Electric Western: The wildest Nashville dance party you’ve never heard of
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
By Marissa Gaston, Studio M staff
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s a Monday night at The 5 Spot, and a wall-to-wall crowd is partying like it’s 1955.
Around 10 p.m. every Monday, the bar transforms into a scene out of “Grease” for Motown Mondays, the wildest dance party you’ve never heard of that just marked its eighth anniversary.
Onstage, the DJ booth sits to the left and the most skilled couples take turns hopping up next to it, displaying their best moves center stage. Amelia Boner, 25, spins and shakes with her partner, boyfriend Ricky De La Cruz, 25, to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” She scoots back and forth across the stage, effortlessly finding her way back to her boyfriend’s arms, perfectly on beat.
When the song concludes with a final drum roll, De La Cruz is on one knee, offering Boner a shiny engagement ring, and the room erupts with applause. After a brief celebration, the couple immediately proceeds dancing with the crowd.
“There’s a lot of other places that are like (Motown Mondays), [but] I like this community because everyone dances with everyone,” said Boner.
Together Jacob Jones (right) and Reno Bo run Electric Western, the company that hosts Motown Mondays and has released several records since its founding in 2008.
From local college students to the occasional celebrity, a Motown Mondays crowd is as eclectic as the playlist, which is comprised of pop, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and garage music of the 1950s through the early 1970s.
The hums of “Little Bitty Pretty One” by Bobby Day bounce off the walls — which are covered with portraits of Elvis and Jimi Hendrix, old records and concert posters — and radiate outside, through the air, enticing partygoers who continually arrive from every direction. With the exception of the occasional dancer leaning up against a stack of old drums in an effort to catch a breath, the whole place is moving. Partners twist, dip and swing one another in the middle of the floor. Even those in the crowd hop from foot to foot with drink in hand and nod their heads to the hits of yore. When the song shuffles, so does the dance floor. Dancers, whose party clothes range from button-downs and jeans to vintage-styled fit-and-flare dresses and cuffed white T-shirts, find new partners for another go as if it was choreographed. Meanwhile, vintage footage shows James Brown on stage, wiping the sweat from his forehead as if he, too, is tired from the party.
Somehow this vintage find is one of Nashville’s best-kept secrets.
“That’s intentional,” says Jacob Jones, 33, the co-founder of Electric Western, a production company that is “part record label, part party machine” and hosts the weekly dance parties. Even the company’s approach to social media is vintage; its accounts leave much to the imagination with posts often limited to a place and a time.
“It’s not a lack of effort,” Jones says. “It’s more like we want it to be something you have to find, that you discover on your own, and you make your own. … I think we communicate with our audience by making sure that when you’re in that room you’re having the best time ever, and then people talk about it. It’s all word of mouth.”
Motown Mondays is the brainchild of Jones, an Atlanta native who moved to East Nashville from New York City back in 2007 to pursue music. One Monday night in 2008, Jones was hanging out in a nearly empty bar with some friends when he started to DJ from a computer. That night he convinced the owners of The 5 Spot to let him come back and do an actual set. Meanwhile, Jones had been writing his friend, Reno Bo, trying to convince him to come take part in all of the exciting things happening.
“Things were starting to change a little bit and I just really liked the town,” he explains. Jones and Bo met bartending back in New York where they discovered a shared interest in the music and culture of the 1950s through the early 1970s. After a yearlong correspondence, Bo moved into Jones’ living room the same week that Jones would decide to do a completely old school-themed set.
“We showed up and I actually set the turntables on the bar … and people just freaked out,” Jones recalls of that next Monday night. “ [I] started playing Chuck Berry and Little Richard, [and] people were dancing and getting drunk.” Within the span of six months, a crowd of 40 people grew to 400, and Jones and Bo had created Electric Western.
“It feels like a time warp, it honestly does,” says Jones. “You walk into this room and … all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this music is 60 years old, 50 years old, and people are acting like it just came out.’” The parties have become both a way to preserve the importance of these genres and their respective eras among fans and to introduce it to new audiences every week.
“It’s really cool, because we’ll have someone come that maybe has never been before. Maybe they’ll request something that just makes no sense, like Beyoncé or something — and usually I’m just like, ‘Hey, we don’t do that. Let us do our thing and, trust me, you’ll have a good time’ — and then I’ll see that same person two months later requesting Otis Redding. That part of it is awesome.”
On Sept. 16 Jones and Bo launched “Electric Western Radio,” an hourlong program on WMOT, which recently launched an Americana station, that will feature even more music and commentary.
Beyond that, the only plan the company has made is to keep doing whatever it wants.
“Electric Western is the vehicle that we’ve made to have a platform to do the ideas that we find fulfilling,” Jones says. “If we come up with something else we’ll explore it, but I think that’s the fun part: Nothing is set in stone.”
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University, is made possible through generous grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. Marissa Gaston is a junior majoring in journalism at MTSU. Follow her on Twitter at @mrmarissalea.