20. The Hideout
What You’ll See: Andrew Bird, Jeff Tweedy, Ken Vandermark, Robbie Fulks
The Hideout isn’t just a cute name — the Chicago mainstay was erected in two days over 100 years ago, undocumented and off the grid. Prior to its days as a music venue, it housed, allegedly, bootleggers and illegal gamblers, but today you’re more likely to find intimate, comfortable shows at the wood-frame house tucked in amongst the factories and municipal fuel stations. Whether you’re going for punk or folk, one of the residences in which a beloved act like alt country outfit Devil in a Woodpile set up shop for a month, a night of amazing improv jazz, or veggie bingo (in which attendees donate money for a bingo card that could win fresh produce from local CSA farms), new guests feel like old friends as soon as they make their way through the city’s industrial corridor and find the beloved facade.
Chicago legends find the wood-paneled, mounted-fish-covered, Christmas-light-bedecked room as comfortable as the folks crowding the barstools — Billy Corgan tested out Zwan material for a month prior to the band’s debut, Jeff Tweedy and co. have experimented on the stage outside of their Wilco confines, and Andrew Bird used to be a more regular staple. And the most welcoming aspect might just be co-owners Tim and Katie Tuten, who make their presence felt, particularly during Tim’s introductions to shows. I’ll never forget his beautiful speech memorializing Ornette Coleman prior to Wire’s performance at last year’s Drill Festival — people were antsy, waiting for the English post-punk legends and St. Vincent to perform, and yet Tuten’s affecting words reminded everyone (the performers included) that the love of passionate, innovative music the Hideout and its owners embody is what brought us all together in the first place.
West Hollywood, CA
What You’ll See: Elton John, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Guns N’ Roses, Lana Del Rey
There’s a section of the Troubadour’s website that counts down the historic moments in the venue’s history and it’s remarkable to behold. It’s where Elton John played his first American show, where James Taylor performed his solo debut, and where Pearl Jam unveiled their new name after previously being known as Mookie Blaylock. More recently, Guns N’ Roses chose it as the home of their first reunion show, the same venue that earned them a record deal in 1986.
But beyond the history, the Troubadour has a vibe that many of its fellow WeHo rock clubs have let fade (or completely lost) over the past several decades. While the Sunset Strip has sunk into a parody of itself, the Troubadour exists like a time capsule of the rock and roll past, with its upstairs bar displaying classic concert posters and its interior wood fixtures emphasizing the room’s personality.
It’s also a venue that has maintained its prestige. For local acts, selling out the Troubadour is a benchmark for having made it, while many out-of-towners have to conquer its stage on the way to bigger venues. For decades, the booking has remained on-point, making it the best small room in Los Angeles in terms of both fan experience and the quality of the performances you are likely to see there.
18. 40 Watt Club
What You’ll See: Drive-By Truckers, Of Montreal, New Madrid, The Whigs
Once upon a time, Athens was ground zero for America’s college-rock movement, and no club or venue in the city supported that movement more than the 40 Watt. What’s most impressive about this iconic rock club isn’t the list of national artists that have graced its stage (though that list does include Nirvana, Pavement, Patti Smith, and literally thousands of others). No, the 40 Watt is legendary because it played host to two generations of groundbreaking local indie artists.
Shortly after opening in 1979, it became the de facto home base for R.E.M., Pylon, the B-52’s, and other bands that would go on to define the 1980s rock sound. Then, after moving several times and reopening in April 1991, the 40 Watt ushered in the next wave of indie rock by playing host to local heroes Neutral Milk Hotel, Drive-By Truckers, Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control … and, well, you get the idea.
With its old-school marquee and cramped, standing-room-only interior, the 40 Watt isn’t going to blow anyone away with its looks. But people come here first and foremost to revel in history — and to see history being made.
17. Doug Fir Lounge
What You’ll See: Blitzen Trapper, Menomena, The Thermals, Portugal. The Man
Most bars or venues that self-consciously opt for the “log cabin” aesthetic try to look as rustic as possible, but Doug Fir Lounge comes across like a cabin from the future. Sure, there’s rich wood paneling everywhere — including the cozy green room — but there’s also disco ball-shaped lights, wrap-around leather booths, and an ultramodern glass fireplace out on the newly renovated patio (did we mention there’s a patio?). Of course, the main attraction is the subterranean venue situated directly below the restaurant.
Down there, you’ll find enough wood to fill a small forest in Oregon, as well as a state-of-the-art stage setup tailored specifically to indie rock acts. The venue’s booking agents do a good job of drawing national acts as well as local openers from their own Lower Burnside neighborhood, which was basically a cultural wasteland when Doug Fir opened in 2004. Working with a standing room capacity of 299, they can’t accommodate huge acts, but specialize in indie stars on the rise — and yeah, there have been many.
16. Electric Factory
What You’ll See: Courtney Barnett, Grimes, The Cult, Vance Joy
Named after a short-lived venue from the ’60s, Philadelphia’s Electric Factory as we now know it has been open since 1994. Arguably the definitive venue of Pennsylvania, the 3,000-capacity joint actually steals away some of the finer New Jersey shows while still serving as the ‘made it’ venue for local punk. In fact, This Is Hardcore Fest takes place there every year, offering four straight days of thrash and powerviolence at a time when most venues wouldn’t dare to risk even two days.
At its original location on 22nd and Arch Street, the Electric Factory hosted the likes of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, and The Who. Since its reinvention on North 7th Street, it’s hosted everyone from Anthrax to Ratatat, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Miley Cyrus, Faith No More, PVRIS, and Biohazard billed for the same week. Gotta love its hippied-out Ben Franklin logo, too, which adds the perfect shine to its age-old history, as if to say: We’re gonna stick around, and we’re gonna know what’s up before you do.
15. Toad’s Place
New Haven, Connecticut
What You’ll See: Cold War Kids, Julian Casablancas, Badfish, Hostage Calm
Some venues have a history so rich that simply being inside their walls makes you feel like you’re being transported back in time. Meet Toad’s Place, an otherwise dingy venue smack dab next to Yale’s campus. When its doors first opened, the dive saw Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon gracing its stage. In the years that followed, it began to rack up even bigger performers: Talking Heads, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Cheap Trick, Wu-Tang, Radiohead. It’s quite the feat given the venue only holds 750 people.
Toad’s Place gets its name — a variant of the “couch potato” phrase — from one of its original owners, Michael Spoerndle, who rented the building back in 1974 for a French restaurant. Given the place scores names like Jack’s Mannequin and Dark Star Orchestra, it keeps the people coming out, though perhaps that’s due in part to the possibility of seeing celebrities like Derek Jeter in the crowd beside you. Nowadays, it hosts a regular slew of jam bands and tribute acts, most of whom draw big crowds thanks to the influx of college kids directly across the street.
Naturally, with underage students comes oversize issues. In 2002, Toad’s Place closed for a week after underage drinkers were found. Three years later, they were caught again, and the state forced them to close their doors for nearly three months. Despite the heavy fines and legal issues, the venue has pressed on, proving their moniker wrong by luring big crowds off their couches and out to their venue each week.
What You’ll See: Father John Misty, Lewis Black, Tegan and Sara, Mudcrutch
History is a major component for any venue on our list. Atlanta’s greatest venue, The Tabernacle, is rather wealthy in that regard. Way, way back in the early 20th century, Chattanooga architect Reuben Harrison Hunt was hired to design what would go down as “one of the most important real estate and church transactions ever made in Atlanta,” and boy did he deliver. For 80 years, the neoclassical, red-bricked auditorium served as a House of God for Southern Baptists, peaking in the 1950s with over 3,000 members. As the years inched by, that number began to dwindle, enough that the entire place was eventually turned into a House of Blues for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Thankfully, Elwood Blues didn’t stick around too long, leaving the historic relic in the hands of Lance Sterling, who dedicated his time, energy, and money into making it the premiere venue in the Southeast. For a good two years, he did just that — entering into a 30-year lease and pouring a couple million of his own dollars — until SFX Entertainment (now Live Nation) swept in and bought the place. Since then, everyone from Guns N’ Roses to The Mars Volta, Eminem to Conan O’Brien have graced the churchy halls, which scream of Southern hospitality and charm. In 2008, an asshole tornado threatened its entire existence, but the venue miraculously prevailed. Maybe it had something to do with God?
To quote the late Bob Hoskins: “I believe it.”
13. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace
What You’ll See: Modest Mouse, Beach House, Neutral Milk Hotel, Jamie xx, Pixies
Though it didn’t open as its current operation until 1982, the history of Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace goes back even further. The site was originally conceived as a 19th century cantina facade for Westerns starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Over the years, however, the property has since evolved into a music venue attracting national acts from all genres.
As one might expect, the personality and history imbues the whole experience. Pappy’s is a large restaurant where concertgoers can enjoy barbecue ahead of performances. Its two stages, a smaller indoor and larger outdoor, can even host separate events on the same night, allowing for the ambitious music fans to take in dual events on a single night.
Coachella gets the venue going full steam, with many of the acts playing side dates before or after the festival, but more and more, Pappy’s is offering quality events all year long. Located just a couple hours from Los Angeles, city folk can leave the hustle of modern life behind and witness a concert not just in a different place, but in what feels like a different time.
12. Cat’s Cradle
Carrboro, North Carolina
What You’ll See: Titus Andronicus, Daughter, Twin Shadow, Kurt Vile, Waka Flocka Flame
In 2009, our own Justin Gerber, then a student at NC State, raved about Carrboro’s own Cat’s Cradle, writing: “It’s my favorite type of venue, where the audience and the performer(s) join up as one to create a memorable experience for all involved, something that gets lost in arenas and stadiums.” Similarly, other locals who have paid the two-room Cradle a visit have been pleasantly surprised despite its unusual strip mall location and its lofty floor space even amid sold-out shows.
Long before Gerber’s praise, however, Thurston Moore name-checked the venue on Sonic Youth’s pummeling Dirty cut “Chapel Hill” as he sang: “Throw me a cord and plug it in, get the Cradle rocking.” For decades, the venue has allowed artists to do just that with a sound system that consistently garners rave reviews. Fans who saw Swans’ 2015 show, for example, were impressed by the venue’s ability to accommodate the experimental rockers’ massive, mighty sound.
And as we know, those fans are quite testy.
11. First Avenue and 7th St. Entry
What You’ll See: Atmosphere, Doomtree, Bob Mould
For First Avenue, what began as a humble bus depot grew into one of the most revered concert venues in the Midwest. (It was initially known as The Depot, then Sam’s, before being rechristened as its current namesake in 1981.) With a 1550-cap main room and a smaller 250-cap side box (the 7th Street Entry), First Avenue provides the perfect stomping grounds for rising acts looking to evolve and eventually perform for bigger crowds. In its storied history, the club has hosted just about every major Twin Cities artist, ranging from Prince to The Replacements, Atmosphere to Hüsker Dü. The late legend’s iconic film Purple Rain even prominently featured the venue as the protagonist’s home away from home.
Today, all the icons who have performed at the storied club are immortalized in stars that adorn the outside of the building. And from its early days, the venue has shored up its reputation for booking great music in a variety of genres, whether it’s hip-hop or punk or straight-up rock ‘n’ roll. It’s also proven to be a beacon of historical events, hosting everything from Eyedea and Prince’s memorials to the local public radio station’s ensuing anniversary shows. And despite a bankruptcy scare in the early ’00s, First Avenue returned better than ever with an improved sound system befitting of a venue of its stature. When you wish upon a star…