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VOL. 36 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 10, 2012

Ryman acoustics: Louder is definitely not better

By Tim Ghianni

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Yes, The Ryman Auditorium is a history-drenched temple of music, but for a good show there a musician best treat the place with care.

At least that’s the opinion of Kenny Vaughan, a great guitarist who treasures the joint … as long as musicians try a little tenderness.

“I like playing The Ryman Auditorium. It’s a good place, if you don’t play too loud. It’s easy to hurt that room,” he says.

“A lot of bands play there and hurt the room. It’s an old tabernacle, and when they did the real remodeling (Emmylou Harris put a very public face on the effort that led to the auditorium’s rescue from the pigeons and rodents in 1994), they did some damage to the sonic quality.

“It was remodeled to accommodate more dressing room space. It wasn’t done all that well sonically. Kind of put the P.A. system in a funny place,” he says.

“If you play very loud, you just basically know it’s a no-win situation. I’ve gotten in there and heard some national acts destroy that place.”

No, he’s not going to turn down the opportunity to play there. “It’s not great, but it’s a fun room to play because of that vibe.

“The room just can’t handle the volume. Certain rooms can do better at handling volume than others.”

Despite that potential “hurt,” The Ryman is near-pristine when comparing it other Nashville showrooms.

“There’s a lot of venues in Nashville. Most of the venues have inadequate sound systems and most of them are rather commercial in the music they want us to play,” he says.

He’s talking not just about the neonlit joints on Lower Broadway, which pretty much provide what they are asked: A lot of bass, soaring guitars and songs suitable for good-hearted women, good-timin’ men, German tourists, longnecks and fried pickles.

“A lot of it is tourism-driven, and it’s not a real good town for real creative music to be played,” Vaughan says. “It’s usually singer-songwriters showcasing their songs that they are trying to get noticed or bands playing something you’ve always heard before.”

He regularly displays his musical chops on larger stages as a member of Marty Stuart’s aptly named Fabulous Superlatives. But for those who want to get up close and personal, he plays for no one or anyone every Monday night at the 12 South Taproom and Grill, where a who-knows-who of guitarists and neighborhood denizens are liable to either jump up and play or just sit back and enjoy.

“I have the band there from 10 to midnight,” he says. “It’s a neighborhood bar. No cover. It’s not advertised. Just word of mouth only. … It’s a guitar-players’ little club, hanging out, playing stuff for the fun of playing.

“It’s outside the typical thing of promote your band. We’re not trying to do anything but have fun…. It’s a totally commercial-free music zone.”

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