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