“Perfectly designed for easy access to the three necessities at a show: the stage, the beer, and the bathroom.”
So many venues, so little time. Boston has always been a big music town, even as concert halls and clubs come and go. But at any given time there are always a handful of places that seem to stand out for folks looking to rock out, mellow down, or just enjoy the vibe.
With that in mind, and with concerts finally coming back (at least for the vaccinated) following the pandemic shutdowns, we asked Boston.com readers which small and large venues made the top of their concert-going favorites, and which new or planned concert spaces they’re most looking forward to spending some quality time in. With several hundred readers responding, here are the top takeaways:
1) One concert hall seems to have found the music venue ‘sweet spot.’
It’s only been open for a few years, and thanks to the pandemic was closed a good portion of that time. But the 2,000-capacity Causeway Street concert hall Big Night Live seems to have made an impact nonetheless, turning up as our readers’ favorite large venue, and also among the top five for small venues. (Guess we should have been more specific about which was which.)
Not only that, but because the shutdown has kept so many people from checking it out yet, it’s also the “new” venue readers are most looking forward to visiting. Talk about a trifecta.
2) Greater Boston music fans are willing to drive for great acoustics.
Boston and Cambridge may have dominated our readers’ lists of favorites, with one notable (and surprising) exception: The Shalin Liu Performance Center in the tiny seaside town of Rockport was the third-most-popular small venue among Boston.com readers. “Superb architecture, fabulous acoustics, magnificent view of the Rockport Harbor, plus terrific artists! What more could you want?” asked David of Ipswich.
3) Where’s the love for TD Garden and Gillette Stadium?
Only one lone reader named the Garden as a favorite place to see shows, primarily, it seems, because that’s where U2 goes when they’re here. As for Gillette Stadium, crickets. Iconic Fenway Park saw a little love, at least, finishing fifth for large venues, but for the most part it seems like this particular trio should stick to sports; the Venues Formerly Known as Harbor Lights and Great Woods are the fan favorites, even if nobody seems to know what they’re called on any given day.
4) Concertgoers are pumped about new places to see concerts.
Boston.com readers really miss some of the clubs and concert halls that have shut their doors over the years — but they’re also excited (and pretty well informed) about new venues and ones that have yet to open. Excitement is high for MGM Music Hall at Fenway Park, Roadrunner at Boston Landing, and even the new Groton Hill Music Center, scheduled to open in Groton (it’s near Lowell, sort of) next fall.
5) Some old music fans remain cranky.
“Fenway is terrible. Xfininty is a huge hassle as is Gillette, crowd management horrible,” said Peter of Gloucester. “I go to Austin for the music scene, and I had no idea that Boston had new music venues,” said Justin of Beacon Hill. And Bill in Avon declared, “I know of no decent new venues. For the most part, no one has thrown up a club with decent sight lines, good acoustics and a state-of-the-art sound system since the Performance Center in Cambridge about 45 years ago.” Sigh…
Here’s what Boston.com readers had to say about venues large, small and new:
Favorite small venues:
Winner: The Sinclair
Runners up: Paradise Rock Club; Shalin Liu Performance Center; Big Night Live; The Grand Boston
Also mentioned: Middle East; City Winery; Club Passim; Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
“The Sinclair is by far the best small venue. It is perfectly designed for easy access to the three necessities at a show: the stage, the beer, and the bathroom.”
“The Sinclair — great sight lines and set up. I’ve seen so many great shows and lots of artists who were up and coming at the time. Courtney Barnett, Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, just to name a few.” — Robert, Arlington
“The Sinclair. Many shows seen there, but my favorite was Slayer because you would never see them in a venue that size ever again.” — Bob S., East Boston
“Paradise Rock Club is just big enough to get a good crowd and some bigger acts, but small enough to be intimate. It’s small, it’s hot, it’s crowded, but with a good energetic act, it’s fantastic. It’s also right on the B Green Line so it’s easy to get to.” — Brian, Amesbury
“The ’Dise (Paradise)! So many great shows there over the course of time, and it’s just the right size to really jam with the bands! The Cars, OMD, Billy Idol, Jonathan Edwards, Freddy Jones Band, and, of course, J Geils. Too many to list. Long live the ’Dise!” — Lorian, Brighton
“The Paradise: Dire Straits, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, U2. The Orpheum: Little Feat, Robert Palmer, The Rolling Stones, B-52s. House of Blues: J. Geils Band, The Cars, Greta Van Fleet, Mudcrutch (Tom Petty). How do I choose?” — BCD, Cambridge
“Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport. Superb architecture, fabulous acoustics, magnificent view of the Rockport Harbor, plus terrific artists! What more could you want? From Yo-Yo ma, to various chamber groups, to soloists, to Gaelic music, to really good popular artists — the programming has something for all tastes.” — David, Ipswich
“Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport Music. Beautiful hall with spectacular acoustics, with the stage’s backdrop of Rockport Harbor and the Atlantic. The Chamber Music Festival just ended, which is now becoming a serious international contender of world-class classical music events. It’s a place where stars are born.” — Winand van Eeghen, Gloucester
“Big Night Live. I have seen multiple shows, but a standout favorite was Method Man and Redman. The tiered venue floor makes it so everyone can see — even when leaving against the back wall. And the maroon VIP booths give the place an old-school Sinatra vibe yet has the speaker power to knock you off your feet — truly a gem.” — Joey, North End
“The Grand is best small venue in Boston hands down. They attract the highest quality artists, which leads to a private show vibe unlike anything else offered in the city.” — Harrison, Newton
“Club Passim in Harvard Square. Passim just recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. Over those 60 years practically any musician you can think of in folk music has performed there. However it is not this history that makes the club truly special, it is what the club is doing now. Passim has become more than just a performance space, it has become a gathering place for the musical community that has sparked an explosion of creativity and collaboration. Nothing personifies the spirit of community Passim stands for than what they have done during the last year when the virus upended the music scene in town. Passim gave musicians a place to play through online performances and raised thousands of dollars for musicians in the community to tide them over until it was safe for in person performances to resume.” — Robert, Cohasset
“The Hampton Casino. Simple, raw, cool, beachfront location.” — Dan Hogan, Newburyport
“Middle East, Downstairs or Up. Small, intimate, great sound, no obstructed view. I’ve seen a million shows there.” — Bill, Brighton
“The nicest and most intimate place in Boston to see a show today is at the City Winery, near the Garden.”
“The T, for Keytar Bear and all the other Boston greats! One of the best guitarists I’ve ever heard was rocking out on a street corner just outside of MGH. I don’t know his name, but he was amazing, and made me happy when I heard him on my way to work at the hospital. Hopefully he is vaccinated and safe!”
Favorite large venues:
Winner: Big Night Live
Runners up: Leader Bank Pavilion; House of Blues; XFinity Center; Fenway Park
Also mentioned: The Orpheum; Wang Theatre; the Hatch Shell; Symphony Hall; Boarding House Park in Lowell; Worcester Palladium
“Big Night Live provides the most memorable experience of any large-scale venue because of the quality of artists, and the presentation provided by the venue.” — Harrison S., Newton
“Leader Bank Pavilion. Seen a bunch of shows here, most memorable is Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and First Aid Kit.” — Dominique, Woburn
“Leader Bank Pavilion (a.k.a. a million other names) — very rarely do outdoor shows sound good, but here with the tent, and great views, it’s always awesome. Plus the beers are gigantic here.” — Bill, Brighton
“Leader Bank Pavilion. There is nothing like seeing the acts I’ve seen there (Beastie Boys, Stevie Wonder, Janes Addiction, Jamiroquai) and right around when the band comes on, the sun is setting and the breeze of the ocean is refreshing.”
“The Pavilion (whatever bank has the name that year) on the Waterfront next to Legals in Boston. Great small outdoor venue that gets overlooked a lot.”
“House of Blues Boston for sure. I saw Dido, The Cult and Big Head Todd and the Monsters over the last few years. Site lines and energy are unbeatable!”
“Not a fan of large venues, but I suppose House Of Blues, simply based on the quality of the artists performing there. I preferred it when it was Avalon, however.”
“Great Woods/XFinity Center — seen Rage Against the Machine, Page and Plant, Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Cypress Hill and countless others there.” — Kevin, Allston
“Great Woods (can’t keep track of all the other names). Allmans, Petty, Steely Dan, River Fest, more Allmans … All great shows, and well-managed by the venue, even the parking lot. This one is as big as I do — Gillette and the Garden are too big.” — Lorian, Brighton
“Great Woods, Mansfield or whatever they’re calling it these days. Pearl Jam, WBCN River Raves, Radiohead.”
“Fenway Park hands down is the best large outdoor music venue in MA. The Lady Gaga concert there a few years ago was iconic.”
“Fenway Park. There’s really no need to say more.” — Joey, North End
“Boarding House Park in Lowell. I started going to The Lowell Summer Music Series back in the early years when it was more of a folk music series. Though the series has changed quite a bit over the years, it still offers the same diversity and excellence in the performers they choose, in an intimate and unique location. This is a truly beautiful and sublime spot to listen to music on a summer evening nestled in the National Historic site in Lowell. A gently sloping patch of green in the midst of the city surrounded by the historic mill buildings and the river behind the stage.” — Robert, Cohasset
“Boston Symphony Hall, just because it is so steeped in history, and offers perfect acoustics. We don’t get there often, but when we do ….”
“TD Garden. My kids’ first concert ever there was U2. It was my 20+ time seeing them live … they never disappoint. I saw U2 in the old Garden on a St. Patrick’s Day that was phenomenal.” — Lance, Arlington
“The Hatch Shell at the Esplanade — I’ll never forget seeing Green Day there in 1994 just as they got popular & the plug getting pulled during the show due to a big melee that broke out.”
“The Orpheum, hands down. The ‘common areas’ are a bit beat up, almost as to show evidence of rockin’ shows of the past. Once you get to your seats, the stage always feels closer than it is and the sound is excellent. Great times seeing Trey Anastasio, Neil Young, Lenny Kravitz, and Glen Hansard there in the past! Seeing it is located in the heart of Boston, there are numerous food and drink options within blocks. Simply the best!” — Mike, Reading
“The Wang is a beautiful place to see a show and has great sound. Dire Straits in 1986 was a special show.” — Robert, Arlington
“For sit-down venues, The Boch Center (nee Wang Theatre) is the best. Saw Wilco and Fleet Foxes there among other great shows.” — Richard, Beverly
“The Wang … Walking into that lobby is unforgettable. For the size the sound is still fairly decent. The facilities are always clean. I do wish the drink service was a little better but it is hard to do beverages on an event-by-event basis.” — Rose G., Somerville
“Worcester Palladium — saw Type O Negative. Venue feels spooky and intimate.” — Rachel, Quincy
Most anticipated new and upcoming venues:
Winner: Big Night Live
Runners up: MGM Music Hall at Fenway; Roadrunner at Boston Landing; Red Lantern, Boston; Music Center at Indian Hill, Groton
Also mentioned: Great Scott reopening planned for Allston; Crystal Ballroom in Somerville Theater; ManRay reopening eyed for Central Square; The Jungle in Union Square
“Roadrunner sounds like it will be an upgrade over TD Garden or Agganis Arena, since neither of those venues were designed for concerts.” — Richard, Beverly
“The one going up at Boston Landing [Roadrunner], because it’s walking distance from my house.” –– Bill, Brighton
“The new Fenway venue [MGM Music Hall] looks like it might be a cool place to drink a $20 beer and watch a show.” — Dave, Boston
“Red Lantern is somewhere I’m excited to check out, how the new renovations add to an already great mix of club and lounge energy. While still being intimate but also providing that great going-out vibe that’s more low-key than a traditional club.” — Harrison S., Newton
“The new hall [Groton Hill Music Center] being built in Groton. Sure to be a landmark in terms of acoustics and visual beauty. I think there are two halls there and outdoor concert possibilities.” — Anton, Rockport
“Great Scott! I am excited to see how they update the Regina space [in Allston]. This is a venue that won’t be built by big business but by music lovers. I believe they will fundamentally understand what makes a venue great and will execute accordingly. I hope they give The Sinclair a run for their money!” — Rose G., Somerville
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.
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‘It’s small, it’s hot, it’s crowded’: 5 takeaways from Boston.com’s poll of favorite local music venues