Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Best Music Venues in America? Think Again, Paste Magazine

Paste is one of my favorite music/arts magazines, because of the depth and breadth of its music coverage and also because of its intelligent, witty approach to writing on film, books and other subjects of interest to me (that last part is key).

So I wouldn't want to insult, say, editor Josh Jackson. Because it's not inconceivable that I could one day contribute stories or reviews to the mag.

That said, I have a bone or two to pick with the feature titled "America's 40 Best Music Venues" in the June issue (the one with Parker Posey on the cover).

Bone #1 -- NOT A SINGLE FLORIDA MUSIC VENUE is included in the section devoted to the Southeast. Are Josh and the members of his editorial staff mortally afraid of crossing the Georgia-Florida line into the Sunshine State?

I can't vouch for all the large and small venues in all the regions in Florida, because I just don't travel around as much as I once did (but in the old days, I loved Sapphire Supper Club in Orlando, the Sunrise Musical Theater in South Florida and the UF Bandshell in Gainesville).

But I can express unapologetic praise for several Tampa Bay area venues that ought to have been considered for inclusion in the Paste list.

In alphabetical order:

Ruth Eckerd Hall, in Clearwater, is acoustically pristine, one of those places where great sound, perfect sightlines and comfortable chairs means there's 'nary a bad seat in the house. I could fill a book with the great shows I've seen there over the years, but a short list would include Pat Metheny, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, Bruce Hornsby, Branford Marsalis.

Tampa Theatre is a '20s-born movie palace with a great, deserved reputation as a haven to first-rate national rock-and-everything acts. Short list: David Byrne, Thomas Dolby, Pat Metheny, Nickel Creek, Elvin Jones, David Grisman, Dr. John, Wayne Shorter.

Skipper's, in north Tampa, is an outdoors Key West-style venue, complete with wooden floors and an extremely laidback vibe. Blues, reggae, altcountry, folk and more. Short list: Cracker, Buckwheat Zydeco, Koko Taylor, Albert Collins, NRBQ, Marcia Ball.

Jannus Landing, a courtyard spot in downtown St. Petersburg, is another venerable venue with relentlessly eclectic programming. Short list: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Galactic, Neville Brothers, Lucinda Williams, Living Color.

Bone #2 (again, related to the Southeast): So out of 12 venues in the region, ONLY ONE SPOT IN NEW ORLEANS, sacred nurturing ground for so much American music, made the list? No love for the Maple Leaf, where the likes of the Rebirth Brass Band and legendary Crescent City drummer Johnny Vidacovich regularly hold forth? How about Snug Harbor, AKA Marsalis central, easily the best long-running jazz club in the Southeast? Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl (I dare anyone to go there and NOT leave smiling)? Howlin' Wolf? The Parish, upstairs at the House of Blues? Come on, now.

Before proceeding to another Bone, let's look more closely at the Southeast list.
Twelve venues.
Florida: 0
New Orleans: 1 (Tipitina's)
and about Georgia (drumroll, please): FIVE! 5!
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the editors' Georgia-centricity, in terms of the venue list. The Paste offices are in Decatur, Ga., which is why the otherwise little-known Eddie's Attic is included on the list, and so lovingly saluted in the editor's page 6 column.

Bone #3 : Nine venues are listed in the Northeast, and only three are in New York. Nutty stuff. And although NYC is the jazz capitol of the world, not a single jazz club is on the list. The Village Vanguard, the holy of holies in the jazz world? Nope, not there. Neither are the Blue Note, Birdland, Sweet Rhythms, Smalls or such places as Town Hall. And where is Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley?

All of this reminds me of the list of jazz clubs that Wynton Marsalis put together for USA Today not long ago: Cute and all, but hardly definitive.

Credit where credit's due: The task was thankless, and the magic number (40) was too small. It's always great when any national mag can give a boost to live-music venues. Times are tough for entertainment of the non-prefab variety, and it's a worthy cause.

So go ahead, go out and hear a band or two.

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