#MusingMelodies is a monthly series by myself and Danielle of idigmusic.net where we each share our thoughts on a music topic and invite you to join the conversation! Be sure to read both posts (find Danielle’s here), then head over to Twitter and share your thoughts using the #MusingMelodies hashtag.
Ever wondered what a good groupie’s dream vacation might look like? For me, it’s this: hop in a car and road trip it across the country to see shows at some of the most notable music venues in the United States. From theaters where legendary performances have taken place to the tiny hole-in-the-wall spots that every touring band today stops off at, our country has no shortage of killer music venues to put on your bucket list.
Here are 9 venues on my bucket list, from west to east:
1. The Troubadour – West Hollywood, California
Originally opened as a coffee house, The Troubadour was home to a number of singer/songwriters and folk bands in the late 60s. So many incredible bands and artists – Elton John, James Taylor, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell – made their debuts here or had defining career moments, like The Bryds giving Bob Dylan’s “Tambourine Man” a whirl live for the first time.
Even though I’ve never been, I feel tied to this venue because my beloved Phantom Planet released a killer live EP recorded here AND reunited in 2012 on the Troubadour’s stage. Plus, Rolling Stone named it the second best rock club in America.
2. The Fillmore – San Francisco, California
Another venue with a killer history. It was the hub for psychedelic rock bands and counterculture in general in the late 60s and early 70s. The Fillmore was also home to lighting engineer Danny Williams, who pioneered many of the techniques and practices music venues use today.
This one became a favorite of mine in my early days as a music fan simply for the killer show posters the venue is so well known for. Many of them from years past line the walls of the lobby, and I desperately want to stand there and take them all in – while munching on my Fillmore apple. In the early days, owner Bill Graham handed out apples to his patrons as they were leaving the show to say thanks for coming – it’s a practice reportedly still alive and well today, despite Live Nation owning the venue and – sigh – franchising it.
3. Red Rocks – Morrison, Colorado
If you’re a music fan and don’t have this one on your bucket list, I don’t know if we can be friends. I’m not much for your run-of-the-mill amphitheater concert, but Red Rocks is something truly special. Did you know the vision for this rock outcrop to be a music venue dates back to around 1900? Founder John Brisben Walker produced a number of performances in the space from 1906-1910. In 1928 the city of Denver bought the space and still owns it today.
Red Rocks was home to the only show on The Beatles’ 1964 tour of the U.S. that didn’t sell out. Jethro Tull got rock concerts banned from Red Rocks for five years in 1971 after 1,000 fans without tickets rushed a line of police officers to try and get into the sold out show. (America was the first rock band allowed back in after five years of hosting “quieter” acts like John Denver, Carole King and The Carpenters.) The history + the gorgeousness of the venue + the sheer number of live albums recorded there tell me it’s a venue you have to visit at least once.
4. Gruene Hall – Gruene, Texas
I am totally outing myself as a terrible Texan on this one. If you know anything about Texas music venues, you know Gruene (pronounced green) Hall is “the oldest continually run dance hall in Texas”. It looks nearly the same now, in 2015, as it did when it was built in 1878, and country legends like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett and George Strait made this place what it is today. It’s one of those venues every band in Texas dreams of playing some day.
And I have never once stepped foot inside.
Shameful, really. One of these days, I’ll make it over there. (Maybe when Quiet Company stops by again?)
5. Surf Ballroom – Clear Lake, Iowa
I drive through Iowa every summer I go to Wisconsin, and I’m not its biggest fan. It’s easily the longest state to drive through on the trip after getting out of Texas, and it’s the most boring – there’s only so long rolling farm land can entertain you. But it is home to a hugely notable music venue I bet most music fans would overlook.
The Surf, as its more affectionately know, was the last venue Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson played before their fatal plane crash on February 3, 1959 – aka The Day the Music Died. It’s a historical landmark, as designated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. And, to be honest, its name just makes me laugh considering Iowa is about as land locked and far away from surfing as you can get in North America. (For the record, it got its name from the original owner’s painting the whole place with a beach mural.)
One of these years, I want to go to The Surf’s Winter Dance Party, an event that honors the lives of Holly, Valens and Richardson, on the weekend of or near the anniversary of The Day the Music Died. Three days of music history, dance parties with late 50’s rock ‘n’ roll and hanging out with other music fans? Yes, please.
6. The Bluebird Cafe – Nashville, Tennessee
If you follow me on Twitter and hang out there at all on Wednesday evenings…you’ve surely seen a thing or two from me about the TV show, Nashville. Yes, I’m an avid watcher thanks to my love of Connie Britton. And because this intimate venue has played a vital role in the show, it caught my attention because of my love of tiny venues. You may opt for The Ryman, but I’ll go for The Bluebird.
It reminds me a lot of Dosey Doe’s here in the Houston area. And nothing could be better than a little spot that lends itself so well to acoustic performances. Plus, I think it’d be incredible to go to their “In The Round” sessions, which started in 1985 and still continue today, where songwriters come in to play their music and tell the stories behind their songs. My little good groupie heart, be still!
7. The Tabernacle – Atlanta, Georgia
I really love the Jimi Hendrix quote, “Music is my religion”. So what could be better than going to a show at a venue that was originally built as a church? The Tabernacle opened as a church in 1911, but it wasn’t until 1996 that it became a music venue in conjunction with the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The building was briefly owned by House of Blues from 1996-1997 and then re-opened as The Tabernacle in 1998 under new ownership.
It may not have the storied history like some of the venues on my list, but it is considered one of the best music venues in America by Rolling Stone and Paste magazines. And it’s one of those I see often enough in tour dates.
8. 9:30 Club – Washington, D.C.
This is another one of those venues that appears on every single band’s tour dates if they’re stopping in D.C. I’d wonder if maybe it’s the only decent venue there if it hadn’t been voted THE best music venue in the country by Rolling Stone. (Just one of its many honors.) It has moved from it’s original location at 930 F Street NW since opening, but the original address and its opening time for doors, 9:30 p.m., added up to the perfect name. Clever and convenient. You’d never have to ask “What time are doors?” ever again. Oh, what a dream!
Just one spin through this venue’s upcoming shows makes me wish I lived in D.C. It’s downright magical the number of up-and-coming bands I’d love to see come through Houston that are on the list. Someday, 9:30 Club, someday…
9. Carnegie Hall – New York City
THE most prestigious music venue in the country, Carnegie Hall is a dream venue to visit. I almost don’t even care who I see there, just as long as I see someone. The first rock ‘n’ roll band to graces its stage was Bill Haley and his Comets in 1955. It was – who else? – The Beatles who made it a destination for fellow rock bands following their two NYC shows on their 1964 U.S. tour.
If you pop over to Danielle’s blog, she’ll tell you a little about seeing a show there. (So jealous she’s been!) Stern Auditorium looks gorgeous in photos and the sound is said to be like nothing else. Seriously, a dream venue.
What music venues are on your bucket list?
Maybe we have one in common, or maybe there’s some offbeat place you’re dying to go. Whatever the case, feel free to share your picks in the comments or come share it with Danielle and me on Twitter. Don’t forget to stop by her blog, I Dig Music, to see her picks as well!
Now…to start planning some trips to these places!
Dreaming of music venue adventures,