How do you keep a performance venue open for 25 years?
I sat down with Ron Brice, the owner of 3rd and Lindsley, and Kathy Mac, head of audio at the venue, to find out what’s behind their success.
Back in 2001, when the Shure Nashville Artist Relations office opened, it wasn’t long before I started to ask the local audio engineers about the best music venues in town. Longtime Vince Gill FOH engineer Hugh Johnson told me I needed to head over to 3rd and Lindsley. To this day, I am so glad he sent me there. I’ve seen many great shows there, including KT Tunstall before she broke big, Sheryl Crow about six months ago, and some great local talent.
Before it became 3rd and Lindsley, it was a Mexican restaurant called Jose’s. Ron worked on Music Row and often came in for lunch. Sometimes he would never leave.
The owner of Jose’s decided to expand and move to a new location. Ron and a business partner initially put a bid on buying just the contents for a quick turnaround. They bid $ 20,000 and won. When they walked in, everything was still set up like it was ready for business. They decided to reimagine it as a performance venue/restaurant.
One-hundred thousand dollars later, they re-opened. Back then, they could hold 300 people seated. On opening night, they booked a killer local band and sold out. Soon, many other local musicians like Gary Nicholson came in, and it became THE spot for hearing great musicians.
About booking the latest and greatest acts, Ron states, “We’ve always tried to be very progressive and be in front of new stuff that’s breaking out. The other part is, if you find something you like…I think the cream usually rises to the top at some point for all the right reasons. If you keep putting it out there and in front of people, it’s going to grow itself. Lady Antebellum was our every other Tuesday night band for over a year. Little Big Town was also here for a while. They are very talented and awesome people.”
Caring About the Artists
“When I look for staff,” Kathy explains, “I’m looking for someone who truly cares about the artists. If you have a staff that cares for the artists, the artists are going to have their best show.” Ron adds, “It can be a grind running shows and dealing with incoming bands. All of our sound people are very even-keeled, very professional. They know when to step forward, when to step back, and when to pitch in. It’s important to be prepared and know what’s going to happen.”
“I’m not going to tell you that I’m smarter than the next guy,” Ron continues, “but I am smart enough to realize that music is our product. You need to be artist friendly. Artists want the best production and the best equipment. We’ve got great equipment, thanks to you guys [Shure] and all the other folks we work with.”
Kathy adds, “I think the reason I stayed is not just because we are friends but because you actually like music. I’ve had times when you’d call me and say, ‘You need to come down and hear these guys. I can’t believe how good they sound,’ and that drives us, from a production standpoint, to get better.”
The Right Mix: Technology and Artistry
When it comes to hiring the audio staff, Kathy says, “Generally, when I look for engineers, Ron will tell you I’m the pickiest person on the planet. Over the years, we’ve been very fortunate to have engineers with great attitudes who can really hear whether something is right or not and know what to do to fix it, but not get so hung up on the technology that they forget to listen. I’ve had some interns get so hung up on the technology that they forget to listen to what they are actually doing. The technology is there to work for them, not against them.”
“We try to just be nice,” Kathy concludes. “A lot of people come into a venue EXPECTING for it to be tough to do, EXPECTING people to be hard to get along with. They are always disarmed when they come here. We bring our A game for everyone. I’ve always believed in two things: attitude and ears. If our engineers have those, you can teach them everything else.”