Take a Bow: Playing the Iconic Venues

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A half dozen hard-working music artists look back at the iconic venues they’ve played and forward to the ones they still want to conquer.

Playing your music in a world-famed venue can make for the performance of a lifetime and it inevitably makes great fodder when trading war stories. Playing these legendary venues can also add prestige and credibility to a musician’s career. But for many of us, including the artists we talked to, there’s always a bigger stage to conquer. Our panel of musicians were asked what’s the most iconic venue you’ve played and which ones do you hope to someday play?

Running down a dream

Natalia Paruz The Saw Lady

For a musician as unique as Natalia Paruz, known as “The Saw Lady”, not just any venue will do. The celebrated musical saw player is looking forward to organizing the 11th NYC Musical Saw Festival at the end of May, which will host about 50 musical saw players from around the world. Paruz has played famed venues in the traditional sense, but as she reveals, her favorite is a theater of another kind entirely.

I have played at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center, but for me the most iconic place I get to play at is the NYC subway! I get to fill the arteries of the city with my sound and be the soundtrack to literally millions of people's lives. I cannot think of a greater honor. People of all walks of life, from homeless people and drunks, drug addicts and pick-pockets to Wall Street tycoons—it is the stage of life.

Jaren Johnston of The Cadillac Three Band

Jaren Johnston, Kelby Ray and Neil Mason of The Cadillac Three, a country music trio of Nashville natives, are excited to be playing the Stagecoach Festival in California in April this year, but as for the most iconic venues they’ve already played, they have a handful. Johnston shared his favorites.

We’ve been very blessed to play many iconic venues, The Beacon in New York, The Wiltern in LA, The Metro in Chicago and many amazing places across the UK. All those were super cool. Hell, I proposed to my wife at The Beacon theater show!

Doyle Lawson

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver has nearly 40 albums to their name, multiple Grammy, Dove, ICM, IBMA and SPBGMA Award nominations, recognition by the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and the governor of Tennessee, and a storied past playing the country’s most celebrated venues. However, for Lawson, The Ryman Auditorium holds a special place in his heart.

It was still the home of the Grand Ole Opry when I performed there for the first time. As a kid I listened to the stars of the day and dreamed of one day being able to go see and hear them on the famous Opry stage. Little did I know, my first visit to the Opry would not be as part of the audience, but as a performer. It is still one of my favorite places to perform. There is something special about the Ryman. I can't describe it and I've heard a lot of people say the same thing. There is an aura, something about the Ryman itself; the atmosphere. I always get a little nervous there.

David Choi, a Los Angeles singer-songwriter-producer who just kicked off a 22-city US and Canadian tour has performed his original songs and covers in front of tens of thousands of people around the world—all without being signed to a record label. Of the venues he’s played, Choi feels that a home-state location tops them all.

I think the most iconic venue I’ve played is the Troubadour in West Hollywood. I think what sets this apart from other venues is its rich history. Notables like Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and the Eagles have played there.

Andrew and Emily of Mandolin Orange Band

Mandolin Orange, a bluegrass, country and folk duo from North Carolina has hit plenty of venues across the country. In fact, after putting out their new record in May, they’ll be playing at DelFest in Maryland before heading back out on the touring trail. If you ask Andrew and Emily to name the most iconic venue they’ve played, they’d tell you it’s right in their backyard.

The Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC is the most iconic venue we’ve played at. It's one of the longest standing venues in North Carolina and it has hosted a lot of legendary acts. Plus it happens to be in our hometown. The owner, Frank, has been very supportive of us over the years and it has been awesome to grow with our hometown fans.

Singer and Songwriter Ellis Paul

Over Ellis Paul’s songwriting career, he has earned 15 Boston Music Awards, played 150-plus shows annually for over 20 years, put out 19 records, two books and a documentary film. This year he plans to release a new book and get some new songs written. He’ll play the Kerrville Music Festival in May and the Woody Guthrie Festival and Black Potatoe in July. He has fond memories of iconic venues big and small.

I've played some bigger venues [like] the Newport Folk Festival and Carnegie Hall. But I’ve also played some iconic little venues like Club Passim, the Ark, Old Town School of Folk Music, Freight & Salvage and many more. There’s a certain reverence that the audience brings to these places; they usually are aware of the history and it seems sometimes that they want to see a night of history in the making.

The bucket list of venues

Even if a musician has hit all the biggest venues, there is always one stage they’ve yet to grace that they still dream about. We asked our musicians to indulge their fantasy and tell us not only where they wish they could play, but who with.

Ellis Paul, Andrew and Emily all said if they could play anywhere, it’d be at Red Rocks. But they chose different artists to accompany.

Andrew and Emily of Mandolin Orange said:

We’d love to play Red Rocks with Norman Blake! Norman is one of our all-time favorite songwriters and musicians and we'd really just love to see him at Red Rocks.

But Ellis Paul said:

I'd love to play Red Rocks with U2. Why not? I’d like to take a time machine to the ‘80s and crash their gig there. It's the most dramatic venue in the US. With the most dramatic band in the world. I'd play kazoo, I don't care! Let me in the band!

Jaren Johnston has already played his dream venue, The Ryman. But if he had his way, The Cadillac Three would be headlining.

We have supported bands there as well as play our own spot on the Opry and the Grand Ole Opry, but headlining the Ryman would be classy as hell. We can't wait.

Singer, Songwriter and Producer David Choi

David Choi likes to dream big, picking a great venue and a legendary musician to share it with.

I’d love to play the Hollywood Bowl. If I could share the stage with Stevie Wonder, that would be amazing

Natalia Paruz, who also likes to shoot for the stars, answered our question with three simple words:

The White House.

The show must go on

The only thing that beats good old fashioned reminiscing about the great moments of your career is imagining new heights! Join the conversation! What iconic venues have you played at? What stage would you play if you could choose any? And who would you share it with?

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