North Texas doesn't often get credit for its vibrant music scene. DFW offers a wide range of entertainment, from staggeringly large events to small, intimate shows. The modern scene builds on a deeply rooted but often tumultuous history, with nightlife districts buffeted by boom and bust cycles. These days, the options are expanding and the venues are out there, ready to be explored.
American Airlines Center
Home to the Dallas Mavericks and Stars by day (well, and by night), on the right night American Airlines Center is the biggest indoor concert venue within Dallas city limits. The 18,000-capacity arena plays host to the likes of Lady Gaga and Paul McCartney, and when you're real lucky they'll stick around more than one night – like Garth Brooks did in 2015 when he played seven shows in five nights.
Jerry Jones' suburban football palace moonlights on occasion as the biggest concert venue in all of Texas. In fact, the George Strait concert in 2014 – the finale to his last-ever tour – set a world record with 104,000 attendees. By its nature, it's not the ideal location for a concert, but its size lends it a rarefied air, given that only an elite few can fill the place.
The World's Biggest Honky Tonk is a veritable institution, the quintessential Forth Worth concert experience. Situated in the Stockyards, Billy Bob's feels like a truck stop on steroids, complete with game machine, a mechanical bull and an overload of neon signs. But it's also sacred ground for country music; you're not a true North Texan until you've seen Willie Nelson here.
Revived in 2015 after two decades without a concert, The Bomb Factory has quickly become the crown jewel of Deep Ellum. Lavishly presented with a top-notch sound and lighting system, this is a different breed of club. It's also the perfect representative of Deep Ellum's new era: an old favorite with a new, and much improved, look.
Lost in the darkest days of Deep Ellum's mid-2000s collapse, Club Dada returned as one of the neighborhood's pillars in 2011, after being at the center of the neighborhood's rise in the '80s. Indoor shows are typically raucous (watch out for the bathrooms though), but the true key to Dada's mystique is that it has the best patio in DFW to catch live music. It's a can't-miss experience.
If you want to know what all the fuss is about up in Denton, look no further than Dan's. This is the best-sounding room in the hallowed college town to the north, which explains why it was the longtime stomping grounds for the likes of Centro-matic and Brent Best. With a new-and-improved patio, it's easy – a little too easy – to lose a whole night at Dan's.
No one's going to tell you that Gexa is their favorite venue in DFW, but for any regular concert-goer it's unavoidable. Essentially a big concrete oven in the summertime – which, cruelly, is peak season for the venue formerly known as Starplex – shows here can be a marathon of stamina, but it's a necessary evil to catch an artist like the Dixie Chicks when they decide to go outdoors rather than to American Airlines Center.
Historically a movie theater, this Lower Greenville mainstay only started hosting live music when the current ownership took over in 2004. But as the all-local and slightly hippyish (the "Love Yourself" sign above the stage is no joke) alternative to House of Blues, it fills a vital niche in a neighborhood with a once-proud musical presence. With the adjoining Sundown restaurant, the Granada is a perfect spot to do a dinner-and-a-concert combo.
Oak Cliff ain't the hood, in spite of what certain fringe-boot-wearing ladies might say, and if you want to know just what the west side of Dallas has going for it, look no further than this gem. Once owned by country legend Gene Autry, the Kessler laid dormant for 30 years before it was resuscitated in 2009. With its small, 400-cap room, it specializes in intimate, one-of-a-kind shows with the best sound you'll find in town – and possibly the state.
Of the many historical theaters in downtown Dallas, only one makes it a regular habit of hosting popular music concerts, and that's the Majestic. With its ornate decor, including a gorgeous chandelier hanging in the entryway, the Majestic reeks of class – which is why it's fun to sit in a seat and sip a cocktail while Morrissey wails away onstage. But there's no stuffiness here, simply good taste.
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Rising from the ashes of the former La Grange in 2013, Three Links is Deep Ellum to its core. The name stems from its three-headed ownership, including longtime talent buyers Scott Beggs and Kris Youmans, plus Elm St. Tattoo owner Oliver Peck. Doubling as the homebase for the Elm St. Tattoo Fest, Links is the new spiritual home for all things punk – with a great patio that connects with Fuzzy's Tacos thrown in for good measure.
Infamous as the spot where Kurt Cobain got his ass kicked in Dallas, Trees has had a checkered history at times, but ever since its return in the 2000s it's been a driving force in Deep Ellum's revival. Notable for its real, live trees (er, well, wooden pillars shaped like trees), it's a mostly no-frills place that has moved more and more toward booking local acts and hip-hop. Sell out a show at Trees and you'll know you've made it.
2709 Elm St., Dallas, treesdallas.com