What Makes the Ideal Music Venue in Phoenix?

Time to stop living in the past, people.
Time to stop living in the past, people.

Editor's Note: As we continue our observations of 2011, Up on the Sun contributor Christina Caldwell looks at the state of venues around town, and speculates about what the Phoenix music scene has and what it lacks. Answering "what makes a perfect music venue" is a tall order; here's one person's ideas.

Phoenix, you're a fickle town.

We here at Up On the Sun live in a bubble - one where local music reigns supreme and smaller, more intimate venues totally rock our locally-manufactured socks. But with the recent closings of some fairly exciting Valley music venues (Goodbye, Venue 104,) we've come to realize that not all Phoenicians feel the same.

And that's cool. To each their own, but our hearts break for the local entrepreneurs that poured their life savings into well-intentioned projects. (Yeah, everyone opening a small business should gulp a dose of reality, but pipe dreams are pretty fun. Especially if those dreams are, theoretically at least, a good idea.)

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Go ahead and complain that Phoenix lacks culture, but the very places attempting to provide culture are the ones that are shutting their doors.

As Michael Peck, the owner of Venue 104, put it when I interviewed him about the spot's untimely closing:

"I don't buy the 'economy sucks' argument. It's because the same people who say culture is lacking in this town are perfectly content Facebooking for four hours straight, or playing Farmville, or Angry Birds, or going and dropping 25 bucks to go to a movie, or going out every Friday and Saturday night and dropping 40 or 50 bucks to get wasted. I don't buy that the economy is shitty."

People are spending money elsewhere, but what kind of a venue would make you spend money on local music on a Friday night? What is the "ideal" venue?

Back when Modified Arts dropped music from its schedule, former music editor Martin Cizmar speculated that "Downtown was ovah." Clearly, it's not. It's still the musical center of the Valley, and the opening of Crescent Ballroom only reinforced that.

But what Modified did give the city was a sense of physical community -- something utterly lacking at even successful music venues around Phoenix. Sure, you can see a free show at Yucca Tap Room every night, catch up with a few regulars and drink a few microbrews, but when you grow tired of the band on stage, you exit to a sparse parking lot. The next venue in sight is The Fixx on Mill Avenue or Long Wong's on Apache and McClintock, and neither is realistically within walking distance.

Looking at successful music cities, nearly all of them have music venues that are close together. Sure, it offers more competition, but it also attracts more of the types of people who are willing to give local music a shot. In Nashville, you can go to pretty much any bar at any point in the day and hear live music. But hey, that's the "Music City," right?

Even in Tucson, 4th Avenue offers an array of venues near the UofA campus, all within walking distance of each other. There's something warm and fuzzy about being able to walk from Plush to the Rialto to Hotel Congress with no real goal in mind, other than to see live music.

Building that sense of community is crucial to creating a "scene" or "culture," which leads me to think the ideal venue would actually be downtown. Like, a few doors down from Crescent Ballroom. Maybe a bit larger or smaller than Crescent. And there needs to be more like it in the same vicinity.

I realize club owners are out to make a buck, but I know, personally, that many of these same owners are devotees of Phoenix music and, really, would advocate the same thing. I tend to believe that the Phoenix music scene isn't done at all. I think it might just now be getting its legs.

Or maybe that's my own pipe dream.

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