Words by Adam Bernard
Every city in America has a music scene. Five of the biggest cities—New York, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, and Seattle—have been contributing the lion’s share of popular culture since before our grandparents were born. Scenes change, however, so in this issue we’re taking a fresh look at the five biggies. We’ll tell you what’s hot there now, and which legendary spots are still around for music historians to check out.
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
As Ol’ Blue Eyes once crooned, “If you can make it there/you can make it anywhere.” And the lyrics ring just as true today as when they were first written. Nicole, one half of the twin-sister R&B duo Nina Sky, agrees that the city exudes musical prominence: “New York is a musical mecca. In New York City you get everything. There are so many genres of music, whatever street corner you’re on, whether it’s rock, hip-hop, reggae, so many great musicians have come from New York.”
Last year, the legendary club CBGB, which launched literally thousands of careers, closed down. Luckily, there are still plenty of spots around where you can see great live music. Natalie, the other half of Nina Sky, feels that to truly say you’ve made it, you have to play at Madison Square Garden (7th Ave. between 31st and 33rd, thegarden.com). “That’s like a dream. You want to reach that level where you can fill a venue where the capacity is thousands of people, and that’s Madison Square Garden.” In addition to the major stage of MSG, Lee, lead vocalist of the hip-hop/funk band The Square Egg, says, “The Blue Note (131 W. 3rd St., bluenote.net) is definitely a legendary venue.” So legendary, in fact, that artists have signed deals right after stepping off the stage. Violinist Miri Ben-Ari remembers, “The Blue Note was where I got my first record deal. I performed there with my jazz band and I packed it in. They [Half Note Records] thought it was pretty incredible, and I got signed right then and there.”
In the summer, Summer Stage (summerstage.org) is an event in Central Park that presents live music and benefit events that are free of charge as a way of showcasing the many diverse musical styles that are alive and kicking in the city.
Where to Crash:
The Soho Grand Hotel (310 W. Broadway, sohogrand.com) is within walking distance of NYC’s Knitting Factory (74 Leonard St., knittingfactory.com), a tri-level performance space that features acts of all genres.
For early-morning risers, or really late-night partiers, Silver Spurs (771 Broadway) is a breakfast spot that’s a short stroll from Irving Plaza (17 Irving Place, irvingplaza.com). Irving Plaza, much like the Knitting Factory, embraces all genres of music, so the crowd at Silver Spurs can vary greatly depending on the act that was performing the night before.
Japanese food is really in, and Nina Sky can be spotted at Nobu (105 Hudson St. & 40 W. 57th St., myriadrestaurantgroup.com/nobu), while hip-hop artist Conscious enjoys sushi with his peers at Tokyo Pop (2728 Broadway).
Chicago is home to one of the country’s hottest music scenes right now. In recent years they’ve given us the likes of Common, Kanye West, and Fall Out Boy. The city, however, is also steeped in blues and jazz traditions. Susie Lofton of the Chicago funk/rock group Spyder Monkey notes that many of the city’s most historical spots were originally known for their blues and jazz, including The Chicago Theatre (175 N. State St., thechicagotheatre.com).
The Chicago Theatre opened its doors in 1921 and saw the likes of John Phillip Sousa, Duke Ellington, Jack Benny, and Benny Goodman perform on its stage. After a restoration in 1986, everyone from Aretha Franklin and The Allman Brothers to Oasis have appeared at The Chicago Theatre. The stage there is clearly not for beginners, and neither is the one at Buddy Guy’s Legends (754 S. Wabash, buddyguys.com).
Buddy Guy’s Legends is, not surprisingly, owned by the five-time Grammy Award winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Buddy Guy, and came to be in 1989. Van Morrison, Bo Diddley, The Rolling Stones, and John Mayer have all performed at Buddy Guy’s, and Guy himself sets up shop on stage every January to give a performance.
For those looking for something a little more modern, Lofton recommends Metro (3730 N. Clark St., metrochicago.com). Metro, which owner Joe Shanahan originally named Smart Bar in 1982 when he first bought the space—and used to be a Swedish Community Center—will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this July and is known for having some of the hottest acts around. When grunge was big, Nirvana and Soundgarden played there. And Jane’s Addiction not only played there, but Perry Farrell continues to have a relationship with the establishment. Today, everyone from The White Stripes to Atmosphere rocks the Metro stage.
Anyone who comes to Chicago has to have at least one deep-dish pizza. It’s not a requirement, but it should be. The city originated it. Once you’ve stuffed yourself at one of the eight million pizza places (writer’s approximation) in Chi-Town, check out Schuba’s Tavern (3159 N. Southport, schubas.com), a spot where all the food is made from scratch daily and live music is featured every night.
If you crave excitement, cruise by the Twisted Spoke (501 N. Ogden Ave., twistedspoke.com). The Twisted Spoke bills itself as a “family biker bar,” but also adds, “You probably won’t see many toddlers running around.” The music varies, and sometimes even includes R&B.
If there’s one thing that’s synonymous with Texas, it’s the ten-gallon hat, so it’s no surprise that country music is huge in the state where they claim everything’s bigger. If you’re looking for some of that classic country music, everyone is in universal agreement that your first stop should be The Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar, brokenspokeaustintx.com), Austin’s most famous live-music venue. According to Cella Blue of the throwback band White Ghost Shivers, “For the country and historical factors, The Broken Spoke is a wonder.” The owner, James White, feels The Broken Spoke has the holy trinity that makes a venue great: cold beer, good whiskey, and good-looking women. Willie Nelson is even known to still make an appearance, just to dine on the chicken-fried steak.
Other hot spots in Austin include The Continental (1315 South Congress Ave., continentalclub.com), where Toni Price has been playing happy hour on Tuesdays for seemingly forever (in actuality, it’s been the past dozen years or so), and Spanish rocker Haydn Vitera’s favorite, Stubb’s Amphitheater (801 Red River, stubbsaustin.com). Stubb’s has featured everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Muddy Waters to current artists such as G. Love and The Special Sauce and Chris Daughtry.
Austin’s musical legacy continues to grow each year with the South By Southwest Festival (sxsw.com), which has quickly become a major event in the music industry. Up-and-coming artists of all genres feel the SXSW stage is one of the most important stepping-stones in their careers, as hundreds of singers, bands, and emcees turn out for the five-day festival every March.
Where to Crash:
The Austin Motel (1220 South Congress Ave., austinmotel.com) and Hotel San José (1316 South Congress Ave., sanjosehotel.com) usually have an artist or two staying there, while the Four Seasons and The Driskill are notorious for housing the uber-famous. The most famous Austin-ite, however, has been immortalized in the form of a statue…Stevie Ray Vaughan. It overlooks Town Lake’s Hike & Bike Trail and commemorates his legacy in Austin.
To dine with the stars, pop in to Kerbey Lane (3704 Kerbey Lane, kerbeylanecafe.com), which Cella Blue says, “hosts an after-hours crowd that is not shy,” and Las Manitas Avenue Café (211 Congress Ave.). Las Manitas Avenue Café is a favorite of Owen and Luke Wilson, Sandra Bullock, and Quentin Tarantino, and has the interesting feature of requiring patrons to walk through the kitchen to be seated on the patio.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
While some cities have region-specific scenes, LA is almost a world unto itself, playing host to every scene under the sun. Soul artist Tre Hardson says, “Everything is always happening in LA. It’s hard to put your finger on any one thing, especially when everything in LA is always being super blown-up.” LA is a city that’s home to so many acts, it’s hard to define a specific scene. Mickey Avalon explains, “Things have gotten kind of segregated as far as scenes. Gothic people go to gothic clubs and b-boys go to rap shows, and so on.” That being said, there’s still great music to be found in LA within each genre of music. Both Avalon and Squiggy, tour manager of the hardcore/metal band Indorphine, bring up The Roxy as the hottest venue in the city, and Hardson adds that for those seeking a more laid-back vibe, The Temple Bar (1026 Wilshire Blvd., templebarlive.com) in Santa Monica is the spot.
Star-watching isn’t just a hobby in LA—for many, it’s a full-time job. The artists that want to be found know how to attract attention when they want it, but if you’re looking to catch them in a more human atmosphere, the Rainbow is a great place, and so is Hardson’s favorite post-show spot, Swingers (8020 Beverly Blvd.).
In a city so focused on what’s hot right now, it might be surprising to find out that there is quite a bit of history in Los Angeles. Of course, which venues are legendary really depends on which genre of music you’re looking to enjoy. For rock fans, Squiggy recommends Whisky A Go Go (8901 W. Sunset Blvd., whiskyagogo.com), which has been around for over 40 years and has featured acts such as The Doors and Janis Joplin, while Hardson points soul music fans in the direction of LA’s House of Blues (8430 Sunset Blvd., hob.com).
The great dichotomy of LA seems to be that although on the surface everything must be new and hip, deep down they still enjoy a little nostalgia.
Where to Crash & Groove:
In addition to the venues, Hardson says, “Central Avenue, near where I grew up, is the landmark where all the jazz cats used to hang out. Also, the Roosevelt Hotel (700 Hollywood Blvd., hollywoodroosevelt.com) has the same sort of vibe. They’re really trying to keep that alive.”
The Best Grind & Hangout:
Squiggy says, “You never know what is going to happen in LA. You can run into Ron Jeremy on the street, and then eat at the notorious Rainbow (9015 W. Sunset Blvd., rainbowbarandgrill.com) next door to the famous Roxy (9009 W. Sunset Blvd., theroxyonsunset.com), looking at The Bishop Don Juan, while eating a steak and lobster with Mikey Doling. Seriously, that happened.”
The home of grunge and the city where acts like Nirvana grew out of their garages and onto the biggest stages of the world, Seattle has been known as a haven for rock music since the early ’90s. Much of that history is on display at the EMP (Experience Music Project, 325 5th Ave. North, emplive.com), a Seattle rock museum owned by Paul Allen. Point One lead singer Len Hotrum reveals, “They have the actual handwritten lyrics from Soundgarden, Heart, and Nirvana. It’s pretty neat.”
Some of the other landmarks in Seattle also lend themselves nicely to the local music scene. Darren Howard, Point One’s bassist, endorses The Showbox as one of his personal favorite venues in the city, and Peter Klett, guitarist for Redlightmusic (formerly Candlebox), seconds this, saying, “As far as a smaller-type club venue with a big floor and a good stage, it would be The Showbox.”
Seattle also has its fair share of legendary venues, including El Corazón (109 Eastlake Ave. East, elcorazonseattle.com) and The Central (207 First Ave. South, centralsaloon.com). Klett feels El Corazón it probably the most legendary spot, saying, “It’s a club that if people are in town they should go to it, because it’s one of THE places that all the Seattle bands started from.” And Howard still has a soft spot for The Central, noting, “It’s been around since the 1800s, and it’s kind of a breeding ground for up-and-coming bands. Nirvana and Alice in Chains played there.”
Where to Crash:
Hotels notorious for musicians include The Eighth (2213 8th Ave., seattlecitycenter.com), which is the newest hot spot in Seattle, and the legendary Edgewater (2411 Alaskan Way, Pier 67, edgewaterhotel.com). The Edgewater has seen the likes of The Beatles, and there’s an infamous story involving Led Zeppelin which will not be printed here…
Pike Place Market is one of the biggest destinations in the city to get food and it also happens to be right across the street from The Showbox (First and Pike, showboxonline.com). According to Klett, you can almost see the market from the venue. “If you were to look at the famous cobblestone street right there, that takes you straight to the fish area where they throw the fish—it’s right there, you can’t miss it.”
Cheap Chow & Serious Drink:
After shows, if you’re lucky enough, you can catch some artists, like the guys from Point One, at the hot dog carts that set up shop outside the venues. “I never eat a hot dog unless it’s 2:15 a.m. and I’m drunk,” Howard admits. “By that time, it sounds great, they’re there, easy, and cheap.” In Pioneer Square, where The Central is located, there’s always a place out in front where they’re selling kielbasas and hot dogs. He also mentions that “professionals”—and he’s not talking artists, he’s talking drinkers—head on over to The Hurricane (2230 7th Ave., hurricanecafe.com) or the Five Point Café (415 Cedar St.), adding, “Those are the places where if you’re not messin’ around, you go there.”