A dream for most up-and-coming American bands is to perform at world famous venues like Red Rocks, The Fillmore, and House of Blues, but there’s thousands of incredible small venues scattered across the country that are often overlooked. If you’re a new band eager to take on the world, making your mark at small venues is one of the best ways to do it, but small venues are a blast to play even if you’re in an experienced band that can sell out 1,000-capacity rooms. We’ve assembled a list of five incredible small venues that are worth playing whether you’re just starting out or have been at it for years.
1. Kilby Court – Salt Lake City, Utah
If you’ve never been to Salt Lake City, you might be surprised to hear that it has a thriving music scene, and Kilby Court deserves a lot of the credit for it. Equal parts colorful shanty town and music venue, Kilby Court is Salt Lake City’s longest running all ages venue and is known for hosting acts right before they explode into national prominence. Everyone from Kishi Bashi to Foster The People played here before they were well-known indie darlings.
2. Kirby’s Beer Store – Wichita, Kansas
If you’ve got a 12-person Arcade Fire-ish situation going on with your band, you’ll take up about half this beer store and venue’s capacity. What Kirby’s lacks in terms of a decent sound system it more than makes up for in gritty low-down fun and character. Years ago, Playboy Magazine declared that the tiny venue was one of the best dive bars in the country, a fact proudly displayed through a banner hanging on the wall. Bands here are paid in tips from the crowd and free Miller High Life, so Kirby’s is an ideal mid-week excuse to get drunk and have a little fun in the midwest.
3. The Nick – Birmingham, Alabama
Affectionately known as “Birmingham’s dirty little secret,” The Nick resembles a dirty punk club straight from the 80’s, but the club prides itself on hosting acts from every conceivable genre. The Nick is as unpretentious as it gets, so if your music is fragile or unapproachable, this might not be the best spot for you. But if you’ve got an affinity for cheap beer and are looking for a fun southern time, look no further than The Nick.
4. The 806 – Amarillo, Texas
North Texas isn’t exactly a beacon of art and music, but The 806 has been delivering just that to Amarillo residents for years. Over the past decade, the coffee shop has slowly built its reputation as a venue that treats its artists incredibly well, and bands from all over the region go out of their way to play there. A word of warning though, if you’ve got complex sound needs, it’s probably worth bringing your own PA for this one.
5. The Garage – Charlottesville, Virginia
And last but not least, we’ve got a very special venue that you should go out of you way to play. It’s called The Garage because, well, it’s a one-car garage. Open only during warmer months, bands perform in the tiny garage to a crowd across the street that posts up on a grassy hill. The sound is surprisingly decent for such a precarious operation, and everything about The Garage has a vibrant labor-of-love character to it. A show at The Garage might help you remember why you love playing music.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.