Tennessee Marks First Anniversary of Deadly 2020 Tornadoes

Take a look back at that awful night, and how the recovery continues.

Written by Chris Parton
Tennessee Marks First Anniversary of Deadly 2020 Tornadoes
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - MARCH 03: Buildings damaged by the storm are seen in the Germantown neighborhood following devastating tornadoes on March 03, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. At least 22 people have reportedly been killed after tornadoes ripped across Tennessee overnight, causing widespread damage. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

It was one year ago today (March 3) that a series of deadly tornadoes tore through the night in Middle Tennessee, ripping a scar that stretched over 100 miles and claimed 25 lives. And the recovery is still underway.

With at total of 10 tornadoes touching down that dark night, Tennessee woke to the destruction of more than 1,600 buildings (including more 400-plus homes), and damage to about 2,700 other structures. But today there are promising signs — despite an ordeal that was otherworldly at the time, and impacted just about everyone.

With little chance for residents to react, the terror started West of Nashville right around midnight, with the first of the tornadoes touching down. Country star Dierks Bentley actually posted later of his view from above the storm, just before it crashed into the John C. Tune airport.

Sirens across the area blared, and soon the twister touched down again in Nashville proper, striking Germantown and slamming hard into the artsy East Nashville neighborhood — where it killed two and demolished the beloved Basement East music venue, among other tragedies. Bentley’s long time drummer, in fact, was one of the victims who’s home was leveled. But thankfully he and his family were safe.

Although the Basement East was a particularly hard-felt loss, the tornado razed many more homes and businesses across East Nashville, then moved on through the hard-hit residential communities of Donnelson, Mt. Juliet and Lebanon, making it all the way to Cookeville before the devastation ended. You can check out an interactive map of the storm’s path on WPLN.org, and see just how much work there was to do once the storm passed. But we didn’t get the slogan Tennessee Strong from nowhere.

Thousands of residents immediately turned out to help, clearing debris and stepping up to shelter those in need, while musicians organized benefit concerts and made donations. But in another tragic turn of events, the COVID-19 pandemic caused stay-at-home orders just a week later, and public attention naturally shifted toward that still-going emergency. But the rebuilding never stopped.

In fact, music will finally return to the Basement East this week, as the re-constructed venue opens its doors for it’s first weekend of socially-distanced shows since the storm. Many country artists shouted out the concert hall in the days after its destruction, and now a full year later, “The Beast “is back, with a DJ spinning tunes each evening starting March 4 and The Minks, The Tiger Beats, Lilly Hiatt, Adams Street Trio, India Ramey and Tim Easton taking the stage on Saturday, March 6.

But despite that good news, more help is needed, as many homes and businesses in the area remain damaged. Local artist Lydia Luce organized a recent performance at the Basement East to help keep the recovery going, enlisting fellow East Siders Kyshona and Becca Mancari for a special edition of the Lockeland Strings house show series, to benefit the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund. And there’s still plenty of ways to help through Hands On Nashville.

Although no amount of money or music will bring back those who were lost, the heartbeat of Music City goes on.