What makes a great club?
Intelligent booking, great production values, the ability to raise an act's profile not only locally but regionally or even nationally-the latter entirely possible in this age of social networking. As Patterson Hood-founding member of the relentlessly touring Drive-By Truckers and a touring solo artist-puts it, pinning down what makes a great club is "elusive."
But: We tried, by going to the guys who work with clubs across the continent with an eye toward building careers. We asked five agents whose opinions mean a lot in this space: the Windish Agency's Tom Windish, Billions Corp.'s David Viecelli, William Morris Endeavor's Kirk Sommer, the Agency Group's Christian Bernhardt and Paradigm Talent's Matt Galle. Based on their answers, which were remarkably consistent, we chose these clubs, which can each be defined as influential, a career building block or just plain cool. The 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., is the only club to make this list as well as the ranked "hottest" list, which is based on box office (see page 25). These influential clubs should be on every act's touring bucket list.
For vetting purposes, we ran this list by Hood who, naturally, has played all but one of them. He mostly agrees with the list, considers them all among his favorites, but would add 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga. (and not just because he lives there); First Avenue in Minneapolis; Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla.; and the Vic Theatre in Chicago to his own list.
The essentials of a great club, according to Hood, include "a good room, good vibe, great sound, sightlines; add in history, management and a general vibe or aura that is intangible-but you know it when you are within it." According to Hood, all of the clubs on our list have these essentials, and the 9:30 and Fillmore "have all of those things in spades."
Finally, it's the people. "The people being cool to be around makes a huge difference," Hood says. "Some things make you play better, and the best clubs have that."
6 Delancey St.
New York, NY 10002
Talent: Johnny Beach
Before the 575-capacity Bowery Ballroom opened in the late '90s, "there was a void in New York City," says Windish Agency president Tom Windish, whose firm books such bands as Animal Collective, Hot Chip and the xx. "I first went to the venue when it was under construction and my eyes lit up when I walked in." Since then, the Lower East Side club-whose concerts are promoted by the Bowery Presents-has become the premiere music venue of its size in the city. Bowery Ballroom talent buyer Johnny Beach says that part of his booking strategy involves keeping a watchful eye on which bands are generating buzz at New York's 250-capacity Mercury Lounge, also promoted by Bowery Presents. "We have the advantage of having the Mercury, where we can nurture talent and give us a good barometer of what's drawing," Beach says. And once an artist graduates to the Bowery Ballroom, it's a game-changer in his or her live career. "It's a big statement," Windish says, "to play there and to sell it out."
Upcoming concerts: Washed Out (July 11), Cibo Matto (July 18), Black Lips (July 29)
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
Talent: Seth Hurwitz
The 9:30 Club is the "best-designed working club in the country," says Billions Corp. president David Viecelli, who books Arcade Fire, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and others. "The club managers are exemplary in their attention to the value delivered to the patrons as well as the artists." I.M.P.'s Seth Hurwitz says the venue's staff goes the extra mile to ensure that each booking is successful. "We don't run it like a factory," he says. "For every date we think about the best way to market it." The winner of last year's top club award at the Billboard Touring Awards, the 9:30 Club has a flexible capacity ranging from 500 to 1,200. William Morris Endeavor (WME) agent Kirk Sommer, who represents such acts as Adele, Morrissey and the Killers, calls the venue a "proven ticket-seller that often hosts artists capable of selling larger facilities." Hurwitz says his booking strategy boils down to which artists are most relevant in the marketplace and those who've been loyal to the club in the past. But mostly, "we try to have fun with the 9:30," he says. "I like to remind people that it's just a fucking rock concert."
Upcoming concerts: Interpol (July 13), Stephen Marley (July 14), Ellie Goulding (July 25)
9081 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Talent: Brian Smith
Since opening in 1957, the Troubadour has hosted such legendary artists as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor, Elton John, Neil Diamond, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan. To this day, the 500-capacity venue boasts a variety of bookings from veteran acts and newcomers. Talent buyer Brian Smith says the Troubadour's deep musical history and simple layout contribute to making it a must-play for live acts passing through Los Angeles. "It's a special place to a lot of different people," he says. "People in the music industry who grew up in L.A. came to see shows here." Another part of the Troubadour's appeal is that "it's one of the few clubs seen as a concert venue," he adds. "People come here to see concerts." Booking agent Tom Windish says the club is popular among his roster. "It's always been a place an artist wanted to play and a place to target to sell out," he says, adding that the Troubadour has great sightlines and sound. "The stage protrudes into the audience, making for a very intimate experience. Plus, there's a great VIP balcony and bar that Angelenos can't get enough of."
Upcoming concerts: Colbie Caillat (July 14),
Alkaline Trio (July 19, 21), Indigo Girls (July 26)
THE EMPTY BOTTLE
1035 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
Talent: Pete Toalson
3730 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60613
Talent: Chris Baronner
The 20-year-old Empty Bottle is a dive, booking agent Tom Windish says. But even so, "packed shows there are intense. There's an appreciation for music for what it's meant to make you do-feel something-that's missed in New York and L.A. You can't help feeling this .?.?. when you're crowded into this club on a hot or cold night in Chicago." Owner Bruce Finkelman says the 400-capacity venue has a straightforward approach to booking artists. "We try to find things that we like, with the hopes that there will be other people who feel the same way." The Metro, meanwhile, "sits alone as an iconic and independent venue in its capacity range in Chicago," Billions Corp. president David Viecelli says. "It's a critical bridge between the 300- to 500-capacity rooms and the larger converted theaters like the Vic and the Riviera." The agent adds that the Metro's wide and shallow shape keeps audiences close to the stage, which the artist feels onstage even if the room is at 60% capacity. "[Owner] Joe Shanahan has created a consistent culture of support and respect here that cannot be overvalued," Viecelli says.
Upcoming concerts: Empty Bottle-Local H (July 8), King Khan (July 11), Gang Gang Dance (July 15); Metro-Chicago Reggae All-Stars (July 7), Sia (July 22), 3OH!3 (July 25)
1805 Geary Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Talent: Michael Bailey
GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL
859 O'Farrell St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Talent: Dana Kamian Smith
Made famous by legendary concert promoter Bill Graham in the late '60s, the 1,100-capacity Fillmore is "simply the template for an enduring iconic rock room," Billions Corp. president David Viecelli says. The agent considers talent buyer Michael Bailey "one of the best buyers in the business." Bailey says part of his strategy is offering artists the opportunity to play multiple nights at the Fillmore, as opposed to one show at a larger-sized facility in the market. "That's something we've been pretty successful at over the years," he says. Less than two miles down the street from the Fillmore is the 500-capacity Great American Music Hall, which has hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead and Bobby McFerrin. The GAMH is "just an incredible room-unique and great-sounding," says the Agency Group's Christian Bernhardt, who books Peaches, Yelle and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. GAMH talent buyer Dana Kamian Smith also books acts for the all-ages San Francisco club Slim's.
Upcoming concerts: Fillmore-Closer to My Dreams tour (July 9), B'z (July 22), Summer Slaughter tour (July 29); GAMH-Washed Out (July 9), the Velvet Teen (July 22), Cold Cave (July 25)
THE COMMODORE BALLROOM
868 Granville St.
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1K3
Talent: Erik Hoffman
Commodore Ballroom talent buyer Erik Hoffman calls the renowned Vancouver venue "the Fillmore of Canada." Known for its sprung dancefloor, it's the "only open-floor play in the 1,000-capacity range in the market," says WME's Kirk Sommer, whose clients include Adele and Amy Winehouse. In addition to his own knowledge of successful touring acts, Hoffman says he utilizes the expertise of surrounding independent promoters to help fill the room with a wide range of musical genres.
Upcoming concerts: Toots & the Maytals (July 5), Mac Miller (July 9), TV on the Radio (July 20-21)
SHOWBOX AT THE MARKET
1426 First Ave.
Seattle, WA 98101
Talent: Chad Queirolo, Katie Brogan
Purchased by AEG Live from former owner Jeff Steichen in 2007, the Showbox at the Market is a "fixture in the Seattle music scene," WME's Kirk Sommer says. "It is rich in history and has retained a lot of its original art deco character." The venue, which opened in 1939, has played an integral part in helping develop the city's music scene, having hosted acts ranging from Duke Ellington and Muddy Waters to the Ramones and Pearl Jam. The 1,147-capacity room sits about two miles away from the 1,511-capacity Showbox SoDo, also owned by
Upcoming concerts: David Bazan (July 16), the Classic Crime (July 29), Queens of the Stone Age (July 31)
THE MUSIC BOX
6126 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Ticketing: Goldenvoice, Wantickets, GrooveTickets
Talent: Donna Busch
The 1,350-capacity Music Box is the "perfect platform to get to bigger rooms and bigger artists once an artist sells out [the club]," the Agency Group's Christian Bernhardt says. Music Box GM James Daly attributes much of the venue's success to its exclusive booker, Goldenvoice, but also to its location. "We're right here in Hollywood in the entertainment district, and that's quite a draw for those international bands and DJs who are coming from all over the world to play in the States," Daly says. "Everyone wants to play Hollywood."
Upcoming concerts: Richie Hawtin (July 2), Avicii (July 14-15), Fitz & the Tantrums (July 22)