The Nash

Before last fall, downtown Phoenix hadn't had much in the way of a dedicated jazz joint in like, well, a while. Lots of actual jazz musicians, yes, and a smattering of great bars that hosted their gigs, but no place that was entirely focused on the genre. Thanks to Jazz in AZ, however, that all changed in October when the arts organization officially opened The Nash on Roosevelt Row. And what the Crescent Ballroom is to indie music, The Nash has become to the jazz scene — a stylish epicenter with crisp acoustics and can't-miss performances. Purists and neophytes alike have flocked to the lounge-like venue (named for renowned Phoenix native and jazz drummer Lewis Nash) for intimate shows or rowdy jam sessions featuring many and varied flavors of jazz, from bop and swing to experimental and avant-garde. Besides serving as one of the the Valley's few dedicated jazz venue, The Nash emphasizes mentoring young musicians though various workshops, small group improvisation sessions, and the ongoing "Catch a Rising Star" performance series. Earlier this year, it debuted an entire Education Annex dedicated to this end. Oh, and you also can do the BYOB thing with beer and wine at shows.

The Rhythm Room

The Rhythm Room isn't only a blues venue, and it's not the only blues venue in town. But Bob Corritore's 22-year-old venue is synonymous with blues in Phoenix anyway, and for good reason: It can't be beaten for sheer blues density, in the form of regular jam sessions from influential locals and the cream of each year's touring crop. For music genres and music venues alike, being labeled "venerable" or "respectable" or "important" is often a kiss of death, one false step away from being embalmed in pioneer-village-style edutainment and remembered by a wistful crowd at some other, newer venue. But the Rhythm Room is in no danger of becoming a museum piece; its tireless promotion of the local and national blues scenes, not to mention its willingness to go off-book and host acts like Kitty Pryde and Rotten Sound, will make sure of that.

Eric Church's "Drink in My Hand" tends to rile the crowd up and incite activity at Denim & Diamonds on weekends, so brace yourself, buckaroo, for a tornado of two-steppin' and hollered sing-alongs when the chartbuster blares out here. Ditto for any of the other party-hearty new-country hymns that dominate the playlist. The Wrangler-clad masses at this barn-size Mesa megaclub do their damnedest to live up to the rip-roaring standard set forth by such anthems during nightly bacchanals of beer and barbecue on Thursdays through Saturdays. Practically everyone on the gigantic parquet dance floor is clutching a longneck as they swing, dip, and do-si-do around, and there's a near-constant crowd at either bar, especially when 50-cent brews are on special until 11 p.m. Theme parties like beach blasts and bikini nights on Wednesdays also are big, as are occasional concerts by touring country singer-songwriters like Kyle Park and Casey Donahew. Refrain from asking them to cover Joe Nichols' "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," since it's probably not on their set lists.

Yucca Tap Room
Lauren Cusimano

Valley Fever picked up a new venue to rotate out to when The Western opened earlier this year in Scottsdale, but its mission remains unchanged: Bring out the vintage country sounds nobody else is playing, and play them. Valley Fever doesn't discriminate on the medium — if the sound is right, they'll bring a record, a local act, or a national band with them to Yucca Tap Room during their regular Sunday night slot. For the past two Junes, they've neatly encapsulated their vision by hosting the Arizona leg of The Waylon Birthday Bash, an outlaw country show benefiting diabetes research. If you've ever felt a need to celebrate Waylon Jennings' birthday — with or without such noble intentions — find Valley Fever wherever they are and hang on to them.

Rusty Spur Saloon
Rusty Spur Saloon

The Rusty Spur Saloon was around decades before Scottsdale earned its reputation as a fine place to buy and wear expensive watches, and it'll probably be around after the last Lincoln Blackwood has been buried in a luxury-truck graveyard in the desert. In the meantime, it'll be there to surprise people who go into Old Town expecting nothing but expensive kitsch with nigh-omnipresent live music and a volatile combination of regulars and authenticity tourists and people who actually live in Scottsdale. Of course, it'll probably also surprise anybody who goes in expecting nothing but authenticity. Psychobilly Rodeo Band, weekend regulars, wouldn't quite fit inside a John Ford movie.

Brigett's Last Laugh

There are a lot of very unnerving, questionable things about karaoke. You'll have to convince yourself you can sing. You'll have to convince yourself you can get your friends to sing. You'll have to convince all the people in front of you you can sing. You should not have to wonder when and whether a bar is even doing karaoke, which is where Brigett's Last Laugh — Phoenix's self-proclaimed Karaoke Kapital — comes in. Is it 9 p.m.? Is it a weekday or also a weekend? Done. Located in an exceptionally unassuming, flesh-toned building on Cave Creek Road in real life, and a Facebook page covered in Comic Sans on the Internet — it comes by its divey-ness naturally — Brigett's commits to karaoke seven nights a week and has built up a loyal crowd as a result, leaving you free to worry about literally everything else to do with singing your favorite songs in front of total strangers.

Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill

Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill was originally named Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill for Its Live Karaoke Events, but we suppose they thought it sounded silly. In any case, the live-action karaoke is still around, and if you've never made the leap from a MIDI backing track (maybe with a low-budget music video starring a bunch of sad Japanese women) to people who are actually playing musical instruments, prepare to feel a little swell-headed by the end of the night. If you can check your ego, it's worth checking out: If they know your song, it's the closest you'll ever get to becoming a star and owning your own Your Name Here Loves This Bar and Grill.

If you don't already spend a lot of time listening to syrupy Chinese ballads as loud as local ordinances will allow, your first visit to August Karaoke Box might prove a little intimidating. From minimally soundproofed booths, exchange-student cliques speaking every Asian language will be singing an unplanned mash-up of J-Rock, K-Pop, and American Top 40. At the front desk, an inaudible attendant will ask you and your group how much time and which refreshments you want and point you to your own minimally soundproofed booth.

Inside, your tech-savviest friend will navigate an enormous catalog that has been alphabetized by multiple competing, totally incompatible methods. English songs will look suspiciously like ripped and mislabeled YouTube videos. You are not August Karaoke Box's audience, as it turns out. But that unaffected indifference breeds the best kind of authenticity: You'll come out of your booth as bewildered and giddy as if you'd just daytripped to Tokyo, and excited that you'll only have to drive to Tempe to be bewildered again.

Fatso's Pizza

The difference between a good open mic night and a bad open mic night, besides the music itself, is how invested the venue is in it. Fatso's Pizza might not look or sound like a gathering spot for Phoenix's acoustic guitars, but every Thursday night Fatso's and guitarist Gram Benike come together to host an open mic that's gradually become a North Phoenix institution. The crowd at Fatso's isn't going to make you feel like you've stepped onto an episode of America's Got Talent, but lots of them will at least be looking in your direction — unlike some open mic nights, you won't come away with the impression that you were allowed to play as part of an elaborate prank against the customers. Oh, and the pizza's good, which is important to keep in mind when the music sometimes isn't.

Tempe Improv Comedy Theatre

Comedy, as the saying goes, is tragedy plus time. At most stand-up joints, it's the standard formula for good jokes. At the Tempe Improv, however, it also sums up the drama the renowned establishment has endured over the past 16 months. In June 2012, the iconic club shut its doors after 25 years, following heated allegations by owner Mark Anderson, who charged comedy impresario Joel Bachkoff of conspiring with former Improv employees to steal Anderson's business. Anderson, who reportedly had a history of mental issues, then went missing. Weeks later, the 60-year-old was found dead in a Buckeye motel room of a cerebral hemorrhage stemming from a brain deformity. Anderson's widow, Holly, eventually approached Bachkoff about partnering to revamp and reopen the Improv in hopes of securing her late husband's legacy.

The club returned in May, following a total renovation of its interior and showroom, giving both more of an upscale look that's heavy on exposed wood and vintage imagery, as well as adding a full bar and VIP areas upstairs. Some things haven't changed, however, as its famous stage (which has hosted the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock) and red brick wall are still there. And the comedians are just as hilarious as ever. After all they've been through down there, we're sure they could use a laugh. The usual two-drink minimum is also still around, of course, so be sure to raise a toast to Anderson with at least one of 'em, maybe both.

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