Even though Nashville is known as Music City, USA, live music isn’t our city’s focus. There isn’t a lot of opportunity for bands that don’t fit the mold of Lower Broad tourist entertainment to play in a live setting, to be seen and heard by anyone with any major label clout, and certainly not to make any appreciable money. The Rutledge breaks the mold, though, and is probably Nashville’s most eclectic club, giving the stage to bands playing rock, alternative, nu-wave, rap-fueled acid jazz and yes, even country.
Managed by Andy Aquino, the Rutledge features live music seven nights a week, and is a little off the beaten path, a few blocks south of the Lower Broad tourist traps and a few miles from the Vandy-area college bars. Aquino said that he loves operating a venue that gives struggling acts a chance to be heard, especially when their music may be a little left of center here in the country music capitol. He said that he sees hundreds of acts annually, and occasionally runs across a band that shows major league potential.
“I do hear some bands who’ve definitely got it,” he said, “but they end up lacking focus, or they just don’t have a clear sense of what it takes to succeed in the business. There’s more to it than just having a good act or being good musicians. But I do what I can to support them.”
Veteran Nashville soundman Frank Sass runs the board each night, and Aquino said that the club’s acoustics and Sass’ mixing ability have been a key ingredient of the club’s success.
“This isn’t just a rock club,” Aquino said, “but a place where anyone can sound as good as they want to. We’ve had Keith Urban in here, full band, and we just had SHeDAISY in here, full band, and they sounded great. This really is a good room for just about anything.”
Nick Autry is the manager of Sound Stage Studios on Music Row, and a writing partner of some of Nashville’s hitmakers. Autry is also an artist, and has performed several times at the Rutledge.
“The Rutledge has been an important part of my career as a performer,” Autry said via cell phone, en route to a Jason Aldean show in Chicago. “From the days when I played there with Hollywood Cowboy, to my own band, to even playing solo, it’s always been a great venue. And Andy and Frank are really great to work with. Andy cares about the artists in this town, and also wants everyone to be exposed to good music, and to different types of music.”
For the past 15 years, Billy Block has hosted a live music show, which is locally broadcast on radio and streamed worldwide, with artists who are primarily in the country, rockabilly or blues genres. Block recently moved the show to the Rutledge after stints at the Exit/Inn and 12th and Porter.
“The experience with the Rutledge has been great,” Block said. “Andy has been very welcoming to us, and has given us the opportunity to take the show to another level.” Block’s show starts each Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
Jason Hoffman owns Per Capita Records, a Nashville-based label that features eclectic acts from around the world, including Nashville jazz-pop chanteuse Rachel Pearl and R&B crooner Jonathan “Super J” Winstead. Several of Hoffman’s acts have played the Rutledge, which he said is probably his favorite club in town for seeing and hearing his artists perform live.
“Working with Andy has always been the most fun I’ve had booking or producing a show,” Hoffman said. “And it’s also great with Frank there, because he’s one of the best in Nashville (at mixing live sound). It’s always a pleasure to work there.”
The club is also the site of live showcases for acts seeking label or publishing deals. These usually happen early in the evening before the bands take the stage, or sometimes during the lunch hour. The club is also available for corporate lunches, dinners, receptions, and whatever else a client may need.
“I’ve played a lot of clubs, from North Carolina to New York City,” Autry said, “and I have to say it’s the cleanest place I’ve ever played, not a dive like so many places. Andy does a great job of making it the type of place where people want to work, and where the labels and managers want to have their showcases.”
The smoke-free Rutledge is located at 410 4th Ave. South, near the intersection of 4th Ave. South and Korean Veterans Boulevard. Go to www.therutledgelmv.com or call (615) 782-6858 for information.
By Rick Moore