The Best Big Rooms in America - Rolling Stone
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The Best Big Rooms in America

For the second in a four-part series on great music venues, Rolling Stone polled 26 insiders and musicians – from top managers to Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump – and came up with a list of the nation's coolest large clubs and theaters. Read on for our expert panel's picks, and visit our Venues that Rock page for an interactive map and much more.

By Steve Knopper



Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney, Corin Tucker Band)
Thomas Mars (Phoenix)
Britt Daniel (Spoon)
Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)
Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy)
Miranda Lambert
Talib Kweli
DJ Harvey
Sharon Osbourne (manager, Ozzy Osbourne)
Scott Rodger (manager, Paul McCartney and Arcade Fire)
Dennis Arfa (agent, Billy Joel, Metallica, Rod Stewart)
Jim Guerinot (manager, Nine Inch Nails and No Doubt)
Tom Windish (agent, numerous indie-rock acts)
Andy Cirzan (promoter, Jam Productions in Chicago)
John Scher (promoter in New York City, manager of Art Garfunkel)
Kelly Curtis (manager, Pearl Jam)
Daniel Glass (head of Glassnote Records)
Michael Rapino (Live Nation)
Rob Light (head of Creative Artists Agency's music department)
David T. Viecelli (agent, Arcade Fire, David Byrne/St. Vincent, many others)
Brian Ahern (agent, William Morris Endeavor)
Bob McLynn (manager, Fall Out Boy, Courtney Love, many others)
Bertis Downs (manager, R.E.M.)
Jake Schneider (agent, Bassnectar)
Andrew Cook (manager, Deadmau5)

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee

CC Image courtesy of Joseph A on Flickr


Ryman Auditorium in Nashville

At first, the Ryman was for fancy types – the Metropolitan Opera, John Philip Sousa, Charlie Chaplin,  Harry Houdini and President Theodore Roosevelt appeared on stage in the decades after steamboat captain Thomas G. Ryman built it for $100,000 in 1892. But in 1943, the Grand Ole Opry radio show needed a new stage to accommodate roaring and occasionally misbehaving country-western crowds, so it moved to the Ryman. It's gone on to welcome just about every country star you can think of over the years, from Hank Williams and Johnny Cash to Taylor Swift. Chicago promoter Andy Cirzan calls it "the legendary mother church."

Capacity: 2,362


Fun Fact: The Ryman's first-ever sellout was a lecture by Hellen Keller in 1913.

Stubb's, Austin, Texas

CC Image courtesy of ricardodiaz11 on Flickr


Stubb’s in Austin, Texas

On a warm Saturday night in Austin, stroll down Red River Street, past the din of punk bands at Emo's, past the little Red Eyed Fly, until you come to the huge barbecue joint with a dusty stage out back. That's Stubb's, opened in Lubbock in the Thirties by a Texas cook named C.B. Stubblefield, then relocated to Austin 50 years later. Today, Stubb's regularly snags major headliners – from Metallica to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – at the SXSW festival and beyond. "My favorite shows there are when too many kids show up and they put you on the stage outside," says Stump. Don't worry, that rickety-looking staircase near the outdoor stage is rock-solid.

Capacity: 2,200


Fun Fact: In the Seventies, when Stubb's was still in Lubbock, performers included Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Linda Ronstadt.

Metro, Chicago, Illinois

Courtesy Metro


Metro in Chicago

Chicago's 31-year-old North Side fixture opened with a $5 R.E.M. show – but it became a rock mecca when local heroes like Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Veruca Salt and Urge Overkill, not to mention out-of-towners like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, grew into headliners in the Nineties. From the outside, it looks like nothing more than a joint next to the sidewalk, but the front hallway opens into a huge room with a balcony that seems to float over the stage. (The prized location in the audience is front-row, second floor.) Chicago's a discerning crowd, too: "The room has a sense of drama to it, with the high stage," says Corin Tucker. "The audience can sometimes seem to be a bit standoffish at first, but if you hit the right notes, the right spots, people roar to life in there." And if a plain old rock club is too boring for you, check out the cutting-edge DJs in the basement SmartBar.

Capacity: 1,100


Fun Fact: At one Sleater-Kinney show, a "rock & roll psychic" was hanging around backstage. "He told me I needed to be very careful as there could be an accident in my future," Tucker recalls. "Come on! I was spending 10 hours a day in a van and was completely freaked out for the rest of the tour."

First Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Courtesy First Avenue


First Avenue in Minneapolis

This downtown Minneapolis club opened in 1937 as a Greyhound depot, but the history of First Avenue as we know it begins with Prince. Throughout the Eighties, he and the Revolution were sort of the house band here – you can see it in all the famous concert scenes in Purple Rain. The club was also a key staging ground for the city's punk-and-hardcore scene, starring the Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum. Today's fans still love the no-frills vibe and killer acoustics, even if waiting in line during a Minnesota winter can be a bummer. "Plus," says hip-hop star Talib Kweli, a regular headliner, "I saw [famous rapper's name redacted] deck an undercover cop and hop in a cab and get away at the club."

Capacity: 1,600


Fun Fact: Prince reunited with his classic band, the Revolution, including Wendy and Lisa, at First Avenue early last year. Questlove DJed the post-show party.

The Fillmore, San Francisco, California

CC Image courtesy of LookingforJanis on Flickr


The Fillmore in San Francisco

Promoter Bill Graham's first event at this theater was a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe in 1965. Among the local acts on the bill: the Jefferson Airplane and the newly renamed Grateful Dead. The rest is rock history – Graham developed the early history of West Coast rock & roll at the Fillmore, hosting Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Who, Howlin' Wolf and hundreds of other Hall of Fame names. The scene became so big that Graham had to relocate to the Fillmore West (where Led Zeppelin played a set still prized by bootleggers) and spin off New York City's Fillmore East (where Hendrix, The Who and the Allmans cemented their legends). Graham closed his beloved club in 1971, but after his death 20 years later, his promotion company reopened it at its original 1805 Geary Boulevard location. The original concert posters lining the walls today are so comprehensive they're almost intimidating.  "Legend," sums up Brian Ahern, a William Morris booking agent.

Capacity: 1,100


Fun Fact: After Graham closed the Fillmore, it reopened in the Eighties as The Elite Club, starring Black Flag, Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys, Public Image Ltd. and other punk pioneers.

9:30 Club, Washington, D.C.

Mike Danko


9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

After opening in 1980 in an out-of-the-way part of town, the 9:30 became ground zero for D.C.'s Reagan-era hardcore scene – local teenager Dave Grohl saw hundreds of bands there. The club snagged every name in new wave, punk and alt-rock, including R.E.M., Nirvana and Green Day, before moving on to more mainstream stuff like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. Since moving to a larger location in 1996, playing the 1,200-capacity club has remained a rite of passage for indie acts on the rise. Says Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump, "It's got so much character, you wonder if the locals know how lucky they are." More importantly for artists, adds Britt Daniel of Spoon and Divine Fits: "I can't think of any other club that gives its bands bunk beds, laundry, and a private balcony."

Capacity: 1,200


Fun Fact: Early on, owners almost named the club Chair Dancing Nightly, Tuba Dancing, Aerosol or Cool Whip.

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