I’ve been an avid concertgoer since 2002, when I moved here to Spokane for college, so I’ve watched venues come and go. Seen shows at amazing spaces and terrible ones. Been joyously surprised by bands I didn’t think I cared about and tragically disappointed by some I thought I’d love. After twenty years, here are some of my thoughts on the concert venues in Washington state I’ve experienced.
The Best Concert Venues Around Washington State
I know, I know: the premier seasonal venue in this area is always touted as being the Gorge. If that’s your jam, I salute you (I do not camp; therefore, I do not Gorge). However, my personal vote is the Spokane Pavilion. Yes, the Spokane Pavilion is one of the best places to see concerts in Washington state!
While I haven’t gotten the chance to see as many shows at this venue as some of the other seasonal concert spaces in the area, it is, in my opinion, the most interesting and beautiful. Situated under the new lighting-enhanced pavilion in the heart of Riverfront Park, on most days, this area–a wide concrete pad, rising into a grassy, tiered amphitheater–is home to various tourists and families taking strolls through the park. On concert nights, however, this area becomes uniquely stunning.
There are few more magical feelings than sitting on the cool grass on a hot summer evening as a band plays and the patterns of the lights above complement the mood. It’s fully open-air, so if the night is chilly or breezy, you’ll feel it, so dress accordingly (I almost always pack a blanket for the end of the night!). But on the right summer night, it can lend itself to a truly transcendent music experience.
The one caveat I have with this space is that, even for someone who often thinks “this show would be better if they just turned the volume down a little bit”, it sometimes feels like bands that play here aren’t allowed to get quite loud enough. Whether it’s because they want to discourage people from being able to hear the show from outside, or because of the acoustics of the space itself, it’s a weird little quirk, but one that may be appealing to some folks (like me!) who always pack earplugs to shows.
I also want to mention the West End Plaza at Brick West. This public park-turned-beer garden hosts some excellent concerts during the summer months. My personal favorites are the Spokane Symphony shows. Beer, summer air, and the Symphony? Perfection!
Further afield, Marymoor Park in Redmond is a phenomenal outdoor venue that hosts a variety of interesting shows (generally skewing more indie, but hey, Coheed and Cambria are playing there this summer… who wants to go mosh with me?!). The park itself is beautiful, the amphitheater has great acoustics, and it’s a lovely alternative to some of the more cramped Seattle venues (Showbox, I’m lookin’ at you) during the summer months. This venue does have the same parking issue as the Gorge, though–make sure to plan extra time to get in and get out.
Best Indie Venues to Watch Concerts in Washington State
You may know Lucky You as “that place that took over Sunset Junction”, “that place that makes the best shiitake dumplings ever”, or “that place that your cool friends always take awesome bathroom selfies in (shout-out #luckyyouselfieclub!)”. All these things are true (seriously, try those dumplings… and take that selfie), but Lucky You is also one of the premiere small music venues in the area. Run by Caleb and Karli Ingersoll, erstwhile proprietors of the Bartlett (RIP), this space has a truly unique vibe and has hosted and continues to host an impressive catalog of musical acts, both in their main performance space and in their basement hideaway.
I’ve seen everything from sensitive folk pop (Horse Feathers) to hot club-style jazz to raucous, Transformers-themed electro-punk (The Cybertronic Spree) shows here, and they have all, to put it lightly, rocked. The venue is small, but it was clearly designed by people who understand acoustics. Caleb Ingersoll recently announced he’s going on tour with the Shins this summer as their sound engineer. Go figure!
While, depending on the type of music you listen to, you may not be super familiar with some of the acts that come through Lucky You, it would behoove you to at least check out their offerings. Zonky Jazz Night is a joyful hoot every month!
The Big Dipper is another classic Spokane-area indie show institution. This venue has been around, in various incarnations, for thirty years–I remember coming here during college to see shows, and while I haven’t attended any shows here recently, it still deserves mention, especially if you’re into heavier music. It’s not fancy and it’s not large, but with the right show, it’s an incredible night of loud, dive-bar fun. One of my favorite shows in recent years was seeing The Ataris here… albeit without their lead singer (in the hospital with asthma, due to the summer smoke). In possibly the most punk rock move ever, the band invited attendees up on stage to “karaoke” their favorite songs. Absolutely incredible.
In Seattle, my two favorite off-the-beaten-path concert venues are the Tractor Tavern and Neumos. The Tractor Tavern often gets overlooked because it’s outside of the downtown core, but it’s an incredible little gem. Hidden up in Ballard, it’s the perfect balance between being small enough to be cozy, but large enough to make you feel like you’re in a crowd.
Neumos, on the other hand, is nestled in the heart of downtown and is the quintessential small/midsize long-running concert house. It’s not fancy, but it rocks so, so hard.
Larger Concert Venues in Washington State
We all know these: The Knitting Factory (loud); The Spokane Arena (big); Martin Woldson Theatre at the Fox (swanky, but fully seated); The Bing (my personal favorite – it’s just intimate enough for a large venue; also, fully seated); First Interstate Center for the Arts (occasional); Northern Quest (indoor/outdoor).
I’m not dissing these venues… they’re just more well-known than some of the smaller spaces.
Erstwhile Venue: RIP to These Legendary Concert Venues
And finally, the section where I’m going to eulogize two of the venues that are no longer with us, but still hold a dear place in my heart.
First, The A Club. This venue was situated above Chicken n’ Mo, was terrible at marketing its shows (it had no marquee or really any external signage), but during its run, hosted a wide range of phenomenal indie shows. This is where I saw The Civil Wars during Hoopfest (the band was very confused at coming into a downtown populated by basketball hoops); Rachel Platten, years before she created the much-maligned ohrwurm that is “Fight Song”; Rachael Yamagata; Jose Gonzalez; The Devil Makes Three; and, in a truly unbelievable turn, The Jezabels, a band that had been the darlings of the Australian pop scene (I own their concert DVD, playing to a sold-out Hordern Pavilion in Sydney), and played to an almost-empty A Club in Spokane. Every time I drive down Sprague, there’s a twinge of nostalgia for this weird, dingy second-floor space that still holds some of my favorite Spokane show memories.
Second, and perhaps no surprise to anyone who’s made it this far in this article, I miss The Bartlett. While Lucky You is a worthy successor to the Ingersolls’ original space, but there was something truly special about this tiny back-room venue. From Spokane Poetry Slam nights to dancing with abandon to The Polyphonic Spree in a space where the number of people on stage sometimes felt like it equaled that of concertgoers, to bawling my eyes out to Lucy Dacus, a few weeks before the venue closed forever… The Bartlett will always be special. This space was the thing that convinced me that Spokane could sustain a true independent music scene (which the failure of the A Club had thrown into question), and I am forever grateful for that.
This is my request to you: go out. Find a show you think sounds fun at a place you want to try out. Maybe you’ll hate it; maybe you’ll find a place or a band that blows your hair back and makes you love live music again. This area just keeps getting better. Let’s be part of that together!
I’ll see you on the dance floor!
PS. If you’re looking for even more fun concert opportunities, don’t forget to check out local bands in your city! For Spokane, that means keeping an eye on someone like the talented Kyle Richard. Find him playing around town this summer!
Ann Foreyt is a lifelong resident of the PNW and they have spent many years taking enthusiastic advantage of the myriad benefits this area has to offer. They’re an aerialist, runner, craft beer snob, live music aficionado, and inveterate Cool Event hunter.