The Phoenix Music Scene Bucket List
A scene from a Sleigh Bells concert at Crescent Ballroom, one of the best music venues in Phoenix.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.Next Page
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