It’s possible that Los Angeles County has the richest music culture in the country—possibly the planet. Its diversity and depth can be felt in the songs the city has inspired: everything from Gun N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” to Billy Joel’s “Los Angelenos” to Tupac’s “California Love.” As Rolling Stone contributor Frank Schruers told host Soterios Johnson in the California Now Podcast, “The excitement of the L.A. music scene is indisputable.”
The heart of the city’s scene is, of course, the iconic venues where its musicians go to rock. Lovers of live music can enjoy massive shows at arenas like The Rose Bowl and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, both of which can seat more than 90,000 fans. For an exceptional acoustic experience, visit Walt Disney Concert Hall. The striking structure, designed by Frank Gehry, is matched only by the near-perfect interior, created in consultation with the master sound architect, Minoru Nagata. The concert hall is also the home of the world-renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as a 6,125-pipe organ.
Closest to music expert Schruers’ heart, however, are the classic rock-and-roll venues with an intimate feel. On the California Now Podcast, the self-professed fan of “claustrophobic little clubs,” shared his top five places in L.A. to catch a concert. With thousands of shows underneath his belt, Schruers has a deep understanding of the spots where the music sounds crisp, the drinks are cold, and the people know how to party. A drum roll, please? His top five in ranking order: The Greek Theatre, Whisky a Go Go, The Roxy Theatre, The Wiltern, and the Troubadour. Head to the City of Angels to choose your own concert-perfect picks.
There aren’t many cities where you can listen to live music under a star-studded sky with majestic canyons as your backdrop. Enter The Greek Theatre, an outdoor amphitheater carved into a hillside of Griffith Park that’s become so iconic for its magical setting and great natural acoustics, it inspired the 2010 film Get Him to the Greek, starring Russell Brand. (In the movie, a music executive must escort a wayward rock star to—you guessed it—The Greek Theatre, for his first stop on a career-defining concert tour.)
“We played The Greek!” is a common refrain from bands rocking out in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. On the California Now Podcast, longtime Rolling Stone contributor Fred Schruers recalls hearing Ryan Adams check The Greek off his musical bucket list at the end of a show. The prestige and allure of this stunning outdoor venue prompted Schruers to list it in his top five favorite places to see a concert in L.A.
From May through November, the 5,900-capacity amphitheater hosts some of the biggest names in music. “It has terrific acoustics,” Schruers notes. The venue opened in 1930, but its history dates to the 1880s when mining mogul Colonel Griffith J. Griffith moved to America from South Wales. Upon his death in 1919, Colonel Griffith left a $1 million trust to the City of Los Angeles with instructions to construct an observatory and an outdoor theater with Greek columns. Though the cornerstone was finally laid in 1928, the venue didn’t host its first act, an operatic concert, until 1931. Over the next few decades, sporadic use caused the Greek Theatre to fall into disrepair. During World War II, it was even converted into military barracks. But renewed interest in the 1970s sparked its resurgence. Since then, The Greek Theatre has hosted a slew of musical legends, including Frank Sinatra and Sir Elton John.
Over the past century, the city has preserved The Greek’s grandeur. Nestled among lush trees at the base of a Los Feliz canyon, The Greek remains one of the best places in Los Angeles to soak in a show. The amphitheater’s event lineup always promises big names—like Harry Styles, Tom Jones, and Pete Townshend—and with an intimate 5,900-person capacity, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The season only runs from spring to mid-fall, but the theater, modeled after a Greek temple, is still worth a look-see in the off-season.
And don’t just take Schruers’ word for it; Pollstar Magazine also named The Greek Theatre as the best small outdoor venue in the United States in 2018. Schruers says simply: “It’s crazy cool.”
Insider tip: Consider preordering one of the picnic baskets for two, filled with Mediterranean-style noshes like hummus, charcuterie, baguettes, or Greek salad.
Head to the corner of Rush and Chestnut on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip to experience a slice of rock history. Often cited as America’s first true discotheque, Whisky a Go Go has been hosting hot bands and packed houses since 1964.
Named after a famous Paris nightclub, Whisky helped usher in critical crazes, including go-go dancing, So Cal punk, and all-American rock. Rolling Stone contributor Frank Schruers told California Now Podcast host Soterios Johnson that Whisky is “central to everybody’s rock ‘n’ roll education”—just one of the reasons he named it one of the top five music venues in Los Angeles.
As legend has it, when owner Elmer Valentine opened Whisky in 1964, he hired female DJs to keep the party going between sets. With space at a premium in the tiny club, Valentine built a glass-walled box above the stage for the young, attractive women to spin and dance—the rest, as they say, is history.
The club’s history extends well beyond short skirts and fringed boots: It’s served as a launchpad for famous acts that included Buffalo Springfield, Janis Joplin, and The Doors. In the 1970s, the club became central to the Los Angeles punk scene with The Screamers, X, and the Mumps, who became Whisky fixtures.
Today you can sense the rich history in the “intimate, smoky, beer-spattered little place,” says Schruers. Bands of all genres—think everyone from Saving Abel to Sponge—play in the 500-seat establishment. The club is also known for tribute nights and live Rocky Horror Picture Show jam sessions, complete with a rowdy crowd. “Sometimes,” Schruers says with delight, “you can’t even get to the bar.”
“I can picture the neon sign on the Sunset Strip in my mind right now,” says Rolling Stone contributor Frank Schruers of the famous Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood. The iconic red striped letters spelling out “R-O-X-Y” have been synonymous with the Los Angeles club scene since the early 1970s. Schruers, who named the club one of the top five L.A. music venues on the California Now Podcast, says, “You can’t beat the Roxy for immersion in rock ‘n’ roll L.A. culture.”
The Roxy was founded by Grammy-award-winning record producer Lou Adler along with Elmer Valentine, owner of Whisky a Go Go. On September 20, 1973, the venue celebrated its opening with a famous three-day, six-set concert by Neil Young. Fans can experience the magic of this inaugural concert with the 1975 live album Roxy—Tonight’s the Night Live.
The “tiny bit claustrophobic” club, as Schruers calls it, has served as the stage for a handful of other famous live albums as well. Bob Marley & The Wailers and Warren Zevon recorded Live at the Roxy and Stand In The Fire here, respectively. The upstairs bar, On the Rox, is now open to the public (over age 21), but it was once a secret members-only clubhouse, which required a physical key for entry. On the Rox helped fuel the John Lennon and May Pang’s infamous “Lost Weekend.”
The venue is now run by Alder’s son, Nic, and hosts shows nearly every night. Cypress Hill, Hello Seahorse!, and Local H are all recent performers. Those looking for a laugh can get tickets to a comedy night. The club, which regularly hosted Cheech & Chong in the 1970s, also has a strong stand-up tradition. Whatever sort of performance strikes your fancy, Schruers says, “It’s not to be missed if you find yourself on Sunset Strip.”
At the edge of L.A.’s Koreatown lies a stunning example of Art Deco architecture—and an incredible spot to see a show. The Wiltern, which earns its name from the location at the intersection of Wilshire and South Western, started stunning audiences nearly 90 years ago. In fact, on the California Now Podcast, Rolling Stone contributor Frank Schruers listed The Wiltern as one of the top five music venues in Los Angeles.
At The Wiltern, the show starts before the band begins to play. The beautiful aquamarine exterior, plated in glazed terra-cotta tile, is an architectural masterpiece. Once inside, guests can enjoy the refurbished work of the late designer Anthony B. Heinsbergen. Murals line the walls, leading up to a zig-zag style molding, inspired by the sun. “It reminds me of the old days, being on the road for Rolling Stone and going to some classic Deco theater,” says Schruers.
The Wiltern has experienced several transformations since it first opened in 1931. Originally created as a vaudeville theater, its opening night was full of Hollywood glamour: Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and James Cagney all entered the venue through a bridge constructed for the special event. In the 1970s, the theater fell into disarray but was saved from the wrecking ball by local activists and restored to its former glory.
Schruers explains that the 1,850-capacity venue still feels stuck in the past, in the very best of ways. “The Wiltern is the place to get the essential, rock ’n’ roll hippie vibe,” he says. Be prepared to see some buckskin and paisley; or join in the fun by dusting off your old leather vest. “Acoustically, it’s pretty flawless, a nice old grand theater,” Schruers says.
Pearl Jam, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Carole King—these are just a few of the artistes who got their start at what Rolling Stone contributor Frank Schruers calls “The mighty Troubadour.” Schruers, who named the Troubadour his number-one spot to see live music in Los Angeles on the California Now Podcast, explains, “And by mighty, I mean mighty small.”
It’s the promise of seeing a future (or current) legend up close that lends the Troubadour its unmatched allure. The 500-seat West Hollywood venue makes for an intimate experience that Schruers says is “well worth the trip.”
In 1957, Doug Weston purchased a coffee spot on La Cienega Boulevard and transformed it into a tiny nightclub. Perhaps in the spirit of its coffeehouse roots, the Troubadour gained a name for itself by specializing in performances from solo singer-songwriters. “It’s seen so many classic performers,” Schruers says. A few of the venue’s “firsts” include: the first time James Taylor played “You’ve Got a Friend,” Elton John’s first U.S. performance (Neil Diamond called him up on stage), and Fiona Apple’s first live show.
Schruers notes, “You’ll find a lot of loyalty to the Troubadour, to the people who played it and made it a classic venue.” In 2016, this fidelity came out in force when Bonnie Raitt, Brandi Carlile, and Jack Ingram all gathered at the club as a tribute to the late Glenn Frey.
Don’t be fooled by the acoustic-heavy history, however, the Troubadour is for serious music fans who like to rock. Sensitive ears might need some plugs, and the venue serves liquor but no food. Of course, this is all part of the Troubadour’s magic. “Intimacy is the key,” Schruers says, “Regardless of the size of the band, you’re seeing a little patch of history right there in West Hollywood.”