Phoenix Music Scene
Lauren Wells | April 28, 2014
Phoenix has been home to decades of talent, from 1960s rocker Bill Spooner of The Tubes to the post-hardcore 1990s band Opiate for the Masses. During the 1960s, Dolan Ellis of the New Christy Minstrels, a Grammy winning folk revival band, helped put Phoenix on the map as a music hub. During the 1970s, Phoenix natives Richard Page and Steve George founded the band Pages before later forming the pop rock group Mr. Mister. The 1980s introduced bands like Meat Puppets, an alternative rock band noted as influences for Nirvana and Soundgarden. Also hailing from Phoenix, the new Wave band The Jetzons, rock band Dead Hot Workshop, and pop rock band Gin Blossoms (who gained notoriety for their hit “Hey Jealousy”), impacted the local music scene, encouraging more experimental sounds. As edginess became a theme throughout the 1980s, it continued on throughout the 1990s as rap rock bands like Phunk Junkeez, and emo rock group Jimmy Eat World emerged from Phoenix’s musical underbelly. Roger Clyne and the Pacemakers rounded out the late 1990s, with their Americana Southern rock sound.
The Crescent Ballroom is multi-purpose venue complete with a 550-capacity performance space, full service bar/lounge, and a restaurant. Built in the old F.L. Hart Garage, the Crescent Ballroom has an industrial feel while booking acts like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Baths, Young Fathers, A Cloud for Climbing, and the Haymarket Squares. With great food, a crisp sound system, and a casual yet trendy crowd, the Crescent Ballroom is an accommodating full-service venue in the heart of Phoenix.
The Celebrity Theatre hosts multi-genre acts like Roberto Tapia, Gavin Degraw, Heart, Ginuwine, Ashanti, Trey Songz, and Future. Originally opened in 1963, the 2,650-capacity venue was designed by architects Perry Neuschatz and Gary Call. Intended to be multi-purpose conference center, the theatre has hosted talented performers such as Duran Duran, Olivia Newton-John, Smashing Pumpkins, Louis CK, Chris Rock, David Bowie, Def Leppard, Bill Cosby, Billy Joel, Joe Cocker, Nat King Cole, and Fleetwood Mac, among many others.
Opened in 2010, the Musical Instrument Museum features a collection of over 15,000 musical instruments from over 200 countries and territories. Each country features its own exhibit, where guests can listen to music native to that particular area. The museum also features a 299-seat theater for concerts, where performers like Joshua Bell, Joe Ely Duo, Vladimir Pleshakov, Battlefield Band, Bombino, Rickie Lee Jones, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band take the stage.
Performers like The Wanted, Brit Floyd, Lana Del Rey, Pat Benatar, Neil Giraldo, Rick Springfield, Austin Mahone, Chicago, Lorde, Pet Shop Boys, and The Fray play at the Comerica Theatre. Opened in 2002, the 5,000-capacity venue is operated by Live Nation and also hosts comedians like George Lopez and Bill Maher as well as popular boxing matches.
A well-known amphitheatre, the Ak-Chin Pavilion has been running since 1990, hosting crowds of 20,000 music lovers. Billy Joel kicked off the venue’s inaugural performance, and since then the Ak-Chin Pavilion has hosted acts like Green Day, Fall Out Boy, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica. The amphitheatre has also hosted festivals like Warped Tour, The Gigantour, Lollapalooza, Crue Fest, Ozzfest, Projekt Revolution, and the Mayhem Festival.
The Rhythm Room, opened in 1991, is a nightclub that features primarily roots and blues music. Acts like John Primer, Jimmy Pines & Washboard Jere, Dick Dale, Lucky Tubb, Bad News Blues Band, Austin Ellis, and Sugar Thieves perform at the Rhythm Room. For great local and national acts, check out this venue, as it offers a casual and relaxed vibe.
The US Airways Center, opened in 1992 and was designed by Ellerbe Becket. The arena hosts sporting events, concerts, and conventions throughout the year. Home to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, and the AFL’s Arizona Rattlers, the arena has become a Phoenix mainstay. Originally named the America West Arena, the venue underwent renovations in 2003, adding an air-conditioned glassed pavilion for overheated guests waiting in line (how thoughtful of them!). In addition to major sporting events like NBA and WNBA All-Star games, the US Airways Center has hosted the Professional Bull Riders’ Built Ford Tough Series, as well as musicians like Frank Sinatra, Christina Aguilera, Lady gaga, Madonna, P!nk, and Beyonce.
A 78,600-capacity arena, the University of Phoenix Stadium is home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and has hosted the annual Fiesta Bowl since 2007. Although the University of Phoenix does not have any intercollegiate athletics program, they still secured the naming rights to the popular event space. Acts with huge followings like the Rolling Stones and One Direction (yes, we can’t believe we used these two very different bands in the same sentence either) perform at the stadium.
For a completely different experience, check out The Trunk Space, a venue established in 2004. Featuring music, experimental theater, storytelling, fine art, and coffee galore, hipsters and creative minds alike can enjoy an “out-there” performance at this intimate venue. A bit confused about its identity, the Trunk Space is a hybrid coffee shop, music venue, and art gallery type of space with local bands performing regularly.
Last Exit Live is located in the Historical Warehouse District of downtown Phoenix. Booking nationally touring acts and local artists, the Last Exit is a great place to catch an intimate gig. Opened in 2003, the venue has hosted Zac Brown Band, The Gin Blossoms, Candlebox, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Dramarama, The Format, Todd Snider, and Authority Zero, among many others. If you’re overheated by the hot acts coming through this venue, they have a humble picnic patio area for you to cool off during a show.
Established in 1994 by Joe Grotto, Joe’s Grotto is a combination bar/music venue that offers acoustic open mic nights and live music six nights per week. Primarily a rock scene (think bands like Crashdiet, The Blasters, and Howitzer), the venue encourages original local musicians to come through for a friendly, intimate gig. Complete with dart boards, a pool table, pin ball machines, and plenty of bar space, Joe’s Grotto caters to the dive bar lover in all of us. In between sets, enjoy a warm Phoenix night on the patio and start people watching! With great drink specials and an insider’s look into local Phoenix bands, Joe’s Grotto allows you to get up close and personal with humble performers and their friendly fans.
The Country Thunder Arizona Festival, held in Florence, is a music and lifestyle event that hosts headliners like The Band Perry, Jason Aldean, Thompson Square, Miranda Lambert, Cassadee Pope, Colt Ford, Craig Morgan, LoCash Cowboys, and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, among others. The country-infused festival takes place in April, thanks to sponsors like CMT, T-Mobile, SRP, and Jack Daniel’s. The festival even has a Jack Daniel’s Experience “mobile museum,” that offers an interactive look into the best-selling whiskey brand, where you can see and smell the whiskey as it filters through charcoal and oak barrels. Dancing tents like the Electric Thunder tent offer country DJs, on-site bars, and a Sunday Cowboy Church gathering for festival goers. You can even learn more about horsemanship, animal husbandry, and farrier skills at the festival! You’ll be a jack-of-all-trades before you leave. Every April, Tucson hosts the Wild Wild West Fest, featuring artists like The Wiley Ones, Black Bottom Lighters, Diamond Down String Band, Mystic Roots Band, The Magic Beans, Stanley Jordan, and Melvin Seals & JGB, among many others. The festival seeks to press the question, “What would the American West be like, if the days of the Wild Wild West had not been ended by an industrial revolution?” With camping, bands, and arts and food vendors, WWWF encourages creative thinking and, of course, enjoying the sights and sounds of the west. True Music Festival, a single day event, hosts local artists as well as high quality entertainers like The Flaming Lips, Wiz Khalifa, Capital Cities, GriZ, Lord Huron, Bassnectar, Kill Paris, Hellogoodbye, and Chevy Woods, among others. The multi-genre festival is held in Scottsdale, Arizona, having had its inaugural event in 2013. The McDowell Mountain Music Festival books headliners like STS9, Disco Biscuits, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Dwight Yoakam, Slightly Stoopid, and Gramatik. Held in downtown Phoenix’s Hance Park, the festival claims it’s the “Party for the People”– so don’t miss out on March’s big festival complete with food, music, and arts. For classical entertainment, the Arizona Musicfest might better suit your tastes. The festival features a detailed calendar of events that books acts like Bob Moody & Friends, the Jeff Hamilton Trio, pianist Jonathan Biss, Jake Shimabukuro, Brahms’ Requiem, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Bryant Park Quartet, and Judy Collins. The Arizona Jazz Festival features headliners like Smokey Robinson, Patti Labelle, The Isley Brothers, Ne-Yo, Gladys Knight, and Dave Koz & Friends Summer Horns. Held at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa, the festival brings in the smoothest names in jazz. The Red Rocks Music Festival features classical chamber and operatic music every August, with workshops and master classes as an added bonus.