Best Nontraditional Music Festival

Viva PHX

Have you been to a music festival recently? Stifling crowds, terrible sight lines, muffled outdoor sound? Unless you're willing to get there early and forgo bathroom breaks and proper hydration, it's almost impossible to get a good view. Once you pass into your third decade of existence, the prospect becomes mighty unappetizing.

Enter Viva PHX, Stateside Presents' nontraditional take on a music festival. (Full disclosure: New Times is a sponsor.) Modeled around South by Southwest, the 2016 version brought more than 70 bands to 17 venues downtown. The sheer number and density of the music festival participants is impressive in itself, but what's more notable is the transformative effect the festival has on downtown. Streets that are normally quiet on a Saturday night overflow with people making their way from venue to venue. For one night, downtown Phoenix turns into a pedestrian-friendly musical mecca, and the energy is contagious and undeniable.

Crescent Ballroom

Is there a more enjoyable live music experience than the Crescent Ballroom? Located at the site of a former auto mechanic garage, the venue is a model of good business practice for the rest of the city, offering not just a live music hall but a great restaurant as well. The ballroom itself is a sight to behold, with perfect sight lines, crystal-clear sound, reasonably priced beers, and attentive service. There's also a fantastic Mexican restaurant, Cocina 10, for music lovers and diners alike. Crescent Ballroom has it all for music lovers. There's a reason it's the hippest venue in town.

Orpheum Theatre

In all of the Valley of the Sun, there's no place quite like the Orpheum Theater. Majestic columns, a fantastic chandelier, and Spanish baroque-style murals, all underneath a ceiling of painted clouds against a blue sky, combine to make the Orpheum a fairly spectacular place to see a concert. Erected in 1929, the building has undergone a number of lifecycles and renovations, and now the building has a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Yucca Tap Room
Lauren Cusimano

A great live music performance comes from the energy flowing between the band and the crowd. Small venues foster this connection in the best ways. There is often no space between the musicians and the spectators, and the intimacy of the space often leads to the most memorable shows. Yucca Tap Room is the longest-running rock bar in Tempe for a reason. It's a comfortable yet badass place to see a show. Feel like getting close and dancing? There's plenty of room up front. Feel like grabbing a stool, nursing a beer, and enjoying from a distance? You can do that, too. No matter where you take it in, the sound's incredible, and it's no surprise that many a scenester's favorite moments in live music happened at Yucca.

Gila River Arena
Andrew Marshall

There might be only a few places to catch arena headliners like Aerosmith, Madonna, and Justin Bieber in Phoenix, but if we had our choice, they'd all come through Gila River Arena, the most music-friendly extra-large venue in town. Chase Field is far too boomy; Talking Stick Resort too impersonal; University of Phoenix Stadium way too big; Ak-chin Pavilion too spread out. But Gila River Arena is Goldilocks' third bowl of porridge; it's just right. Somehow, the sound manages to reach all corners of Gila River, and the structure of the seats around the arena means that the stage is always easy to see. And leaving the concert is great as well — concertgoers are greeted by a fantastic fountain that makes the shops and restaurants of Westgate Entertainment District an enticing sight.

Back in the early-to-mid '70s, New Jersey songwriter Bruce Springsteen couldn't muster up national traction. His records had garnered some critical support, but rock 'n' roll stardom eluded the scrappy guitarist/singer. Except in Phoenix. The Boss was a big deal here in Arizona before most anyone outside of his Jersey/NYC stronghold got hip. The love here has always stuck with Springsteen, who brought his The River tour to Talking Stick Arena this spring. Celebrating the release of that classic double album, Springsteen brought a boatload of warm feelings for his Phoenician crowd, digging into a marathon set (more than three hours) and offering up the entirety of The River, along with some of his biggest hits. The highlights were many, but it was hard to beat Arizona-based guitarist Nils Lofgren's fiery solo on "Because the Night," or when the E-Street band eulogized the departed saxophonist Clarence Clemons on "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out." It was one for the history books, and made it clear that the Boss loves Phoenix, and Phoenix loves the Boss.

Found along the Arizona Canal, the SRP Arizona Falls is set in the Arcadia neighborhood at 56th and 58th streets and Indian School Road. The falls are a 20-foot drop created by the canal at that spot, and Salt River Project and the Phoenix Arts Commission have turned it into quite the romantic destination thanks to a few features — including three waterfalls, a viewing room, a pedestrian bridge, and 24-hour access. So whether you're walking or biking along the canal path on date night or just driving around with your new sweetheart, the Arizona Falls may be a good place to stop if you're trying to get to first base. Two aqueducts surround the viewing room, making it feel like you're actually inside the waterfall, which most importantly means all the make-out sounds will be drowned out. Just don't go spoiling the mood by spewing factoids like how the plant was originally built in 1902, and it now generates 750 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to power 150 homes.

Talking Stick Resort

It's close to 300 miles between Phoenix and the glitzy lights and ringing slot machines of the Las Vegas strip. Sure, some people might think it's worth the drive to be in the heart of Sin City. But we know that you can find plenty of sin, fun, and relaxation by driving across town (if that) to Talking Stick Resort and Casino in Scottsdale. With an award-winning restaurant, Vegas-quality performances in the TSR Showroom, and raging pool parties during the summer, TSR is a top spot for staycationers. But the fact that TSR features one of the largest casinos in Arizona elevates this place beyond the other resorts in town. So grab your chips and poker face, and get ready to hold 'em.

El Chorro

Some people see Thanksgiving as a wonderful opportunity to gather together with cherished relatives; others are just thankful that this day of familial torture only comes once a year.

Both types will enjoy pre-gaming Turkey Day at El Chorro in Paradise Valley. The night before Thanksgiving, the bar/restaurant is packed to the rafters with an upscale 30s to 50s crowd. Food is available, but most people are there to imbibe. Revelers can explore the nooks and crannies of the historic building (El Chorro was built in 1934 as the Judson School for Girls) or enjoy the mild weather and lovely mountain views of the expansive patio area. If you're driving, get there early — parking fills up fast. But since the Paradise Valley Police Department camps out at the entrance to make sure everyone gets home safely, we recommend an Uber. Whether you'll be toasting to the joy of the holiday, or just girding your loins before mandatory family togetherness, there's a spot for you at the bar.

Rips Ales & Cocktails
Lauren Cusimano

No offense to the many great acts, bands, and DJs whose names are listed on the Rips Ales and Cocktails marquee, but that's not what you notice driving by. Nope, it's that angular sign that grabs your attention, all jagged arrows and bright red contrasted against pale blue. Maybe there's a little sun bleaching at work, but no matter: There's a Space Age elegance to the Rips sign, conjuring up surf-rock guitars, standup bass, and thumping drums. It's arresting, and that big arrow practically invites you in. Turns out, the whole place is just as sharp as the sign.

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