From happening clubs to a huge shed, here are the best places to enjoy live music from Sarasota to TampaTop 20 live music venues
By WADE TATANGELO, firstname.lastname@example.org Whether it’s just a guy alone at a piano or an epic rock band, the venue plays a big role in the overall quality of any live music experience. From Randy Newman at the Van Wezel in 2000 to Black Sabbath at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre last month, I’ve reviewed hundreds of shows from Sarasota to Tampa. Here’s a look at the top concert venues in the area accompanied with the many memories they’ve inspired. Fellow music maven Gerry Galipault helped with the tough task of whittling the list down to 20 and muses on three of his favorites.
1525 4th St., Sarasota 388-7539, blueroostersrq.comThe Blue Rooster
The newest venue on the list, the Blue Rooster features a medium-sized stage just to the right of the front door, easily seen from anywhere in the place by customers enjoying not only live music and libations but Southern and low-country comfort foods. A slew of the area’s best roots-y bands have played here as well as national acts such as Beth McKee, Paul Thorn and JP Soars. The first-rate triple-bill of Roadkill Ghost Choir, Thomas Wynn & The Believers, and Have Gun, Will Travel perform on Saturday.
1930 Hillview St., 366-5555; 5oclockclub.netFive O’Clock Club
A Sarasota institution, The Five O is where people have gone to dance and drink to live music since 1955. I saw AC/DC singer Brian Johnson and Allman Brothers Band founding guitarist Dickey Betts gleefully sharing the intimate stage in 2002 (pictured). These days, the place is home to the likes of Allman Brothers acolyte Tony Tyler, a singer/slide guitarist who hosts a Wednesday jam and plays Sundays with his band Come Back Alice.
1936 Hillview St.; 366-3010; oceanblues.netOcean Blues
Right next door to the Five O’Clock Club, Ocean Blues offers live music most nights of the week, ranging from the Sunday blues jam to a performance on Aug. 29 by singer-songwriter Geri X, a favorite of the Tampa Bay indie scene with a national following.
777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 955-7676; vanwezel.orgVan Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Few venues in Florida boast as rich as history as the 1,736-seat Van Wezel, which has brought world-class entertainment to Sarasota for more than four decades. Jazz icon Duke Ellington played one of his final shows here shortly before he died in 1974. R&B genius Ray Charles, country king Johnny Cash and expert entertainer Liberace are also among the numerous legends who have performed at the lavender-colored venue derisively called the “Purple People-Seater” and “Purple Cow” when it debuted in 1970. I first visited the Van Wezel in 2000, while attending the University of South Florida and living in Tampa, to review a show by seldom-touring Randy Newman. The brilliantly sardonic singer-songwriter delivered a by turns stirring and humorous performance solo at the piano. At show’s end, I rushed past the numerous attendees, all twice and three times my age, to meet him. Newman graciously bent down, shook my hand and cracked a joke about me being the youngest person in the room. Pop diva Diana Ross performs Sept. 11.
4343 Palma Sola Blvd., Bradenton; 795-3886; aceslivemusic.comAces Live
Except for maybe Skipper’s Smokehouse, I’ve spent more time at Aces Live than any venue on this list. For about a year starting in January of 2011, I co-hosted Damon Fowler's "Sugar Shack Mondays," a webcast live-streamed from Aces that featured performances by acclaimed national blues artists like Junior Watson, Lurrie Bell and Biscuit Miller; plus many of our local and regional favorites. We had a blast, especially during the loose interview segment I conducted. But my favorite memory at Aces is the amazing turnout for the Dan Toler benefit in August of 2011. A day of inspired performances by local artists concluded with superb guitar playing from Toler, the former Allman Brothers Band guitarist and beautiful human being who lost his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in February. The New Orleans Suspects – a Crescent City super group – return Sept. 26.
452 3rd Ave. W., Bradenton; realizebradenton.comBradenton Riverwalk
The $6.2 million Bradenton Riverwalk opened last October and soon established itself as The Friendly City’s most charming live music venue with the inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival. The all-day event attracted 3,000 paying customers – 1,000 were expected – to the lawn overlooking the Manatee River. Visit realizebradenton.com for free shows that begin when the temperatures drop back to tolerable levels. The Bradenton Blues Festival returns Dec. 7.
5520 14th St W., Bradenton; 756-6060; joylandcountry.comJoyland
This country music nightclub in Bradenton has been a hotspot since it opened in 1994, hosting shows by Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and numerous other country acts before they became shed-filling superstars. Brett Eldredge, who recently scored his first Top 10 hit with “Don’t Ya,” performs Oct. 12.
400 First St. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 892-5767; themahaffey.com.Mahaffey Theater
This 2,031-seat facility, next to the Dalí Museum in downtown St. Pete, is a cultural jewel, with elegant European box-style seating – a perfect place for opera and, believe it or not, pop music shows. Concert promoter and record company executive Bill Edwards took over the struggling venue a few years ago and gave it a $2 million makeover. I saw Weezer there last November. The Mahaffey seems out of place for a rock concert, but Rivers Cuomo and Co. felt at ease amid the ornate setting. Cuomo, much to the dismay of security guards, roamed into the audience with his wireless mike, made his way up to the second-level boxes, stood on the railing and belted out a tune. It’s beautiful, but you aren’t likely to see a mosh pit at this posh place. Future shows include Toni Braxton (Aug. 28) and Loretta Lynn (Sept. 14). —Gerry Galipault
253 Fifth Ave. N., St. Petersburg; (727) 822-3590; mypalladium.orgThe Palladium at St. Petersburg College
Built in 1925 as the First Church of Christ, Scientist, this designated St. Petersburg historic landmark emerged as one of the area’s top concert venues in 2007, when the Palladium Theater became part of St. Petersburg College. Since then, the main hall that seats about 850 has hosted an array of big-name shows including blues-rock guitar hero Kenny Wayne Shepherd (pictured) last year and leading jazz vocalist Kurt Elling in June. Adam Ant, interviewed here, performs at The Palladium on Friday.
200 1st Ave. N., St Petersburg; (727) 565-0550; jannuslive.comJannus Live
Formerly Jannus Landing, the 2,000-capacity venue enjoyed a makeover and slightly new name in 2010, but retained all of its courtyard charm in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg. The venue boasts area debuts by some of rock and pop’s biggest acts – Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Katy Perry – plus legendary shows by The Ramones, Yoruba Nigerian jùjú musician King Sunny Ade and The Flaming Lips, just to name a few. My favorites include alt-country queen Lucinda Williams in 2001 and then a decade later she finally returned, delivering an equally gripping performance. For sentimental reasons, though, nothing beats taking my two younger sisters to see Cyndi Lauper in 2002. During an extra ebullient “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” the singer risked tumbling from the stage so she could reach down and shake hands with my siblings, who were absolutely thrilled. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros perform Sept. 12.
State Theatre 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 895-3045; statetheatreconcerts.comState Theatre
I’ve seen numerous shows at this 700-capacity former movie house, but the one that sticks out in my mind, probably because of the damage done, is smart, sludge metal band Mastodon in 2007. It easily ranks as the loudest and most awesomely concussive concert I’ve ever attended. Good times. Cee Lo Green’s reunited rap crew Goodie Mobb performs Sept. 7.
701 Bayshore Drive, N.E., St Petersburg, (727) 893-7441; stpeteparksrec.orgVinoy Park
This 11.6-acre waterfront gem has been home to countless shows over the years but my fondest memories all seem to go back to the annual Tampa Bay Blues Festival, where I’ve been elated by everyone from genre-hopping New Orleans party-starter Trombone Shorty to the greatest blue guitarist alive, Buddy Guy. Oh, yeah, and lifting weights with Against Me!’s Tom Gabel (now Laura Jane Grace) in front of the group’s tour bus backstage at the Vans Warped Tour in 2008. It was shortly before the singer/guitarist led his band through a killer set that included their hit "Thrash Unreal." That was pretty cool, too. Country star Justin Moore has a Nov. 10 date and The Tampa Bay Blues Festival returns April 11-13.
1111 N. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerdhall.com.Ruth Eckerd Hall
This 73,000-square-foot, 2,180-seat performing arts center is the best bang for your buck – there isn’t a bad seat in the house, it has the best sound and the aisles are wide enough for easy passage. It’s continental seating, with no center aisle. The only real downside: There’s only one small road leading to the theater; when a show lets out, everyone bolts for the car and tries to get out all at once, causing a major backup. It’s best just to stick around, have a drink and wait for the traffic jam to die down. Future shows include Brian Wilson with Jeff Beck (Sept. 28). —Gerry Galipault
301 Drew St., Clearwater; clearwater-fl.comCoachman Park
Located on 20 acres of landscaped, waterfront land, this scenic venue in Downtown Clearwater once hosted many of the top festivals in the region before attendees and apparently promoters became freaked out by the Scientology presence. I recall covering an extra wild edition of 98.7’s Wild Splash in 2007 headlined by gangster rapper Young Jeezy. It also included a highly entertaining set by Digital Underground, which had thousands of women getting down and dirty with “The Humpty Dance.” Coachman Park remains best known, though, for hosting the annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday, which returns Oct. 17-20 with a lineup featuring 1970s horn bands Chicago, Tower of Power and Average White Band.
4802 U.S. Hwy. 301, Tampa; $40-$143.50; (800) 745-3000; livenation.com.MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre
Since opening as the Ford Amphitheatre in 2004, this has been the setting for dozens of my concert reviews, including a pummeling of a 2009 performance by Toby Keith and this recent “Bob Dylan disappoints” pan. But the majority of shows I’ve attended at the amphitheater have been winners. Highlights include The Allman Brothers Band (which I had the pleasure of experiencing with my ABB loving dad and brother in 2005), Roger Waters (2007), Radiohead (2008) and most recently Black Sabbath on July 29, with my amazing wife Kristin enjoying the heavy metal mania more than just about anyone in attendance. Future shows include Blake Shelton (Aug. 30), Kid Rock (Sept. 15) and Miranda Lambert (Sept. 20).
910 Skipper Road, Tampa; (813) 971-0666, skipperssmokehouse.comSkipper’s Smokehouse
For more than three decades, hippies of all ages have been hanging out at this fabulously funky, 800-capacity live music venue, which also includes a restaurant serving delicious Old Florida cuisine. Dubbed the Skipperdome thanks to its terrific tree-canopy, I missed out on the glory days when blues greats like Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker played under the oaks in the 1980s and ‘90s. But I had become a regular by the late 1990s/early 2000s, advancing and reviewing Skipper’s shows for the USF Oracle. Standout performances for me include blues punks the Black Keys, pedal steel guitar great Robert Randolph, Mississippi music man Jimbo Mathus, Tampa treasure Ronny Elliott and power-lounge quintet The Vodkanauts (pictured). Few things have made me prouder, though, than seeing my younger brother's Joel Tatangelo Band up on that Skipper’s stage, a place the singer/songwriter/lauded slide guitarist has rocked quite a few times in recent years. Future shows include Del McCoury (Sept. 14) plus Uncle John’s Band, the best Grateful Dead tribute group on the planet, every Thursday.
1010 N Macinnes Pl, Tampa; (813) 229-7827; strazcenter.org.Straz Center for the Performing Arts
Formerly the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Straz features four excellent-sounding theaters including the 2,610-seat Carol Morsani Hall. This downtown Tampa entertainment hub has hosted shows by everyone from Miles Davis (1989) to Leonard Cohen in March. In 2001, I got my first real experience with the classic Crescent City sound when Soul Queen of New Orleans Irma Thomas delivered a sizzling performance as part of the Verizon Music Festival. John Fogerty performs Oct. 27.
401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 301-6500; tampabaytimesforum.com.Tampa Bay Times Forum
Home of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Storm, this 20,500-capacity arena in downtown Tampa is also one of the area’s biggest concert venues. This year alone, it has hosted Muse, P!nk, Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Fleetwood Mac. Future shows include Bruno Mars (Aug. 28), Jonas Brothers (Sept. 20), Selena Gomez (Oct. 30), Michael Bublé (Nov. 1), Drake (Nov. 6), Josh Groban (Nov. 8) and Eagles (Nov. 20). If you’re into arena shows, this is THE place. But there are very few good views, especially if you're in the upper decks. I sat in the nosebleed section for the Fleetwood Mac show (pictured) - four rows from the top. My wife was so uncomfortable, she clutched my right arm the entire night. Next time, we're shelling out more money for a less disorienting view.—Gerry Galipault
711 N. Franklin St., Tampa; (813) 274-8286; tampatheatre.orgTampa Theatre
Built in 1926 and named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, Tampa Theatre is easily the most venerable venue on this list, with its amazingly elaborate interior and a storied past that includes quite a few ghost stories. More importantly, it has great acoustics. I was there for dark cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls' memorable Tampa Bay area debut in 2008 and later the same year enjoyed a tasty offering of the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Soul Stew Revival along with a near capacity crowd of around 1,400. But none of the many shows I’ve enjoyed at Tampa Theatre over the years quite compare to when I took my mom to see Iris DeMent following a great phone interview with the artist in 2007. We’re both big fans of the highly literate singer/songwriter who accompanies herself on guitar and piano and DeMent gave us a truly unforgettable night of mother-son bonding.
4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa; (813) 974-3002; sundomearena.comUSF Sun Dome
Sir Elton John piano-rocked the newly renovated USF Sun Dome during the Tampa venue’s grand opening last year, paving the way for high-profile upcoming shows like Imagine Dragons (Sept. 24), Fall Out Boy (Sept. 29) and The Lumineers (Oct. 19). As for memories, I vividly recall covering the entertainment portion of Ralph Nader’s “People Have the Power” rally in 2002. Neither Nader’s nor Michael Moore’s speech moved me, but Patti Smith’s fiery performance sure did.
Top 20 Concert Venues
/ Thursday, August 8, 2013