As the Houston Press doffs our kudos cap to local institutions great and small in the Best of Houston® 2013 awards, all through October each of our four blogs will be looking beyond the winners of selected categories in a series we like to call "The Rest of the Best." Rocks Off happened to draw Fridays, when music is on many people's minds as they ponder their weekend plans, so we figured we'd start with a pretty big one: the places where all this music we cover almost nightly actually happens.
The editor asked each Rocks Off regular contributors to come up with a Top 5 list of local venues, in order, and added up the scores. For the record, 30 different venues across our sprawling metropolis drew at least one vote, but these are (drum roll)... the rest of the best.
10. CYNTHIA WOODS MITCHELL PAVILION Cynthia Woods is way out in The Woodlands, and the pavilion setting can leave one exposed to the elements, but glance at all the massive names it brings to town. The sound is as fantastic under those giant fans, but if you can't spare change for those high-roller seats, the lawn is where it's at. Chilling on a blanket beneath the stars, with plenty of elbow room, feels like a little bit of paradise. And now that the venue allows fans to bring their own munchies, it's ten times cuter than before. ANGELICA LEICHT
2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands, 281-363-3300 or woodlandscenter.org
9. WALTERS DOWNTOWN After a protracted (losing) struggle against Washington Avenue douche-ification, Walters' dedicated owner Pam Robinson took over a warehouse space in north downtown and somehow made her eclectic redoubt for both touring and local bands even cooler. Now they get to play in much swankier digs with a great sound system, passionate staff, and excellent drink prices, proving that not all small clubs are dirty.
What sets Walters apart, however, is the club's reputation for giving bands a chance when others venues won't. (And if you were wondering, yes, the bathrooms are much cleaner than those in the Washington Ave location.) ALYSSA DUPREE
1120 Naylor, 713-222-2679, waltersdowntown.com
8. SUPER HAPPY FUN LAND Put bluntly, there's no venue with more character in all of Houston. The place is a total gutter punk DIY heaven, with odd furniture and decorations all over the place, brilliant graffiti and wall art, tables hastily set up to sell cheap merchandise, beer, and local crafts, and most importantly, bands you'd never hear anywhere else. Every venue says they love the strange and the unique, but the folks behind SHFL put their money where their mouth is by hosting some of the most avant-garde shit you've ever seen.
We just had a look at their calendar, and coming up in November is a French artcore band made up of three kids barely out of high school. You're not going to see that in Houston anywhere other than Super Happy Fun Land. JOHN SEABORN GRAY
3801 Polk, 713-880-2100, superhappyfunland.com
List continues on the next page.
7. AVANTGARDEN A Montrose fixture for more than a decade and a half, AvantGarden has had no trouble reinventing itself over the years. Once dubbed The Mausoleum, then Helios, the picturesque turn-of-the-century mansion has held a laid-back, artistic vibe through all of its incarnations and remains a favorite hangout for local creatives and yuppie transplants alike. It's not unusual to see down-to-earth, longtime owner Mariana, who seems to have personified the venue herself and remains a recognizable fixture behind its bar mixing a batch of homemade sangria or mingling with her regulars.
Local singer-songwriter Chase Hamblin doubles as host and drink-slinger for the popular Tuesday-night open-mike, and regular events include poetry slams, acoustic showcases, hip-hop battles, dance recitals and a monthly craft market. With three separate performance spaces - one on each of its two stories and one in the lushly romantic back patio - AvantGarden exudes a "come one, come all" feel that readily makes you all cozy inside. LEILA CHEMAM-ALFARO
411 Westheimer, 832-287-5577, avantgardenhouston.com
6. DISCOVERY GREEN No concert venue in Houston boasts a better backdrop than Discovery Green, everybody's favorite downtown oasis. Flanked by skyscrapers, the outdoor stage hosts a regular concert series featuring top local performers such as the Suffers, Buxton and the Zydeco Dots, not to mention special events such as 2011's NCAA Final Four "Big Dance" concerts with Kings of Leon, Kenny Chesney and others.
Best of all, the music is free for everyone. You can even stash your screaming kids on the playground while you enjoy the tunes. Bring a cooler and a Frisbee and make an evening of it. NATHAN SMITH
1500 McKinney, 713-400-7336, discoverygreen.org
5. HOUSE OF BLUES Ascending the escalator outside House of Blues feels a bit like climbing the stairway to heaven. With one massive stage, a balcony, and what equates to a giant pit, how can you go wrong? Apart from select seated shows such as Aimee Mann, House of Blues' standing-room-only policy is one of the main features that makes the downtown hall so popular.
The others would include savvy bookings of legends and up-and-comers alike, three bars to help you imbibe whatever it is you're imbibing on, and a food window to help you nosh mid-show. Small wonder HOB is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary next weekend going stronger than ever. ANGELICA LEICHT
1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837, hob.com/houston
List continues on the next page.
4. CONTINENTAL CLUB The Continental Club serves as the heart of the quirky and eclectic mid-Main strip that is quickly becoming a Mecca of sorts for the local indie scene - and no surprise, since the two-block hipster oasis is the innovation of CC managing partner Pete Gordon. Ideally nestled amidst vintage dress and barber shops and adjacent to both the Metrorail and a B-cycle charter station, the Continental is the perfect size for catching a local or regional act: small enough to maintain a dive-y, intimate feel but big enough to make room for a dance party should the need arise.
For a little peace and (relative) quiet, the back room houses a second bar, a billiards table and some damn-good barbecue, which (ask anyone from around here) is a staple of any legitimate Texas dive-bar experience. And when the weather gods are smiling, it's is arguably the best venue in town for soaking up those rare, cool evenings --- a large patio out back boasts ample seating and kitschy-chic décor, from the trademark "Elvis" sign to a real, live tiki bar (grass hut included). LEILA CHEMAM-ALFARO
3700 Main, 713-529-9899, continentalclub.com/houston.html
3. WAREHOUSE LIVE Most of Houston's mid-size venues hardly feel "mid-sized," which is why we're so lucky to have Warehouse Live. Because the ballroom boasts a capacity of 1,500, Houstonians have been able to catch big names while still taking advantage of the venue's intimate layout, which is even more pronounced in the adjacent Studio room. Since Warehouse opened its doors in February 2006, thousands of acts such as P!nk, Bruno Mars, Sunny Day Real Estate and Deftones have graced the venue's two rooms, with no sign of slowing down.
And despite the fact that Warehouse Live's sound system gets loud enough to feel the volume it in your chest, the venue is known for being both subtle and fancy all at once. With LED chandeliers hanging overhead and a bar set off to the side that allows drinking patrons to do so without fighting a crowd, every piece comes together to make Warehouse one of Houston's most beloved live music gems. ALYSSA DUPREE
813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483, warehouselive.com
2. FITZGERALD'S With all due respect to Numbers, there isn't a longer-running or more beloved music venue in town than Fitzgerald's, the creaky old club on White Oak Blvd. in the Heights. Built in freaking 1918 as a Polish dance hall and community center, the place was taken over in 1977 by Sara Fitzgerald and hosted once and future rock and roll legends on its upstairs and downstairs stages for decade after decade, with anecdotal evidence suggesting the bathrooms were cleaned once or twice during that span.
From James Brown to Death to Iron and Wine, Fitz has been the place to see the best local and touring rock and roll acts for generations of Houstonians, and it's changed so little over the years that it still feels like home no matter how long it's been since your last visit. No other spot in town has as much music history baked into its black walls. NATHAN SMITH
2706 White Oak, 713-862-3838, fitzlivemusic.com
Houston's best concert venue on the next page. What'll it be?
1. JONES HALL Houston has newer and arguably nicer music venues than Jones Hall, but the building at 615 Louisiana has been offering one of the most satisfying concert experiences in town since opening in 1966. Jones is of course best known and most often employed as the home of the Houston Symphony, but has also recently hosted concerts by junkman bard Tom Waits, R&B sexmonger R. Kelly, Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and even "The Power of Love" time-lords Huey Lewis & the News, among others.
Award-winning for both its architecture and its acoustics, and with several significant pieces of civic art on the premises, Jones is everything a world-class, big-city concert hall should be. CHRIS GRAY
615 Louisiana, 713-227-3974, houstonsymphony.org
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