It feels odd to be talking about the best places to hear live music during a pandemic. But until the stages light up again, we can reminisce about the venues we used to love going to — and will again someday (we hope soon).
We believe in the resilience of our local music scene and its power to weather this crisis, so here are a few places we can't wait to revisit.
Best Blues BarThe Rhythm Room
1019 East Indian School Road
The Rhythm Room is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it box set slightly back on Indian School Road. Its plain façade belies the fun happening inside. In business since 1991, the Rhythm Room has at least one event a night (in non-pandemic times). Ticket prices are reasonable, and the bar's small stage has hosted acts from big names like Bo Diddley and the North Mississippi Allstars to local favorites such as Hans Olson and The Sugar Thieves. We suggest you grab a drink or two at the bar, then settle in to listen or head to the cozy dance floor to boogie the night away.
Best Jazz VenueThe Nash
110 East Roosevelt Street
The Nash is more than just a music venue — it's a Valley institution that holds the heart of the city's jazz. Since opening in April 2012, The Nash has hosted an impressive range of shows, from open "free jazz" jam sessions and traditional New Orleans-style jazz performances to concerts dedicated to the music of artists as varied as jazz legend Charles Mingus and British rock legends the Rolling Stones. The namesake of The Nash, Phoenix-born jazz drummer Lewis Nash, helped establish an educational program for more than 130 student musicians, featuring renowned jazz artist and educator Wynton Marsalis. The Nash is also the headquarters of Jazz in Arizona, a nonprofit organization that has been supporting jazz in the state since 1977, and an integral part of the Roosevelt Row arts scene.
Best Country BarThe Dirty Drummer
2303 North 44th Street
If you like both kinds of music — country and western — then The Dirty Drummer Eatin' and Drinkin' Place is a must-visit. This honky-tonk slash sports bar and grill has been around in the same spot since 1975, when it was opened by Frank "Drummer" Armstrong and his partner, "Dirty" Dave Werner. The original Drummer closed in 2018 but was quickly reopened by Dana Armstrong, the Drummer's daughter, the next year. Dana gave the place a major remodel, reopening with the original bar top, some heavy wood paneling, and a new dance floor and stage. Since 2019, Drummer 2.0 has hosted country shows (some virtual) featuring the likes of Tony Martinez Trio, Flathead, and Jaty And The Black Stallions, as well as special events like the Cowboy Campfire Christmas and the Rhinestone New Year's Eve party. No show on the calendar? Hit the jukebox. It's chock-full of all your outlaw favorites.
Best Metal BarClub Red
1308 West University Drive, Mesa
Corpse paint, growling vocals, scary-looking dudes with hair down to their asses: We get that metal might not seem like the most welcoming scene or genre. But that's why Club Red is so vital. This Mesa institution is all about kicking down the doors to Valhalla and letting people experience the wonders of a truly open metal community. That dedication is built into the very design of the venue, which has two rooms (more bands, more exposure) and a food truck outside that serves friendly, from-scratch cooking. Some of the biggest national and indie metal acts have come through Club Red's doors, but even at the dinky local-act gigs you feel a sense of loyalty, kinship, even celebration. At a time when many other metal clubs in the Valley have withered away, a place like Club Red is nothing less than an absolute, devil-horned treasure.
Best Small Music VenueThe Rebel Lounge
2303 East Indian School Road
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.
Best Medium-Sized Music VenueThe Van Buren
401 West Van Buren Street
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.
Best Large Music VenueTalking Stick Resort Arena
201 East Jefferson Street
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.