Music can be its own form of travel -- capable of transporting listeners across continents and cultural divides, or sending them back or forward into another place and time. Performed live, it can yield the quintessential experience of a place and serve as a rich source for what Spalding Gray called that "perfect moment" on a trip or vacation, without which the journey can feel incomplete.
We asked Frommer's editorial staff to talk about their favorite live music experiences around the world. We hope they help you relive some of your own adventures -- or, better, inspire new ones.
Texas Two-Stop (Austin, TX)
In Austin, Texas, the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, two music venues all but holler out "Visit me, or you haven't seen Austin!" The Continental Club and the Broken Spoke, both Austin institutions, have been turning out rollicking, top-notch shows for decades.
The Continental Club's (tel. 512/441-2444; www.continentalclub.com; cover charge varies) famous neon sign has been a beacon to music lovers since the place opened in 1957. Both local and touring acts play everything from blues to country-swing to jazz, rock, rockabilly, and more. The club is big enough that crowds achieve a critical mass (up to about 200 people), but intimate enough that you can see the sweat drip off the musicians from just about any spot in the room. Acts like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Joe Ely were fixtures during the '70s. These days, regular performers include Paris 49, whose Django Reinhardt-esque tunes invoke the jazz era; Dale Watson, a Grand Ole Opry favorite; and Toni Price, the bluesy songstress who croons tales of hard times and harder times. Ironically, Price plays happy hour, almost every Tuesday, at the Continental. She often plays on Saturday nights as well. She's a treat: Do your best to catch her while you're in town.
The no-frills, friendly Continental Club is practically a sleek, snobby martini lounge compared to the Broken Spoke (tel. 512/373-7726; www.brokenspokeaustintx.com; cover charge varies). In business since 1964, the Broken Spoke is a classic honky tonk -- with its low ceilings, large dance floor, chicken fried steaks, cheap longneck beers, and country and western acts. In what used to be considered outside of town, the Spoke is in South Austin, just a piece down the road from the Continental Club. The crowd is different from that at the Continental, which attracts a more urban, hip (though not trendy) 20-, 30-, and 40-something set. The Spoke-folk are generally blue-collar people, from 20 to 70 years of age, who wear their John Deere baseball caps without a stitch of irony.
If you're looking to practice your two-steppin' or simply watch the old-timers glide across the dance floor, the Broken Spoke is your spot. Bands are mostly country. One of my favorites is the Geezinslaw Brothers, who have been taking the stage at the Spoke for decades. Check the schedule to see if they're playing when you're in town. Other established acts include Chapparal with Jeff Hughes, Alvin Crow, and Derailers.
And, so your friends will know, don't forget to pick-up a bumper sticker on your way out the door: "I Dance Country at the Broken Spoke." --Cate Latting
Siren Call (Coney Island, NY)
It's crowded. It's dirty. The acoustics are awful. But I love it -- it being the Village Voice Siren Music Festival (www.villagevoice.com/siren), an annual, indie rock festival in Coney Island, Brooklyn. I've gone every year since the concert's inauguration in the summer of 2001 and plan to continue so as long as my eardrums allow it.
The Siren Fest packs in 15 or so performers over a period of about 8 hours, so you'd get your money's worth even if it weren't free. If you get ticked off trying to hear the bands over the incessant roar of the Cyclone rollercoaster, remember that the festival is as much about the Brooklyn beach scene as the music. A mere 45-minute journey from downtown Manhattan, Coney Island rewards city travelers with rides (bumper cars, tilt-a-whirls, carousels, and a Ferris wheel, in addition to the famous Cyclone), boardwalk games, and fantastic hot dogs, courtesy of Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs. On concert days, the roughly 4 mile-long beach fills up with a mix of Lower East Side hipsters and eccentric Coney Island locals; since the island is home to a freak show, you might end up mingling with a fire-eating man or two.
Still hankering for some music? Arrive early to secure a front-row spot at either of the two stages, and you'll hear and see just fine. I credit the festival with introducing me to The Shins before they found fame through Garden State, and I've also caught some memorable sets by bands like Death Cab for Cutie and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. This year's show takes place Saturday, July 15th from noon to 9pm, and will feature sets by the British alt-rock band Art Brut and the Canadian indie pop band the Stars.
Coney Island's main subway station is Stillwell Avenue, on the D, F, N, and Q train lines of the New York City subway. Visit www.coneyisland.com for driving directions and other information. --Jen Reilly
Surprise Party (Montevideo, Uruguay)
When I travel, I have a knack for stumbling unaware upon local cultural celebrations. Like the Anniversary of the Republic in Rome, when military planes roared overhead, out of nowhere, slashing the sky with trails of green, white, and red smoke. Or Canada Day, which inundated the city of Montreal with patriots from all over the country -- posing a problem to this American fleeing there to escape Fourth of July commotion in the States (oops!). Likewise, dumb luck prevailed when I breezed into Montevideo for the night and happened upon a pre-Lenten Carnival parade (llamadas). Soon after touching down, I let the sound of distant drumming lead me through the darkened streets, twisting and turning toward the music until I rounded a particularly desolate corner and brightly-dressed marchers came into view, streaming down the avenida, dancing and drumming as hundreds of onlookers clapped and swayed.
Candombe drumming forms the backbone of the llamadas, born when traditional Uruguayan music merged with African drumming. In step with the drumbeats, rows of marchers paraded with their unit behind long banners that identified the next comparsas (individual drumming corps) in the line-up. Young men, and the occasional woman, twirled enormous colorful flags, drawing intricate patterns in the air in a show of strength and balance. Behind them marched a battalion of uniformed drummers, from young boys to elderly men. One troop wore matching uniforms and drums, in purple, red, and white. Then came the dancers: Women and young girls wore itsy-bitsy bikini tops and glittering showgirl bottoms -- or mesh bodysuits with strategically-placed spangles, feathers, and beadwork. Footwear ran from well-worn sneakers to silver platform go-go boots, for stamping out seamless rhythms. Some women and girls wore ornate multi-tiered hoop skirts to represent the used clothing that slave-owners gave their African slaves. Feather headdresses and giant sparkling angel wings abounded.
The festivities seemed to die down as suddenly as they appeared to me that night. After the parade, the rest of the city was fairly quiet and deserted, save for the din pouring from an occasional bar, and the sycamore-filled plazas took on an otherworldly glow. The morning after, it was business as usual, and the city bustled once again with shopping, working, politicking, eating and -- Montevideo being the capital of Uruguay -- drinking mate. --Alexia Meyers
Round Robin (Nashville, TN)
If you're traveling to Nashville, Tennessee, plan to catch a set at the legendary Bluebird Cafe (tel. 615/383-1461; www.bluebirdcafe.com; cover charge varies). It's here, in a venue with only 21 tables (reservations highly recommended), that the Music City's most talented songwriters play their own tunes.
The best shows to attend are "songwriters in the round," a format born at the Bluebird in 1985. Instead of taking the stage, four writers sit facing one another in the middle of the room, trading songs and stories. The performances are more intimate than those at any large club, and patrons, who are forbidden from talking during a set, hear songs in a raw, unadorned form.
A few years ago at the Bluebird, I saw Don Schlitz play "The Gambler," recorded by Kenny Rogers in 1978. Other eminent songwriters who perform at the Bluebird include Steve Earle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Tim O'Brien. No matter who you see, you'll come away understanding that Nashville still reveres its songwriters at least as much as the glamorous singers who popularize their tunes. --Matthew Brown
Rocker Refuges (Tri-State area)
The first time I went to CBGB (tel. 212/982-4052; www.cbgb.com; cover charge varies), in the mid 1980s, I was invited by a rocker friend, Helen Wheels -- a.k.a. the only woman in rock and roll made out of solid granite. She took the stage about 1am, and I stood on the banquette toward the back of the room and jumped up and down. Since then, I have nearly broken an ankle on the uneven floor and held my nose to use the bathroom many times at Hilly Kristal's hallowed Bowery dive. Since then I've seen the Muffs, when the drummer passed out from the heat; Sleater-Kinney, when the girl next to me passed out from the heat; Joan Jett (with Evil Stig in the late '90s, and June 7 of this year, the night before my birthday); Sexpod, Motochronic, Raging Slab, Lourds, and many more bands that live on in my heart, even if they've broken up. I found other places I have liked in NYC (Coney Island High, Brownies, Meow Mix), but they have gone on to the great Developer in the Sky. While some think of CBGB as having long outlived its best days (and Hilly as a tenant who never pays the rent), I still feel a swagger and a beer buzz coming on when I head under the tattered awning on Joey Ramone Place.
Another great rock dive fighting for its life is the Stone Pony (tel. 732/502-0600; www.stoneponyonline.com; cover charge varies) in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Yeah, that one, where Bruce used to play before he was The Boss. Glory Days, man. It used to be kind of scary to go down there, and you'd keep the windows rolled up as you passed the boarded up houses and crumbling old hotels. The town is gentrifying, but you can still count on a good, loud show at the Pony, where the gray-green Atlantic waves smash into the beach just across the street. The stage is a couple feet high, pushing the band even closer to the low ceiling. Up by the stage, it's always wild, and if the hurly-burly isn't for you, you can watch from the bar at stage right, or even farther back, at another bar at stage left. They sell earplugs if you're worried about hearing anything the next day, and bikers provide the security. A friend of mine once slugged a girl who tried to take her spot at the front of the stage. As they dragged her out, she later told me, she was thinking, "I shouldn't be getting in fights. I'm somebody's mom!"
Maxwell's (tel. 201/653-1703; www.maxwellsnj.com; cover charge varies), in the mile-square city of Hoboken, New Jersey (home of Yo La Tengo) is still the best-kept open secret in the New York City area. Even the most impossible Manhattan hipsters don't mind hopping the PATH train (for $1.50) across the Hudson, and flagging a cab for the short ride to Maxwell's. In addition to hosting up-and-coming bands from New York/New Jersey, lots of national acts and cult acts add a night at Maxwell's when they're passing through New York, because of its outstanding sound system, excellent sightlines (there isn't a bad view in the tiny back room) and knowledgeable audiences. For example, rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson played there June 4 (with the Lustre Kings and the Defibrillators). There's also a good restaurant and bar out front, where you can down a reasonably priced dinner while waiting for the first show to let out, to get your hand stamped for entry to the back room. --Kathleen Warnock
La FÃªte de la Musique (France)
Every June 21st, the citizens of France celebrate La FÃªte de la Musique (www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr), a free, nationwide festival dedicated, simply, to music of every form.
Performances take place in cites and villages throughout the country, representing a spectrum of musical styles -- from jazz and rock to traditional chanson, even opera. As the festival gives equal billing to a range of music forms, it also gives professional and fledgling musicians equal opportunity to express themselves. Walking around any city or town, you're likely to stumble across a jazz quartet on one block and, on the next, an amateur percussionist punctuating the sets of a virtuoso house DJ. People move freely, from one venue to the next, as they imbibe the spirit of the night.
Nice is my favorite place to experience La FÃªte de la Musique. One can meander throughout the old city, and stumble upon various impromptu venues in a relatively compact area. As the night progresses, the crowd soaks up the music and tasty local brews, and revelers dance away under the starry Mediterranean sky.
In recent years, the celebration has spread beyond France; concerts now take place throughout the continent on the eve of the summer solstice. For information on events in Switzerland and Germany, respectively, see www.fetedelamusique.ch and www.fetedelamusique.de. --Marc Nadeau
Classical Training Camp (Lenox, Massachusetts)
When I was a toddler, my parents first brought me to Tanglewood (www.tanglewood.org), the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in Lenox, Massachusetts. My mother and I would sit on the lawn among the few other visitors who chose to come for the open rehearsals. It was summer, a weekend morning, and there were trees to climb, hedges to explore and, while I was at it, music to listen to. My dad would get tickets for the performance shed, rather than the lawn outside, so he could close in on the action. When I was a few years older, I would sneak into the shed, stand next to my dad, and watch as Seiji Ozawa cradled a musician's shoulders and gently persuaded him or her to slightly change the delivery. In retrospect, it was magic, watching creators at work.
You can still get tickets to the open rehearsals. It's a little more crowded now, and it might be Bernard Haitink or James Levine behind the baton, but these informal recitals still weave spells on listeners. Most of the headline performances feature classical musicians, and a smaller concert hall shows off younger players. The main shed, officially called Koussevitzky Music Shed, also hosts pop artists -- James Taylor and LeAnn Rimes this summer -- a festival of contemporary music, and a jazz festival that this September will feature Wynton Marsalis, Dr. John, John Pizzarelli, Dizzy Gillespie's All Star Big Band, and Dave Brubeck.
For additional information, visit www.bso.org, as well as the festival website. And don't forget to bring a blanket and picnic fixings if you buy lawn tickets, which run from $17 to $20. (If you don't mind lines, you can buy food on the premises.) Most regular ticket prices run between $18 and $87; special concerts and events are more, and most Friday night performances are less. You can also buy a 4-performance package of tickets for open rehearsals that costs $64 and includes pre-rehearsal talks. --Naomi Black
Summer Sound Treks (East Coast U.S.)
For me, summer on the east coast means one thing: outdoor concerts. This Memorial Day Weekend, to kick-start the season, my boyfriend and I got in the car and drove for 5 hours (from New York City) to see Bruce Springsteen perform at the Tweeter Center (www.tweetercenter.com/boston/) in Mansfield, Massachusetts, about 45 minutes outside of Boston.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that we're not even die-hard Bruce fans. We listen to his CDs rarely, and we haven't bought his newest one -- from which all songs at this show were played. But seeing Bruce perform live is rousing. His band's spirit captivates me, and my hips are swinging and toes are tapping before I know it.
After tailgating with some old friends in the parking lot -- drinking beers, grilling burgers, and catching up -- we filed into the stadium. Taking the stage with a brilliant, rowdy 18-piece band (including impressive horn and string sections, among others), the Boss wailed on his guitar as the crowd chanted his name: "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce." All the songs were inspirational folk tunes, ranging from the civil-rights anthem "We Shall Overcome," to the antiwar song "Bring them Home," to a rendition of "Pay Me My Money Down" that left the entire stadium singing, after the band left the stage.
It was thrilling to be among thousands of strangers singing the same song, in unison, if just for that night. It's for moments like these that I would see almost anyone perform live, as long as I can afford the tickets. To check out the summer schedules at a few of my other favorite outdoor concert venues, go to the following websites:
In Manhattan, Central Park Summer Stage (www.summerstage.org) offers both free and regularly priced shows. In Brooklyn, Celebrate Brooklyn (www.brooklynx.org/celebrate/schedule.asp) provides a series of free concerts (with a $3 suggested donation) all summer. On Long Island, Jones Beach Theater (www.tommyhilfigerjonesbeach.com/main.html) hosts an impressive list of popular artists. --Jen Anmuth
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