Best Record Store Stage

At Good Records, music is always playing, and every day is record store day. But some days also include live musical performances. The Lower Greenville Avenue record store's pink AstroTurf stage, no larger than a midsize kitchen, plays host to national touring acts and local bands alike. A far cry from neighboring music venues' gigs, the Live from the AstroTurf shows offer intimate performances alongside a great selection of vinyl records, CDs, cassette tapes, DVDs and more. Typically, after their sets, the performers hang out near the stage for a bit to chat with the audience, which offers fans the chance to meet and rub elbows with (and often get autographs from) the likes of Alice Cooper and Steve Earle, as well as indie acts such as Matthew Sweet and No Age.

The times, they are a (not really) changing. The past year goose-stepped us further into protest for both sides of the law — especially within the black community. And a T-shirt that spells out "Legalize Being Black" began populating Dallas in 2016, worn by artists and activists alike. Designed by Stem & Thorn owner Jeremy Biggers, the shirt, simple with white letters on black, is a response to modern racism. It's become synonymous with spreading the straightforward idea of equality at a time when it is seemingly nonexistent. Biggers' printed statement is uncomplicated but bold and represents the best of Dallas.

In April, Josey Records drew attention when it announced a book club that didn't involve reading any books. But Hip-Hop Book Club has proven with its monthly discussions of seminal rap albums that reading need not be the defining feature of book clubs. Instead, it's the willingness to dig deeply into a topic and share your thoughts with enthusiastic strangers. Each month, Josey picks a new album and hosts an open forum to discuss what does or doesn't make it a classic, and dozens turn out to participate. Albums discussed so far include Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, Outkast's Aquemini and Kanye West's The College Dropout. Four friends were inspired to found the club by their passionate text message conversations. Kenny Reeves, Terrance Lee, Attah "A.T." Essien and Sobechi "Sobe" Ibekwe lead the conversation, which is organized into four categories: influence, visuals, production and lyrics. Attendees are invited to approach the mic and share their opinions. When the conversation is over, a vinyl copy of the album under discussion isn't far away.

Best Live Music Venue

Jeffrey Brown has made magic at Armoury D.E. this year with his free Saturday night series, Locked and Loaded. Under the name King Camel, Brown has booked many shows at venues like Crown & Harp and Three Links over the past few years, but he's the first person to helm Armoury's new music program, and he's really made it his baby. Under his guidance, the bar/restaurant has also become a place where up-and-coming local bands like Polystarra and buzzy national acts like A Giant Dog get often promised but rarely delivered exposure. The well-heeled patrons who come for the food and drink are a distinct group from the bohemian music-lovers who show up for what's on the patio. The beauty is that the two groups spontaneously and peacefully mingle. Lots of people now leave Armoury having experienced something they otherwise wouldn't have — and that's pretty cool.

Readers' Pick: The Bomb Factory

Best New Venue

Last year, Independent Bar & Kitchen blended into the landscape of Deep Ellum. The bar and restaurant, opened by the owners of Club Dada and Off the Record in spring 2016, fit right in with the evolving neighborhood's penchant for upscale comfort food, but until this year it had failed to truly differentiate itself. That's when former Dada talent buyer Moody Fuqua was given reign over the back room, renamed Regal Room, on Wednesday nights. Each week, Fuqua curates a free lineup of some of the best new bands in town, from Starfruit to Talkie Walkie to Mother 2. Since Regal Room got off the ground, IBK has been attracting a noticeably more diverse clientele that no doubt appreciates the opportunity to hear some free music midweek, the only time parking in Deep Ellum isn't an Olympic sport.

Best Phoenix

There hasn't been any boot-scooting at the Longhorn Ballroom, built in 1950, in nearly a decade. In the '50s and '60s, it was a regular stop for country stars such as Bob Wills and R&B singers Otis Redding and Al Green; in the '70s it went on to host more rowdy shows by punk acts such as the Sex Pistols. But after it was sold in '86, the Longhorn Ballroom lost its luster — and its draw. In recent years, it has been an event space primarily used for quinceañeras. But this year, entrepreneur Jay LaFrance bought the property, and he's dead set on restoring this piece of Dallas history to its former glory. Another bidder was going to tear down the Longhorn Ballroom for an apartment complex, but LaFrance is fixing up the Western murals, hanging the original lighted sign.With the help of his music publicist daughter, Amber, LaFrance is planning retail space, a restaurant and an outdoor space that will open onto the Trinity River this month.

Best Dive Bar

The first handful of times we passed King's X, in a shopping center near Forest Lane and Greenville Avenue, we were fairly certain it was a strip club. The windows are mirrored, so it's impossible to see in. One day, after visiting the excellent Ethiopian restaurant next door, our curiosity compelled us to go in. It's not a gentleman's club at all, but one of the most inviting bars in all of Dallas. King's X is a '70s paradise: The walls are wood-paneled, the ceilings are covered with Budweiser lamps, there's shuffleboard and pool, there are dishes of snacks on the bar and the lighting is low, low, low. On our visit there were five or six other patrons, and the charming bartender was amusing everyone with a story of an affair she'd had in Jamaica. On our way out, we received the traditional "Y'all come back now," but this time it was everyone in the bar in unison. At King's X, you're a regular after one visit.

Readers' Pick: Lakewood Landing

On the spectrum of karaoke experiences, a night out at Barb's in Oak Cliff, which has karaoke Thursdays and Saturdays, falls somewhere between getting onstage in front of hundreds at Sherlock's and booking a private room in Korea Town. The former is too much pressure, and there's not much point in intentionally embarrassing yourself in front of friends who are already bound to love you. Barb's is technically a gay bar, but the only universal descriptors for its karaoke clientele are laid back and supportive. The drinks are strong and there are bags of chips hanging behind the bar if singing Adele, Fleetwood Mac and the Beatles makes you a bit peckish. Speaking of which, the song choices tend to be pretty inoffensive here. Your ears might bleed a bit, as they should at any karaoke night, but it won't be due to a cover of Papa Roach.

Readers' Pick: Twilite Lounge

Best Bar That Said Goodbye

In the last decade, Greenville Avenue has sacrificed its reputation as a live music strip to cater to the brunch and artisanal Popsicle crowd. That's well and good, but we were still sad to see the street's last great music venue, Crown & Harp, hand over its keys in May. The two-story bar venue got its start in '97 as The Cavern and rebranded as The Crown & Harp in 2011, when it further embraced its British pub aesthetic. Throughout its two-decade tenure, the upstairs was one of the best spots in Dallas to dance during DJ nights and the downstairs was an equally great spot to see a rock show. The small stage, booth area and even the fish tank in back created a cozy house party feel. If even 10 people showed up to see a band, the layout made it feel like a rager.

Best Save

There are only a few acceptable reasons to end a show early, but your keyboard catching on fire is definitely one of them. In May, Medicine Man Revival proved it has a crazy work ethic when that happened mid-song at Independent Bar & Kitchen, and the group finished out the show. The 1974 Rhodes had been in storage and unplayed for 30 years, which resulted in some undetected loose ground wiring. During the climax of the band's set, "Bittersweet," the keyboard began smoking and then went up in flames. A nearby photographer unplugged the equipment while also capturing the event on video, making room for the band's manager to come in and douse the keyboard with a fire extinguisher. Many attendees evacuated because of the smoke filling up the room, but just as many kept right on dancing — the keyboardist included. He kept playing the Rhodes until someone carted it off and brought him a new instrument.

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