownership and right to the name Exit/In subject only to the limited license granted herein.”

There is no word on when the patent office will hand down its decision.

The Exit/In has long served as the anchor for the geographic area dubbed The Rock Block, which over the decades has included The End, Elliston Place Soda Shop, Obie’s Pizza and The Gold Rush. The Rock Block was commemorated with a historical marker in 2020.

Ned Horton, whose The Horton Group operated Exit/In from 1998 through 2001, says, “Real estate in Nashville has been going through the roof, home neighborhoods are changing and in rapid fashion. So to be beholden to a landlord in running a business does have its limitations from time to time. AJ controls its destiny by owning the building and the land. But it does seem like the new owners are well-intentioned and have the capital to do somethings that others maybe couldn’t in the past.”

Rick Whetsel, who operated Exit/In from 2003-2006, says, “It’s really exciting to have an owner with deep pockets. As caretakers or stewards of Exit/In, we’ve always kind of financed things out of our own pockets. Taking care of upgrades and fixing various things, we tended to kind of put off repairs or kick things down the road a bit. It’s nice that someone has the money and capital they have to take care of the building and put it on the path to a good future. The Exit/In is such an important part of not just the music industry, but the city of Nashville. There’s such a sense of history and you can feel that energy when you are in there.”

“Change is not always a bad thing,” Whetsel added. “Financial security is a wonderful thing. It’s nice to know that the place will be here and able to operate as a venue for a long time. The stewardship of Exit/In, they realize it is a big deal. You have to go out there and build bridges and become part of the community and they are. It’s amazing the work that myself, Chris Cobb, Josh Billue, and others in the past couple of decades have been able to do, to get the Exit/In on the right path. The Exit/In has always been here and it needs to stay here.”

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