As a native New Yorker living in Los Angeles or anywhere – I am often asked where to go and what to see by friends who are visiting New York for the first time. My suggestion is always to go to New York in December during the holidays! See the tree @ 30 Rock, Macy’s windows on 34th street and decorations along 5th av. (Cartier is my personal favorite.) However, to make this blog post music related I will focus on another favorite past time of mine – live music! I’m a walking music encyclopedia and am giving you my list of Top 5 Favorite Music Venues in New York.
First, a brief history of my live music experience! From the age of 13 to 24 (right now) – I have been to over 200+ shows and have seen almost everyone live at least once! Turn on KROQ or flip through SPIN, Rolling Stone for “Hottest Tours of the Season” – 9/10 I have seen just about everyone. Music festivals are also a great way to see a diverse range of artists in one place! Lollapalooza, Projekt Revolution, All Points West, B.O.M.B Fest, Central Park Summer Stage.
Without making a 100 page blog post….a small sample of who I’ve seen live: Sonic Youth, Patti Smith, The Wallflowers, Eagles of Death Metal, Garbage, No Doubt, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifah, Theophilus London, Linkin Park, Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows, Against Me, Rancid, As I Lay Dying, Matisyahu, Nas, Damien Marley, The Flaming Lips, The Black Keys, Florence+The Machine, Weezer, Incubus, Radiohead. It’s often a blur…but thankfully I have kept enough concert memorabilia over the years in the form of Tix, wrist bands, passes, photos, guitar picks and set lists (proudly framed on my wall or on my fridge) to remind me.
My first concert was The Strokes @ The Stone Pony (Asbury Park, NJ) November 30, 2001. It changed my life. It was then followed by two very memorable shows in 2002 (Also The Strokes) @ Radio City Music Hall and Roseland Ballroom – but it was REALLY 2003 where it all started. Lollapalooza returned as a as a touring festival and everyone and their brother was on tour. Fast forward to today – next up! No Doubt @ Gibson Amphitheater here in LA on November 30th, 2012! Another new venue experience for me. I try to visit at least 1 music venue in a different city whenever I am in town for vacation (or in this case – living.) No Doubt on Nov. 30th is also my 11 year concert anniversary!
So many shows and so many music venues! I’ve been very lucky to work @ some amazing music venues - it’s difficult for me to choose some of my favorite places! However, if you were asking me for my suggestion of best music venues in New York to visit based on my experience – here is my list! You may ask, “how did you decide which venue is really the best?” I have ranked my top 5 favorite music venues by the following criteria:
1. Show experience (Its why you’re there in the first place)
2. Sound (A deal breaker)
3. View (GA Floor vs. Seats)
4. Venue layout (I’m a stickler for venues that utilize their space well – making it the most user friendly experience as possible)
5. Attitude of the crowd (Usually not a big deal….but if your personal well being/safety are an issue – also a deal breaker.)
I also love a great story behind a music venue (in PR – it’s all about the story!) Music venues are often turned from a shoe store to a stock exchange. Finally, the list!
5.) Terminal 5 (610 West 56th Street, west of 11th Avenue) Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen, Capacity: 3,000 (Bowery Presents)
Located in Hell’s Kitchen towards the journey to the center of the earth, right along 11th av. (around 12th av. is when you reach the edge of Manhattan and it’s a small park and shipping docks.) – it’s a great neighborhood day and night! Terminal 5 is not really a looker on the outside, but on the inside it is spacious multiple-tier venue! A medium size club with a large floor (GA standing) and balcony views on upper level tiers with standing room and a few select couches. Enough of a selection to hunt out a great spot to see the stage! There is an outside patio (I have only been in the rain) which gives an outdoor appeal for dinner parties and VIP events. The sound quality is excellent and the bar is located in a spacious area off the side and away from the floor. Very easy to get to/from the bar and back to the floor again. Great crowd and nice staff! Exiting the building is a little difficult (narrow doorways)….but I have seen two incredible, born-again shows of The Hives @ Terminal 5. March 2008 and June 2012.
4.) Irving Plaza (17 Irving Place and East 15th Street) Neighborhood: Union Square, Capacity: 1,025 (Live Nation)
Located in Union Square, this historic venue has gone through many changes in it’s 50+ year history. The neighborhood is nice during the day – a little sketch @ night, but worth it since it’s a great music venue! Bordering on a small cub (500-1,000 size range) – Irving Plaza creates an intimate and exclusive live show experience you won’t get anywhere else – it also used to be the VERY famous Filmore East a(1968-1971) and was turned into Irving Plaza in the 1990′s. The floor is a little tight, but great sound and great view from the stage! I saw two memorable shows both in 2007. Chris Cornell’s solo show April 16, 2007 and The Foo Fighters record release party Sept. 2007 for Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace album. (A story for another time)
- Irving Plaza from the outside
3.) Hammerstein Ballroom (311 West 34th Street New York, NY 10001) Neighborhood: Midtown Manhattan Capacity: 3,400 (Manhattan Center)
Located in the heart of New York – Midtown Manhattan and is arguably my favorite medium size club in New York. The neighborhood is gorgeous and inspiring 24 hours a day and it is a really beautiful spacious venue that was used as an opera house in the early 1900′s! It’s built momentum as a modern rock venue in 2000 and is also used for special events, dinners and fundraisers. The first time I EVER saw Chris Cornell live was with Audioslave here @ Hammerstein Ballroom in March 2003. It was a snow day that day and his voice was crystal clear. A venue built for opera and a voice as godly as Chris Cornell’s – it’s a match made in rock n roll heaven. Primarily GA standing only, with a small balcony. Gorgeous artwork on the ceiling reminiscent of its opera house days! I also saw The Strokes again (after many years) in 2006. (Please note – I have seen Chris Cornell live 15x since that day. 5x with Audioslave, 8x solo and 2x with Soundgarden + counting.)
2.) Radio City Music Hall (1260 6th Avenue New York, NY 10020) Neighborhood: Midtown Manhattan, Capacity: 5,933 (Madison Square Garden Inc.)
Located also in the heart of NY and the biggest tourist destination: Rockefeller Center (i.e 30 Rock) it is one of the most historic venues in New York City history. Around the corner from THE tree and NBC Studios (8H which houses Saturday Night Live, among other notable shows) it’s a must see all year round. Especially around Christmas! When you think of New York – Radio City Music Hall is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. One of the most memorable show experiences was FRONT ROW/CENTER seats (literally seat 1, dead center) for The Strokes & White Stripes show Aug. 15, 2002. The new “garage rock” scene had exploded and The Strokes & White Stripes were the hottest bands on the scene since the 90′s. Hands down some of the best acoustics you’ll ever hear, you can see from anywhere! Amazing amount of space, easy to exit and it is just such a special place to be….also saw Incubus and The Duke Spirit there in Aug. 2009. The medium size venue is just about 6,000 . I am seeing Nas on New Years Eve in December! A great way to end + start the year. It’s also home to the famous “Rockettes” Christmas Spectacular.
1.) Madison Square Garden (1 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001 ) Neighborhood: Midtown Manhattan, Capacity: 20,000 (Madison Square Garden Inc.)
It really is the most famous and greatest arena in the world. Approx. 20,000 seats it includes a very small GA standing floor and seats engrossing the space. Premiere sound. Incredible experience seeing the Foo Fighters in Feb. 2008 and the last Audioslave show in Oct. 29, 2005 – The Garden’s 41st birthday! What else to say that isn’t already sad about The Garden? Entertainment & Sports venue – home of the New York Knicks and WNBA Liberty! The greatest arena in the world.
Other venues to mention:
Rumsey Playfield @ Central Park Outdoor live stage in Central Park located along E 72nd Street and 5th av. Location…Location….Location. The home of GMA Live (concert series) and Central Park Summer Stage. FREE (via City Parks Foundation) live music in the middle of Central Park defines what New York is all about! Come by Summer Stage @ night for a picnic and relax. I just finished my 3rd season with Summer Stage this year and I have seen so many shows from Top 40 headliners and international artists, dance shows, the Met opera, foreign films…..etc. An amazing arts & culture experience. One of the places that really IS New York. Also a huge part of New York’s history – same landscape architect of the park designed New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx!
The Beacon Theatre This ties for #2! 2,829 capacity all seated venue with incredible acoustics and not a bad seat in the house! I saw one of Chris Cornell’s best shows in Aug. 2007 there! Part of the MSG family since 2006, it also hosts exclusive special events like the Tony Awards. Also includes a great grocery/bistro across the street! (Located on the Upper West Side/Broadway neighborhood – relaxing, intimate – must see!)
Also have to mention a few clubs that are all owned by The Bensusans – also the place of my first internship! Blue Note speaks for itself, B.B’s followed and HL is the newest of the three! Enjoy!