Going off the grid with five scene players at their favorite low-key venues 

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"The staff has really bought in to the culture of working at a roots venue," Crane says. "After I played there a few times, the staff knew me, and when I went in there not playing, I was recognized as a member of a band. They appreciated me. That's important. There's a culture at the saloon that's more than just, 'We'll put this act in because we know they're good for this many bodies.' That's invaluable, especially for the style of music that is booked there."

click to enlarge Leo chills on a couch at Frank's. - ZACH BAUMAN
  • Zach Bauman
  • Leo chills on a couch at Frank's.

The place: Frank's North Star Tavern
The talent: Monzie Leo, of Monzie Leo & the Big Sky

The first thing I notice about the basement venue of Frank's North Star Tavern, in North Lawrence, is the smell. It is the unmistakable aroma of stale piss mixed with something a little like barnyard animals.

"Yeah, there used to be cockfights down here, I think," Monzie Leo tells me. He explains that, before it was Frank's, the space was a Latin nightclub. "I think there was a party last week where the girl brought a bunch of bacon, so the smell's especially bad now."

Leo, who fronts the raucous hillbilly-punk act Monzie Leo & the Big Sky, is a reliable enough source about this two-year-old venue, having served as the semiregular door guy since it opened. And his tales are hugely entertaining.

The basement, where most bands play and which also books a variety of comedy and theater shows, does in fact also look ideal for cockfights. The "stage" is really more of a pit in the center of the room, surrounded by railings and bar stools. The bathrooms exude a Hostel vibe — rather than urinals, the men's room features a long trough. But for an audience, Frank's basement is kind of perfect. No matter where you stand, you've got a view.

According to Leo, Frank's is one of Lawrence's best-kept secrets. Plenty of noteworthy acts have found their way here, including metal band Cauldron, from Canada, and Kristine Levine, who writes for Portlandia and made Frank's a stop on her recent 50 Shows in 50 States comedy tour.

"The bands vary," Leo says. "One night it's metal. The next night we've got [local singer-songwriter collective] the Gothic Cowboy Review. And there's all sorts of random little nuances."

He adds, "It's welcoming here, which you wouldn't expect from a place that's kind of big and cold sometimes, and it's never shoulder-to-shoulder with obnoxious people. I think since it's off the beaten path, people find it difficult to get to. Coming here is less of a priority for people." He pauses, reflects for a moment. "But that might be OK."

click to enlarge Wyoming on Davey's: "It's a great place to be a new band." - ZACH BAUMAN
  • Zach Bauman
  • Wyoming on Davey's: "It's a great place to be a new band."

The place: Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club
The talent: Cody Wyoming

Cody Wyoming has been in more bands than he can remember. No, really — when I ask him to list every outfit he has been in, even just the ones that have played at Davey's over the years, he ticks off four, then pauses before telling me that he'll have to e-mail me later with a full list.

He does e-mail me later, with a list of no fewer than 10 bands and a reminder that these were only his "most frequent" Davey's acts. (Loyalists will recall, outside the more familiar names, Big Tobacco, Resident Clark, the Golden Hearted Whores, and Rex Hobart's Spaghetti Western Orchestra.)

So, yeah, Wyoming is a local-music staple, and there's no forgetting that he made his debut at Davey's in 1994 with his first band, Crooked Man.

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