The Phoenix Music Scene Bucket List

A scene from a Sleigh Bells concert at Crescent Ballroom, one of the best music venues in Phoenix.
A scene from a Sleigh Bells concert at Crescent Ballroom, one of the best music venues in Phoenix.
Melissa Fossum

You know, this city gets a lot of hate.

And it's not just from the outside, either. Recent transplants to Phoenix notice a trend when talking to the residents about their new home. The people who most often ask why a new resident would ever think to move here? Or who constantly pose the questions about "have you been through a summer yet?" when they find out a transplant likes it here? Usually natives.

Maybe it's because of this state's reputation as a backwater, extreme-right breeding ground for anti-immigrant legislation and hardline conservatives like Barry Goldwater that fosters a sort of self-hate among those who grew up here.

But there's a lot to love in Phoenix, starting with its music, featuring a diverse and colorful history that has led to the many thriving scenes we see today.

And, yes, there is a music scene here, despite what some claim. There are several music scenes, actually, from the feisty blues bands to the downtown Phoenix indie scene to the Mesa punks to the old-country bands to the MCs and DJs from all over the Valley. In this sense, Phoenix's artful side teems with creative people making music for the world to discover, and it can be daunting to try to tackle it all.

That brings us to the Phoenix Music Bucket List.

If you've completed every item here, then you are a true connoisseur of the Phoenix music scene and undoubtedly can speak with authority on what Phoenix music has to offer. And for those new to town, consider this a field guide to the many facets of what the musically minded in Phoenix bring to the table.

Steve Vai's guitar, one of many instruments at the Musical Instrument Museum.
Steve Vai's guitar, one of many instruments at the Musical Instrument Museum.
David Accomazzo

1.) Visit the world-class Musical Instrument Museum in North Phoenix. The Musical Instrument Museum isn't just one of the best museums in Phoenix. It's in conversation for one of the best museums in the country. The museum's glorious permanent exhibition is an enormous, single-floor display featuring a mini-exhibit on the musical heritage and instruments of every country in the world. It's impossible to experience in just one day, making it worthy multiple visits, one for every time a friend or relative comes into town. DAVID ACCOMAZZO

MarchFourth Marching Band plays Crescent Ballroom
MarchFourth Marching Band plays Crescent Ballroom
Melissa Fossum

2.) See a show at Crescent Ballroom, the best all-around venue in the Valley. Everything about Crescent Ballroom represents the finest venue The Valley of the Sun has to offer. The 550-capacity ballroom itself is a converted auto garage, complete with exposed beams and brick walls and a killer sound system. The ballroom is rectangular, but the where most small venues put the stage at one of the shorter sides of the rectangle, the Crescent's stage is one the longer one. This simple switch actually makes the venue seem smaller than it actually is, and sight lines to the stage are never a problem. There are bleachers in the back for those who don't wish to stand, and the sound system is fantastic. Drinks aren't ridiculously overpriced, water pitchers are plentiful and always filled with ice, and the staff provides excellent service. Crescent also serves as restaurant that's adjacent to but well segregated from the actual ballroom, and it's such a desirable place to be that on any given weekend, the restaurant will be packed with people drinking who aren't even there for the concert. All the burritos and burgers on the restaurant's menu are top-notch. Crescent isn't just a place for concerts, it hosts trivia, drag queen bingo, lucha libre wrestling, and even the occasional magic show. In short, Crescent Ballroom does everything right, if you're a Valley resident and music fan, you'll end up spending a considerable amount of time here. D.A.

Orpheum Theatre
Orpheum Theatre
Conrad Schmitt Studios

3.) Bask in the ambiance of the incredible Spanish Baroque meets Colonial Revival décor at downtown Phoenix's Orpheum Theatre. The Orpheum Theatre has gone through many interations in its long lifetime. These days, it functions as a stage for live theater more so than for live concerts, but when a band gets on stage, watch out. Sitting in the seats surrounded by the strange mix of interior design as well as the painted cloudscape that adorns the ceiling while listening to a great band play? Few things are better in Phoenix. D.A.

The Phoenix Music Scene Bucket List

4.) Make a pilgrimage to Waylon Jennings' grave at the City of Mesa Cemetery.

Waylon Jennings wasn't born here, but he spent most of his days in Arizona and certainly got his start in the Grand Canyon State. He anchored the outlaw country movement from the Valley of the Sun, and when he died, he was buried in Mesa Cemetery. It's common to see flowers or other knickknacks from other pilgrims, and some people even host events around visiting the grave. D.A.

A scene from a concert at the Icehouse
A scene from a concert at the Icehouse
Jeff Moses

5.) Dig the natural reverb at downtown's Icehouse art gallery/performance space. There just isn't a cooler place in Phoenix to experience a show than The Icehouse. The three rooms, The Cathedral Room, The Column Room, and The Silver room all create a very distinct atmosphere for listening to music, while the reverberation chambers upstairs make for some of the most amazing echos in town. There's a reason why every musician in Phoenix wants to perform here. JEFF MOSES

6.) See an under-the-bridge show at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix. The light rail bridge that runs over Margaret T. Hance Park of course made the trip from downtown Phoenix to midtown Phoenix far easier. But it also inadvertently created one of the best places in town to catch a free acoustic show. The enigmatic Travis James has been a big proponent of these ad hoc acoustic parties, but he isn't the only Phoenician to ever do it. The under-the-bridge parties are a fine assembly of the musical fringe, and everyone knows that's where the most interesting stuff happens.J.M.

The jukebox at Shady's is top-notch
The jukebox at Shady's is top-notch
Jason P. Woodbury

7.) Have fun with the wide selection of songs in the jukebox at Shady's Fine Ales & Cocktails.

8.) See a concert at Arcosanti, the in-progress architectural wonder/hippie enclave 70 miles north of Phoenix.

The late Paolo Soleri's experimental hamlet may not be quite as sustainable as one would hope (for one, they aren't refining their own propane to mold those esteemed wind chimes) but Arcosanti not only boasts gorgeous sci-fi architecture, it's located in serene Yavapai County, an ideal place for a trippy concert you'll never forget. TROY FARAH

The Hotel Congress, home of Club Congress in Tucson
The Hotel Congress, home of Club Congress in Tucson
www.hotelcongress.com

9.) Make the drive to Tucson to see a concert at Club Congress or the Rialto

Once you've been here long enough, you'll notice that occasionally, our little cousin to the south gets some good shows that don't always grace Phoenix. So you make a day out of it and trek down to Tucson. It's like a mini-vacation that lasts six hours. D.A.

10.) Go to a house party in Tempe's Maple-Ash neighborhood. The Anarchists run this particular portion of Tempe (or at least pretend to), so you know that they know how to party. The house show has always been a great weapon in the local bands' arsenal, but catching one in this Valley historic district that maintains a little bit freer of an attitude than most and frankly just feels a little cooler. They've been known as an area to promote "rowdyism" for quite some time, but come correct and show respect or someone might just show you the nastier side of Tempe. J.M.

 

A scene from a hip-hop show at Yucca Tap Room.
A scene from a hip-hop show at Yucca Tap Room.
Benjamin Leatherman

11.) Have drinks at Tempe's Yucca Tap Room between sets at 51 West and Double Nickels Collective. Alternately: Go record shopping at Double Nickels between sets at the Yucca.

Tempe suffered a lot of venue closures last year, but oddly enough, three of the stages left standing exist in the same strip mall. Yucca has long been a blessing for genres less-favored elsewhere (metal, hip-hop, even country), and their typical "no cover" policy means you can nonchalantly bounce between 51 West and Double Nickels as soon as one act gets dry. T.F.

12.) Party with the little people at Giligan's.

13.) Watch a show from backstage at a venue somewhere in the Valley.

Kalliope
Kalliope
Photos courtesy of the Walter Project

14.) Party on top of Kalliope, the Phoenix-engineered party bus that has become a hit at festivals like Bonnaroo and Burning Man. The Kalliope crew has become somewhat of an underground movement in the Valley. They host parties, art shows and yoga classes between their two warehouses in Phoenix and South Scottsdale. You can also catch them at various local events and festivals around the country. Their energy, togetherness and all around trippiness is an experience worth the weird. The bus is gathering fans, too: Rolling Stone named it the best addition to Bonnaroo 2014. AMANDA SAVAGE

The Phoenix Music Scene Bucket List
Santryl, via Wikipedia Commons

15.) Trip at a desert rave. Desert parties of questionable legality are a staple in the Valley rave scene. You have to know someone who knows someone, and they will give you directions off the freeway, to a mile marker, where you off-road until you hear the thud and bumps of kicks and snares. Yeah, the desert as night is pretty cool. But on acid or shrooms, you'll definitely mistake yourself for Curiosity on the Mars. Just make sure you have a solid ride home to avoid any Hills Have Eyes scenarios, not that I've ever been there or anything. A.S.

Artist Deon Doughty paints at the Apache Lake Music Festival.
Artist Deon Doughty paints at the Apache Lake Music Festival.
Devon Christopher Adams

16.) Go to a local outdoor music festival This is Phoenix. We have to live through the most hellacious summers of any city in the country, so when it's nice out we have to get out and enjoy it. Phoenix not only offers some of the best music festival weather about half the year, it also has some beautiful music festival backdrops that allow for festivals like Apache Lake Music Festival in Roosevelt, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival right in the heart of downtown Phoenix, and the Sidepony Express Music Festival in Bisbee. J.M.

17.) Check out the signature wall at Maya Day and Night Club in Scottsdale.

Stage left to the outdoor DJ booth at Maya is a storage room with a wall covered in signatures of the DJs who have performed there. It's kind of like the secret tunnel at Red Rocks, but not a tunnel, at a nightclub and only with DJ signatures. OK, it's not really the same thing. Make friends with someone at Steve Levine Entertainment, and make them show you. A.S.

Daria and Jane at Bar Smith on Halloween 2014.
Daria and Jane at Bar Smith on Halloween 2014.
Melissa Fossum

18.) Dance on the roof at Bar Smith in downtown Phoenix.

The roof-top party at Bar Smith is one of the best dance floors in town. The crowd is always an eclectic mix of people who just want to dance and party, which makes the whole vibe loose and fun. The outdoor view of the city sets an urban backdrop, while the open, breeziness of the venue doesn't make you feel trapped when it's packed. A.S.

A scene from Wet Electric 2014
A scene from Wet Electric 2014
Benjamin Leatherman

19.) Dig a rave (say, Wet Electric) at Big Surf Water Park in Tempe. Water parks just make sense in Arizona, and they especially make sense for raves. Everyone is basically naked anyways, so you might as well throw the kids a bone and give them a wave pool and water slides. A.S.

Pool parties are essential in Phoenix.
Pool parties are essential in Phoenix.
Melissa Fossum

20.) Go to a pool party in Old Town Scottsdale during the summer.

Pool parties are the hallmark of daytime partying in the summer. Resorts, hotels, casinos and venues across town all celebrate the sunny season with DJs and cocktails. Old Town definitely reigns supreme in this category, with parties like those at Talking Stick Resort, The W, The Saguaro, Maya Day and Nightclub, Hotel Valley Ho and more. AMANDA SAVAGE

 

Tattoos of the Trunk Space's address were available for $15 at the venue's sixth birthday party in 2010.
Tattoos of the Trunk Space's address were available for $15 at the venue's sixth birthday party in 2010.
Ryan Wolf

21.) Get the address of downtown DIY venue Trunk Space tattooed on your body and get free admission for life.

Just how much do you love DIY? Enough to get a tattoo that will get you into every DIY show for free at Trunk Space? We're not sure when this tradition started, but flash your inked address to the door folk and you'll get in free. Only hardcore music scene fans need apply. D.A.

22.) Drink the Trashcan cocktail (a mini-pitcher filled with various well liquors and topped with crushed can of Red Bull) at the Rogue Bar in Scottsdale.

Bottles, bottles, bottles. So many fantastic B's in this picture.
Bottles, bottles, bottles. So many fantastic B's in this picture.
Benjamin Leatherman

23.) Pop for bottle service and party like a baller in Scottsdale. You only make $30K a year? In Scottsdale, that doesn't matter. Industry workers pop-bottles every weekend like they own property in Paradise Valley. Even if this isn't your weekend routine, try it just once. Make sure you get a big, fun group together and just go all out. Beware of ratchet bottle rats — you've been warned. AMANDA SAVAGE

24.) Get in a karaoke session at Brigett's Last Laugh in North Phoenix.

The Phoenix Music Scene Bucket List
© 2004 by Tomasz Sienicki, via Wikimedia Commons

25.) Go crate digging through the 25,000 LPs for sale at downtown's Revolver Records. Every record collector knows that the best cuts are always tucked away somewhere on the bottom rack, but the real gold is found at the locally owned shops. Chain stores may have a huge collection of vinyl, but the real rarities always turn up at places like Revolver Records in their expansive inventory. Here's a tip — don't ignore the movie soundtracks.J.M.

26.) Attend Phoenix Chorale's First Friday open rehearsals at Trinity Cathedral during First Friday.

Jason Devore
Jason Devore
facebook.com/jasondevoreproject

27.) Wander into Tempe Tavern to see Authority Zero's Jason DeVore perform.

28.) Listen to Mexican buskers at a Mexican restaurant such as Mariscos Altata in West Phoenix.

29.) Catch some acoustic music at Fiddler's Dream in Glendale

30.) Catch some real country with the Herndon Brothers at Handlebar J in Old Town Scottsdale.

 

The Phoenix Music Scene Bucket List

Upcoming Events

31.) Get a cassette player and listen to tapes of Phoenix and Tempe bands. Cassette tapes are making a comeback in a big way as a most excellent collectable for music fans in the digital age. But you aren't really getting the full experience unless you are listening to the recording in all it's filmy glory. As rare as cassette players are in 2015, you're not really repping your favorite local bands until you're hearing their music through one. And there are tons of locals who have gone the analog route; just check out the shelves at Lawn Gnome Publishing. There's even a label, Rubber Brother Records, dedicated to cassettes.J.M.

32.) Hang out with hipsters, artists, tastemaking DJs, and scenesters at one of Quincy Ross' word-of-mouth, off-the-radar after-hours parties.

33.) Talk records with John "Johnny D" Dixon, the unofficial historian of Arizona music.

34.) Have your heart sink when your favorite band announces a tour that does not include a Phoenix date.

Those of us who remember SB-1070, the racist legislation that prompted dozens of bands to boycott Arizona, still have a bad taste in our mouths. But some of us realize that those bands never liked to come to Phoenix in the first place! It's not often surprising when your favorite band announces tour dates, skipping the sixth most populous U.S. city (again), but it will still always break your feeble heart. T.F.

Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper
Jim Louvau

35.) Bump into Alice Cooper around town and talk about music. Around these parts, Alice Cooper is known as one of the nicest guys around. Whether it's Cooperstown, a charity event, his thrift store, Fry's Grocery, a record store, or on a golf course (reportedly four days a week when off tour), you're apt to bump into him. Tip: Get him talking about the local metal scene. LAUREN WISE

36.) Make a pilgrimage to the see the "ultra-chic pissant hip dive bar" sign from defunct Mesa venue Hollywood Alley above the bar at C.A.S.A. Lounge in Tempe. Hollywood Alley was an iconic Valley dive bar in it's time, but it's sadly no longer with us. New bars are taking up its mantle as great places to catch a fun show, and one of them is certainly the C.A.S.A. Lounge, where the famous sign that used to adorn the bar at Hollywood Alley now resides. J.M.

37.) Dig the beats at 602uesdays, Djentrification's long-running DJ night at Bikini Lounge in Phoenix. Djentrification is as much a pillar of the Phoenix music scene as Jim Adkins, some bold scenesters might proclaim. So making it out to one of Phoenix's best dive bars, Bikini Lounge, to hear him kill the wheels of steel is an absolute must for anyone who considers themselves a part of the Phoenix music scene. Djentrification regularly brings the deep cuts that no other DJ in town even knows the names of, let alone spins. J.M.

38.) Mosh with punk kids at Nile Theater in Mesa. Maybe you haven't noticed, but punk is a pretty big deal here in the Phoenix metro area, going all the way back to our deep heritage of producing the first American punk band to ever tour Europe, JFA. To really be considered part of the scene getting out to the Nile for a hardcore punk show, and jumping right into the thick of the pit is definitely a cultural must. J.M.

Roger Clyne would prefer you drink his own private-label tequila at his concerts, but any tequila will do.
Roger Clyne would prefer you drink his own private-label tequila at his concerts, but any tequila will do.
Jim Louvau

39.) Drink tequila shots at a Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers concert. There's something about Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers' rock music that makes you want to dance and party, but also mellow out on the beach. The perfect compliment to that vibe? A shot of tequila. Even better? A shot of Roger Clyne's Mexican Moonshine tequila. L.W.

40.) Follow a band to another city, whether it's Flagstaff or Southern California or Vegas. If you think the rock star life is glamorous, you probably haven't been on tour. Plenty of locals lucky enough to trek it elsewhere will attest to the grueling hours behind the wheel, the improvised sleeping arrangements, and the lack of showers. But if you play roadie for a weekend or a month, you'll not only grow closer to the local rockers you love, you might also have an appreciation for how hard it is to be in a band. T.F.

 

Sean Watson is all smiles.
Sean Watson is all smiles.

41.) High-five amiable local DJ and man about town Sean Watson. Local DJ Sean Watson can be found, all smiles, jamming out at venues like Crescent Ballroom and Bar Smith. He's probably one of the nicest local DJs you'll meet, and no matter how drunk you are, he'll high-five you if you're nice. A.S.

Not saying this is an embarassing photo or anything.
Not saying this is an embarassing photo or anything.
Melissa Fossum

42.) Have an embarrassing photo of yourself taken by a nightclub photographer.

If you haven't had an embarrassing photo of yourself taken by a nightclub photographer, you just haven't lived enough. Embarrassing includes: making out with a friend, making out with someone other than your significant other, any crotch or nip shot, crossed eyes, or anything where it's apparent that you haven't been sober since yesterday. A.S.

Asking Alexandria, from a show last July at the outdoor Ak-Chin Pavilion
Asking Alexandria, from a show last July at the outdoor Ak-Chin Pavilion
Jim Louvau

43.) Attend an outdoor concert in 100-plus degree weather at such venues as Mesa Amphitheatre or Ak-Chin Pavilion.

Chris Karns, world-class DJ, at a Blunt Club session.
Chris Karns, world-class DJ, at a Blunt Club session.
Benjamin Leatherman

44.) Experience the four elements of hip-hop (MCing, DJing, graffiti, and dancing) at the Blunt Club, the Valley's long-running hip-hop night.

45.) Soak up some culture with the Downtown Phoenix Chamber Series.

The Phoenix Music Scene Bucket List
David Dimmick

46.) Watch local turntablists rip on the record decks at downtown's Coolin' Out store on First Fridays.

These guys run Cupcake! Don't mess with them.
These guys run Cupcake! Don't mess with them.

47.) Let your freak flag fly while dancing to industrial techno at Cupcake! at Rogue Bar in Scottsdale. Cupcake! is all about embracing your inner "freak," fetishes and desires, and it ain't no joke. Imagine a live photo-shoot dance party, where alternative artists, gogo and burlesque dancers, and punk-rock kids run wild. It happens on the fourth Friday of each month—head in with an open mind.

48.) Spend a Sunday evening listening to Those Lowdown Blues, Bob Corritore's long-running blues show on KJZZ 91.5 FM. Bob Corritore is the owner of Rhythm Room, the Central Phoenix venue that hosts many of the best blues concerts in the Valley any given year. He's also a world-class harmonica player with an impressive discography and resume, and if you go to a blues concert, there's a great chance Corritore and his perfectly coiffed do will be there sitting in on a song or two. He's hosted a show on KJZZ, Those Lowdown Blues, for 30 years now, and every Sunday night you can catch Corritore's eclectic mix of blues for a few hours. D.A.

49.) Listen to a local music program on KWSS 93.9 FM and marvel at the staff's dedication to the scene.

KWSS has some programming that heavily features local music, and the station proudly beats the drum for Phoenix bands. KONGOS, whose single "Come With Me Now" went platinum last year, recently credited Beef Vegan, who hosts the station's morning show, as being the first guy to play "Come With Me Now" on the radio. But don't forget about KWSS' other DJs, who tirelessly play great songs by Phoenix artists.D.A.

50.) Argue music with a New Times writer No one who writes for New Times likes arguing. Yes, they do. OK, admittedly, we take our jobs pretty seriously. No, we don't. Stop it, that's just contradiction! But if you really want to get to the nitty-gritty of the past, present, and future of local music, who better to debate with than those who have been in the trenches? But please, no crying. T.F Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

Correction: The entry for Kalliope originally stated the party bus was a hit at Coachella. It should have said Bonnaroo and has been corrected.

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Use Current Location

Related Locations

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Musical Instrument Museum Music Theater

4725 E. Mayo Blvd.
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480-478-6000

mimmusictheater.themim.org

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Crescent Ballroom

308 N. 2nd Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85003

602-716-2222

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Icehouse

429 W. Jackson St.
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Margaret T. Hance Park

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Nile Theater

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