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Friday, February 22, 2008

Top 5 Friday: My 5 Favorite Places to See a Live Show

I sat down and made a list of all the shows I've ever been to. No dates, just acts and places. Three pages later, I had a list that spanned several states, countries, and continents. Narrowing it down further, I managed to come up with my Top 5 Favorite Places to See a Live Show...and while three of them are here in Texas and one of them is a sentimental favorite, they are truly 5 places I love to go to see a live act. I have a lot of fond memories of these places and I've spent a lot of time waiting in line at all but one of them and if I had to, I could break it down by best performance of my favorite song by a specific group in each and every venue on my list.

And please, if you feel compelled, let me know what your favorite concert venues are. I'm always curious...

5. Southpark Meadows: Austin, Texas

425 acres of nothing at Slaughter Lane and I-35 in Austin. Well, I can't say for sure there was nothing else there because 425 acres is a lot and it wasn't like you could just tour it at will. What was there once? Southpark Meadows, the outdoor concert venue. You drove in, parked in a field, walked down hill and there it was...a stage in all it's glory with trees as a back drop and enough space to sit with some privacy should you so desire it. (That really depended on the show, though.) A building off to the left and a corral, basically, where you could see tour buses parked. In the background, those famous Texas oaks and cliffs. I saw Phish, The Dave Matthews Band, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, and Erykah Badu there, all at seperate times and all putting on fantastic shows in the summer Texas heat.

Now? Southpark Meadows, or 1.2 million square feet of it at least, is an upscale shopping/eating/living complex with condos, family homes, and doctors offices galore. Until recently, the old Southpark Meadows sign was still up and it made me so sad to see it. Sure, it was nice for the memories, but it's bittersweet all the same. Do we really need yet another Best Buy and Chilis? (I'm sorry, a Borders and Cinemark Theater according to the pictures in the link.)

4. The Backyard: Austin, Texas

Let me paint you a picture of what used to be my most favorite place to see a show. Bee Caves Road and Highway 71 West? There was nothing there but a convenience store and a small coffee shop in front of the Backyard's main offices. Up the way in one direction is a small suburban-ish type town and in the other direction, the Texas Hill Country. Huge dirt and gravel parking lot with a concrete area in front of a rickety old ticket booth. A long arm painted green and chained to a fence kept people out until it was time and was the entrance to a short walk downhill into the actual amphitheater. You lined up starting at that long green arm for shows and directly opposite of that was a gate that went downhill into where tour buses waited. The backstage area, basically. There were Oaks and misc. other assorted trees and on a clear night, there were stars. Lots and lots of stars. If you were there early enough, as I was for many an Ani diFranco or Willie Nelson show, you were treated to a sound check in a very majestic setting and if you stood in the right spot, you could see everything on stage. There was literally nothing out there and it gave it a very isolated feel, but it was oh-so-beautiful and a nice drive.

Now? The Backyard is still there but it's lost it's charm to those unsightly mini-malls that seem to be popping up everywhere in suburbia. This one is called the Shops at the Galleria and if you want to get to the Backyard, you have to basically walk through it to get to the entrance and rather than be surrounded by a dark Texas 11 p.m. with stars, you're surrounded to the vapor lights of a Best Buy parking lot. This makes me sad because I used to love going to the Backyard. The waiting, the trees, the stars, the being in the middle of nowhere quality it had to it. My favorite time ever? Being the first in line and the first person to walk into the amphitheater, where I turned around to look for my friends and discovered I was the only person in there. It lasted for about 30 seconds, but it's something I'll never forget.

3. The Shoreline Ampitheater: Mountain View, California

We venture out of Texas and to California where I once had the pleasure of seeing New Order and The Cure at the Shoreline. And the BareNaked Ladies. (Who, believe it or not, put on a GREAT show.) It has always reminded me of Space Mountain at Disneyland, with it's white tent that houses the stage. There are nearly 7 thousand fixed stadium type seats and a grass area that makes it a place that you can rock out (to borrow a lame phrase) with 25 thousand of your closest friends. It's so big that not only have I gotten lost there (twice) I've never felt like I was with 25 thousand other people. Really, that's a blessing because being around 25 thousand all black clothing wearing, eyeliner loving, Clove smoking kids is really not that fun after about an hour, no matter how much you like The Cure. Awesome views of the Bay Area make up for the sometimes poor sound and the fact that you can roam and listen to your favorite songs live always made it an enjoyable place for me. Too bad it's so far away.

2. Tomorrowland Terrace: Tomorrowland, Disneyland, Anaheim, California
No, really. Tomorrowland. It was the first place I ever saw a live show. After the Adventure Thru Inner Space building (a ride, for the record, that terrified me. Google it and you'll know why) and in the shadow of Space Mountain was a food court. Tomorrowland Terrace. Ride Space Mountain a few times, eat something, go over to get on Captain Nemo's submarine. It was the normal course of events for a Disneyland visit.

I'd been there like a thousand times before that fateful day of my first live concert. Open and airy with lots of potted plants and this circular area there in the middle that no one ever sat on. And there were spires. White, silver, and blue spires to match the top of Space Mountain. They had the best french fries, those crinkle cut ones, that came in a red and white checked boat. I was 12 that day, I mean, it was literally my birthday and up from the ground, there on that round section in the center of the Terrace, like a Phoenix rising up from the ashes was...Donnie and Marie.

That's right. My first legitimate concert experience was Donnie and Marie, by surprise and quite by accident, at the Tomorrowland Terrace. They did two songs and I only remember one, "I'm A Little Bit Country..." They were decked out in matching white satin-esque outfits covered with rhinestones that carried on the Space Mountain theme. They looked so very...futuristic with the costumes and the mist and the rising. They came up out of the ground out of nowhere. No announcement, no fanfare, nothing. The potted plants and the spires disappeared and there was Donnie. And Marie. There were lots of screaming girls and it was as if the entire visitor population in the park that day suddenly appeared in Tomorrowland.

1. Floore's Country Store: Helotes, Texas

Hey, it's like 5 minutes from my house! (Or 55, depending on how you hit traffic in my immediate neighborhood.) Part bar, part restaurant, you can't really tell from the outside that there's a stage and a huge area for standing, dancing, or sitting at the picnic tables strewn about. There are some epic historic signs out front, including the one that still advertises Willie Nelson playing there every Saturday night and inside there's a stall in the ladies with graffiti that reads "Sex can wait masturbate!" (Oddly enough, when they repainted that particular bathroom last year, they left that bit of graffiti in tact.) The tables in the bar are bolted to the floor, there are signs that declare you'll be fined at least $250 for fighting, and there are old cowboy boots that hang from the ceiling, signed by each person who's ever played live there. It's in downtown Helotes, which really isn't much of a downtown considering it's on a Main Street that consists of 2 antique stores, a Survey company, some yuppy eatery that's always busy, and a bicycle shop. It's a small stage and I've been there for Nickel Creek (three times), Dwight Yoakam, and Lucinda Williams. What I love about it is that there's about a two foot gap between the stage and the front row, which is my essential spot for concert going. Sure, there's a guard rail there, but two feet gives it the best intimate feeling ever. Nothing says a great show like being close enough to touch someone.

Bonus: two feet, 3 instances of near tragic experiences that would have been so awesome. Twice nearly kicked in the face by Chris Thile and once had a Mandolin string bust and hit my arm, avoiding my precious eyes.

Double bonus: they have the best Mac-n-Cheese and if you're ever in Helotes for lunch (and have a desire to kick it with the farmer/contractor/sherriffs department crowd), I'm there at least 3 times a week either on the porch or under the Willie Nelson boot #5 in the bar.


Cale said...

I really like this list. Never been to any of these places. In fact, my list would be pretty boring. All in Texas, all small little clubs, etc. Good work.

Chris said...

Hey. I only almost kicked you once.