90. Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel
Providence, Rhode Island
What You’ll See: Deer Tick, Max Creek, Panic! At the Disco
For anyone that’s ever dreamed of opening a bar or venue, Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel is the paragon of accomplishment. Rich Lupo originally opened the club mainly as a place for folks to come drink and hang out in the notoriously dry downtown Providence. The dream was always to get big enough so Bo Diddley would play there, and live music night, which prominently featured local blues rock acts like Wild Turkey, The Young Adults, and Backslap Blues Band, expanded within a year to national touring acts like the Ramones, Roy Orbison, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and more.
Diddley ended up playing nine consecutive gigs there in 1977, but that still wasn’t the apex of the venue’s history. Over the years, the Hotel switched locations thrice, each time expanding in size and becoming more of a concert hall. The current location, which opened in 2003, can hold a staggering 1,900 people for bands as varied as Eagles of Death Metal and Wakka Flocka Flame. Though the building has changed, and the space is often shared with the separately owned nightclub Roxy, the portraits of deceased musicians by Dan Gosch still line the walls, and the heart of rock and roll beats loud in Rhode Island.
89. Louisville Palace
What You’ll See: The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Sturgill Simpson, Bonnie Raitt
They weren’t kidding when they called this place a palace. Since its grand opening in 1928, the Louisville Palace has pretty much set the standard for elegance in downtown Louisville — a neighborhood that’s no stranger to elegance. Architect John Eberson made sure the Palace would stand the test of time, outfitting it with a Spanish Baroque motif that feels a lot more like Europe than the American South.
Though the 2,800-seat venue has hosted more theater than music throughout its long history, these days it’s a hotbed for high-profile solo artists (Chris Cornell, Sturgill Simpson) and legacy acts (The Monkees, Alice Cooper, The Beach Boys). Let’s put it this way: If you’re seeing a nationally treasured rock band in Louisville, it’s probably at the Palace.
88. Bluebird Nightclub
What You’ll See: Dawes, Kurt Vile and the Violators, Titus Andronicus, Leon Bridges
The Bluebird is the consensus darling of the city of Bloomington’s rock community, catering equally to state-college students, grandparents, and local musicians. Founded as a non-music bar in 1973, it quickly rebranded itself as a jazz club before evolving into a hidden Midwest indie-rock and country treasure in later decades and ultimately expanding into its state’s most distinguished venue for bands in general.
Some niche crowds might know it as a premiere destination for cover bands or as a regular host of live-band karaoke. But its brightest badge might very well be its rich history of bizarre moments bearing improbably colossal names. One gloriously strange night in 1987 featured Lou Reed sharing its stage with John Mellencamp, and on another in 2011, it became an unlikely, spur-of-the-moment substitute venue by cramming in a few hundred of the thousands holding tickets to a rained-out EDM farm festival headlined by Deadmau5.
87. George’s Majestic Lounge
What You’ll See: Dark Star Orchestra, Robert Cray, Leon Russell, North Mississippi Allstars
The longest-running club in Arkansas sure looks the part, with its rustic brick interior, worn-in atmosphere, and impressive collection of University of Arkansas yearbooks dating all the way back to 1911. (If you’re a regular, they might even ask you to sign one.) George’s Majestic Lounge began hosting regular live shows sometime back in the 1970s, and it’s a good bet that some of the white-bearded dudes sitting at the bar on any given night were there for at least a few of them. These days, the music tends to skew toward blues and roots rock (this is the South, remember), and luminaries such as Robert Cray, Leon Russell, and Charlie Robison have been known to stop by from time to time. It’s hard to blame them, seeing as how there aren’t many bars like this left in the world.
86. The Bomb Factory
What You’ll See: Explosions in the Sky, Ms. Lauryn Hill
I have toured internationally with a handful of bands on a handful of different tours, going to Europe once and all across the US each time. But there’s only ever been one venue on Earth where the way the venue was set up made the performance noticeably better. At Dallas’ The Bomb Factory — that’s not just a showy name; the place used to be a legitimate bomb factory during World War II — bands have a private lounge with free arcade games, fountain drinks, coffee, and a built-in laundromat, as well as a giant stage with an unparalleled light show. It’s relatively new, so it may not have the history of some of the other co-conspirators on this list, but since its rebranding last year, the 4,300-capacity venue has already hosted the likes of Erykah Badu (who played the first show there) and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
85. Club Downunder
What You’ll See: Tokyo Police Club, Elle King, Ted Leo
Granted, our high number of FSU alums makes the inclusion of this small, on-campus club a little biased (Go, Noles!), but Club Downunder’s calendar speaks for itself. Because Tallahassee has a serious lack of midsize music venues, most indie acts not popular enough to fill the Tallahassee Civic Center (i.e. most indie acts in general) end up here. From the years of 2002 to 2006 alone, I caught Stars, Transatlanticism-era Death Cab for Cutie, Tallahassee-era Mountain Goats (of course), The Fiery Furnaces, the late Jason Molina, and other musicians who, in a larger city, would be playing to crowds much bigger than the couple hundred CDU accommodates. Best of all, every show is free for students, and the general public only has to pay between $5 and $15.
84. Rialto Theatre
What You’ll See: Jimmy Eat World, Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky
When the Rialto opened back in 1920, the only music to be heard came from a massive Kilgen pipe organ that accompanied the theater’s silent films. The Congress Street landmark continued to show films through most of the 20th century, until the mid-’90s, when it transformed into a concert venue that hosted some of that era’s most iconic rock bands — including Modest Mouse, The White Stripes, and The Black Crowes.
The theater then shut down for renovations and reopened again in 2004 with a bang, showing off some decidedly modern perks (like air conditioning … in Arizona) alongside the same art nouveau elements that accompanied its original opening. Today’s theater is located in a bustling section of downtown Tucson and retains the same classic marquee — making it not only the most recognizable concert venue in Tucson, but perhaps the entire Southwest.
What You’ll See: James Murphy, Peanut Butter Wolf, Bob Moses
David Sinopoli books some of the most influential and talented acts South Florida can handle. His venue, Bardot, has a schedule so authentic and close to home, one often wonders whether it’s coming straight from their go-to playlist. Bottom line: Bardot has a pulse on pop culture that South Florida has been begging for. What’s more, the venue has survived not only the second wave of gentrification within Wynwood, but also outlasted some of the largest venues in the Miami area, namely the former world-renowned Grand Central. To date, Sinopoli and his team have brought the best of the best into their own living room. Grab a drink, play some pool, and feel cool. Hell, maybe local hero Iggy Pop will stop by — you just never know.
82. The Empty Bottle
What You’ll See: The Men, Strand of Oaks, Bully
On The Simpsons episode “My Sister, My Sitter”, a new downtown area opens that caters to yuppies. At first, it looks like Moe’s has another, much swankier bar there, but when one fellow ventures down the overly long entranceway, he finds himself at the original location. “This isn’t a faux dive,” he scoffs. “This is just a dive.” Anyone might make the same observation about Chicago’s The Empty Bottle.
Traditionally, it’s packed to the brim with local heroes and bands praised by critics. But no matter how famous acts like The Men, Bully, and The Ponys (R.I.P.?) get, they’ll always have bite. They’ll always sound best in a place that’s tiny, a place that looks nondescript from the street, a place that’s a great local bar even on nights when there aren’t any shows (which is rare). The Bottle isn’t a faux dive; it’s just a dive. And we mean that as a compliment.
81. The Forum
What You’ll See: The Eagles, U2, KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas, Justin Timberlake
For decades, the “Fabulous Forum” was a sports venue first and a concert hall second, hosting the Lakers, Sparks, and Kings of Los Angeles. And truth be told, it wasn’t a great place to see an arena show, cavernous and impersonal, not designed for acoustics other than the roar of a crowd. Still, it created a memorable backdrop for everything from The Rolling Stones to Michael Jackson to Pearl Jam. But in 2012, everything changed.
The MSG Company bought the building, long vacated by sports teams in favor of Staples Center. They poured 50 million into it and created a large-scale indoor concert hall, complete with super comfy seats and pristine sound. Now it’s where U2 sets up shop for a week, where local radio stations host their holiday bashes, and where awards shows and boxing events occur. There’s a definite catering to VIPs that is profoundly LA, but even in the cheap seats, there aren’t many better places to see, or hear, a massive spectacle.