The USA is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of iconic music venues teeming with history and stature. Continuing our 5 Live series picking the best live music venues from across the world, we now have the unenviable task of choosing the USA’s 5 best live music venues.
Since American summers are generally warmer and less unpredictable than what we’re used to this side of the pond, it won’t surprise you that several of the venues we’ve selected are open-air stadiums and amphitheatres.
1. Madison Square Garden, New York
Based in Midtown Manhattan, Madison Square Garden has held more high-profile live concerts than anywhere else in New York City.
It held The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, featuring George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Ravi Shankar among others. Following the tragic events of September 11 just over 30 years later, it then hosted The Concert For New York City, with an eclectic assortment of stars; including The Who, Elton John and Jay Z taking to the stage.
If this isn’t intriguing enough, Madison Square Garden was also where John Lennon made his final concert appearance and where Elvis Presley performed his last ever New York gig. It’s no wonder the venue was recently described by Billy Joel as ‘the center of the universe’.
2. The Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood
The amphitheatre is labelled a ‘bowl’ because of its famous band shell – the distinctive circular arches that surround it – this venue could be termed ‘iconic’ for its distinctive design alone. It’s the USA’s largest amphitheatre and performing here is a rite of passage for the world’s leading live musicians.
What makes the Hollywood Bowl really stand out is the diversity of artists it has hosted through the decades. Frank Sinatra was the first well-known act to play there in 1946, while a concert featuring Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in 1956 is still the best-attended event in the stadium’s history. In the years that have followed, The Beatles, Genesis, Kraftwerk, Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park and Kanye West have all showcased their talents here.
Concertgoers get arguably an equally amazing experience as the performers – they can bring their own food and drinks while enjoying live music against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills.
3. John F Kennedy Stadium, Philadelphia
Although no longer in existence, this open-air stadium will forever be held in high regard among music lovers. It was America’s answer to Wembley at Live Aid in 1985, with 100,000 people flocking to watch Madonna and co. In fact, such was its standing in the live music sphere that Phil Collins flew over on a private jet to perform there immediately after playing at Wembley.
Boasting a capacity of 102,000, it’s synonymous with huge crowds and blockbuster live rock gigs. A 1987 concert by Pink Floyd attracted an estimated crowd of over 120,000 but, miraculously, the show was still not a sell-out. Before it was demolished in 1992, the JFK Stadium had welcomed Metallica, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blondie and Bruce Springsteen through its doors (there were so many others, but we wanted to keep your attention).
In case you were wondering what the last song ever to be played at the stadium was, it was – rather aptly – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, performed by the Grateful Dead in 1989.
4. The Fillmore, San Francisco
Originally a dance hall, before promoter Billy Graham decided to book some of the biggest names in black music to perform there. The rest, as they say, is history. By the mid-1960’s, the Fillmore had established itself as a diverse and culturally rich music venue which served as the hub of contemporary music. From The Velvet Underground, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix to Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, a mouth-watering mix of musical talent has graced The Fillmore with its presence.
As with any prestigious live music venues, it has also moulded household names along the way, with The White Stripes, Radiohead, Blur and Foo Fighters all playing there en route to fame and fortune. With a capacity of just 1,150, it offers a much more intimate setting than some of the USA’s more conventional live music venues, but with just as seismic an influence.
5. Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado
Based in the small town of Morrison, a few miles west of Denver, this open-air amphitheatre arguably boasts the best views of any live music venues in America. It’s surrounded by several stunning rock formations, with a huge vertical cliff to the right of the stage and red sandstone outcrops to the left. In- between? A seating area for 9,500 people, further adding to its close-knit atmosphere.
Red Rocks, as it’s affectionately known by musical connoisseurs, has hosted live performances since 1906, but its earliest rock and roll performance came from The Beatles during their US Tour in 1964. Jimi Hendrix, Sonny and Cher, Carole King and U2 are among the other highly notable acts to stop off there.
A glowing endorsement comes from Geddy Lee, lead vocalist of the band Rush, who said Red Rocks was ‘one of the most beautiful concert venues in America…or anywhere. I would hazard a guess that it’s one of the most beautiful anywhere.’
Are there any live music venues which you would have included that we haven’t mentioned? Let us know in the Comments section below!
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