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Top Five Bay Area Music Venues That Won’t Drain Your Wallet


Cheapest Van Halen tickets for this Summer at the HP Pavilion in San Jose on StubHub: $50. Service and instant download fee for ticket: $14.95. Parking at HP Pavilion: $25. Plastic cup of mediocre light beer: $10. The essential Van Halen 2012 tour shirt: $20.

Right there, you’re looking at $119.95 for a single concert.

Granted, you are getting good bang for your buck with Van Halen (with original lead singer David Lee Roth of all people), but it’s this kind of concert in rough economic times that’s likely to put a sizable dent in your bank account — especially if you have a date in mind.

Staggering concert prices like these have an unfortunate tendency to discourage even the most passionate music geek from regularly attending shows. But fear not, there is hope out there for all ye concert goers! Listed below, you will find some of the most inexpensive and entertaining music venues where you can catch refreshing local Bay Area bands, help the local music scene thrive, and are appropriate enough to take someone to on a date. So keep your wallets from weeping and go put on your dancing shoes!

1. 924 Gilman Street

Operating since New Years Eve 1986, 924 Gilman Street is an all ages, volunteer operated, DIY (do it yourself) music venue set in Northern Berkeley striving to create a positive environment with its principles of “no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no alcohol, no drugs, no fighting, and no stage diving”.

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It has become one of the most renowned DIY music venues around the world, spawning such legendary acts as Green Day, Rancid, and AFI. Not only is the setting intimate and the show prices are cheap (the most expensive shows being between $10-12), but it’s impressive how well organized and well maintained this venue is. Whether it be the small store in the back corner filled with handmade zines and cheap, delicious snacks and drinks for sale, or allowing patrons to get into shows for free for volunteering to help work a particular position for the duration of a show, Gilman has everything on lock

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In addition to shows, they provide other great events such as occasional swap meets and free weekly movie nights (I was there when I saw The Lost Boys for the first time). While it can be easy to be apprehensive of the security crack downs on drinking in the parking lot and stage diving, as well as the yearly $2 membership card each newcomer must purchase to get in, there really is nothing to fear. The hired security is lenient and non-violent compared to large venues and frankly, $2 shouldn’t be a big deal for yearlong access to some of the best punk, metal and alternative shows around. The Bay Area is so lucky to have such an inspiring venue like Gilman. Did I mention Chipotle’s only a few blocks down?

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2 and 3. Bottom of The Hill/Thee Parkside

Now you might be asking yourself “why is this author putting two venues together? Do they both piece themselves together to form into one massive venue like some crazed Transformer hybrid?” As badass as that would be, that isn’t the case, but they are only 4-5 blocks away from each other on the same street in the Potrero Hill district of SF.

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What Bottom of The Hill and Thee Parkside do best is provide you with that big concert experience without the feeling of being completely ripped off. Both places are relatively small and intimate, are equipped with phenomenal sound systems, have local and more well known acts perform, and have stages that don’t make it seem like you’re looking up at Goliath. The main difference is that the main floor at Bottom of the Hill is more spread out compared to the more cramped Thee Parkside, yet Thee Parkside doesn’t have a bouncer like Bottom of the Hill.

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Can’t get better then that, right? Wrong. Each venue contains bars fully equipped for the 21+ crowd with beers ranging from $3 Coors Light to $5 locally brewed Anchor Steam, along with some great drink specials (Thee Parkside has this one called “The Blue Collar Special” giving you a shot of Jim Beam whiskey and a cup of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $6!). If you’re not legally able to take advantage of the bar, there’s always the fully stocked kitchens complete with sandwiches, appetizers, burgers, and sodas. And here’s the kicker: a good portion of each venues’ shows are all ages, even with fully furnished bars! You can’t ask for much more than what Bottom of the Hill and Thee Parkside have to offer.

4. 1-2-3-4 Go! Records

Conveniently situated within walking distance from the MacArthur BART station and on the borders of Berkeley and Oakland, the first thing you’ll wonder when you walk in is “how in the hell is this place able to have shows within it?” It’s literally large enough that a band would take up half the shop and have room left for ten, maybe twenty people if you pack them in like sardines. Then you realize how silly you are as you make your way to the back wall of the shop and discover that there’s actually a back room with a tiny stage and a PA system that can fit between 50-100 people, maybe more.

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1-2-3-4 Go! Records is a shining example of what more record stores should try to do; actually provide a helping hand within their local music scene. 1-2-3-4 Go! Records began as a record label in August 2001, and they’ve since released over 50 albums and counting (many of which have included Bay Area bands). The record store itself opened in March 2008 and began holding local shows within the last year or so. The latest move that 1-2-3-4 Go! made was to start an annual event running on Memorial Day Weekend called The Go!Go! which will  showcase up and coming/prominent Bay Area bands, as well as renowned bands from around the country and the world.

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The store itself primarily carries punk and indie rock vinyl records, but has a scattering of all kinds of genres. The great thing about this place is that you can go to shop through a great selection of cheap punk vinyl, right afterward see a cheap show ($5-8) with talented local bands from 7-10 PM, with plenty of time to catch a BART train or get back home early enough to catch a decent night’s sleep before work the next day. Support this record store/label/venue!

5. Submission

Formerly known as The Balazo Gallery, this tile-laden, all-ages music venue is tucked right in the heart of the Mission District in San Francisco and is only a few blocks’ walk from the 16th Street and Mission BART station. In addition to shows, this gallery also has open improv on Tuesday nights, art shows from local artists, and dance nights.

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While the shows are more infrequent here compared to other venues and the neighborhood is a bit farther on the sketchier side (though you should be fine with a group of friends), it’s still a prime spot to catch an all ages show that is $10 or under and grab a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon for like $2 at their little bar inside.

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While the body heat from everyone moving and dancing around during the larger shows can make the air unbearable and the tile very slippery, there’s a fortunately a little yard/porch area in the back where you can catch some relatively fresh air, cool down, drink a beer, and smoke a cig or two. To make it an essential part of visiting The Mission, hit up El Cancun a couple blocks down near 20th street before or after a show for easily some of the best burritos and nachos you will ever happen across. You can thank me for it later.

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