Your Take: The Venue

Ken Morton, Jr. | March 2nd, 2013

Each year, Pollstar tallies ballots sent to music business professionals in order to determine the winners of their Concert Industry Awards. The various awards honor artists, management, talent buyers, venues, and support services. In February, for the third time in the last five years, the Ryman Auditorium took home the Theatre of the Year Award. For anyone that has stepped foot in the “Mother Church of Country Music,” that would hardly be a surprise. The acoustics are terrific and the history seeps from that stage and those stained glass windows.

Other venues have enhanced my concert-going experience as well. A few years ago, I wrote a column for The 9513 about an amazing concert series atop the Northstar Resort ski lifts where the setting sun across the Truckee Basin served as backdrop to the stage. The Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison,Colorado is an equally breathtaking sight to behold with its hues of oranges and reds carved right out of the mountain.

Engine 145 wants your take: What is your favorite location to watch a performance? How important is the venue to your overall concert-going experience? How important is proximity to the equation? And lastly, why is that venue special to you?



  1. Saving Country Music
    March 2, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Granted, I’ve never seen a show at The Ryman, but my favorite venue would have to be Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, TX. Aside from being the oldest dance hall in Texas, the acoustics are sublime, whether watching an afternoon free show, or a big concert on Saturday night.

    Another good one you rarely hear mentioned is the Britt Festival in southern Oregon. It is an amphitheater built on the side of a mountain, has great acoustics, and usually attracts the same big names of Red Rocks.

    I used to think venue was inconsequential. Now I think it is essential to creating one of those special concert moments. I remember seeing Justin Townes Earle at The Parish in Austin and being dazzled by their smoke and light show–something I would have thought of as superfluous before experiencing it in person.

  2. Dave D.
    March 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    “Favorite” on a given night will depend on whether the show is designed to be a listening event or a party. Key factors to me are sound quality, ambiance (a noisy crowd can spoil a listening event; a docile crowd can throw a wet blanket on a party), size (smaller being better), and memories of prior shows at the venue. The Ark in Ann Arbor would be my favorite listening room; Ginny’s Little Longhorn in Austin the favorite party venue.

    Honorable mention to the Station Inn, Village Idiot, and Tip Top Deluxe.

  3. Ken Morton, Jr.
    March 2, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Dave, your differentiation of listening room vs. event venue is a good point. As pure aesthetics go, the Station Inn and Bluebird Cafe in Nashville both are fairly non-descript. But the passionate crowds that appreciate the art and craft of music that go to those two establishments help enhance the experience exponentially for me.

  4. bob
    March 2, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Love the Bluebird. My wife and I usually go there about once a month. I’ve been to the Ryman twice. Those wooden pews aren’t exactly comfortable and my friend’s knees were touching the pews in front of us when we went to an Opry show last October. (He’s 6’2″). The Schemerhorn Synphony Center is probably the best venue in Nashville but there’s not much in their lineup of shows that interests me.

  5. Rick
    March 2, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    Los Angeles has three “listening room” style venues in McCabe’s Guitar Shop (yes, it is a guitar store), The Coffee Gallery Backstage (in the rear of a coffee bistro), and Boulevard Music (another guitar store). The audiences are there to listen, not yak or get drunk! I will venture to bars to see artists I really like (such as The Mint, Hotel Cafe, and The Cinema Bar) but only out of desperation not choice. I avoid large venues due to high prices and the “herded cattle” atmosphere.

    Goota go now, I’m heading off to McCabe’s to see The Chapin Sisters “Croon Classic Country”! Yee Haw! (lol)

  6. Paul W Dennis
    March 3, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I prefer small intimate venues, places that seat 50-800 people. One of my favorite shows over the last two years was a show put on by Eddie and Martha Adcock at a small lounge in Mt Dora,FL – I think the place seated no more than fifty peoplebut it was a marvelously entertaining evening. Yesterday I saw a show in Weirsdale, FL at the Orange Blossom Opry featuring Jimmy Sturr’s Polka Band with guests Tommy Cash and The Calhoun Brothers – great show, great sound quality and about 600 in attendence

    I stay away from the arenas and stadiums, which are often filled with too many boorish fans (and often drunks as well)

  7. BRUCE
    March 3, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Ryman, Balcony, first row, middle section

  8. Jonathan Pappalardo
    March 3, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Having just seen Kathy Mattea, from the FRONT ROW no-less, I prefer small intimate venues. The theatre sat just 665 people, there was no opening act (Thank goodness!), only KM and three backing musicians on stage – all acoustic – so you could understand every word and leave without ear damage. Plus, she signed autographs afterwards, so I got to meet her too. The most ideal experience if you ask me.

    I may be 25, but I’m so over large venues (sport arenas and football stadiums, et al). I’m done with people standing at concerts and I’m so sick of opening acts that just seem to drag on and on and leave no impression whatsoever. I’ve seen so many indistinguishable male country singers in the past few years, it isn’t even funny.

    I much prefer going to shows where the audience is there for the music, not for partying. When I go to a show it’s to hear an artist I genuinely like and admire, and I like to appreciate what’s happening on stage. I don’t care about anything else that goes into a concert. Too many concerts are just one giant party, to which I say no thank you.

    My favorite venue? Would have to be The South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA (A SHORT drive from my house, to boot). It’s a small tent with a rotating circular stage in the middle. Such a fabulous place for a great show. I’ve seen tons of wonderful concerts there over the years from Vince Gill to Sugarland and Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn, Trisha Yearwood, LeAnn Rimes, Kenny Rogers, and Martina McBride just to name a few. Such a spectacular venue all around.

  9. Jon
    March 3, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I don’t like venues that smell bad.

  10. Jeremy Dylan
    March 3, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    I’ve found over the years that from the second row, most venues are pretty similar. I try to avoid going to gigs where I’m going to be more than five heads from the front.

    That said, my favourite gig was at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. I don’t know how it would sound with drums, but I saw a band with bluegrass instrumentation in there and the acoustics were positively mind-blowing. It probably seats around two thousand.

    I find theatres of that size to generally have the best acoustics and atmosphere.

  11. TX Music Jim
    March 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas has amazing accoustics the atmosphere lends itself to a party type show. I also love Billy Bobs Texas in Fort Worth. Again big room but great sound and a party atmosphere. Listening room venues Poor Davids Pub in Dallas the Paramount Theater in Austin and Bass Hall in Fort Worth all have amazing accoustics and amazing sound for an accoustic listening room performance. Honorble mention shout out to Sams Burger Joint’s muisc hall in San Antonio uf and coming venue with great attention paid to the sound system and accoustics.

  12. Ben Foster
    March 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I love the Ryman. While the wooden pews tend to make my back a little stiff, it’s such a beautiful place with a very welcoming atmosphere, and it’s designed such that it seems there’s hardly a bad seat to be found. The history behind it also adds something special to it for me, and I enjoy looking at the Opry memorabilia on display there. The Ryman was the site of the first Opry show I attended, and I also enjoyed a performance of the Always, Patsy Cline musical at the Ryman, as well as a fantastic acoustic performance by Patty Loveless.

    Another venue that I really like is the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC) in Bowling Green, which opened fairly recently. It’s beautifully decorated, the acoustics are great, and it has an intimate, almost Ryman-esque feel to it. Plus it’s within an hour’s drive of my home, which is nice. The SKyPAC was the site of the Pam Tillis/ Lorrie Morgan show I reviewed on Country Universe last fall, and I also had the pleasure of seeing Juice Newton perform there back in January.

    Basically I enjoy venues that act as appealing backdrops to the musical entertainment, and that augment the experience without distracting from it. But the quality of the musical entertainment remains the most crucial factor to my enjoyment of the show, and I’ve personally never had an experience in which the venue’s shortcomings ruined things for me.

  13. TX Music Jim
    March 5, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Ben, I agree with you about the Ryman. The atmosphere makes it and the accoustics and history are second to none. However, I’ve been to shows by great artists putting on a great show that was absolutely hampered by the venue having sub par sound that artistry at the highest levels could not overcome. Some venues just aren’t worth going to no matter who’s playing.

  14. Ben Foster
    March 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Perhaps I’m just fortunate enough to have never been to any really bad venues. It may very well happen to me sometime in the future.

  15. TX Music Jim
    March 5, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Thats a good thing. “Venues are like a box of choclates you never know what your going to get” To paraphrase Tom Hanks charchter from Forest Gump. I’m thinking that phrase mostly applies to clubs, bars, and dancehalls and the like, most theaters strive for good sound and are more about art than selling booze.

  16. Jeremy Dylan
    March 5, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    In purely acoustic terms, Durham Performing Arts Centre is the best venue I’ve been to a show in in the States.

  17. Jack Williams
    March 6, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    I live in the Washington,DC area and my favorite venue here is The Birchmere in Alexandria,VA. It’s another listening room (holds about 550) where talking while the artists are playing is highly discouraged and usually everyone pretty much knows the drill. Great sound system and excellent facility. Decent food and several good beers on tap. Seems to be a nice experience for the artists, so they’re typically in a good mood, which always helps.

    Proximity is very important. I don’t need to be in the front row, but I want to able to clearly see the artist’s face and a big screen doesn’t count. Lately, I can’t justify going to a large arena to see artists I like such as Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young or The Black Keyes, when I know I won’t enjoy it as much as when I can see someone like Richard Thompson, Dave Alvin or Elizabeth Cook in a more intimate venue and for much less money.

  18. Matt
    March 8, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Joe’s Pub in NYC is a great place for acoustic shows. They host the CMA Songwriter Series several times per year, and I’ve seen Easton Corbin and Little Big Town there through this. I’ve also seen Joey and Rory and Wade Bowen perform great acoustic concerts. Also in NYC, the Bowery Ballroom and Irving Plaza are great venues.

  19. Arlene
    March 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    And add for NYC, City Winery.

  20. Jack Williams
    March 9, 2013 at 9:11 am

    About 15 miles north of NYC in my home county of Rockland is a place called The Turning Point Cafe in Piermont, NY. Piermont is a charming, artsy town on the west bank of the Hudson just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The Turning Point is a tiny place that maybe holds 75 people, but they get many of the same acts that play The Birchmere (550 capacity) here in the DC area. For example, Elizabeth Cook played there on the same tour where she headlined at The Birchmere for the first time. They tend to be a little blues heavy (seen John Hammond there a few times), but also get a fair amount of rootsy/Americana friendly artists there as well (I see Bill Kirchen, Mary Gauthier, Cheryl Wheeler and Eilen Jewell on their current schedule).

Tagged In This Article

Current Discussion

  • Paige: Oh damn. :( I never commented here and I haven't been listening to any music at all since Thanksgiving (it …
  • Dave W.: Just read the news here. Will miss E145 very much - love this site. All the best to you Juli …
  • Leeann Ward: Oh, dang! This is real. Farewell to the most generous, informative, quality, intelligent, consistent, ethical country music blog! You …
  • bll: Thanks Juli for all the great articles and information; you'll be missed by me and I suss several others. Best …
  • Both Kinds of Music: I hope people appreciate the irony that one of the best "Americana" albums is titled Metamodern Sounds in COUNTRY Music.
  • Barry Mazor: I would not rule out that possibility..There's a different set of voters involved..
  • Dana M: Does anyone else think that Brandy Clark actually has a good chance of winning since this isn't a country awards …
  • Juli Thanki: UPDATE: Brandy Clark got a Best New Artist nom. BEST AMERICANA ALBUM: Rosanne Cash -- The River & The Thread John Hiatt -- Terms …
  • luckyoldsun: Glenn Campbell is great and I'd love to see him get an award, but the words of that song may …
  • Casey Penn: Juli, it was an honor to write for you here on You're good at what you do, and The …

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • walkerandthetexasdangers3
  • deadmanstown
  • tom t hall storytellers
  • paulthorntooblessed
  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton