RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And when it comes to big-time destinations for live music concert venues in America, the Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden, Red Rocks Amphitheatre - they all come to mind. This summer, though, we're going off the beaten track and visiting America's side stages, places best known to locals where players love to play. We begin in a club called Music City. From member station WPLN in Nashville, Blake Farmer takes us to 3rd and Lindsley.
BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: This dark, previously smoky club sits up a hill from the sea of neon lights and four-story honky-tonks that's become Nashville's Lower Broadway. It's still walking distance, but no one stumbles upon 3rd and Lindsley by accident.
LANI LARKIN: Who would ever know to come here? How do you find out about these places? How would you know?
FARMER: Lani Larkin of Salt Lake City says she wouldn't be here but for a passing comment from a downtown tour guide. Ellen Viancourt of Cleveland waits at the bar for the show to start and recalls her first time. She circled for 20 minutes.
ELLEN VIANCOURT: I didn't know it was in this little shopping area. I thought it was going to look like a big deal, but it's not.
FARMER: What it looks like from the outside is a nondescript Mexican restaurant because that's exactly what it used to be.
VINCE GILL: I like Mexican food. I wish they still cooked some.
FARMER: Vince Gill - yes, the Country Music Hall of Famer - has a standing Monday night gig here. He plays with a Texas swing band called the Time Jumpers. Occasionally throughout his 40-year career, he played 3rd and Lindsley when it was smaller with a stage wedged into a corner. It's been expanded with a horseshoe balcony and table seating for 400, but it still feels cozy.
GILL: Yeah, it sounds good in here now. I don't know that I would say that it used to sound that great. It's funny. Every place has kind of its pros and its cons.
FARMER: One of the pros, at least for the fans, is proximity. Gill spends a few minutes beside the stage. He drapes his arms around admirers, smiling at their cellphone cameras and enduring the technical difficulties.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Unfortunately, I messed up and can't get the picture.
GILL: All right, let's try again.
FARMER: Gill looks like he just got off the golf course - a little sunburnt in shorts and loafers. Like the venue itself, no style points. The audiences come to listen.
GILL: (Singing) Together again.
GILL: (Singing) My tears have stopped falling.
FARMER: Throwback country is just one night a week. The others are filled with up-and-coming alt-rock and Americana acts, interspersed with some recognizable headliners. Miranda Lambert played this week. And it's the kind of place where Aerosmith's Steven Tyler has been known to drop in unannounced.
RON BRICE: But that's Nashville. It happens all the time.
FARMER Ron Brice credits any success to the growth of the city itself. He bought the place cheap in a bank auction nearly 25 years ago.
BRICE: I remember the first big show I think we ever did was Train.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DROPS OF JUPITER")
TRAIN: (Singing) Now that she's back in the atmosphere with drops of Jupiter...
BRICE: There was probably 50 people here. Next time, there was about 200 here and the next time there was a line all the way around the corner and that was it.
FARMER: Wilco, Ray LaMontagne, Goo Goo Dolls - the list is long and diverse. Still, Brice thinks of his club as a dark horse. The secret - maybe humility.
BRICE: It's always been about the music and the bands and artists. It's not about the place. And I think we've always been like that and I think we always will.
FARMER: Hence the name - which is nothing more than the address - 3rd and Lindsley. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOGETHER AGAIN")
GILL: (Singing) Together again, all my gray skies are gone.
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