Things never stay the same for very long within Houston’s music scene. Consider that the first time the Houston Press tried to assess the venues with the most heat, as it were, we landed on brash newcomers Satellite Bar and Raven Tower alongside two other relatively recent arrivals, Eastdown Warehouse and the Nightingale Room, plus one perennial in Rudyard’s. A little more than a year later, our list is completely different. Perhaps even more impressively, the 2017 edition touches on places that welcome top-level touring talent as well as local acts just now bubbling up from the underground. It’s been quite a year, and no matter their specific tastes, Houston’s music fans put themselves in a prime position to reap the benefits at any of these five spots.
5. PARTY ON THE PLAZA
The words “Party on the Plaza” carry real weight around Houston. Founded in 1987 by promoter Bob Borochoff and soon thereafter propped up by beer sponsors and the mighty PACE Concerts, the weekly free shows drew top names from Texas and beyond, mostly of the rock, pop and Tejano variety. The formula was a winner through the mid-‘00s but ultimately fell victim to its own success; the concerts outgrew Jones Plaza’s ability to keep up with them, logistically speaking, but many Houston music fans never got over them. Revived earlier this month, Houston First's Party On the Plaza has made Avenida Houston in front of the George R. Brown downtown’s latest destination for family-friendly, totally free fun, thanks to vibrant local acts like Los Skarnales, Allen Oldies Band, Mango Punch!, Gio Chamba and more. Still to come are SOULDIG and Sherita Perez (this week), plus Nick Gaitan, Say Girl Say, El Lago, VODI and a rousing June 28 finale featuring Fat Tony and Young Mammals. It’s early yet, but the enthusiastic response thus far suggests Party on the Plaza 2.0 could be one of those rare sequels that eclipse the original. 1001 Avenida de las Americas, avenidahouston.com/party
4. THE SECRET GROUP
A recent Facebook post by The Secret Group asks followers which “Emo” they’re more excited about – its recurring emo/indie/punk party called “Nothing Matters,” or the July appearance of veteran comedian Emo Philips. The appeal of the space, located at 2101 Polk, is that it is truly multipurpose and, more and more, that purpose involves music. Comedians run the space, so it ostensibly began as a place to showcase local and touring comics. It’s hosted stellar acts, like Kurt Braunohler, Hari Kondabolu and Sheng Wang, but its calendar has also found room for live and programmed music sets. Diverse live acts like MC Lars, Mickey Avalon and Agent Orange have played the space. Locals Kay Jay, MNYNMS and We Were Wolves are all appearing at Secret Group in the next few weeks. The space hosts several DJ nights, too, including Dial Up, a ‘90s dance party; Wreck Room, which takes listeners back to the early '00s; and a repeating karaoke night. Just this month, they added a Monday music showcase featuring curated, multi-genre acts. Taking a cue from Bonnaroo and the former Fun Fun Fun Fest, the space allows music and comedy to rub shoulders, not under tents in the heat but in a sleek, low-lit interior space filled with good, cheap drinks and a hip clientele. 2101 Polk, thesecretgrouptx.com
3. CIVIC TV LABORATORIES
Co-directed by visual artist Terry Suprean and sound artist Gerritt Wittmer, Civic TV is less a hot venue than a crucible, in the alchemical sense. First, in that the place sees itself as a laboratory for explorations into particular ideas of community, brought together by music and art and other whips, rather than as a traditional music venue or art gallery. Just the same, since relocating to Commerce Street last November, Civic TV has been keeping the lights on late for performances by Peter J. Woods, Scott Ayers, Sandy Ewen, Botany, Subsonic Voices, B L A C K I E, Mary Lattimore and Tee Vee as well as an early-afternoon matinee concert series selected by the Wiggins. The place is a crucible in the other sense, for despite the raging a/c, the heat index inside is often enough to set one ablaze with prickly rash, for which reason the venue is relocating over the summer. It will reopen in September in a new location with a new calendar of events. 2010 Commerce Unit B, civictv.org
2. WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL
Aside from the controversy surrounding White Oak's mercurial relationship with its neighbors, this venue is the kind of establishment that will not only make Houston more competitive with Austin's and Dallas's music markets but also boost local music business. How? White Oak is raising the bar for music performance for fans and musicians in terms of sound quality, concert amenities (check out the lawn's amazing view) and access to multiple stages within one venue. A venue of this quality makes Houston harder to skip over by national touring bands and provides added incentive for the city's other venues to keep up. Let’s face it, some of Houston’s most beloved venues have been — at times — in ill repair and adored more for their nostalgia than for their amenities. We music fans love a dirty, gritty dive bar soaked in spilled beer and sweat from an active mosh pit; for all the DIY culture, though, the city needs somewhere that also delivers a first-class theatrical experience. From the Bayou City skyline and balcony views to the green grass of the outdoor lawn seats to the easy accessibility of each stage and the superlative service, White Oak is the future of the Houston scene on a national level. 2915 North Main, whiteoakmusichall.com
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1. SMART FINANCIAL CENTRE
The Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land fills a hole that's existed in the greater Houston concert venue landscape: a modern, big but not huge indoor concert hall. That's no disrespect to The Pavilion, subject to the cruel whims of Texas weather, or NRG Arena, which is plenty big to be sure, but it's true: By God, if you want to enjoy a Journey show, odds are good you want to do it with air conditioning and seats that don't feel like they're in a different ZIP code. In addition to a concert lineup the skews toward lovers of seasoned touring acts, it's also providing the area with home for some of the biggest names in comedy to come through. It's got plenty of parking, it doesn't involve driving up I-45 and the whole place just feels nice. Sometimes you win not by being groundbreaking, but by being functional and smart. 18111 Lexington Boulevard, Sugar Land, smartfinancialcentre.net