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The Greatest American Music Venues (According to Musicians)

on April 27, 2016, 11:30am
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american venues square v2Musicians have an understanding of music venues that fans, for better or worse, are spared. While concertgoers can speak to the sight lines and the drink prices, it takes a musician who has played at a venue to give certain insights. In surveying dozens of musicians about their favorite venue in the US, we saw a number of factors weigh into their decisions.

One was location, as many often inclined to go with a hometown spot or a favorite city to visit. History also came into play, with bands appreciating a continuity with whom they interact and taking into account their own personal experiences at venues as they transitioned from attendees to performers.

Below, you’ll find the many responses we received when asking musicians one simple question: What’s your favorite venue in America?

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Alex G

“The First Unitarian Church in Philly. I saw a lot of shows there as a kid. I saw Sunset Rubdown there. And Ceremony. They’re really cool.”

AJJ

“We love Saturn in Birmingham, Alabama. It has everything a band could want: awesome show room, band apartment, coffee shop, socks, tampons, they’ll send a post card for you, and it’s space themed.”

Bayonne

“Mohawk in Austin is probably my favorite place to play. Lots of local love, great sound, cheap drinks, and an overall great atmosphere. Many great friends work there, so when I perform, they take good care of me. It’s also one of my favorite venues to go see shows.”

Beacon

“For our favorite venue, we’d have to show hometown pride for Bowery Ballroom. It was the place that we were able to see so many bigger touring acts at an impressionable young age, which made it more exciting to play later. At 550 cap, it felt small enough to be in awe of big bands. Sight lines are strong. Our first time playing there was opening for Gold Panda, then co-headlining with Shigeto, and next month it’ll be our first time headlining, so other than Glasslands (RIP), it’s been the hometown venue we’ve played the most and has always been there in some form of our development. Front of house Kenny has positive energy, and the onstage sound has always been top-notch, so yeah, with those two things covered, it rates pretty high.”

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Bully

“7th Street Entry / First Avenue. They always do their best to fulfill the rider, keep the greenroom clean, and accommodate musicians the best they can. The sound is great, and they have a safe, warm, enclosed parking area for your van.”

Chastity Belt

“Every time we pass through the Bay Area, we go to the Night Light in Oakland, whether we’re playing a show or stopping by to check in on Doug, the owner. A supporter of Chastity Belt before we really deserved it, he’s a great guy, and he runs a great venue.”

Colleen Green

“I really like playing at The Echo in LA because it’s very comfy, and everyone who works there is nice.”

Day Wave

“I loved this little venue in Norman, Oklahoma, called Opolis. I played there last October with Albert Hammond Jr. It was super intimate, and the owners were really rad. They were serving us a really strong hard apple cider all night! It’s always the places you never expect that leave a lasting impression.”

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Deafheaven

“My favorite would have to be The Rave in Milwaukee mainly because of the history and hauntings of the venue. It’s where Buddy Holly played his last show supposedly after touching the unlucky chair in their haunted boiler room, along with a ton more stories. It’s just got an eerie vibe all around. But aside from that, my favorite venue to have performed at thus far in our career would be Webster Hall.” –Shiva Mehra

“As far as US venues go, I adore the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. It’s very close to my residence in SF, has beautiful Victorian decor, and provides amazing hospitality. Over the years, it has remained my favorite place to play as well as attend shows. If you get the chance, check it out immediately!” –Dan Tracy

“Rock & Roll Hotel DC. Best green room, and the chefs are always side stage throwin’ the horns \m/.” –Stephen Clark

“There are so many different venues that instantly jump to mind when considering a favorite (Great American Music Hall, Webster Hall, The Sinclair to name a few). I’d have to say my favorite is Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington, DC. Besides having great sound, an amazing green room, and great food, the staff there just go above and beyond. Every time we’ve played there or the Howard Theater, the cooks come out to the show to say hi (even if they’re not working), and the owner/manager, Steve, is one of the best promoters I’ve ever worked with. Their attention to detail and hospitality is second to none that I’ve ever encountered. We look forward to playing DC every tour.” –Kerry McCoy

“Union Transfer – Philly. For me, what makes a venue great, other than the sound of the room, is the hospitality. UT has this down. Everyone that works there is incredibly hospitable, friendly, responsible, and not shy with the drinks. Also, St. Vitus in Brooklyn. Not much more can be said about this place that hasn’t already been said several times. Between the people that run it, the shows they have, and the overall atmosphere, this venue is a heavy metal dream. Even if we don’t play here when we’re in New York, you can find us here after any time we do. That should say enough.” –George Clarke

Dean Wareham

“My favorite venue is the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, where I have played many times since it opened in 1998. It’s run by good people, sounds perfect onstage, and is excellent from the audience perspective too, with good sight lines no matter where you are standing, a quality sound system, and a bar downstairs that is a nice place to hang out after or before the show.”

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DMA’s

“Baby’s Alright: We played our first gig in New York here (despite being sickly jet-lagged), had one of our best gigs to date – also saw fellow Australians King Gizzard + the Lizard Wizard play a secret show here while we were passing through, and it was top notch.”

Drenge

At the start of this year, we were very lucky to play Shea Stadium in Brooklyn. We got a taxi to the address and looked around and couldn’t see anything that would suggest there’d be a venue around there, but someone eventually popped their head out of a door and let us in. As well as putting on shows, it doubles up as a recording studio and a practice space. Places like Shea Stadium were hugely important to us when we started our band. They’re key to establishing a musical community at a grassroots level. For us, it was great to see another independent hub in a different country.

Electric Eye

Our favourite venue is The White Horse in East Austin, TX. It’s an old, country dance hall that actually has a real horse outside. We’ve never played there, but it’s great for watching real country music and for pouring down whiskey while hipsters and guys in cowboy hats dance late at night.

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Geographer

“My favorite concert venue is the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. It’s an amazingly run venue. You show up there, and the staff is capable and nice, which, believe it or not, is a rare thing. And it’s always a great show. It’s lovely to be taken care of, the sound is always great, and the crowds are some of the best.”

Harriet

“The Hollywood Bowl. Not because it sounds the best, because it doesn’t sound that good if you’re not in the first 10 boxes, but it’s where I saw Radiohead in 11th grade, and that solidified me wanting to play music. It’s just such a beautiful place to see a band.”

Hinds

“The best memories of places we’ve played in the US are of a student house party we played in Kansas City last October at 5830 Bell Rd., Shawnee, KA. Ahaha, it was the most crazy show we’ve played.”

Julia-Holter

Julia Holter

“For years, I was just playing shows in LA that were in gallery spaces or people’s houses, and that was fine. I never had a huge issue with that because you bring everything. You bring your own amps. There’s no P.A. in those situations. In terms of venues once you’re a touring musician, it would be frustrating in Los Angeles because there just wasn’t a venue that really had decent sound. The one that just opened, Teragram Ballroom, is really great, and I’m really happy that it’s there now.”

La Sera

“We pick The Echo in Los Angeles! I have been to/played at The Echo way more times than anywhere else in the country. It’s right down the street from my house, and it feels like home to me. Todd saw Elliott Smith there, so that pretty much sums it up. Anywhere that you saw Elliott Smith play is the best venue in the country.”

Meat Wave

“The Empty Bottle is hands down my favorite venue in the country. A mystically warm atmosphere, super-friendly staff, cheap drinks, and the best sound. Proud that it’s in Chicago.”

Microwave

“We love the Masquerade. I’ve played some of our best shows ever there, seen some of the best shows there, and gotten incredibly drunk there. Sometimes all three in the same night.”

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Miike Snow

“Terminal 5. A lot of people shit on this place, but I love it. The first show I saw there was Prince when it was called something else, I can’t remember. He was playing his own impromptu after-party after having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That was the first time I’d seen Prince live. When playing there, you have an extraordinary connection to the fans for a venue of that size. Everything is stacked up on top of itself, people’s limbs are dangling over the railings, and they sit down and put their feet over the balcony’s edge. It gets quite rowdy, and the sound acquires a dark, industrial echo from the natural acoustics of the room. All in all, it reminds me of George Miller’s Thunderdome, a modernized version of the Medieval sport Bearbaiting. You can let loose an intense, trance-inducing energy there.”

Nick Thorburn

“It’s like picking The Beatles as your favorite band or Charles Manson as your favorite serial killer. Bit of an obvious choice, and totally ‘on the nose,’ but fuck it. Excellent sight lines from anywhere in the club, the sound is solid, and the staff are hilarious, friendly, and helpful. I always look forward to playing a show at the Bowery Ballroom.”

Palma Violets

After a short band meeting, we have decided that our favorite venue is Shea Stadium in Brooklyn. Run by the So So Glos, they’ve made it into a great space for new bands to start off their lives as musicians. We’ve played their twice, with great supports.”

Phases

“Saturn in Birmingham, Alabama. The stage is spacious, the sound is great, and the backstage is probably the best in the world.”

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Porches

“Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. Good vibes, good sound, good food. And our manager runs the place.”

Prince Rama

“The flyer read … ‘Take a trip to the Mojave Desert for a weekend of music at a dusty saloon oasis known as THE PALMS.’ This was the invitation to the festival called Deserted at the Palms in the tiny town of Twenty Nine Palms, CA. The stage that we performed on was constructed in the sand under the starry sky. The ‘green room’ was a pitched tent that had beer and an air mattress. From the campsite, the loud music mixed with thunder from a distant storm and echoed off of abandoned, weather-worn shacks and shape-shifting sand dunes. While performing, the cool, desert wind whipped through our hair, and sand mixed with the sweat and glitter under our eyes. A sense of acceptance swept over us as we were enveloped in the elements. How humbling to perform in such a powerful environment! What a welcomed change from the sterile, predictable rock club! While watching the other bands that night, I took my heels off and danced along with the rest of the audience. We all lost ourselves in the music. There was no cell phone signal to distract us, no Instagram to lure us into self-awareness. Suddenly, a jolt of fright rippled through the crowd. First one shriek, followed by a chorus of screaming. A flurry of flashlights. A GIGANTIC BLACK SCORPION WAS CRAWLIN’ AROUND THROUGH OUR BARE FEET. It darted and disappeared under the stage. Just as we were all breathing a sigh of relief, a crash of lightning lit up the night sky and knocked out all the power. What deadly thing could possibly be next? A Mojave madman shooting his gun in the dark silence?! I laughed — the desert is my favorite venue. It doesn’t get much more thrilling than risking your life for what you love.”

Pup

“We’ve been fortunate to visit some truly amazing venues throughout the continental United States. From historic buildings like The Roxy in LA to DIY spaces like Shea Stadium in Brooklyn and hidden gems like Saturn in Birmingham, Alabama, it’s difficult to pick just one. Having said all that, we gotta go back to the best venue in the most Canadian city in America: The Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis, MN. Any venue run by seasoned touring veterans — in this case, Dillinger Four — always knows exactly what touring bands need: food, booze, and a raucous venue where beer cans being thrown at you means you’re playing well. Not to mention the fact that their brunch is the best fucking cure for a Triple Rock hangover. 10/10, would play any time.”

Restorations

“Without hesitation, the greatest venue in the United States is The First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. It’s a bare-bones, old-school, wood-paneled church basement venue with great sound and no barricade. You’ve done permanent damage to your ears/body, seen the best shows of your life, and met all your friends there. Long live.”

rob crow

Rob Crow

“Che Cafe, San Diego, CA — all ages. An actual progressive community created by the kids, for the kids, providing Cheap-Healthy-Eats and a safe, positive environment to experience art, music, and alternative cultural activities for generations of misfits. Though constantly threatened with shutdown and outside vandalism to the point where sometimes people just come along and steal the whole PA, its spirit is so strong that its supporters can never give it up.”

Rogue Wave

“Generally, I am more of a fan of cities than venues as a rule. I love being in Chicago, Minneapolis, Oakland, Pittsburgh, etc. That’s the best part of this job: feeling like I am part of more than just one place in the country. That said, it is hard to beat playing at 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. I love it there. The staff makes you feel so welcome, the room is the most perfect size, and there is not a bad spot to watch the show in the house. Onstage, I feel so immersed, so fully enveloped by the vast ceiling, the crowd basking in towering lights. And, of course, the best part is the disco ball light blast dance party right when the show is over. Or do they just do that for us?”

Sarah Neufield

“Such a hard question really because the US has so many incredible venues — from amazing, smelly, vibey dives to the most expansive, glittering, impressive structures. One venue that especially stands out in memory is Red Rocks in Colorado. An amphitheater carved right into a set of huge red rock outcroppings, you’re surrounded with truly mind-bending scenery. It’s venues like that that take you out of yourself and transport the whole experience of playing a rock concert to a different plane.”

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School of Seven Bells

“Le Poisson Rouge in NYC is my favorite venue to play by a landslide. It’s owned by musicians, and you can tell by the way they treat the artists that come through – mutual pure love and respect all the way. You don’t lack for anything. The sound system is KILLER, and their lights are next level. Nuff said.”

Sunflower Bean

“While we’ve toured the majority of the US … there’s still no place like home, and there’s definitely no place like Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Alright. We’ve probably played this venue more than any other venue. The sound, the food, the atmosphere, and the people who work there are always amazing. It’s an extremely well-curated venue, and it feels like home to us.”

The Bird and the Bee

“So my favorite venue is probably a venue I might never play again. Greg and I once had the rare pleasure of playing Carnegie Hall. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a magical experience with the sound of a room. It surpassed all my expectations.”

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The Coathangers

“It’s always difficult to choose a favorite anything when it comes to band-related experiences; however, the venue that came to our minds as the most memorable, especially this past year, was The Observatory in Orange County, CA. We were blessed to be able to grace all three indoor/outdoor stages at the Observatory and had amazing shows on each one. The people who run/work at the venue treat every band with the utmost respect and accommodation, and the people/fans who came to all the shows were overwhelmingly loving and energetic … An amazing venue on every level!”

The Faint

The Metro in Chicago is my favorite venue in the US. It’s a good-sized venue, capacity-wise, but it still feels intimate because of the way the balcony hugs the stage. When the crowd is close to the stage like this, it’s a lot easier for the energy in the room to rise earlier in the set. There is a nice seating section for our relatives and guests. I love the hand-screened posters they make. Large green rooms, friendly staff, walkable neighborhood, and it’s cool to have a place to meet up with friends after the show (downstairs at smart bar).

The Menzingers

“Asbury Lanes – Asbury Park, New Jersey. Its unique layout, incredible staff, killer stage, and rich history all contribute to The Lanes as an unparalleled staple for independent music. Oh, and it’s a block from the ocean.”

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Third Eye Blind

“Bottom of the Hill – San Francisco, CA. They do not change, they do not innovate, they do not gentrify, evolve, or ‘pivot.’ They are nasty, old-school rock and roll fucks, and they more often than not single-handedly keep the indie rock spirit, that has been such a contribution to music culture and the fertile soil for my creative life, alive. Ramona books same as she did back in the day when she gave a young SF band like Third Eye Blind a break. Great local beers on tap, too.”

Together Pangea

“The Echo. It was one of the first real venues we ever played (funnily enough, we literally played to two people, Sean Bohrman of Burger Records being one of them). It’s got the greatest sound, is the perfect size, and the people who run it are the best. It’s also literally about five minutes from where we live.”

Trapper Schoepp

“First Avenue has a stage that does all the work for you. From the time Conrad opens the garage door to load in, you get swept up in the venue’s history, and it always gets a good performance out of you. The whole place has a cool air about it that’s unlike anywhere else I’ve played.“

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Underworld

“There’s lots of places, lots of great places. I would say that one of the most beautiful, maybe the most beautiful gig on earth, is the Hollywood Bowl. We’ve played that a couple of times, and that is you know, wow! Wowww! You could levitate it’s so beautiful. All those cities have such different energies. New York, Chicago, Detroit, LA, those are places that we play a lot. What is good is when you are coming into a new city and picking up on its new energy and getting out on the streets. You start soaking it all up. You start writing about it and documenting it.”

White Reaper

“We picked Subterannean in Chicago, partly because Chicago is such an amazing city. We liked this venue mainly because of its balcony area. If there’s a big show there, it’s likely people of all heights will be able to actually see the band and not have to stand on their tippy toes behind the tall-ass guy with the top hat on. The sound was also good when we last played.”

YACHT

“Our favorite venue is Padre’s in Marfa, Texas. For one, it’s in Marfa, Texas. For two, they have a great selection of Zapp’s potato chips. They have shuffle board. It’s mostly just a really great bar in one of our favorite places in the world, and the fact that we can play there as a band is icing on the cake.”

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