Maren Morris performs at the Bluebird Café in Nashville
Photo: Terry Wyatt/Academy of Country Music/Getty Images
Attn. Musicians: 9 Small Venues You Should Be Playing
Bigger isn't always better; even when it comes to live music. Sure — big arena tours, stadium gigs and multi-day festivals are bucket-list items for any artist, but as many a musician or music fan would testify, sometimes it's the sweat-inducing intimate rooms that can hold that special charm.
"The best of the bands actually learned their trade playing small venues. You learn everything, technical things, stagecraft and you learn to interact with the audience."
— Nick Mason of Pink Floyd
While the number of great venues in the United States seems limitless, we've curated a list of nine rooms where a professional can feel confident about giving their best. All have been touched by greatness many times, are a magnet for visitors, and can rely on loyal local live music lovers to show up. The history is secondary to what you can do in places like these as a live performer.
Antone's: Austin, Texas
Solange performs at Antone's | Photo: Jay West/WireImage.com
If you like the idea of a live space that stands the test of time, Antone's began as a blues incubator in 1975 and has raised GRAMMY-winning members of its new ownership group like Gary Clark Jr., whose skills developed there. It was also Stevie Ray Vaughan's homeroom for years while he was on the way up. The point of the history here is that the great Clifford Antone made a safe space for rock and blues artists to develop into legends and to embrace the best of the live music experience, from either side of the stage. Concertgoers here can admire blues history, as the wall is lined with show posters from past performances by artists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Ray Charles.
Bluebird Café: Nashville, Tenn.
Don Schlitz and Vince Gill perform at the Bluebird Café | Photo: Rick Diamond/WireImage.com
The cozy Bluebird Café has always been a magnet for songwriters, and a place where new songs and artists combined to create the next season's musical fashions. Case in point, the 90-seat venue was where Garth Brooks was first signed, and also the spot where Taylor Swift was discovered. Opened by Amy Kurland in 1982, the Bluebird Café was acquired by the Nashville Songwriters Association International in 2008. The venue's now-famous Writer's Nights have played host to special guests such as Don Schlitz — best known for writing Kenny Rogers' Best Country Song-winning "The Gambler" — and also have become a hotspot for country's biggest stars to scout new writing talent. There is just no reason to hold back from giving your best in a room that has been blessed like this. In more recent years, artists such as Hunter Hayes and Maren Morris got a career boost via gigs at Bluebird Café
Cain's Ballroom: Tulsa, Okla.
Tulsa natives Hanson in front of Cain's Ballroom | Photo: Shane Bevel/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Originally opened in 1976 at the musically historic Cain's Dancing Academy, early bookings of British punk and new wave acts like the Sex Pistols put Cain's Ballroom on the map as a top Midwest destination. With a continued emphasis on offbeat rock, this local stop attracts artists of every variety, from K.Flay to Hanson and Matisyahu. Prior to reopening as a concert venue, the building served as the home to regular radio broadcasts from Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys as far back as 1932.
The Casbah: San Diego, Calif.
Best Coast at the Casbah | Photo: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Having started at a smaller location in 1989, hosting bands such as Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, the Casbah moved to its present larger home on Kettner Boulevard in San Diego in 1994. Nestled by the harbor near Little Italy, the venue has hosted artists from the Black Keys to Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings, and from X to Arcade Fire. Get in line to rock the bay with greats still to come and the greats who've played here before.
Double Door: Chicago
The Rolling Stones perform at the Double Door in 1997 | Photo: Paul Natkin/WireImage.com
Since 1994 in Wicker Park, Double Door has offered some of the finest live music in Chicago across many subgenres. Notable performances have included Local H, Liz Phair, Cheap Trick, Cypress Hill, Chance The Rapper, and the Rolling Stones. There are hopes the club complex will find a new home to address long-term lease issues, but its fans will mostly associate its name with memories of live music they have loved. Fans of the 2000 film High Fidelity, starring John Cusack, may also recognize the iconic venue as the filming location where Jack Black belts out a surprisingly faithful cover of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" at the film's climax.
Maple Leaf Bar: New Orleans
Celebration outside Maple Leaf Bar | Photo: Skip Bolen/Getty Images
The Maple Leaf Bar began in 1974 and has seen drop-ins like Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen. It was the bar home of poet Everette Maddox and hosts a long-running poetry reading in his name. It's also been a great place for local college bands to find their way on stage. The video for "Déjà Vu" with Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, from her 2006 album B'day, was filmed there. You may not know it yet, but you can fit right in.
Rockwood Music Hall: New York
Gary Clark Jr. performs at Rockwood Music Hall | Photo: Paul Zimmerman/WireImage.com
Good vibes are probably the biggest selling point for this small collection of stages that seem to have the right slot somewhere for any up-and-coming talent. Adjectives like warm, friendly, intimate, excellent, and authentic all aptly describe what has become a venue to-do in a city of historic venues. Acts from Gary Clark Jr. and Lady Gaga to Father John Misty and Mumford & Sons can testify that it's worth at least a stop.
The Satellite: Los Angeles, Calif.
Summer Moon peforms at the Satellite | Photo: Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
A Silver Lake classic that was Dreams, Pan and Spaceland before taking on its current namesake in 2011, The Satellite has become an indie-rock magnet and one of Los Angeles' bucket-list venues for young acts looking to make a name for themselves. Beck and Silversun Pickups rose from here, as well as Local Natives and Foster The People. Even the Foo Fighters cut their teeth here once upon a time. Per the LA Weekly: "The true test of a band is whether or not they can get the audience to leave the safety of the bar for the dance floor. No easy task."
Yoshi's: Oakland, Calif.
Public Enemy perform at Yoshi's | Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
While the present location of this venerable jazz staple was opened by Tito Puente in 1997, Yoshi's has hosted jazz greats since 1979 including Joe Pass, Dr. John, and more recently Stanley Clarke and Esperanza Spalding. Regular clubgoers know they can expect fine listening and the best music. Like Public Enemy, acts are often experimental, and technically outside the jazz genre, but always dependably great – a fitting soundtrack for a sweet environment.