Arizona is rich in music history. There are venues dating back to the early 20th century featuring artists before they became household names. Those venues have gotten a few facelifts and touch-ups over the years and many more have joined the scene. It’s not easy to pinpoint one theatre as the place to see music. If you’re looking for the best venue to see a show, consider the kind of music you’ll be listening to. Here are the top venues around the Valley based on what they are best for.
Marquee Theatre (best stepping stone venue & acoustics)
With the addition of the balcony, the Marquee has moved itself up on my list. The venue has held a wide range of different acts from rap to folk. I’ve seen people crowd surf, pushed against each other like sardines, and I’ve seen relaxed crowds who are able to carry their drinks without the fear of spilling them. There’s hardly a bad spot. I’ve enjoyed a show from against the barricade to behind the sound system in the back. This is a venue that’s meant for standing because the floor slopes up in hopes it will give more people a better view.
Crescent Ballroom (best for indie and local bands)
At Crescent you’ll find acts performing their first show to dive bar veterans playing their thousandth show. I’ve seen more indie bands there than any other genre, but I know they aren’t shy with whom they book. This is also a venue fit for any kind of concert goer. You can press yourself against the stage until you’re basically on it, you can chill out in the bleacher-like seating in the back or you can sip on a drink at the bar.
Mesa Amphitheatre (best outdoor venue)
Ak-Chin Pavilion may be an artist’s go-to outdoor venue, but Mesa Amphitheatre is the place to be. Unlike Ak-Chin, you have a decent view of the stage no matter where you are. The acoustics are much better and the pit setup is more fan-friendly in my experience. The amphitheatre steps are ideal to help an attendee maneuver around the crowd, get up to buy a drink or find an elevated spot to see the stage.
Celebrity Theatre (best looking venue)
If you’re looking for a venue that is drowning in history and has amazing visuals, look no further. Celebrity Theatre has hosted some of the greatest artists to pass through the desert like Billy Joel, Def Leppard and David Bowie since opening in 1964. The stage is set in the middle with the crowd surrounding it from all sides. It sounds strange and maybe even unappealing, but it’ll make for an experience that you wouldn’t forget anytime soon.
Joe’s Grotto (best “hanging out” venue)
Joe’s Grotto can turn itself from a comfy living room with tables, chairs and a bar to an intimate club with loud music shaking the liquid in your cup. Whether it’s Monday night or Friday night and you’re looking for something to do, it’s easy to show up to this tiny corner in a strip mall, pay about $10 to get in and enjoy some music.
The Nile Theater (best “underground” venue)
In the middle of downtown Mesa is a little venue that has been everything from a church to a punk rock concert haven since opening its doors in 1924. It’s separated into three rooms – The Underground (holds 300 people), The Nile Theater (holds 1,000 people) and Volstead Public House (to get your caffeine and vegan pastry fix). The Nile is best for those hardcore, metal, punk rock shows that gets the crowd crazy. In the best way possible, you’ll walk away with a bruise or two and your ears ringing.
Rebel Lounge (best for alternative music)
You may remember this venue by its former name, The Mason Jar. They have an ear for what bands will become big, hosting acts like Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction and Fall Out Boy before the rest of the community caught on. Today you’re more likely to catch a local act, small touring alternative artists or the monthly Emo Night. The atmosphere of this venue is what makes me always want to come back. I’ve discovered more bands from random nights I’ve attended here than anywhere else. Whether you go by yourself or in a group, or if it’s your first show or hundredth, there’s a friendly and positive air to the place that makes you feel welcomed.
The Nash (best for blues and jazz)
If you’ve been to a First Friday in downtown Phoenix, it’s likely you passed right by this place. You may have heard some music pouring from the doors or your eyes could’ve been attracted to the bright purple sign with their name on it. It’s an intimate setting with low lighting and sound-proof walls that will make you forget you’re downtown. Even if blues and jazz isn’t your thing, it’s an easy place to just walk in with a friend and hang out.
Comerica Theatre (best arena-sized venue)
It’s not easy to choose the best arena. I’m going with Comerica because this is a venue that was meant for music and not basketball, hockey, Disney on Ice or a variety of other events. The arena slopes up in a way that helps carry the sound. However, I wouldn’t spend my money on a pit ticket unless I was guaranteed a spot in front. The floor of the pit is flat so it’s not great for those in the back.
Valley Bar (best “hidden” venue)
The first time you look for Valley Bar and your GPS is directing you into a strange alley in the middle of downtown Phoenix, you may start to question what kind of venue this is. Once you’re inside, it feels like you’ve gained entry to a top-secret club, like a modern day speakeasy. The vibe ties into making the overall experience a good one.