Phoenix’s live music scene has been attempting to return to some sense of normalcy while looking ahead to a post-pandemic future. Music and gigs have returned to venues like The Rebel Lounge, Tempe’s Sunbar, and Scottsdale’s Pub Rock Live, while concert dates for major touring artists have been announced for the fall and winter.
With vaccination numbers increasing daily, promoters and venue owners are cautiously optimistic about the future.
One question remains: When will concerts return to popular venues like Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar, the Rhythm Room, or Mesa’s Nile Theater?
Phoenix New Times has reached out to the owners and staff of those spots and other independent concert venues to get an idea of when they’ll be up and running again with performers on their stages. Some will be open as soon as this weekend or early next month. Others, like the Rhythm Room, are hedging their bets and waiting until the fall.
“It's going to be a big leap of faith that things with the pandemic and vaccinations will be at a better place by then,” says owner Bob Corritore.
Here’s a look at when the Valley’s most popular independent concert venues will reopen again.
Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar
Valley Bar has been shut down since the pandemic began in March 2020, while the kitchen and bar at Crescent Ballroom have been offering limited food and drink service. According to co-owner Charlie Levy, it will be another few months before any concerts or music events will happen at either downtown spot.
“I think we're looking at sometime this summer [for shows to return],” Levy says. “We don't have a specific date in mind yet.” It will also depend on current data associated with the spread of COVID-19 and the number of people vaccinated, he adds. “Fingers crossed that things continue to get better and more people get vaccinated so, in a few months, we can open up and feel comfortable having concerts again,” Levy says.
Last Exit Live
Live music will return to Last Exit Live starting next weekend. The smallish bar and venue on Central Avenue south of downtown Phoenix will host a gig headlined by reggae-rock band Herb N’ Life on Saturday, May 1. Owner Brannon Kleinlein says Last Exit’s shows will have a reduced capacity with ventilation from its garage door to the patio being open. That said, they’re not requiring masks. “We’re not going all out with a full [on] capacity show just yet and will limit the sizes of the crowds for the time being,” Kleinlein says.
Concerts have been taking place in the Celebrity Theatre’s parking lot since last winter, but general manager Andrew Smith says they’re gearing up to have indoor shows again in the fall. “Right now, we believe we can safely open at 100 percent capacity around September 1, if not before,” he says.
And it’s a decision that a majority of the Celebrity’s clientele supports. “We did an audience survey a couple of weeks ago,” Smith says. “A large percentage of people responding that responded said, 'Let's wait until August/September, we're going to feel a lot safer then and we'll know a lot more about what’s going on then.’ So we’re trying to be in line with what our audiences want.”
Mesa Arts Center
Kristi McLeod, a spokesperson for the Mesa Arts Center, says they’ll begin hosting shows in the fall, starting with a performance by jazz guitarist Pat Metheny on Sunday, October 3, that will kick off the 2021/22 season.
The MAC has also been using the pandemic lull as an excuse to fix up the place, including redoing the floors and replacing seating in the Nesbitt Playhouse and the Ikeda and Piper theaters. “It's been 16 years since the Mesa Arts Center opened and it's time to replace the seating,” McLeod says. “So because of the pandemic, we decided to do some renovations.”
Prior to the pandemic, the outdoor patio and “bar park” at Tempe restaurant and bar Shady Park served as a site for both local bands and electronic dance music ragers. Live shows will return to the business in early May, according to Shady Park’s social media. Its ongoing house music event TreeHouse Sundays will re-debut on Sunday, May 9, with a performance by DJ and EDM artist John Summit. New Times has learned that other events at Shady Park are in the works.
Rhythm Room owner Bob Corritore is aiming to reopen the long-running central Phoenix blues joint in September if he can obtain one of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants being offered by the Small Business Administration. “It would be a godsend [since] there’s going to be significant cost with reopening,” Corritore says. “The staff has to be rehired, beer and other items have to be restocked, and we could use some deep cleaning after more than a year being closed. It all adds up.”
Corritore says the Rhythm Room may still reopen in the fall even if they don’t get the grant, likely through a combination of crowdfunding or other avenues. “It’s going to reopen, it's just that the grant would make things so much easier,” he says.
The downtown Phoenix jazz venue has been putting on outdoor shows at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society's Venue 122 since March. With temperatures rising as the summertime begins, The Nash's Joel Goldenthal says their indoor shows will return to the venue the first weekend in June. "It's just in consideration of the weather," he says. "We're already pushing it by having shows in May."
Goldenthal says there will be safety restrictions in place for shows at The Nash. "First off, we're upgrading our HVAC systems with a higher grade of filtration, we'll increase the amount of outdoor air versus using recirculated air," he says. "We'll also be opening with a limited capacity so we can allow six feet of distancing between parties."
Concerts could return to this historic outdoor venue by the middle of summer, says Mesa Amphitheatre general manager Luis Ruiz. "We are holding a few possible dates in July, more in August, and even more in September and October," he says. "The industry is jumping back and as an outdoor venue, we're likely to have shows going on."
While Ruiz can't offer specifics in regards to which bands or performers might be playing the city of Mesa-owned venue (since confirmation is pending) he can say that the facility won't be any restrictions in place for its shows. "There are no mask mandates for the city of Mesa with outdoor events, only indoor events. There are no restrictions [beyond that]," he says.
The Nile Theater
Nile Theater proprietor Michelle Donovan tells New Times the staff has been “keeping busy” during the pandemic, including presenting livestreams and a benefit concert for local musician Ryan Butler. The Nile’s coffee house, which is located in front of the historic downtown Mesa concert venue, has also been operating. “Other than that, we've been completely closed for a year and two months now,” she says.
That will hopefully change in mid- to late-August when the historic Mesa concert venue is scheduled to reopen. Right now, at least one show has been booked for the Nile this fall (an August 13 performance by death metal legends Deicide), but Donovan says more are on the way.
The Lost Leaf
This popular Fifth Street beer and wine bar is currently offering outdoor service only, but you might be able to catch a performance by various local bands inside sometime in May, says Lost Leaf co-owner Eric Dahl. “We hope to have music and [the indoor bar] back within a month,” he says. “We are getting ready to hire a few bartenders and door people, so we can get back to full hours [seven] days a week.”
Plans are also afoot to make improvements to the Lost Leaf’s backyard area in the next few weeks, Dahl says, including adding fencing and pavement. Dahl hopes to have it open by May 25, just in time for the summer.
The Trunk Space
In late March, the Trunk Space posted a Facebook announcement stating the downtown Phoenix nonprofit, volunteer-run venue at Grace Lutheran Church would remain closed until its board felt the pandemic had abated enough to safely reopen.
“As a nonprofit, our board continues to have these discussions, in addition to following the guidance from Grace Lutheran Church and other trusted businesses in our community,” the statement read. “If trends continue, we’re optimistic about Trunk Space hosting small shows later this year.”
Not much has changed since then, says board member Steph Carrico. “We are holding off until anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be fully vaccinated,” she says, adding that Trunk Space’s board is working with the church’s staff to decide when to start hosting events again.
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