It doesn't seem right to go into your local watering hole all by yourself, but if you walk into Stacy's @ Melrose solo, you won't feel that way for long. There is a sense of community when you step inside, whether you're enjoying a couple of cheap drinks, a drag show, karaoke, or dancing on a Saturday night. If you think that feeling has been lost to the pandemic forcing bars to close, you might want to check out the establishment's social media accounts. Owner Stacy Louis continues to check in on customers and raise money for causes important to the LGBTQ community.

The Cash may be a lesbian bar, but what we really love about this central Phoenix spot is how it welcomes all. Everyone can enjoy the music, which depending on the night might be country, dance, pop, hip-hop, or rock. Everyone can enjoy the great drink specials. Everyone can enjoy the special events, which before the pandemic included karaoke, line-dancing lessons, signing events from members of the Phoenix Mercury, bingo, and more. We like to grab a booth, order up a cheap Tito's or Coronita, then hit the dance floor under the colorful lights.

Boycott Bar
Benjamin Leatherman

Hosted by upstart drag king and 2020 Mister Boycott Sir Nate, this monthly revue at Boycott Bar aims to introduce drag newcomers to the wildly diverse and often underappreciated world of male drag performance. One established local drag queen joins the cast each time, but for the most part, this show — held every third Saturday — is a platform for fresh-faced performers yearning to strut their stuff on the bar's charming stage. The King's Court lives up to the reputation created by other Boycott shows like Georgina the Doll's Doll Factory, so don't hesitate to grab a cold drink from the friendly staff, pull out some tip money, and get close to the action as you witness both seasoned and rising drag artists perform their truth on the floor of Boycott.

Of all the places around town we've missed this year, The Rebel Lounge is near the top of the list. We enjoy the space because of its past (it was the beloved and storied Mason Jar for 25 years, where many of the best alternative acts of the '80s and '90s played), but also for everything Stephen Chilton of Psyko Steve Presents has done with the place after taking it over in 2015. Since then, it's been an intimate venue for up-and-coming local and national acts, the setting of the "Make It Loud" live panel discussion series on how to break out as a new artist in today's music industry, and the home of an ever-changing marquee that's often advertising some clever saying or another. The Rebel Lounge is a major hub of the Phoenix music scene, and we can't hardly wait until the shows start up there again.

The Van Buren

On the list of things we're looking forward to once this damn pandemic is over: Hearing some music at The Van Buren. When local promoter Charlie Levy opened this spectacular venue in 2017, it instantly became one of the coolest places in the entire state. The 1,800-person concert venue replaced an old auto dealership, but little of that drab history is detectable; the renovation included top-line equipment and furnishings, burnished with murals of desert mountains. It has a clean feel that isn't sterile. It's like if a Phoenix dive where you used to see musical acts grew up with you, providing the same sort of fun but without the smell of dried beer. The current emptiness of the space now stands in contrast to the light and sound of the shows we've seen here, or the laughter of the crowd for a storytelling event. When the good times return to The Van Buren, we'll be there.

Phoenix Suns Arena

Unlike the Valley's other big concert venues, Talking Stick Resort Arena is situated along the Valley Metro light rail, which, depending on where you live, can make getting to and from shows cheaper (no Uber, no parking fees) and more fun (the camaraderie of fellow concert-goers, no need for a designated driver). It's easy to grab food and drinks from the concession stands, but the downtown location means you've got tons of options for dinner and drinks before or after the show. And the shows themselves? The venue regularly welcomes big-name acts: Eric Clapton, the Jonas Brothers, the Miami-based Latin band Maná, Sesame Street Live. It's a big room, yes — 18,000 seats — but we've enjoyed shows there everywhere from the floor to the rafters.

The cowboy mythos may be antiquated, but folks 'round here still blaze plenty of trails. In the last decade or so, Andy Warpigs has cut a swath through this city, shining bright as a folk-punk hero who uplifts listeners with each new trip to the stage or studio. Warpigs champions punk-ish values of individuality and justice, acting as a beacon for an entire community of artists trying to make their own brand of weirdness take flight. What drives his devotion to sound and city alike is a genuine love of music and an earnest belief that great tunes can unite a village, burn out all the evil, and make a place that's more free and fun than previously imagined. Even if such transformations never fully take hold, Warpigs' dedication to Phoenix keeps us all on our toes and perpetually honest with what we're putting in. He's not just some noble figurehead or stoic figure on horseback, and he doesn't demand change so much as show us something in ourselves to work toward. He's the guy with the guitar singing about a dark and twisted world, hoping we'll scream along for just a couple of bars.

CJ Jacobson of Paper Foxes told Phoenix New Times last year that Popular Confessions, the title of the band's debut album, was a term he coined to "explain the mass depression that nearly everyone seems to be experiencing in 2019." The record made the melancholy melt away more than any other Valley release, which is why we're still listening in 2020, when we're unable to go out and dance with the "death disco" group. And folks outside Arizona are starting to take notice. Paper Foxes was recently named the best unsigned band in the state by Alternative Press. Here's hoping they'll get the chance to show off for the residents of other states soon.

The members of Treasure MammaL have always been tough nuts to crack. As much a band as pure performance art, they blend ironic detachment, bountiful nostalgia, and globs of random pop culture into something indecipherable but nevertheless entirely entertaining. As it turns out, the collective might have another calling as a cover band. Across 2020, they've released bonkers covers of songs by Depeche Mode, Sublime, and the Aquabats. Are these songs "good" in a traditional sense? No. They sound as if your 1998 Dell PC exploded in a fit of mangled musical samples. But they're good in that they're completely insane pieces of media that somehow make our current timeline feel less terrifying and all-consuming. If you're not into it, don't let that stop you from enjoying original Treasure MammaL material (September's Grammy Nominated is totally silly but also transcendent). Instead, let these covers serve as inspiration to, say, leave behind the rat race, move to Las Vegas, and start a covers-centric cabaret show on Fremont Street.

There wasn't much time for live music in 2020 before the world up and changed. Livestreamed shows are a satisfying distraction, but they can't capture the visceral quality — the power, really — of seeing a genuine live concert. Unless, of course, we're talking about Las Calakas. This cumbia fusion band somehow managed to re-create the excitement of their raucous live shows despite the limitations of technology. It's not just that the streams ignited the same fires as an actual concert (an urge to shimmy, the tendency to hoot and holler, etc.) — they displayed the band's dynamic in high-res detail as they whipped out fiery fusion jams in real time. Las Calakas' streams are a reminder of live music's power to help people lose themselves in the creative ether. More than anything, they kept hope alive for what might come next for a post-quarantine world: a night out at the show, dancing and vibing with a few dozen close strangers.

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