NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Thirty-five years ago this week, a tragic event happened in Nashville history. For those present that day, it was something so shocking and unexpected, they’ll never forget it. One man is making sure as many people as possible know the story.
Bryan Deese is one of those muralists who when he finishes a work, people will notice. His take on rock legend Jimi Hendrix looks over the Gulch. His mural of country icon Merle Haggard is on Clifton Ave. His tribute to the queen of the pin-ups Bettie Page is on Gallatin Ave.
“I am a history buff and with my murals, I like to tell stories,” Deese explained.
This history buff said there’s one story he’s never been able to shake.
“I was a young Nashvillian and saw it on the news and what happened has stuck with me,” Deese said.
It’s a story that begins 35 years ago: December 19, 1987. A holiday rap concert was set for that night at Municipal Auditorium. Promoter and owner of the Soul restaurant John Smith had tickets to go.
“It was a Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, and Eazy E concert,” Smith said. “I remember it. I was in high school. Rap music was just hitting the scenes then. It was taking over, taking over the whole world.”
Belinda Herron’s children also had tickets, son Ronald Curtis and her daughter Meika.
“There’s Meika with her afro!” laughed Herron, flipping through an old family album. “That’s my baby!”
Meika was going to the show with best friend Devery Davis. Devery was an 11th-grader planning to go into the Navy. Both girls went to Whites Creek High and were always together. Herron said Meika was one of those naturally funny people who could have been a marquee name at comedy clubs.
“She could just make you laugh,” Herron smiled. “I could see her being with Tyler Perry. His shows are funny people, and she was like that.”
As the night of the concert arrived, Herron said she got a feeling she can’t explain to this day.
“I knew something was going to happen,” she said. “I didn’t know who it was going to be, but I knew somebody was going to die.”
“When the concert was over, they said on stage, ‘everybody who wants to meet the stars, meet them downstairs,'” Curtis remembered.
“We were going to get to meet some of the performers for the show,” added Smith. “It was a big rush to try and get down there first.”
“Everybody started going towards the tunnel,” Curtis continued. “There were some firecrackers or something. People thought it was gunshots. That’s when the stampede happened.”
“The tragic thing is the doors were locked,” said Smith. “The people at the top didn’t know that the doors were locked, were chained up. Everyone was stuck in the same spot trying to get through the door, pushing each other. I just remember them saying, ‘one, two, three push! One two three push!’ The people down front were pushing this way, and it was just total chaos. There were walls on both sides. There was nowhere to go. You were trapped. People started crying, screaming. It was just crazy, total chaos.”
In the middle of all this, Ronald found Devery and Meika. The girls had been crushed.
“I knew somebody was gonna die, but I didn’t know who,” said Herron. “Lord knows, I didn’t know it was gonna be my daughter. People will say, ‘I know how you feel.’ You ain’t been there, you don’t know it.”
The next morning, reporters asked why the doors were locked, why the venue only had one medical personnel on duty when the stampede happened. There were interviews with Herron and Curtis.
“I feel like if they had better protection, my baby wouldn’t have died,” Herron told NewsChannel 5 in 1987. “They could have had more police protection. They needed more police protection.”
“This is one of those stories I want Nashville to remember,” said Deese.
Deese painted into cold, windy nights, working to the moment met Herron.
“Hi, Bryan. How you doing?” Herron said, walking over to where Deese was working on a new mural. “I’m just so excited.”
In a story from 1987, Herron showed an old picture of Devery and Meika that read on the back, ‘Best Friends Forever’.
Deese’s newest mural said the same. The phrase is under a picture of Devery and Meika, made to look like a concert flyer.
“Hi Meika. Hi Devery. We miss you,” Herron said, looking up at the mural.
“I think it’s amazing to memorialize those two young ladies who lost their lives,” said Smith. “I think it’s part of Nashville history. Nashville has good and bad history, and this is one of the bad things that we don’t want to forget.”
“I’m lost for words,” Herron continued. “I miss her so much. I really appreciate it. For [Deese] to even think about my daughter and Devery that way, it’s a big deal to me. It’s a big deal.”
That mural is located near the corner of 26th Avenue North and Clifton, near the church that one of the girls attended.