On July 1 of last year, the space where Eric Lindquist was standing was a parking lot.
“There were cars parked here,” he said.
Nine months and $4 million later, Lindquist stood at the Off The Rails Music Venue at 90 Commercial St., Worcester.
“It will be a special place,” he said. “It’s the best of the best.”
The newly built venue will also be a venue for country music and American acts, in keeping with the country-themed restaurant and bar Off The Rails which opened on July 17.
The Off The Rails Music Venue opened its doors last week but will have its grand opening on May 6 with a performance by veteran country music band Sawyer Brown. Local country artist Mychael David will open. Ricky Duran, who grew up in Grafton and was a runner-up on NBC’s ‘The Voice’ in 2019, will take the stage on May 7 with Liam Coleman opening. The shows at the Music Venue are events for all ages.
The plan is to have two shows a week to start, Lindquist said, although details are still being worked out.
The Music Venue will also offer country line dancing on Thursday nights.
Lindquist, communications director for Off The Rails, said he was told the Music Venue was “the first new music venue built in Worcester in over 40 years”. The nearby DCU Center was probably the most recent concert hall built (and not renovated), he said.
Off The Rails is owned by Cliff Rucker, owner of the Worcester Railers hockey team and part of the Worcester Palladium. Chris Besaw, Managing Partner of Off The Rails, also served as Managing Director of The Palladium.
The Off The Rails Music Venue is phase two of a plan announced last year.
The first phase was to open the Off The Rails restaurant and bar.
The inspiration for phases one and two came from what was considered the lack of a country restaurant or venue in Worcester, despite all the country music fans in town.
A sign on the wall of the Music Venue clearly reads: “Bringing a bit of Nashville to Worcester.”
The Off The Rails Music Venue will be a four-season, multi-purpose facility that, in addition to hosting national, regional and local country and American artists, will also be available for community and private events such as weddings or birthday parties with a full kitchen.
The interior portion of the hall includes a 20’x30′ stage at one end, a fully stocked bar (with an American flag on top) at the other, and a floor area that Lindquist says can accommodate about 500 people. There are tables and chairs for what will be “VIP” seats during concerts. The live broadcast of the scene will be broadcast throughout the hall on digital screens.
“It’s an intimate installation,” Lindquist said. People in the standing area will be very close to the stage.
Doors open to a beer garden with outdoor seating for an additional 115-20 people.
Next door is the Palladium, and (given the Palladium’s relationship with Off The Rails) when the Palladium hosts outdoor events, the Off The Rails patio will be a “VIP” area for those shows, Lindquist said.
For the Off The Rails Music Venue, when the weather is nice, the doors can be opened so some patrons can be outside, he said.
Unlike some outdoor entertaining spaces, “you don’t have cars racing (nearby). It’s its own kind of alcove,” Lindquist said.
One of the exterior walls will soon have its own wings, similar to a famous mural of angel wings in Nashville. The same artist is coming to Worcester to paint angel wings outside Off The Rails, Lindquist said.
Back inside, the concert hall has a green hall and “everything is state of the art,” Lindquist said. “The sound is state of the art. The lighting is state of the art.”
Since last July, construction work had been underway on the back of the building as the concert hall took shape.
It cost “$4 million to install top to bottom,” Lindquist said.
He credited Besaw with overseeing all the details from the start of the project.
“He knows the music industry inside out,” Lindquist said.
Lindquist and Besaw took a trip to Nashville to see if they could find any ideas to take back to Worcester.
At Off The Rails last week, final preparations were underway ahead of the grand opening on May 6.
“I’m very excited about this. It’s a dream come true,” Besaw said.
The walk along Commercial Street from Front Street is still not entirely devoid of gray days gone by.
“It’s going to be a huge draw. People are really excited about it. It’s a new space in Worcester,” Lindquist said.
“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing for people who want to organize special events.” They include a group from Assumption College and the State Democratic Convention, which will be held June 3-4, and the DCU Center. For private events, tables and chairs can be brought on the floor, Lindquist said.
With downtown hotels and events at the DCU Center, Palladium, Mechanics Hall and the Hanover Theater and Conservatory for the Performing Arts, “there are plenty of ticks” for people who also come to Off The Rails, Lindquist said. .
“It’s about bringing people to downtown Worcester. It’s been very event driven.”
Formerly Railers Tavern, the Off the Rails Restaurant is currently open 4-9:30 p.m. Wednesday, 4-10:30 p.m. Thursday, 4-12 midnight Friday, 11 a.m.-midnight Saturday, and 11 a.m. a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
“We changed the scenery, broke down some walls,” Lindquist said of the bar and restaurant renovation. Nashville touches in the restaurant include guitars in display cases on the dining tables.
There’s live music every day, but “it’s more background music, an acoustic set, one or two tracks, but country music every time,” Lindquist said. “It’s kind of the vibe.”
The food is “Southern cuisine from scratch,” Lindquist said. Menu items include fried chicken, shrimp and grits, fried pickle chips, and bourbon chocolate bread pudding. There are around 20 draft beers with specialty cocktails with southern influences.
The restaurant has been doing very well, especially since March when COVID cases started to decline and mask mandates were no longer in effect.
“We’ve gotten off to a really good start and every weekend since March has been busy,” Lindquist said.
“We have to turn people away on Fridays and Saturdays.” Last week, Off The Rails was “booked for Friday night and we’ll be on Saturday,” Lindquist said midweek. Sunday brunch is also very popular, he noted.
Now, with the Off The Rails Music Venue, “ideally people will book into the restaurant before the show,” he said.
Tickets for the opening shows “went very well,” he said.
“It’s an intimate setting. We know that once people come in and breathe in and smell it, they’ll want to come in again and again.”
Sawyer Brown dates back to 1981 and has charted more than 50 times on the Hot Country Songs charts, including three No. 1 singles – “Step That Step”, “Some Girls Do” and “Thank God for You”. Mychael David hails from Northborough and Dudley and is also a recording artist from Nashville. Doors open for the May 6 show at 6 p.m. Tickets cost between $35 and $45.
Ricky Duran recently released his debut album, “Space & Time”, to strong reviews. Liam Coleman is a Charlton-born country music singer/songwriter who was signed to the Marathon Talent Agency roster in Nashville and took on former Warner Nashville Records music director Peter Strickland as his manager. Doors also open for the May 7 show at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 to $100.
“Sawyer Brown, they have a bit more of an older demographic. Ricky Duran is local and a younger demographic,” Lindquist said of Music Venue’s efforts to attract music fans.
Up next are Texas Hill (May 10), Arlo McKinley (May 13), Little Texas (June 13), and Sierra Hull (July 28). The calendar will be constantly updated.
“It’s also important that we wanted local artists. Mychael David opens for Sawyer Brown, Liam Coleman opens for Ricky Duran. There’s a lot of good country music here and there hasn’t been a place for them,” said said Lindquist.
“We want this to be a place where local country bands start here. People will be like, ‘Remember when they played Off The Rails, and now they’re all over the world?'”
For more information and tickets visit www.OffTheRailsWorcester.com