70. Music Hall of Williamsburg
Brooklyn, New York
What You’ll See: Lucius, The Districts, Vince Staples
Though it’s now seen as a touchstone of the midsize venues that populate the New York City area, the Music Hall of Williamsburg has its roots in the city’s rich DIY history. MHoW started out as Northsix in 2001, becoming one of the first venues to bring indie and underground live music over the bridges from Manhattan. And oh, what music they brought; bands like My Morning Jacket, Sonic Youth, Spoon, and The Mars Volta all took the stage at Northsix. Elliott Smith performed a three-night run there in 2003, his final NYC performances prior to his death.
Though gentrification forced Northsix to sell to Bowery Presents in 2007, the rebranded, remodeled Music Hall of Williamsburg remains a perfect, 550-capacity location to catch acts like Dr. Dog, Swans, Mitski, Chelsea Wolfe, and others. (You can still see the original layout in the opening scene from School of Rock.) Each of its three floors features its own bar (the basement could double as a regular hangout spot if it weren’t for the pull of whatever concert is upstairs), and views from anywhere in the main room or the balcony are almost always clear. Slightly curved walls lead to excellent acoustics throughout, meaning there’s no better place in Brooklyn to comfortably catch your favorite bands.
What You’ll See: Bun B, Napalm Death, Caribou, Parquet Courts
One of the longest running venues in Houston, Fitzgerald’s has a long and complicated history that ties closely to the city’s own story. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, the venue served as a host for acts like R.E.M., the Ramones, and Sonic Youth, and over the last five years, the organizers behind Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival have worked tirelessly to revitalize both the venue and the surrounding scene itself. During that time, they turned Fitzgerald’s into one of the city’s true powerhouses.
This year, they left to open up a new venue, White Oak Music Hall, but Fitzgerald’s lives on under new management. Already, they’ve booked bands like Parquet Courts and hosted memorable events such as last week’s Prince tribute. Granted, it’s still a work in progress, but its central location in the Heights neighborhood undoubtedly cements Fitzgerald’s as a landmark for Houston. And much like the spirit of its city, the venue should be able to weather any changes and keep bouncing back.
68. Liberty Hall
What You’ll See: Neutral Milk Hotel, Modest Mouse, Beach House, Hozier
Lawrence’s Liberty Hall doubles as both a concert venue and a movie theatre — but wait, there’s more! The whole thing’s also connected to its own video rental store and coffee house. This historic establishment (rebuilt after two fires, it is now said to be fireproof) books all genres from indie to EDM and has hosted a variety of entertainers from Oscar Wilde to Wu Tang Clan.
Yet out of everything Liberty Hall offers, two of its best features are oft-forgotten mundanities. The venue’s floor, which is mildly stepped, allows for shorter folk to almost always have a good view of the stage. Up above, the ceiling radiates with beautiful painted murals that depict an ascension into heaven, which is how many concerts make people feel.
67. The Ready Room
St. Louis, Missouri
What You’ll See: Charli XCX, Tycho, Earl Sweatshirt, Catfish and the Bottlemen
A newer addition to The Grove’s many hipster-friendly destinations, The Ready Room has made quite an impression on St. Louis’ entertainment scene over the past two years. As its name suggests, the 750-capacity venue is basically just a room, boasting little more than four walls and a bar. But that’s really all it needs. With a stage more intimate than The Pageant and more visible than The Firebird, The Ready Room gives young fans (usually of hip-hop, indie rock, and synth-pop) a relaxed environment where moving and macking is made simple.
The logistics of the place are superior as well. Parking is a breeze, and leaving is even breezier given a garage door that opens post-concert, allowing spectators to exit quickly to the many bars outside. In its short history, the venue has already experienced some noteworthy moments. For those lucky enough to witness it, The Ready Room will always be remembered as the place that a tearful Killer Mike gave a disheartened speech about the jury decision in Ferguson, which was only 20 miles from the venue itself. It was a shame that the speech had to be uttered, but no venue or audience was more fitting than the passionate young crowd gathered at The Ready Room.
What You’ll See: Bully, Dan Deacon, DIIV, Pallbearer
Our favorite venue in Louisville is Zanzabar, aka Zbar, which is notable for appealing to as wide of a variety of age groups as possible. A big reason for that is that it’s home to the city’s only vintage arcade, where it hosts pinball tournaments every week. (You may be tempted to shatter your piggy bank before a visit.) Additionally, its low-key atmosphere makes it an intimate favorite for locals in comparison to other area venues.
Even so, it’s still good about playing host to upcoming, buzz-worthy artists, especially on the indie rock front, having booked bands like Surfer Blood, Ought, Woods, and DIIV for the coming months. That combination of old-school characteristics and up-to-date music gives it a unique balance, allowing opportunities for Louisville youth to stay in touch with current music and the city’s older concertgoers to feel nostalgic for their youth.
65. Belly Up Tavern
San Diego, California
What You’ll See: Damian Marley, Los Lobos, Thievery Corporation
The Belly Up Tavern began with a simple vision: Two friends wanted a bar to be proud of in the town of Solana Beach. Founders Dave Hodges and Greg Gilholm weren’t thinking about music, but eventually some entry-level bluegrass acts started coming around, which shortly blossomed into notable blues artists like Bo Diddley and Etta James playing gigs. By the ’90s, the Belly Up started expanding into myriad genres like reggae, hip-hop, and rock.
Today, it’s San Diego’s most intimate space, a 600-person venue with personal touches like free parking and coat check. Any band from San Diego has the Belly Up as a target for reaching the next level, while mainstream talent like Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, The Rolling Stones, and Green Day have all stopped in to capitalize on the club’s personal feel and vibrant past. That’s quite an impressive distinction for a space originally intended as a SoCal watering hole.
What You’ll See: Tortoise, Beach Slang, Black Mountain
What makes or breaks a venue is the intimacy shared between an artist and its audience. Neurolux is nestled in Boise, Idaho — a city one can walk through at the pace of an aging Labrador in under an hour. But, part of that small-town charm is what makes the state capital’s crowning jewel of a music lounge even more alluring.
If only because the sheer layout of the town and its accompanying venue allows for nothing else but that type of relationship to exist. With its narrow walls, shallow stage, and extended happy hour (from noon to eight at night!), intimacy isn’t exactly the right word … perhaps happily cramped? Yeah, that’s it.
Zero complaints. With security tightening up everywhere, artists and audiences are getting further and further away from each other. Neurolux, lodged within Boise’s historic Hitchcock building, takes an old-school approach and shatters the barriers. On any given night, you could be bumming smokes from your favorite acts.
63. First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
What You’ll See: Sheer Mag, St. Vincent, Bane, Beach Slang
Let’s get one thing out of the way: The First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia isn’t your typical church. It belongs to a non-doctrinal and open-minded Unitarian Universalist congregation, and that open-mindedness extends to the rock shows that regularly take place inside the church’s expansive, ornate interior. Sure, you’ve got your typical indie bands that aren’t likely to ruffle anyone’s feathers — your St. Vincents and your Frankie Cosmos.
But this church is so inclusive that sometimes the lineups clash with the setting in ways that border on hilarious (Chicago powerviolence band Weekend Nachos and hardcore punks Bane are both slated to perform in 2016). Like most great venues, First Unitarian Church isn’t just about the music. Plenty of other programming goes on here, including dinner meetups and the typical Universalist church stuff, like union ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
God willing, this place isn’t going away any time soon.
62. Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Los Angeles, CA
What You’ll See: Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver, The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse
No, they have not been hosting concerts at Hollywood Forever Cemetery since the 1800s, but that just gives you an idea of the history that surrounds you at this non-traditional space. During the warmer months, outdoor events are held on a giant lawn and have recently included multi-night stands from the likes of Lana Del Rey and Tame Impala, The Flaming Lips performing Dark Side of the Moon, and Bon Iver hosting a slumber party and sunrise performance. Fans are invited to picnic on the grass, while never really disturbing the graves that include Johnny Ramone.
The space even holds a smaller room, the Masonic Lodge, that books bands year-round like tUnE-yArDs and Majical Cloudz who can fill a beautiful room packed with personality. But the intermittent performances on the festival-size outdoor stage are what local Los Angeles music fans devour, and each summer and fall’s docket arrives hotly anticipated and treated like a one-of-a-kind event. Hometown hero Miguel rose to the occasion last year, bringing out a parade of guests, including Kendrick Lamar, ASAP Rocky, and Snoop Dogg, who all entertained a crowd that spanned centuries.
What You’ll See: Deafheaven, Lil Uzi Vert, Melvins, Savages, Chelsea Wolfe
Trees Dallas opened in 1990, and by the end of ‘91, Nirvana had already played the venue, the trio being just a month removed from the release of Nevermind. (That’s not to say it was the smoothest show; a quick YouTube search shows it definitely was not.) In the quarter century since then, Trees, founded by ex-Vanilla Ice drummer Clint Barlow and wife Whitney, has become the top venue in the Deep Ellum district of downtown Dallas. Attendees regularly praise the sound system, which is crucial for sets by heavy acts like Deafheaven, Melvins, and Savages. It’s a powerful punch for the venue that holds less people than Deep Ellum’s 4,300-capacity Bomb Factory, which Clint Barlow also founded, but ultimately one with more history and memories behind it.