10. BFE ROCK CLUB
The 1960 area goes hard, thanks to this Jones Road bar that can pack more than 500 headbanging souls into its octagon to rock out with an intensity that inner-loop venues either can't handle or just don't want to. BFE books only the heaviest of the heavy Houston-area acts to go with national metal-leaning names like Straight Line Stitch, Surrender the Fall and Saving Abel — and, it must be said, also promotes the odd oil-wrestling event from time to time.
11528 Jones Rd., 281-894-1811, bferockclub.com
9. GRAND 1894 OPERA HOUSE
Though concerts make up a relatively small part of the Grand's schedule, it still has more than enough to land a spot here. Built during the second Grover Cleveland administration and deservedly listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, the Grand's luxurious Victorian-era décor and superior acoustics can elevate even an average performance to sublime, and the caliber of the bookings guards against many average performances. Simply put, the Grand is a spectacular place to see a show, adding a level of old-world sophistication almost impossible to find at any other Southeast Texas music venue.
2020 Postoffice, Galveston, 409-765-1894, thegrand.com
8. FIREHOUSE SALOON
This place almost doesn't count because it's literally a stone's throw from 610. But the Firehouse is still the Houston area's premier smaller venue for country music, and has been for a long time. Here you'll find all kinds of country singers warbling among the multitude of vintage beer signs, be they Western Swing revivalists, immortals like Rodney Crowell, Americana artistes and Red Dirt shitkickers who haven't quite graduated to the bigger dance halls.
5930 Southwest Fwy., 281-513-1995, firehousesaloon.com
7. MAIN STREET CROSSING
A rare music venue chartered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Main Street Crossing has been a cornerstone of Tomball's transformation from a remote outpost of exurbia to a cozy slice of small-town Texas still within commuting distance of downtown Houston. Seating a shade north of 100 people, the room gladly welcomes homegrown talent from the Conroe/Cypress/Magnolia area, while a growing number of Texas Country and Americana acts have found it an agreeable alternative to similar inner-loop listening rooms. Now the decade-old venue is asking supporters to return the favor in a campaign aiming to raise $50K in renovation money, starting with the air conditioning.
111 E. Main, Tomball, 281-290-0431, mainstreetcrossing.com
6. ARENA THEATRE
This in-the-round Sharpstown/Gulfton stage seats almost 3,000 fans and specializes in country legends, oh-so-smooth R&B throwbacks and fiesty Latin divas. Operating almost continuously since the late '70s, the Arena also hosts its fair share of wild-card rockers and hip-hop mavericks whose draw is just a little bit too big for the club scene.
7326 Southwest Fwy., 713-772-5900, arenahouston.com
5. STAFFORD CENTRE Not every live-music fan is under 35 years of age. That seems simple enough, but all too many venues chase the youth market so hard they can lose sight of the fact that older people spend money, too — and often have lots more of it. Now a decade old, Stafford Centre has taken great advantage of that loophole, often welcoming full houses to its superb facilities for oldies package tours and acts beloved by all ages a la Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. If that means a few too many bluehair jokes now and again, Stafford Centre is laughing all the way to the bank.
10505 Cash Rd., Stafford, 281-208-6900, staffordcentre.com
4. SCOUT BAR
This deceptively small venue in Clear Lake has been the area's prime destination for heavier alternative rock for nearly 15 years now. For many of those, it has partnered with 94.5 FM for the Texas Buzz, one of Houston's longest-running local-music showcases, and one of the very few to be simulcast on local airwaves. In the past couple of years, without skimping on the hard stuff, Scout Bar has further lengthened its reach by also booking post-punk icons (Peter Murphy, Public Image Ltd.) and old-school rap stars (Too $hort, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Cypress Hill) aplenty. Fun fact: the bar supposedly took its name because one of its original neighbors was a Boy Scouts of America district office.
18307 Egret Bay Blvd., Clear Lake, 281-335-0002, scoutbar.com
3. OLD QUARTER ACOUSTIC CAFE
This snug little room just off the Strand is the only venue on our list where the proprietor is also one of Townes Van Zandt's old running buddies and the inspiration for one of the late folk singer's greatest tunes, "Rex's Blues." Since opening in Galveston in 1996, Rex "Wrecks" Bell has watched top Texas musicians like Jesse Dayton and OQAC open-mike alum Hayes Carll make his joint their second home on the Island, and every so often outdid himself with bookings like Guy Clark and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. There's nothing touristy about the Old Quarter whatsoever, which ironically may be its biggest selling point of all. Do yourself a favor and sign up for Bell's mailing list, too.
413 20th St., Galveston, 409-762-9199, oldquarteracousticcafe.com
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2. DOSEY DOE
The notion that Dosey Doe is a mere coffeehouse is somewhat erroneous, except that the brisk trade for its line of eponymous blends (Roast Masters, Dinner Bell) definitely helps to underwrite the A-list talent that appears at its two music venues. At the "Big Barn" a few miles south of Cynthia Woods, the concerts come at a premium, but so does the experience. It's not unusual for top tickets to run more than $100 or even $150, but that includes a to-die-for meal along with top names in anything from classic rock and country to jazz and bluegrass; many are so enamored of Dosey Doe's pristine acoustics and red-carpet treatment they refuse to play anywhere else in the area. Shows are considerably less expensive for more regionally-based talent, such as the top Texas Country stars who often appear, while local folkies of all stripes ply their trade in an even more intimate setting just 15 minutes away at Conroe's Dosey Doe Music Cafe.
1. CYNTHIA WOODS MITCHELL PAVILION
Any way you look at it, it's nearly impossible to give this list's top spot to anything else. Consistently ranked among the top-grossing music venues not just in the U.S. but the entire world, the Pavilion — also a nonprofit, as it turns out — has been going great guns for its 25th-anniversary season, with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band all the way back in May to Wiz Khalifa and Nine Inch Nails this past weekend and Drake/Lil Wayne, Ringo Starr, Arctic Monkeys and Jason Aldean still to come. As it has grown up with The Woodlands, which has in turn ballooned from a leafy bedroom community to one of Texas' biggest cities in its own right, the Pavilion has become a focal point of several community-based arts groups and host to the wildly popular annual Children's Festival (among many other events), so it's about a lot more than rock shows these days. But on that count, this year it also earned a generous spread in Billboard magazine even as it welcomed a new presenting sponsor in the Huntsman chemical company.
2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands, 281-363-3300, woodlandscenter.org.