With scores of new music styles and flavor-of-the-month hits constantly being evolved from blues, country, new age, electronic, hip-hop, jazz, pop, R&B, rock and calypso, Los Angeles is considered fertile territory for artists and musicians who seek to test the market for their latest releases. In every waking moment, promoters scramble to book their clients at some of the more trendy nightspots that hold promotional value for both the entertainer and the establishment’s ability to continually pack the house with music enthusiasts looking for something new and different from established and emerging talent. Rivaling no other large metropolitan area on the planet, L.A.’s nightlife is where touring headliners prefer to take the stage. Of the many music venues that feature live vocalists and bands, here is a hand-picked list of top-shelf locations that offer the freshest trends from set and improvisational performing artists now blazing the melodic landscape around the world.
6010 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Price: $10 to $25, depending on performing artist
Established in 1937 and located just to the south of Hollywood, The Mint is a historic landmark responsible for launching the richly eventful careers of many well-known recording artists. Those who have graced the small, yet powerful, stage at this 200-capacity venue include Grammy winners Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Ray Charles, Macy Gray and Willie Dixon. A popular social setting, The Mint continues to provide a platform for celebrities like musician Hugh Laurie, best known for the role he played on the drama series, “House.” Although live, new music is what patrons mostly seek when they choose this dark and intimate location as their evening’s designation point, it’s the establishment’s mouth-watering, tapas-style cuisine that receives rave reviews by regulars. It offers a full bar designed to meet individual tastes and budget plans. Those who sit bar-side are not required to pay the suggested ticket price to see a live concert, which makes this an ideal and exhilarating spot to experience live selections by both established and emerging performers long before their soon-to-be published tunes hit the airwaves.
The Hotel Café
1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Price: $10 to $20, depending on performing artist
Anyone searching for an authentic western-themed tavern with a menu selection large enough to pack a 10-gallon cowboy hat may want to check out this venue located in the saddle of downtown Van Nuys. In addition to its gut-filling outlaw burger and other appetite-teasing entrees and appetizers, this quaint establishment is considered ground zero for homegrown singers and musicians. After artist Meiko Sheppard played at the dimly lit club, two of her new songs were featured on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Sheppard is one of a growing number of talented artists utilizing the adults-only hotspot as their launchpad. When hipsters mosey into this shotgun-style bar and restaurant, they know they may end up swaying their bodies and grooving to the next big musical act not yet discovered. On any given night, expect to be entertained either by artists debuting their first album or surprised by such superstars as recording artist John Mayer, who stops by occasionally to exercise his vocal instrument and magical fingers. Club regulars include Sheppard, Javier Dunn, Harper Blynn, Tyler Hilton and the Grammy-winning Cary Brothers.
1822 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Price: $5 to $25, depending on performing artist
Located in the heart of downtown Echo Park, this happening place focuses on up-and-coming singers and touring bands with new music to offer. This double-decker features a club that sits atop a bridge and a larger facility, called Ecoplex, situated below. Both are equipped with full-service bars. An adjacent pizza parlor allows patrons to have food delivered to them at either of the two dance clubs. With a few exceptions, most live shows do not start until around 10 p.m. or as late in the evening as midnight. On other nights, a DJ helps the crowd of mainly young hipsters slide into the jazzy, funky or punked-out mood of the night, based on the scheduled performing artist. Since it was established in 2001, The Echo has amassed tens of thousands of Twitter followers, who are kept abreast constantly of the party place’s ever-changing and packed calendar of events. The best time to experience the fresher sounds of funk and soul is on Saturday night, when the club’s pounding bass system redefines all harmonic motions. Ear drums should prepare for explosions of sound because this place gets so loud the music actually echoes. By far, this happening location, just to the northwest of downtown L.A., is a good choice to hear an array of live music styles because it’s in an area known for promoting new Latin, Cuban and Asian American tunes.
Blue Whale Bar
123 Astronaut E. S. Onizuka St. Suite 301
Los Angeles, CA 90012
If “hipster,” “classy” or “trendy” are three words in a music lover’s mental search engine for a place to discover new music in L.A.’s culturally colorful neck of the woods, this jazz magnet, located in the middle of Little Tokyo, may be the ticket. Since its opening in 2009, this live concert venue has provided a quality platform for quite a few multi-disciplinary performers who are highly credentialed in their chosen fields of entertainment. Live performances are comprised of two sets, starting at 9 p.m. The club offers a dinner menu and full bar. Some of the Blue Whale Bar’s featured musical artists, including Natasha Agrama, have already enjoyed world tours, recorded with Grammy-winning musicians and are signed by record producers. Deemed the best jazz club of its type in 2012 by “LA Weekly,” this comfortably lit spot atop Weller Court chooses its singers and musicians wisely. Today, thanks to a continuance of self expression and the influx of new arrangements, those sweet African and European mixtures have gotten even tastier here. With a delicate decor that paints imagination and memories even on its ceiling, and an acoustics system that rivals large music halls, this is a perfect place to impress any out-of-town visitor, business associate or first date.
The Conga Room
800 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Price: $10 to $25, depending on event
Those into new Latin music will already know about this exquisitely designed and invigorating place located at L.A. Live, the downtown area’s brightest and most enthusiastic entertainment complex. It is an expansive club, just steps from the world-famous Nokia Theatre and the Staples Center. Co-owned by actor Jimmy Smits, comedian Paul Rodriguez, entertainer Jennifer Lopez, percussionist Sheila E. and Grammy winner will.i.am, The Conga Room attracts such leading Cuban and Latin tropical legends as salsa performer Celia Cruz, jazz musician Tito Puente and rock guitarist Carlos Santana. Other accomplished artists that have introduced their new music selections and styles at this trendy spot, include vocalist Gloria Estefan, R&B singer Bobby Brown and pop star Ricky Martin. In the wake of its recent expansion, the venue is now stretched out over more than 15,000 square feet, which allows it to accommodate some 1,800 boisterous celebrants on any given evening. Free salsa classes are available to anyone interested in learning this Afro-Cuban dance style. Its world-class menu offers a multifarious blend of Pan Latin cuisine, influenced by the exotic tastes of the Caribbean, South America and Cuba. A single step inside this elegant structure, with stimulating neon lighting and nouveau design leading the way, is like taking a sensational journey through Latin America, and all of the new music trends this area of the globe generates, including reggaeton, the latest urban form of music.
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Sharon Raiford Bush is an award-winning freelance journalist who covers the glittering nightlife and bustling music scene in Los Angeles, among other topics of social interest. Some of her contributions to the entertainment industry have been archived by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Samples of her unique writing style can be found on Examiner.com.