Music Insiders Tips

Here's a piece about where music insiders like to hang in their cities and towns that I reported last SXSW and somehow fell between the cracks.
Read it here first. Jody Stephens, drummer for the much beloved albeit obscure band Big Star and studio manager of Ardent Studios, recording home of North Mississippi All-Stars, REM, ZZ Top, Travis Tritt, Isaac Hayes and hundreds of other very soulful cats, on where to hear music in his hometown, Memphis: “I would go to Beale Street and hang out and listen to the street players. There’s a certain energy in the audience. You get a lot of street folks who can’t necessarily afford to get into clubs. There’s great clubs like B.B. King’s and Ruby Starr’s, but the street is where it’s at. Apparently, the ground around Memphis isn’t only fertile for cotton, but for musicians too.”

Bob Merlis, the Los Angeles-based label czar (Memphis International Records) and publicist to the stars (Neil Young, John Cougar Mellencamp, Los Super 7), on hearing Memphis music as a tourist:

“I visit Memphis two or three times a year in light of the fact that I’m partnered with native Memphian (I call him a Memphibian as he’s evolutionarily advanced) David Less in Memphis International Records, our roots ‘n blues label that has released thirteen full length CDs over the past three years. One of first, Alvin Youngblood Hart’s ‘Down In The Alley’ was nominated for a Grammy but it lost out to a newcomer named B.B. King.

“When I’m in town, I like to check out CDs at Cat’s Records and Shangri-La Records, both in Midtown. They both do their best to carry our releases, including the ones by Sweden’s Louise Hoffsten and Switzerland’s Philipp Fankhauser who put the “International” in Memphis International. For live music, I check out Huey’s Midtown where the Red Stick Ramblers have played. Yup, they’re on the label, too. There’s a cool joint called Hi Tone where I caught Sir Mack Rice, composer of “Mustang Sally” and “Cheaper To Keep Her” backed by an awesome Memphis band. Alvin Youngblood Hart plays the Young Avenue Deli which is a very European-style venue in light of the clouds of cigarette smoke endemic to the place. For BBQ, THE place is Cozy Corner on Central Avenue but get there early. Amazingly, they close at 5 PM because the family that owns it wants to be home for dinner. I recently chowed down there with David and Tracy Nelson (also on the label) and our buddy Marcia Ball (talk about a great double date). For lunch, of course. Between downtown and the airport, I like Interstate BBQ and Central Avenue BBQ is pretty scrumdiddleyumptious, as well. If you’re looking for some vintage rock ‘n roll clothes, check out Flashback where I picked up a Tiki-style batik sports coat that has made me the envy of the lounge set back home in L.A.”

Paula Batson, SVP Communications, BMG Direct, Los Angeles, CA, on the best listening room in LA: “McCabes is an intimate venue in Santa Monica that is located in the McCabes Guitar Shop. You sit in a small room (150 people tops) surrounded by guitars, dobros and mandolins hanging on the walls. If a musician needs an instrument he can always borrow one from the shop. The concerts are usually on the weekend and include artists such as Peter Case, Michael Penn, T Bone Burnett or Ralph Stanley. It was thrilling to see the great Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys playing on the small stage. It is also a place where other musicians come to hear each other. So you might see Joni Mitchell or Bonnie Raitt coming to check out a friend. This is a real "listening room" and the audiences are attentive and appreciative. A great way to spend a Saturday night in Santa Monica after a day at the beach.”

Tobi P., program director of XMU independent rock channel on XM Satellite Radio on Washington DC as the best college rock town in America. “I’ve lived in LA, New York and outside of Chicago and some great scenes everything, but I feel fortunate XM Radio is in DC for what I do because I play five different genres of music. There’s a great independent underground dance scene like the 18th Street Lounge where Thievery Corporation is coming out of and , there’s the 9:30 Club, one of the greatest venues for music in the country, then you have the Black Cat which most of my bands play. It’s very dirty and raw dive bar rock club and that’s a very trendy, hipster indie rock scene.”

Jessie Scott, program director of XM Radio’s Cross Country Channel, on her favorite music town to visit.
“Austin is the spiritual epicenter of the music I play on the radio back to Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, Jerry Jeff Walker—we celebrate all those people and more from the early days. We play a lot of Southern rock and Southern California country, but Austin’s got it all from the new guys we love to play like Cross Canadian Ragweed and Restless Kelly to Ray Wylie Hubbard. The Texas Music tradition is multilayered and fabulous. The Threadgill’s folks provide us the Armadillo Radio Hour twice a month, and they go back to the very beginning.”

Jeremy Tepper, program director of Sirius Radio’s Outlaw Country channel and the voice behind The Rig Rocker, New York, NY, on his favorite Outlaw Country clubs.
“The real music, the folk music that drives Outlaw Country comes from outside the industry, whether it’s the hills of Appalachia, North Carolina, or Texas. But I gotta give props to the Continental. It’s been hosting Mojo Nixon’s Pancake Party and Hot Rod Show for five years and is home to artists like Wayne Hancock, Dale Watson, and Junior Brown. Then there’s Chicago, the hotbed for what’s being called Insurgent Country. Most of the Bloodshot Records bands from there play the Hideout and Shuba’s.”

Greg Kot, Music Writer, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL on his favorite cool club:
“Since 1934, the Hideout had been an anonymous watering hole with an unlisted phone number that served workers from nearby factories and warehouses. It opened at dawn, closed at dusk, and was shuttered during weekends. The hours have expanded considerably in recent years to accommodate music, but not much else has changed. The decor is still tacky, somewhere between a rural fishing lodge and a blue-collar bungalow at Christmas time. The music is offbeat Americana (blues, country, jazzy lounge standards, a smattering of rock) and the vibe is the friendliest in town. Admission, no matter who's playing, is always free. (The Hideout is located on Chicago's North Side:
Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433).

Steve Popovich, founder and CEO of Cleveland International Records, Cleveland, Ohio, on the best rock room in his hometown:
“The Beachland Ballroom. It’s real. It reeks of the culture of the city. It’s a former Croatian home. I used to go there with my grandfather when all the polka bands played there. Now, they bring everything there from Americana to rock music.”

Sharin Foo, The Raveonettes, Copenhagen, Denmark, on where to go hear music in her hometown:
“I’d definitely go to Vega. It’s a really beautiful setting, a large house with a Scandanavian minimalist interior. There’s two concert halls, the smaller Lille Vega and the Store Vega that holds about 1,500 and a great dance club downstairs called Ideal Bar.”

Sune Rose Wagner, Raveonettes, Copenhagen, Denmark on his favorite US venue:
My favorite place in the States is the Beachland Bballroom in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s like walking into the prom in a 1950s setting. It’s really, really cool.”

Doug Waterman, editor, American Songwriter Magazine, on great listening rooms to hear up-and-coming singer-songwriters: “The Bluebird, the Basement, Exit/In, and Douglas Corner in Nashville, Largo (very cool) in Los Angeles, The Living Room, The Bitter End, and Knitting Factory in New York, and Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta.

Tegan Quin of the duo Tegan & Sara from Vancouver, B.C. on her favorite club in Vancouver: “Richard’s on Richards. You can always catch a great local, underground or international touring act there during the week. It is a great heritage club with a good view from every seat in the house, and the tickets are always cheap. Plus, there is a great restaurant just down the street for after show drinks called Subeez.”

Robert Singerman, European Music Office – US Development Project
French Music Export Office – North America on five great music venues in Paris:
“House of Live (, near Champs has excellent programming of varied genre bands, good sound system, English-speaking staff, pub-type food.
Sunset/Sunside ( is a very cool club near Chatelet that sometimes has world music with more straight ahead jazz upstairs and more new, electro, world downstairs. Both rooms are about 100 capacity. Internationally known artists often play New Morning (, a famous older jazz, world, sometimes rock room (Tuck & Patti, Manu Dibango, Elliot Murphy) with good sound, seats, and about 400 capacity. La Cigale ( is the premier concert/club venue in Paris located in Pigalle area with many other good venues, like Elysee Montmartre ( nearby. L’Olympia ( is the most prestigious concert venue, located near Madeleine/Opera

Bruce Iglauer, president and CEO of Alligator Records, Chicago, on where to hear Chicago blues: “The choices are probably Buddy Guy's Legends and either B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, Kingston Mines or (good and very slightly obscure) Rosa's Lounge. Rosa's books some people that no one else in town books.”

Brian Ball, Ernie Ball Guitar Strings, Los Angeles on great guitar rooms in LA:
“We recommend The Baked Potato which features more of the ripping guitar style.
If you want to check out the best unsigned and signed bands in Southern California, we
recommend the Key Club, The Whiskey Go Go, and The Troubadour.”

Eli Wolf, A&R Director, Blue Note Records, New York, on where to find rising jazz talent in the Big Apple: “The Jazz Gallery is a great place.”

Chris Riemenschneider, music critic, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, on the best music clubs in Minneapolis: “First Avenue and its kid-brother club 7th Street Entry in downtown Minneapolis are still ground zero for music in the Twin Cities. First Ave is one of the few great rock halls in America that hasn't closed, been taken over by a corporation or lost any of its relevance. Ryan Adams aptly described it as a ‘punk-rock mall’ and it's pretty much the same black-coated, beat-up, former Greyhound station it was when it opened in 1970, for better or worse. That means all the kids attending the two-night return of hometown hip-hop star Atmosphere at the end of April enjoyed the same great vibe as the fans who caught the filming of ‘Purple Rain’ or the Replacements' five-night record-release party for ‘Tim’ though hopefully there won't be as much drinking as at the latter event. Rumor has it you can still smell traces of (late Replacements guitarist) Bob Stinson in the dressing room. For really, really old-school Minnesota music, locals head to either Nye's or Mario's Keller Bar (cq) in the Czech- and Ukranian-centric Northeast Minneapolis, where polka music is enjoyed year-round and not just in October. Nye's especially rocks on weekends when 80-something matriarch Ruth Adams plays with the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band.”

Ricardo Baca, Popular Music Critic, Denver Post, on where to hear Denver rock:
“The Hi-Dive, an intimate club in the Baker neighborhood has made local music a priority and also features DJ nights ranging from the happy, '60s-influenced sounds of DJ John Hill to the synth-obsessed '80s ragers thrown down by DJs Jason Heller and Big Al.
Local music is also integral to the Larimer Lounge, although the warehouse district club has made its name packing the dicey environs with indie goliaths Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Junior Senior and The Rapture, uber-indie bands such as Arcade Fire and Gogol Bordello, and aging indie legends such as J. Mascis, Doug Martsch and Lou Barlow. When acts graduate from the Larimer Lounge, they move to the Bluebird Theatre, an intimate but well-worn 500-capacity rock club just east of downtown. The downstairs bar, situated perfectly behind the soundboard, is the best spot to catch buzzy acts such as Kasabian, The Bravery and Franz Ferdinand.”

Alan Cowderoy, Director, Sanctuary Music Group, London, UK, on where to catch the Next Big Thing breaking out of London: “The best rock venues in London depend on whether you want to be in at the start of something. If so, go to the Water Rats or the Barfly and stand with a hundred or so frenzied fans and have your ears pinned back by a great sound system and be close to the onstage action. Otherwise, wait until the act can sell out the Astoria and go there with 2000 others to worship an act poised for bigger things. London is the place to be whether you're a happening US band wanting a UK base or a UK act aspiring for success in rest of the world.”

Bob Harris, host of the Bob Harris Show on BBC2 radio, on where to hear Americana country music in London: “The Borderline might be a bit of coals to Newcastle, but it is an American-style venue, which is why I like it. It’s quite rustic and slightly ramshackle, it’s in a basement with wood beams and a bar running down on side. It’s where all the bands and the artists that I play, country singer-songwriters in particular, play. The staircase is right next to the stage and if the artist isn’t doing particularly well and people are leaving, the artist is aware of that.”

Nick Gold, director, Entertainment Travel, Nashville, TN, on the ultimate rock hotel: “Our clients’ needs are all very different. Quite a few prefer Holiday Inns, Sheratons or Hyatts. A select number want to be in something unique and special. So do some non-performers who will live vicariously through them, and will stay in the same hotel and even the same suite if they can. One artist prefers a very modern, boutique style hotel like the ZaZa in Dallas, Nine Zero in Boston, the Dream in New York, the ones with with Plasma screens and CD/DVD/VCR, multi line phones and fax in each room. Another artist only wants a contemporary hotel like the Benson in Portland, the Fairmont in Kansas City or the Grand in Minneapolis with dark wood and period furniture in the lobby and beautiful rooms in subtle colors. The rooms in these hotels also have multi phones and fax available, however, there is no plasma TV on the wall. Instead, it's hidden in a mahogany armoire to compliment the room.”
Ricky McKinnie, drummer for the Blind Boys of Alabama on where to hear real gospel music: “Go see the Blind Boys or the Mighty Clouds of Joy in concert, or tune in my radio program which airs on WYZE-1480 AM in Atlanta weekdays at 11 am and Sundays at 9 am.”
Ken Irwin, co-founder, Rounder Records, Cambridge, MA, on his favorite folk music festival: “The National Folk Festival in Washington, D.C., the Lowell Folk Festival (July 29-31) because it’s the largest free folk festival in the nation and there’s always something to discover—polka bands, bluegrass bands, reggae, rockabilly, gospel, mountain music, dance bands, ethnic groups from Portugal, Ireland, the Cape Verde and Canary islands because they all live in and around Lowell.”
Dave Marsh, music critic, author, radio host, and editor of Rock & Rap Confidential, Norwalk, CT, on where to go to hear cool music: “I like to go home to Detroit. You never know what rapscallions you’re going to be dealing with. You don’t know whether you’re going see the White Stripes or a hiphop group, where it’ll be black or white or up or down. It’s an adventure. There’s the Motown Museum, the African-American History Museum…if you don’t have my phone book, you should pick up a copy of Detroit Metro Times weekly and trust your instincts. It’s the greatest music city in America, this is where it all came together.”
Lyle Lovett, musician, Klein, TX on his favorite folk music club in Houston: “Anderson Fair is my favorite acoustic music place in Houston because you go there and hear somebody you’ve never heard before, or you hear someone you got to hear 20 years ago. You get a sense of what’s going on now, and you get a sense of acoustic music that has been so strong in Houston since the days Mickey Newbury, Townes Van Zandt, and Guy Clark lived there. Houston has a rich musical history and Anderson Fair represents that. It’s the first original music club I played anywhere back in 1979. Tim Leatherwood, the owner supports the club by working a day job. That’s the way that place works.”
Andy Schwartz, founder of the New York Rocker and president of the Albert King Fan Club, New York, NY, on his two favorite NYC club: “It all depends on what you want, but you know, on the right night with the right band, CBGB’s is still a great room. It has superior sound, a good stage and lights, good visibility from almost anywhere. The weight of history [this is where the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie all started] is a powerful thing. Joe’s Pub on Lafayette, which is part of the Public Theater complex, books a fantastic variety of artists from everybody from Billy Joe Shaver to Moroccan bands.”
Len Fico, Executive Director of Business Affairs, Fuel2000/The Lab, Los Angeles, CA, on his kind of LA room: “Spaceland in Silverlake because the hippest bands play there. Anything that’s trendy, cutting edge, or eclectic is at Spaceland.”
David Fricke, Senior Editor, Rolling Stone magazine, New York, NY on his favorite record store in New York: “I do a lot of my hanging out at a place called Rocket Scientist on St. Mark’s Place. It’s a little tiny store that’s long and narrow with a great selection of import CDs and bootleg CDs. John, the guy who runs the store, knows his stuff and is really knowledgeable about RnB, funk, psychedelia, Dylan, Hendrix. They have all the new imports, new bands, a great vinyl section and the guys who work there are really friendly, know their stuff, and put up with all the collector freaks and eat up their time. If you’re a novice and you want a great Stones bootleg, a great Dylan bootleg, or you want to know more about Roky Erickson & the 13th Floor Elevators, Moby Grape, they’ll take you right to the good stuff.”
Ed Ward, Music Writer, Berlin, Germany, on his favorite record store anywhere: “Village Music, Mill Valley, CA. The man who owns it, John Goddard, has for thirty or forty years, known everything there is to know about music. He mainly deals with vinyl and buys by the warehouse. He has at least a quarter-million records that are not on the floor. He doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as a bad record. He even had one titled “Sounds of Throat Surgery.” He throws parties for the store on its birthday and for Christmas. For one party, he found [jazz singer] Jimmy Scott and flew him out. Within a month, Scott had a contract with Warner Brothers.”
Roland Swenson, Managing Director, South By Southwest Music Conference, on his favorite music conferences outside the US: “Popkomm in Berlin for fun, and MIDEM in Cannes, France for France. Popkomm is very European, MIDEM is global.”
L. Kent Wolgamott, Music Writer, Lincoln Journal-Star, Lincoln, NB, on happening clubs in Lincoln and Omaha: “The Zoo Bar in Lincoln has been there for 35 years bringing blues, roots, and cool country bands. It’s a funky old place like it used to be. In Omaha, the Sokol Underground is the basement of an old Czech auditorium which holds about 200 people where all the Saddle Creek Records bands play—that’s where Conor Oberst--Bright Eyes—began.”
Toni Pedecine, BGO Management/SXSW-Asia, Tokyo, Japan on two cool clubs in Tokyo: “Club Quattro in Shibuya is a very trend, young part of town. The music is all over the board—Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks and Yo La Tengo played there, and the Lonesome Tone Benders play there. It has a blocking pillar that it’s famous for, but lots of musicians love to play there. Marz in Shinjuku is a tiny club that features lots of indie Japan bands from the Pillows to the Emeralds.
Rob Graham, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Music Commission, Belfast, Ireland on hot spots in Belfast: “The strongest scene we’ve got at the moment is electronica dance music. Our local hero would be David Holmes who’s producing all the Steven Soderbergh soundtracks [including Oceans 11]. Thankfully, he didn’t shift off to London or New York. He has a club night the last Thursday of every month at a music venue called the Spring & AirBrake. It’s the coolest night if you’re into eclectic music. He plays everything from the Stooges to the latest techno and everything in between. You get to see a true star spinning the decks. The other key venues are the Limelight Club for rock and acoustic indie up to a point, the Real Music Club every Thursday in the Errigle Inn for visiting acoustic singer-songwriters, and there’s a thriving traditional Irish music scene centered around the John Hewitt Pub, a bar associated with the wordsmiths and poets of Belfast.
Kermit Ruffins, musician, New Orleans, LA, on where to get the full-tilt NOLA music experience: “You definitely want to go to Donna’s Bar & Grill in the Quarter on a Monday night for Bob French and the Original Tuxedo Band’s big jam session. He lets everyone on stage—Trombone Shorty, yours truly, Sista Teedy, Kid Chocolate, Henry Butler, and Irving Charles (Fats Domino’s bassist)—plus there’s free BBQ chicken and red beans & rice during the first break. The Wisdom is a new hall I play on Sundays where I host a different guest and there’s a jam that’s second only to Bob French’s. It’s got kind of a Cotton Club feeling. A lot of swing dancers come out.”
Ian Parton, leader of the Go! Team, on where to hear music in his hometown of Brighton, UK: “One of my favourite clubs is a night called 'Da Do Ron Ron' in the Sussex Arts Club. It's a strictly 60's girl group night, and is a brilliant place for checking out really obscure lady sounds and northern soul. The venue is 30 seconds from the sea, and has an amazing domed roof. There's talc on the floor to aide dance moves, so it's good
for doing skids too.”

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