Best Small Music Venues in L.A., According to L.A. Artists (Vol. III)

Indie rocker on the rise Annabel Lee shares why she loves to play and hang at the Echo, while rock band Westerner and indie pop act Prinze George praise the Resident in DTLA for a cool vibe and even better sound.

Summer has arrived, and Los Angeles is one of the best cities in America to enjoy the season. Soak in the sunshine on the beach, and then howl at the moon with the stars of tomorrow, prowling and performing in the booming local music scene.

The last volume of LAMag’s Best Small Music Venues in L.A., According to L.A. Artists featured the Hotel Cafe and the Moroccan Lounge, recommended by indie music maven Ari Herstand. But he also pointed fans and musicians, alike, to the Echo and the Resident, where the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business says “the real magic happens.” 

In addition to awesome DJ dance parties at these spots, you’ll find artists who are singing their hearts out, in genres across the spectrum, so check their calendars—or just show up—when you’re planning a summer night with your friends these next few months.

The Echo + Echoplex

Photo courtesy of the Echo

Located on Sunset Blvd. on the East Side of Los Angeles, this Echo Park neighborhood staple has been hosting awesome artists and connecting people through music for two decades, racking up no shortage of press accolades in the process. But I care about what artists themselves think, and it wasn’t hard to find talent lining up to sing a sweet song about their experience playing or hanging out at this beloved establishment.

“I absolutely love the Echo,” alt-pop artist Astrina tells me. “I always know whoever I see there is going to put on a good show. Not only do they showcase well known acts, but they also give up-and-coming acts the opportunity to play on a great stage with a great reputation.”

Photo courtesy of Astrina

Why the immensely positive reputation? “The sound is amazing, and it’s just the right size in my opinion,” she continues. “It feels intimate while still having room for a sizable crowd.”

Like many artists swimming through LA’s eclectic indie music scene, she says playing the venue with her band was “always a goal,” and looking back at achieving that goal in 2019, she called the experience “a highlight of my music career, so far.” Astrina has dazzled audiences with a dreamy, ethereal rock sound at most venues around this city, and recently released sophomore album Big Dreams. From what I can tell and what I’ve heard, she’s well on her way to realizing those.

Women in rock are on the rise in this city, and I caught another awesome alternative voice, Annabel Lee, tearing up the stage at this venue last month. “We’d been wanting to play the Echo for a while now,” she tells me after a sweaty, loud, and raw rock show with Cheers Elephant. “I had gone to a fair amount of shows there and also funky soul to dance when they had those nights. It feels like a very classic rock n roll venue—one of the few staples in LA that still feels like that. Not to mention, the bass on that stage was so fat that I felt it in my pelvic floor.”

She’s not exaggerating about that bass, either. It felt good, almost as good as the warm and fuzzies I felt when Water Tower frontman Kenny Feinstein shared, from the bottom of his heart, why he loves this space. “The Echo is my favorite place to catch both rising stars and established artists. It also is the place where everyone comes together,” he tells me.

“You may be watching a new band standing next to a worldwide star, and you may be watching a legendary act, while standing alongside the next big thing,” he says. “There is a vibe at the Echo. The feeling that we are all in this together for the music. The feeling that we could create an unforgettable night together.”

When Water Tower isn’t touring, the alt-country bluegrass act is among the LA-based Americana artists hanging out here every Sunday at Grand Ole Echo, the heart of the country music scene in the City of Angels. Feinstein also hosts Hillbilly Hype House, a relaxed and fun showcase every third Sunday of the month at nearby Silverlake Lounge, which indie rock darling Lauren Ruth Ward told me was one of her favorite small music venues in the city in the first volume of this monthly feature.

The ongoing pandemic has been hard on everyone, and music venues are no exception. When I caught up with Grand Canyon frontman Casey Shea—whose voice and songwriting is reminiscent of the late, great Tom Petty—he told me most of his favorite venues shut down. But the Echo’s doors are still open, and Shea describes it as “a perfect rock club.”

“You would think that LA would have lots of rooms in that 200-350 capacity with a proper stage and sound system where national touring acts and local bands alike can come to get loud. But with the closing of rooms like the Bootleg Theater and the Satellite during Covid, the Echo is one of the last standing,” he says. “We saw Spoon there a few months back just before mask mandates were lifted, and the room was filled with power. It was such a joy to be hanging out with friends in a great club, having a drink and watching a great band—something we’d been denied for over two years. It filled me with hope and excitement that someday soon, we’ll get to take that stage again.”

Resident DTLA

Hembree at Resident DTLA. Photo by Will Komas.

Photo by Will Komas, Courtesy of Hembree

Beer gardens make everything better, and it’s one of the most attractive features of this popular music venue, tucked in downtown LA’s Arts District. Complete with fire pits and plenty of outdoor seating surrounding a bar inside a vintage airstream, it’s one of the best places to hang in the city without a roof over your head.

But the main attraction is always the artists rocking inside, like psychedelic rock act Westerner, who played here last month. “The Resident is no joke,” frontman Cooper Bombadil tells me. “They’re obviously making moves to be a top venue.Great sound, elevated vibes, hip crowd, super comfortable green room, and the parking lot doesn’t hurt either.”

Westerner at Resident DTLA. Photo by Jeanna Fournier/Coconut Spaceship

Parking…in downtown Los Angeles? Another perk to keep in mind when you’re picking your next night out. But for artists, it’s all about the sound quality. After weeks spent hustling to sell tickets and rehearse a perfect set list, sound is essential to finally delivering the divine performance they’ve been dreaming of. And according to Prinze George, this venue’s got you covered in that department. “The coolest part of playing the Resident was the sound guy, Crash,” the indie pop band tells me. “We have a lot going on live; we’re a 4 piece with like 6 DI’s, backing tracks, drums, live bass, synthesizers, guitar and two vocals. It took awhile to get everything sounding right during soundcheck, but he was calm, sweet and a total pro. He killed it personally and professionally and the sound system is great.”

Courtesy of Resident DTLA

“The other awesome thing about the Resident is the outdoor space,” they add. “We love an airstream and they have a really cool airstream with a jungle vibe out back. It’s an intimate space, but the outdoor setup makes it feel expansive and fun.”

Indie rock band ​​Hembree was also impressed with both the audio engineering and outdoor vibe when they held their album release show here last month. “The venue went out of their way to take care of us, and it was a fantastic night,” says frontman Isaac Flynn. “The production level for the size of the room is top notch, and if you need to step out of the venue for a second, the patio is an incredibly cool spot to grab a drink.”

Saturdays are for dancing at this establishment, and this weekend is all about Pride, but next week, live music returns on Tuesday when NPR Music takes over, with Alisa Amador headlining Tiny Desk Contest On The Road Tour.

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