There are few things more exciting than seeing a longtime dream come true and veteran country radio personality Blair Garner says he feels “blessed and grateful” as he gets ready to launch The Mulehouse, a state of the art venue set to open next spring in Columbia, TN. Garner is sharing the journey in a 10-part digital mini series titled From Dream to Reality: The Making of the Mulehouse, available on the venue’s YouTube channel and social media accounts.
Garner bought a home in Columbia, a picturesque Tennessee town south of Nashville, six years ago and he’s looking forward to opening The Mulehouse in the thriving community. “The Mulehouse is born of its location,” Garner tells Sounds Like Nashville. “Columbia, TN has long been known for as the mule trading capital of the world. Even today if you go the Grand Canyon, those mules that take you everywhere all originated from Columbia. Columbia is known as mule town. We have the Mule Day Parade, a huge yearly festival. Even Gene Autry was the Grand Marshall back in the day. We have pictures of that. There is this rich history here in Columbia and it’s all documented.”
Slated to open in the spring of 2021, The Mulehouse will feature a multi-use 500-seat entertainment venue, which Garner says will be available for all kinds of shows and will offer state of the art technology for worldwide live-streaming events, which will allow artist and fan interaction in real time during performances. Formerly a church, the property is over 55,000 square feet and will also include a full-service studio for artists to conduct live radio and satellite media interviews. Following completion of the theater, phase two of the property development will include a bar, restaurant and 35-room boutique hotel, which is expected to open in 2022.
Garner has been known for decades as one of country music’s most accomplished radio personalities. He was the longtime host of the syndicated radio show After Midnite for Premiere Networks and later The Blair Garner Show for Nash FM. He has interviewed numerous celebrities, including Garth Brooks, Luke Combs, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Pharrell Williams, Kevin Costner, Lionel Richie, Henry Winkler, Joan Rivers and Kathie Lee Gifford. He won the Academy of Country Music’s On-Air Personality of the Year award in 2004, 2006 and 2010. Though opening a venue might seem like an unusual choice for a radio veteran, Garner says it’s not. “I realize it may seem like a left turn, but actually it’s an extension of what I most love about radio,” he says. “My very favorite thing to do has always been interviews. I’m by nature a very curious person. I think that once you are able to gain the trust of an artist and they know that you are there to support them, to uphold them and to encourage them, they are gracious with their trust in return by going into areas they may not have been willing to go into before. What I aim to do with any of our interviews is to peel back the layers so we really get to know who they are as people.”
In addition to concerts and in depth interviews, Garner is excited about showcasing Columbia and thinks viewers will fall in love with the town like he did. “I’m a native Texan, born and raised in Canyon, Texas, but Columbia is my new hometown,” he says. “It is truly like a Norman Rockwell little town with a beautiful town square. This is a picture postcard perfect little town. Runaway June just filmed their new video here. Natalie Stovall is from Columbia. Cowboy Troy used to live here. I know that Jason Aldean has a place nearby as does Luke Bryan. The renaissance of the area is being propelled by some pretty amazing people. Sheryl Crow, I believe, has two to four buildings. Mike Wolf of American Pickers has five. In fact, he often features Columbia on his show. Rory Feek has just relocated the RFD Studios down here and they are shooting Larry’s Country Diner. Bob Doyle, Garth’s Manager and Garth’s brother Kelly have two properties on the square and then we’re making this investment as well. There is something that’s going on in Columbia. It’s just the right place, right time, right people. I can’t even tell you enough good things about the community. It’s where people look you in the eye and smile and they say please and thank you and yes sir, and yes ma’am. That’s who this community is, and those are the people I feel the most comfortable being around.”
Garner plans to have The Mulehouse operating by the time Columbia holds its annual Mule Day celebration next April. If the country is still dealing with the pandemic, they will of course observe all COVID-19 protocols, but he says the pandemic never made him hesitate to push forward on developing the venue. “When COVID-19 hit and people were sequestered at their homes, the one thing that did not change was the fan’s desire to consume music and to connect on that deep level, the way that only music can. They sought out opportunities for that and with that came the birth of the couch concert series,” he says, noting that The Mulehouse will be perfect for sharing music all over the world. “The design of the technological aspect is something that you could only do in a new building. It wouldn’t be something that you could go back and retrofit into an existing theater. So we are proud to proclaim ourselves to be the first venue in America built and designed for live streaming across the world.”
All this hasn’t happened overnight. Garner and his husband have been working on launching The Mulehouse for two years, and the digital mini series captures the excitement surrounding the development of the project. “It’s two guys with cameras with me and we are cranking these things out. It is our opportunity to reach out and I’m hopeful we will encourage others who may find themselves with a dream yet unfulfilled. I do believe that the dreams you have as a kid never really go away, but unfortunately life has a way of putting roadblocks that prevent our taking action. I’m hopeful that this series will not only show people what we are doing and why we are doing, but I’m hopeful that they’ll walk away with a new sense of energy and hope that they are good enough as they are, that they have the power deep inside of them to take on whatever it is to ultimately lead themselves to a place where they feel happy and fulfilled and proud of what they were able to do.”
Garner has always had an entrepreneurial spirit that has served him well. “I started my first corporation when I was 15, and then in 1993 I launched ‘After Midnite’ and ultimately sold it in ’97,” he says. “So this is actually my third start up and there is just this feeling of taking on something that maybe some would say wouldn’t work and knowing that you have the dedication and the desire and the passion to overcome any odds that may befall you. That is one of the highest highs that you could ever feel, and on an even deeper more philosophical level, I believe as a good parent, it is my job to lead by example and to show that if you believe in yourself and you have the courage to take action, you can make whatever your dream is a reality.”