The Best Big Rooms in America
20: Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa
The Surf is written into rock history for one reason: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played here on February 2nd, 1959, before the three young rock stars boarded a plane and crashed in a nearby cornfield. Many live-music theatres are older than this no-frills 1934 dancehall with a wooden floor surrounded by Fifties-style diner booths and (for some reason) palm trees. But few other clubs have booked rock & roll since the beginning, from the Everly Brothers and Little Richard to Santana and Lynyrd Skynyrd to, today, Willie Nelson and Cheap Trick. The plain-looking brick building with the rickety old marquee received landmark status from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
Fun Fact: Dion DiMucci won a coin toss in 1959 to join the others on the doomed plane, but the price was $36 – too high. He gave his seat to Valens, who said, "Thanks."
19: Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia
Long before Death Cab for Cutie and Toots and the Maytals were playing the main stage, the Troc's biggest stars were burlesque heroines such as Blaze Starr and Gypsy Rose Lee. The rock club in Philly's Chinatown district opened in 1880 as a vaudeville-and-minstrel-show outpost known as the Arch Street Opera House; its live-music incarnation began a century later. The club has persevered through financial trouble in recent years – its operators filed for bankruptcy in 2011, and blamed Ticketmaster, citing "burdensome" convenience charges.