Almost anyone who has been in Nashville very long has probably, without thinking too much about it, been to at least a few fundraisers at Tribe or PLAY Dance Bar. We know how philanthropic our community groups are, and fundraising events often pack weekend schedules. But in a town where venues can cost thousands of dollars, cutting into the money that might go to providing services and aid to the community, LGBT groups have valuable allies in the owners of Tribe and PLAY, who regularly make their facilities available at extremely reduced cost or for free.
But their support of the community goes so much deeper, from always being ready to donate a booth or other prize for silent auctions to hosting benefits, such as the one that raised funds for the victims of Pulse, to providing direct funds via a very active non-profit foundation.
I asked David Taylor, one of the founders of Tribe, and Todd Roman, one of the original partners in the PLAY Dance Bar venture, to discuss with me how they became so committed to using their business to support the community.
Was philanthropic outreach something you had in mind when you started your businesses, or did it emerge as you began to operate your bars?
David Taylor: I’m an old Eagle Scout and believe you leave your campground better than you found it, so I’ve always been drawn to non-profits and other organizations that help the greater community.
When Keith Blaydes and I started Tribe in 2002, we were both already involved in the community. I had just chaired Artrageous 13 and the HRC Dinner and was on the Artrageous Board and the HRC Board of Governors. It only seemed natural to continue these relationships at Tribe in ways that we could host fun events and organizations could make money. One of the first was Post Office for HRC, which raised thousands of dollars over the years, and people had fun!
We were so lucky to join with Todd Roman and Joe Brown two years later when we started Play – they both were involved with the community and have the same philosophy of joining the business with the causes that are important to and impact the lives of our customers. In short, philanthropy has always been a part of who we are individually, and it was only natural to incorporate that into the business.
Todd Roman: Philanthropy has been a cornerstone of our business philosophy from our original concept. Joey and I came from a culture in which giving back to the community was not a priority. We actually began the idea of developing our own club following a conversation with the owner of another club, who said “f%$# them, where else are they going to go” when we tried to help an organization raise money.
“If you think you can do better, go do your own,” was his response. And at that point I thought, “You know, I can do better!” And a huge part of doing better would be to give back to the community and support those that support you.
David Taylor and Keith Blaydes also came from previous civic activism, and this made the coming together the perfect match.
Over the years, you guys have supported a lot of organizations… What were some of the first and how has that developed?
David Taylor: Some of the first big causes we supported were HRC and Nashville CARES. HRC was growing, and HIV/AIDS was (and still is) a real threat to members of our community. We continue to support both of those groups because their work continues to be important.
There’s a long list of organizations we’ve worked with over the years, including Victory Fund, Oasis Center, TEP, Nashville Pride, LGBT Chamber, etc., but we are also proud of working with social groups like the Grizzlies, Women’s Rugby, HotMess Sports, Nashville In Harmony, etc. We are happy to work with any LGBTQ+ group to develop event(s) that bring people to Church Street while helping those groups.
Todd Roman: Another one of those [early causes we supported was] Nashville Pride. There was a time that Pride found itself in a financial position which jeopardized the event. We were able to come in and lend a helping hand so that Pride would continue. That’s something that I’m proud of. Our business partner, Joe Brown, served on the Pride boards of Nashville and Louisville for many years, and I believe both organizations benefited from his service.
I understand that in recent years you guys have become much direct in your philanthropic giving, via a new foundation?
Todd Roman: Although we had pursed our philanthropic mission since opening, about three years ago we looked for a way in which we could reach out more broadly within the community. We began a non-profit, Play A Role.
David Taylor: We started the Play-A-Role Fund so that some of our corporate partners could help our community in additional ways. The funds that are raised go to the same non-profit organizations we’ve always supported, and we hope to grow this fund and our support in the future.
What are some of the things you’ve been a part of that you and your partners at Tribe and Play are most proud of?
David Taylor: We’re constantly amazed at how our LGBTQ+ community comes together in times of unexpected need. The Pulse Nightclub massacre jolted us all in deep and personal ways, and for many of us it felt as if our own home had been attacked. The Nashville and Louisville communities came together and raised more $78,000 for the employees of Pulse who had lost their jobs in this tragedy. The generosity of our vendors, customers, friends, and even folks who had never been to Church Street was overwhelming. And the responses received from the Pulse owner reflected the impact of our community’s gift.
Closer to home, we were also proud and amazed at the swift and generous response of the community to our beloved performer and friend, Deception, in her fight with cancer a few years back. Needless to say, we were all shocked and worried about Deception, and the community came together in a major way to show love and support as well as raise funds for her medical bills and living expenses until she beat the disease, healed, and was able to work again. It was one of the most special nights I remember at Play.
What have you learned from your experiences in philanthropic work with the community?
David Taylor: I guess the lesson to me is that while we each gladly make our own, personal donations to charities, it’s a small fraction of what the greater community has donated through our events over the years. I’m really grateful to everyone who valued the organizations and causes that we do and contributed to them through our businesses. Our customers deserve as much recognition as we do, so “THANK YOU” from us to all of you for making this all possible. It truly could never happen without the generosity of our customers.
Todd Roman: The more you do, the more there is to do. The causes we support have continued to grow so as to incorporate charity funds for the needy, LGBT youth, LGBT sports organizations, local businesses, etc. This is who we are and we look forward to supporting the community in the years to come.
Thank you, guys, for all you do to support the community, and we look forward to helping you do that in any way we can for years to come!