Have you ever planned an elaborate trip; booked just the right hotel, plunked down some serious cash for good seats, and dug into the slush fund for incidentals - a little extra for a fancy dinner, souvenirs, upgrades, that incredible outfit - just to attend a concert? I'm not talking about driving an hour or two to the nearest metropolis when your favorite artists' tour didn't quite reach your town. I'm talking -specifically- planning a getaway around a single concert or show in a venue so momentous that it proved impossible to resist.
I have. And in talking to friends, colleagues and the social media world, it sounds like a great number of others have, too. Two years ago a friend and I scored sidestage balcony tickets to The Killers as they headlined a Christmas radio showcase at The Palms hotel. Between the incredible seats, Vegas kitsch and the extra couple of days celebrating everything that Las Vegas has to offer, we had a pretty merry time. From traipsing the Las Vegas strip well past midnight, tallboys-in-hand, to ice-skating on the rooftop at the Cosmopolitan. Or sipping champagne sixty stories up in a Mandalay Bay lounge and then discovering the Cowboy Christmas and Rodeo Finals were still happening downstairs (we may or may not have snuck ourselves in, smuggled beers and all). The Killers show was flawless, of course, and we came home indisputably bigger fans than when we left. There was something a little extra about that trip - all seemingly for just a regular old concert - that made it just a little more momentous.
The next year, I did a repeat. This time? A holiday season visit to New York City to catch Justin Timberlake at Madison Square garden. Bucket list. It snowed earlier that day, as we strolled through the festive markets in Central Park, sipping mulled wine and collecting trinkets and souvenirs suitable to haul home as Christmas present swag. We strolled through galleries with the eager anticipation of an evening spent at a world-renowned landmark venue, and Justin certainly did not disappoint.
There's something so indisputably indulgent about travelling with just one musical purpose. So satisfying. I remember being a college student, hopping on a plane headed for home, and plopping down next to a couple who were doing precisely this. Upon answering my "where are you headed?" question, I remember mild shock and awe, thinking, "do people actually do that?!"
But what a way to travel; particularly if you also decide to soak in the scene, learn about the culture and the history of the venue. It's always cool walking into a world-famous venue for the first time. It's even cooler when I've done my research and discovered that Johnny Cash sat right over there to eat dinner or Andre the Giant passed out in this lobby, right here - and nobody could move him. Both true stories. I find the more obscure the venue, or the more infamous, the better. Would I schedule a single expedition just to see a big-name headliner at Red Rocks in Colorado? Absolutely. Would I fly to Los Angeles to catch a band at Troubadour? Already have. Is it a tad lavish, a wee bit spendthrift and impulsive? Yup. Worth it? Absolutely.
So where are my next top "must-see venues in the world?" There are many, many others, but here's a start. Where do you hope to travel in coming years, just to catch a cool show in an infamous venue?
1. Hollywood Forever Masonic Lodge, Hollywood CA
A fantastically creepy old fort hosting an impressive array of musical acts in the middle of a cemetery. Yes, you read that right. It's a real, live cemetery and the building is actually beautifully morose and kind of charming in a dark way. Shows are intimate, parking is free (in LA? what?) and the acoustics are surprisingly excellent. Its' weird factor attracts not only some big acts (Elohim and Hozier play there soon), but some small up-and-coming-acts, very much worth learning about. Since this is the final resting place of the likes of Judy Garland and Johnny Ramone, it's not completely ridiculous to hope that you could add to the "spirit" of the show with a few seriously legit Hollywood ghost sightings. Because who needs Hollywood celebrity sightings, anyway. Weird? Yup. Creepy? Only slightly. Worth a visit? Without a doubt.
2. Red Rocks Amphitheater, Colorado
Nestled in the hills outside of Denver, this venue was actually built back in the 1940's and allows the acoustics of surrounding rocks to create an incredible sound voyage during every show. The Beatles played here, as did U2 for their "Live at Red Rocks" special (yeah... duh) and pretty much everyone else. Aside from the spectacular scenery of surrounding Colorado and the venue itself, the incredible art, culture and "greenery" of the region makes this a sheer no-brainer for any music lover. What I wouldn't give to catch a Muse show here...
3. Grand Ole Opry, Nashville TN
This one needs no introduction. I mean, if you've never heard of it, I ask you to please kindly crawl out from underneath your rock and join the modern music-loving world. The list of artists who've graced this venue's stage is a veritable country music Hall of Fame list. But it's also home to a surprising array of non-country artists as well. To be completely honest, big names are cool but I'd visit this one just to visit the venue and bask in the incredible history and culture.
4. Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara CA
On the outskirts of downtown, nestled in the hills of the riviera overlooking a phenomenal downtown skyline and even more phenomenal beach and coastal scene is the Santa Barbara Bowl. It's intimate enough to feel like you're not in a massive stadium, yet large enough to attract international acts. I *almost* saw Aerosmith here once. Damn the dude who offered me $500 a piece for my tickets. Between the location, nearby tourist spots and ease of access via either LAX or Santa Barbara airports, we're pretty sure this would be an impeccable weekend retreat from just about anywhere in the US. In fact, I don't know why I haven't seen a show at this venue already.
5. Stubb's Waller Creek, Austin TX
Okay - I can't lie, I've been here probably 300 times in the last few years. But I just cant leave it off this list. It's everything that's great about Austin: phenomenal live music almost every night, it's small and intimate, and yet everyone's played this venue. You can get up-close-and-personal with your favorite acts and tickets are usually about $35. Fond memories? Being less than 10 feet away from Slash, solo-ing his beautiful soul out. Watching Aaron Bruno of Awolnation scale the rigging and dance on the rooftop, singing an acoustic version of Handyman while we all wondered if that flimsy, rusty roof was going to cave underneath him. Rumor is that Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Muddy Waters have played there in exchange for food. Which is the icing on the cake: Their BBQ. Stubbs is also a crazy good restaurant and you can partake in some serious BBQ as you watch your show (or before, for you purists...).
6. Joe's Pub, New York City
This is a true hole-in-the-wall-type venue that serves small and medium-size crowds. It would be a nobody if it weren't for the place that Amy Winehouse (rest in peace) played her first American show that absolutely stunned, wowed and floored the audience. It's hosted a great number of other at-the-time-unknown artists (who later made it big) and so it has reached its' own little pinnacle of notoriety. Unsigned artists, take heed.
7. Greek Theatre, Los Angeles CA
This venue is a mid-large size outdoor theater hidden within Griffith Park. It's known for incredible weather, not a bad seat in the house and very regularly hosts some incredible acts. If you've ever wanted to attend a concert alongside a celebrity or two, this is probably your best bet. It was also built in the image of an actual Greek theater and has won a buttload of "Best of..." awards. Worth a visit, I think.
8. Radio City Music Hall, NYC
This one should come as no surprise. What is a surprise, however, is how exactly I've managed to pass it so many times and never actually seen a concert there. Aside from being huge, infamous and visually impressive (it seats 6,000 people, it is 2 acres in size and boasts a stage 84 feet tall) - a theater mind you, this is no stadium. It hosts the biggest acts and also plays host to The Grammys, The Tony's, MTV Video Music Awards, and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It also boasts a super unique dynamic lighting system that creates a "Kubrick-like effect." Worth checking out? Certainly.
9. Royal Albert Hall, London UK
It was built by Queen Victoria. It boasts one of the most architecturally-distinct interior and exteriors, with immaculate acoustics to boot. Aside from big-name modern bands, composers Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt conducted concerts here in the 1800's (yes, it's an old venue) and since then it's played home to oh, just a few other impressive names. Albert Einstein led the 'Einstein Meeting' at the hall for the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics here in 1933. The Killers recorded their first live album here. The Dalai Lama. Elton John, Spice Girls, BB King, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles. Forget it... listing them all out will take too long. It's everyone. They also have theater, opera, Cirque du Soliel... just count me in. Who wants to plan a trip to London?
Go see that show. "Because in the end, you won't remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain!" says Jack Kerouac (he's wise, right?). A venue can take a show from "good" to "wow, that was something I'll remember for the rest of my life." Take it from me. I hope I've inspired you to consider a trip out-of-town one day to catch your favorite artist in a new city or at one of the incredible venues I listed above. If you ever need help planning, feel free to reach out to us! We're more than happy to help you make that dream a reality... and we might even tag along. Roadtrip, friendo!
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