Not counting small bars or special corporate gigs, classic rock acts performed at 20 different venues in the Phoenix area last year. But which ones are the best places to see a concert?
Classic rock audiences are not comprised of the same demographics as those that might cram into arenas to see One Direction or Arcade Fire. Unlike the days when baby boomers had no problem sleeping all night on a concrete sidewalk so they could be first in line to score tickets to see Led Zeppelin, today’s classic rock audiences are older and the three C’s, comfort, convenience and closeness, come into play.
Waist lines have grown, standing for hours doesn’t bode well for those with bad backs and those worn out knees require the ability to stretch your legs out. Classic rock audiences may be derived from the Woodstock generation, but the drug of choice now is usually a nice cocktail and seeing the event is now more important than just being at the event.
The perfect venue would have plenty of seats which are close to the stage that are wide enough to accommodate those whose metabolism has slowed down and be spaced far enough apart to be able stretch out one’s legs. A nice bar would be good for those that might like a drink. You’ve paid plenty for the ticket, so parking costs should be reasonable. Plus, with today’s technology, you would expect a good sound system in place.
All the venues on the list book great classic rock acts, so no facility scored higher or lower because of that fact. The staff at all the venues on the list are helpful and friendly, although it is easier to please 800 people rather than 18,000.
Keeping in mind the three C’s (comfort, convenience and closeness) click on the photographs to see the best of what the Phoenix area has to offer when it comes to classic rock concert viewing.
#5 AK-CHIN PAVILION
Also known as Desert Sky Pavilion, Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion, Cricket Pavilion, or Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion.
Some acts are just too big to play small venues. A KISS show isn’t going to work inside an 800 seat showroom. Journey is still going to attract an audience greater than 10,000 people. This means some shows have to be booked in larger facilities such as US Airways, Jobing.com, or Ak-Chin Pavilion.
The best of the biggest is the outdoor amphitheater with the ever changing name on the west side of Phoenix. Yes, the heat is horrible during the summer when most events are scheduled. But unlike the indoor arenas, every seat faces the stage so there is no odd twisting of one’s back or neck. Leg space is plentiful. Seats are not uncomfortably narrow. If you want to save costs, you can sit and spread out on the lawn area.
For an outdoor facility, the sound system is remarkably good.
Food and drink are available. Parking is ample and the price included in the ticket (VIP parking excluded).
A word of caution. Because most people travel to the Ak-Chin Pavilion via the I-10 freeway, you'll want to leave your house early so you won't get caught up in the traffic that can occur, especially during rush hour.
No big venue is close to perfect, but the Ak-Chin Pavilion is the lesser of evils.
#4 MESA ARTS CENTER IKEDA THEATER
Like Goldilocks discovered, there are three choices in venues, some are too big, some are too small and some are just right. For those classic rock groups that don’t need a huge arena venue but want to play in a place that can hold a few thousand people and aren’t too small, there are the Comerica Theatre, Orpheum Theatre and Phoenix Symphony Hall to choose from. But all of those places are in downtown Phoenix, where parking isn’t always convenient and can run from $10-$20 a show.
In the race of mid-size places that are built for music to be heard, the Mesa Arts Center is the winner. Seats are not too narrow, leg room is decent. Sound quality is excellent. There is a bar for those that desire. Plus, parking is only $5 and is on site.
There’s nothing wrong with the downtown Phoenix venues, it’s just that the Mesa Arts Center is slightly better. Downtown Mesa is much easier to navigate than downtown Phoenix. Good sight lines exist from almost every seat. Sitting close or far back, the Mesa Arts Center is a good place to catch a concert.
#3 THE CELEBRITY THEATRE
This near downtown Phoenix theater, now designated as a historic landmark, got its start first hosting Broadway musicals. In time, the “theater in the round,” began to host its share of rock acts. Due to all the seats surrounding the stage, the Celebrity can hold 2650 people, yet nobody sits more than 25 rows from the stage. If you’re in the front row, you can reach out and touch the performers. If you’re in the back row, you can still make out the performer’s faces.
The unique revolving stage lets you see both the front and back of those on stage. No longer are drummers hidden behind their set. You can catch every beat they make when their back is turned to you.
There are several bars set up around the facility and even some concessions can be purchased. Parking is on site and is only $5.
As great as being close to the stage is, the seats are small and there is no leg room. I’ve suggested they gut out a of couple sections and turn them into “big and tall” areas where there is a sign that reads “you must be this tall to sit in this section.” However, there are plans in the works to widen the seats.
The Celebrity scores high on convenience and closeness to the stage but fails in comfort for anyone tall or wide.
#2 WILD HORSE PASS CASINO OVATIONS LIVE! SHOWROOM
Indian casinos may not be fully responsible for resurrecting classic rock live performances, but they sure have helped keep them alive. It makes sense. There seem to be more Platinum Club Player’s cards issued to the boomers than to the Gen Xers. Why not lure those people into your casino with the musical acts they grew up on?
The Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass Casino, just off of I-10 in Chandler, built a showroom specifically for music and it shows. The sound is clear from almost any seat. The lower level only has 17 rows, so you are guaranteed to be close to the stage. Even the upper deck seats don’t seem too far away.
There is a bar in the showroom as well as many others on the property. If you want to eat before the show, there are several places to choose from within the casino. Parking is free and on site.
As far as seats go, leg room is sufficient, but the decision to equip the arm rests with cup holders substantially cuts down the width of the seat. If you like to not have to hold your drink during the show, the seats are great. If you don’t drink, it’s a convenience you wish didn’t exist.
This is a great place to watch a concert. Perhaps there should be a non cup holder section for those who desire a little bigger space to spread out.
#1 THE SHOWROOM AT TALKING STICK RESORT
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community built a Four-Diamond resort/casino in Scottsdale and needed an equally impressive facility to house their entertainment. The result was The Showroom, a 650 seat venue that brings you close to the stage. It’s a club concert experience like the Marquee Theater in Tempe, without the standing.
There are only 14 rows which are split between two levels, plus another 4 rows of table seating. The balcony only runs 5 rows deep. No matter where you sit, you’re going to be closer to the stage than most venues.
Bars are located both upstairs and downstairs and waitresses will come to your seat to ask if you’d like something to drink. Like you would expect at a resort/casino, there are places on site to dine. Parking is free.
But it is the seats that make this venue number one. The seats are wide and although come with arm rests, are not made smaller by cup holders. Leg room is the longest of any venue in the valley.
The sound system is good and sight lines are great, even from the worst seat in the house.
Don’t confuse this with the Ballroom at Talking Stick Resort which is much bigger and used for the larger drawing acts. Although seat size and leg room in the Ballroom are equal to that of the Showroom, the Showroom, due to its intimacy and sound system, is hands down the better of the two.
For classic rock audiences, the Showroom at Talking Stick Resort will meet all of the three C’s. It’s comfortable, it’s convenient and your seat will be close to the stage in comparison to any other venue.