It's a good thing local concert promoters and venue owners give music fans plenty of reasons to experience the great outdoors.
Scores of al fresco shows and gigs – ranging from intimate performances to mega-concerts and multiday festivals are scheduled for the coming weeks and months.
A lot of these concerts will happen at many of the Valley's premier open-air venues, or spots that regularly offer outdoor shows. That includes bigger joints like Mesa Amphitheatre and Ak-Chin Pavilion, as well as bars with great patios and an art space or two. And thanks to modern conveniences like fans, misters, and plenty of shade, it’s worth attending shows at many of these spots even after the spring festival season wanes.
Here’s a look at metro Phoenix's best outdoor concert and live music venues.
2121 North 83rd Avenue
To old-school Valley residents, it'll always be Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion. Millennials, however, easily remember the era when it was Cricket Wireless Pavilion. And pretty much everyone has tried to forget the couple of years when it was awkwardly called the Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion. But no matter what corporate identity Ak-Chin Pavilion has been branded with since its debut in 1990, this outdoor venue has been a mainstay of Phoenix's concert scene over the decades. And with its 20,000-person capacity, it’s definitely the largest – and the site of some of Phoenix's most epic concerts.
If you've had the means to afford the more expensive tickets at any of the thousands of concerts that have occurred at the pavilion, you've gotten to partake in the premium and reserved seats available underneath its gigantic roof, which is equipped with fans, misting systems, and nothing but shade, all of which comes in handy during its summertime operating season. That isn't to say that lawn seating atop the venue's sloping hillside setup is undesirable by any means, since it allows patrons to stretch out and relax on blankets or chairs (depending on the event) without missing any of the action, courtesy of a pair of high-definition jumbotrons on either side of the stage.
Civic Space Park
424 North Central Avenue
Whether you think it's strange, scintillating, or unsightly, Janet Echelman's astounding midair sculpture, Her Secret Is Patience, is one of the many unique elements that help make Civic Space Park one of the most distinctive outdoor venues in the Valley. Ditto for its array of illuminated columns, vintage buildings, uniquely shaped canopies, and ideal location in the heart of downtown Phoenix.
And then there's its large stage and ample grassy areas, both of which have been amenable to the numerous concerts both large and small that have taken place here since it debuted in 2009 (including 2014's excellent Los Dias de la Crescent festival). All have had an extra aura of cool thanks to the park's urban feel and otherworldly art.
Desert Botanical Garden
1201 North Galvin Parkway
When it comes to picturesque views, you really couldn't ask for more beauteous surroundings than the Desert Botanical Garden and its verdant collection of native flora and fauna. During the months where the weather is nicer (read: the spring and fall), the patio-like Ullman Terrace hosts a diverse and curated selection of local ensembles and acts of more of an instrumental nature and world music bent, ranging from Latin and Celtic bands to blues and Americana offerings.
Perched on the edge of the garden and situated at the foot of a saguaro-lined butte, performances at the 400-person venue get especially eye-catching around dusk, when amber rays of sunset and dramatic lighting of the plants and cacti add extra spectacle to an already striking scene.
Fear Farm Sports & Entertainment Complex
2209 North 99th Avenue
Aside from RC racing, futbol games, pumpkin patches, and the annual scare park, the Fear Farm Sports & Entertainment Complex – a.k.a. Sheely Farms, Fear Farm Festival Grounds, or just Fear Farm – is a 26-acre site typically buzzing with activity. Recently, it’s become something of a throwback punk rock stomping ground.
Fear Farm holds major music festivals like KUPD’s Brufest (which has featured The Offspring, Pennywise, and Atreyu), and has now joined spots like the Peoria Sports Complex, Camelback Ranch, and Ak-Chin Pavilion as the host of the Phoenix stop during the summertime Vans Warped Tour (bringing acts like Every Time I Die, Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, and New Found Glory to the West Valley).
Margaret T. Hance Park
67 West Culver Street
When the organizers of the annual McDowell Mountain Music Festival moved the event to Hance Park in 2013, it was widely applauded due to the fact that it offers a lot to concertgoers. Not only is it centrally located and adjacent to both light rail and a major freeway, it’s also the largest park in downtown Phoenix and boasts a wealth of space and diverse variety of settings for live music.
There's more than enough room on its sprawling acres of green grass for big-stage concerts like MMMF and various fests, as well as the different venues contained within or next to the park, such as the Japanese Friendship Garden, Irish Cultural Center, and Phoenix Center for the Arts. Heck, local folk-punker Travis James even put on DIY festivals underneath the Central Avenue bridge.
Read on for more of Phoenix's best outdoor music venues.
263 North Center Street, Mesa
Having been around since the late 1970s, Mesa Amphitheatre has been a go-to outdoor venue for generations of Valley concertgoers, and it’s filled with history. For natives, it’s where your parents might've rocked out to Frank Zappa, The Clash, Joan Jett, Jerry Garcia, or The Go-Go's way back when, or where your older metalhead brother went to worship at the feet of Black Sabbath or King Crimson in their heydays.
Not much has changed at the Amp in the ensuing decades, right down to the ever-present bougainvillea bushes that've lined its back wall for eons. Its band shell has always delivered great acoustics, and there's never been such a thing as reserved seating at the 4,950-person venue, as the Amp has always been general admission (and probably always will be). The tiered setup of its terraced lawn offers fantastic sight lines from everywhere in the venue, as well as something to lean against and kick back if you tire of standing.
Rawhide Western Town & Event Center
5700 West North Loop Road, Chandler
Attending concerts at Rawhide is a unique experience inasmuch as it’s the only location in the Valley where you catch a show at an actual theme park. While most outdoor music gigs and festivals at the venue take place on its expansive Sonoran Lawn, a couple of events have gone down within Rawhide’s kitschy Western Town.
The EDM-oriented Phoenix Lights Festival decided to hold the 2017 event at the Westworld-esque site. It certainly made for an unusual and amusing sight to see colorfully dressed kandi kids and hear cutting-edge EDM at a site more suited to cowboys and country music. And the 2015 Global Dance Festival Arizona, for instance, featured three stages of electronic dance music artists and DJs that were located within the cluster of rustic building and dirt streets that are straight outta the Wild West of Arizona’s past.
26 East University Drive, Tempe
Downtown Tempe's Shady Park is nothing if not versatile. In addition to serving as a stylishly retro pizzeria and vintage-inspired cocktail lounge, it also pulls quadruple duty by offering a sports bar atmosphere and a hangout for locals. And out back is its best feature, the expansive open-air "bar park" that's ringed with trees and features a recessed seating area, a weather-proof sound system, and a stage that’s hosted local bands, touring artists, and DJs almost every weekend since the spot began booking shows in early 2016.
Shady Park is the brainchild of restaurateur and C.A.S.A. SunBa owner Scott Price, who was inspired by out-of-the-way bars and taverns he encountered in Europe that were cloistered amid forests. And while the foliage that surrounds the bar park isn’t as thick as you’d find in some overgrown sylvan area, it adds a clandestine feel to the joint and seems to insulate it from the usual madness of nearby Mill Avenue. Plus, the canopy of leaves and branches overhead help keep in the sound.
Steele Indian School Park
300 East Indian School Road
Established in 2001, Steele Indian School Park is known for acres of grass and shade trees — and a historic backstory. Plus, it’s a prime location in central Phoenix at the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road. Just bring your blankets and sun hats, grab a seat on the light rail, and get ready to jam out after disembarking at the Indian School/Central Avenue station.
The park has hosted the Phoenix Pride festival, Jackalope Arts Fair, Arizona Strong Beer Festival, the Arab American Festival, and many other cultural events. In 2017, Steele Indian School Park is hosting the inaugural three-day Lost Lake Festival. The creators of Bonnaroo and Outside Lands will bring The Pixies, Ludacris, Run the Jewels, Chance the Rapper, Major Lazer, and The Killers to CenPho for what's sure to be a memorable festival weekend.
Talking Stick Resort & Casino
800 Talking Stick Way, Scottsdale
Talking Stick's lavish pool area doesn't want for creature comforts by any means, considering it's equipped with posh daybeds, VIP cabanas, two bars, bottle service, a DJ setup, and (of course) the pool itself. During the spring and summer, however, it gets an extra boost in the form of an enormous portable stage that's erected nearby and features renowned bands in the alternative, pop, and classic rock vein during the resort's yearly summertime concert series – most notably, the Release Pool Party, which opened its 2017 season with wildman Dillon Francis.
And because the stage faces Talking Stick's 15-story hotel tower, the wall of sound is contained by the structure and aimed at the audience, meaning you hear all of the hot licks or killer riffs being dispensed by all the rock 'n' roll legends onstage.
1028 Grand Avenue
About a decade ago, Grand Avenue was fast becoming a hotbed for music via such venues as the Paper Heart, Four White Walls, Fat Cats, Trunk Space, and Bikini Lounge. While most of those spots have gone defunct and faded into obscurity, the folks at ThirdSpace thankfully have picked up where their predecessors have left off and taken the lead in reviving live music along Grand. When ThirdSpace's shows are held out back at the eatery and bar, it's often an intimate experience.
Bands and artists perform during the daytime and often at night on weekends while cloistered amid the colorful complex of small shops located behind ThirdSpace. After sundown, it becomes even cozier as musicians sing out while patrons watch from their tables. The scene glows from strings of twinkling bulbs overhead, the light of the fire pit, and the great sounds coming from the amplifiers.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version, which first appeared in 2015.
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