Appetite For Discovery: Pollstar Staff’s Favorite Shows Of The Year

Jaimie Branch and Angel Bat Dawid
Katie Glicksberg
– Jaimie Branch and Angel Bat Dawid
make glorious live sounds at IRL, an art gallery and performance space in Brooklyn on July 27-28.
Tower Porchfest
April 17, 2021
Fresno, California
With California’s reopening months away and mass events still shut down, Fresno found a way to safely bring live music to the city’s arts-centric Tower district by turning neighbors’ porches into makeshift venues. Tower PorchFest featured more than 45 performances on over 30 porches from local musicians playing a range of genres. One porch hosted rock ’n’ roll from The Squids Family Band, Broadway tunes from Lilly Love and classical music from the duo of Larry Gardner & Nancy Wallace, along with folk singer Matthew Hunt and collegiate jazz ensemble The Benjamin Nicholas Trio. The event was a celebration of live music and community, with attendees  encouraged to support local restaurants in between performances and “bike, walk, skip or run to get from porch to porch.”  – Sarah Pittman 
Alex Bevan
June 24, 2021
Wakeman, Ohio
Five miles west of Oberlin, near the Vermillion River, Riverdog is a lush emerald green pasture that hosts what could be called “fairy field concerts.” In these times of feeling lost or untethered, few things are as anchoring as Cleveland folk icon Alex Bevan and his well-worn Taylor 314. An intricate picker, a cartographer of the heart’s four chambers, he weaves tenderness and humor, social commentary and true love. For one night, time melted – innocence merged with memories as the man who’d traveled with Steve Goodman and opened for Odetta cast spells that made the world go away. – Holly Gleason
Zeds Dead
July 2-3, 2021
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, Colo.
Few venues in the United States are quite as stunning as Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo. Settled within the Rocky Mountains and overlooking the Denver skyline, the atmosphere of the venue is unbeatable. Bringing along their entire Deadbeats record label for two days of heavy bass and stunning views, Zeds Dead marked their long-awaited return to live music over the Fourth of July weekend. Trekking in from all across the country, those in the crowd danced the night away with the wonder that live music had finally returned. – Ariel King 
Octo Octa b2b Eris Drew
July 4, 2021
Knockdown Center
Maspeth, Queens
As spring gave way to summer and vaccinations became readily available, a three-word phrase was all the rage: “Hot Vax Summer.” Concerts in May, June and July, before the Delta variant complicated the live industry’s return, were bonafide ragers, including Octo Octa and Eris Drew’s all-day Fourth of July b2b blowout at Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens. For seven hours, the DJs threw down a glorious melange of house, techno, disco and more, ending shortly after nightfall – just in time for attendees to see fireworks exploding over the New York skyline. – Eric Renner Brown
Angel Bat Dawid & 
Jaimie Branch & Friends
July 27-28, 2021
Brooklyn, NY
While the Rolling Stones at SoFi and Harry Styles at The Forum were jubilant jolts of mass joy; and smaller club shows by Chicago’s post-rock band FACS at Teragram and Laura Marling’s exquisite set at the Troubadour were as ebullient; the show that blew everything else away was Angel Bat Dawid & Jaimie Branch & Friends playing an epic stew of jazz, soul, electronic and gospel at IRL, a gallery/music space in Brooklyn. There, a morphing gaggle of ace players used every inch of the venue to improvise, connect and thrill for hours on end. Though, really, it’s all glorious apples and oranges. – Andy Gensler
Sept. 18, 2021
Füssen, Germany
Germany is still pretty much locked down when it comes to live events. One of the only shows I had the pleasure of catching in 2021 was at an open-air event in September dubbed “Ein Teil vom Ganzen” festival: local bands on stage at Magnus Park, a former hemp factory in Füssen. Two food trucks, beer benches for seating. The band that impressed me most was Father with their laid-back pop rock and contemplative lyrics. Bliss. – Gideon Gottfried
Oct. 8, 2021 
Aftershock Festival
Sacramento, Calif.
Finally getting to play its two-night headlining sets at Danny Wimmer Presents’ 2021 rock festivals, Metallica reminded the 40,000 in attendance why the metal gods deserve their own category when talking about rock music. Doing a refreshingly sonically stripped-down set with top-notch guitar crunch and crystal-clear vocals despite the sprawling outdoor site, Metallica ran through classics like “Ride The Lightning” and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” at a frenetic pace, ending with a predictably epic “Master Of Puppets,” complete with pyrotechnics flair and thunderous applause.  – Ryan Borba
Grand Ole Opry
Nov. 27, 2021
Grand Ole Opry House
Nashville, Tenn. 
Being a longtime fan of vintage old-time country music, the weekly Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville on Thanksgiving weekend was my ideal “first concert” since the pandemic. And it did not disappoint. Always with a stellar balance between old and new, the lineup included “Whispering” Bill Anderson and Jeannie Seely, both Opry members for over half a century, along with awesome bluegrass by Grammy Award-winner The SteelDrivers. A final set by Riders In The Sky capped a delightful evening! – Bob Allen