The COMPASS: Boise, ID

By Robert Lanterman

Boise is my home. I’ve lived here almost my whole life and am immensely proud of it. While smaller than most cities’, the music community and scene here certainly have had their ups and downs, perhaps more than most. But they’ve survived, no doubt, due to the sheer persistence of those here who care.

Recently, we’ve been back through the ringer. From our beloved all-ages venue closing half a decade ago, to the toxicity of music-scene elitism, and then again to more figureheads in our scene being exposed as dangerous people and abusers, we’ve dealt with a lot lately that we wouldn’t like to repeat. We will keep going, though, as we always do, because this is Boise, and enough people care to keep trying when everything seems to have failed.

Here are some of the places keeping Boise’s music scene alive and kicking by supporting independent artists in different ways.

[Note: I will not be talking about Boise’s house venues in this list, but the house show scene has kept us alive when no other all-ages places existed. If you allow shows in your home, thank you — you know who you are.]

The COMPASS is an ongoing series of articles introducing touring musicians to great live music cities from the insider’s perspectives of the artist who call those places home. This series goes hand-in-hand with our free Touring on a Shoestring course to help musicians find success on the road on their own terms!

Boise’s local record store, The Record Exchange, has been nationally recognized time and time again. It’s been featured in Paste Magazine, Consequence of Sound, and now Flypaper! They’ve hosted in-store events by everyone from Anti-Flag to New Transit to Silversun Pickups. Growing up, I bought tons of my favorite records here, and I continue to go there at least once a week in search of new favorites or something rare.

The Record Exchange also sells some great novelty items. Weed socks, Jesus action figures, dirty greeting cards, ironic T-shirts — you name it! They buy used music, so if you need some extra cash and don’t mind getting rid of some older tunes, this is the place to go!

More commonly known as “Doyle’s,” Broadway Music is a locally run guitar shop and music store. Currently, the majority of my guitar gear was made by Doyle himself, and many other local musicians enjoy his guitars as well.

Rumor has it that he used to tour with Simon and Garfunkel, and he’s told me himself that Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan both visited the store. For a long time, he’s serviced Boise as one of the best instrument shops and local manufacturers we have. If you don’t stop by when you come through town, you’re missing out.

Mulligans is a popular bar in downtown Boise, and The Olympic is a venue opened by Mulligans’ owners which sits right above it. It’s not all ages but it is one of the best smaller venues we have.

I’ve played there on many occasions and have seen bands such as Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Copeland, and Big D & The Kids Table there. Free drink tickets, great sound, a small-but-accommodating stage, a welcoming environment — The Olympic is something we’ve needed for quite a while. Even better, you can carry your drinks downstairs into Mulligans without them making a fuss!

Pie Hole. is the local pizza place we take all the touring bands to when they play here. The Chariot and mewithoutYou are among some of the bands I’ve shared some slices with at this establishment. There are two or three nearby, but the one you want to go to is the 8th Street location downtown.

I should add that through touring, I’ve found out that there is a Piehole in Salt Lake City, too, though I believe it originated in Boise. Though I’m not vegetarian, they do have some great specialty options for you and your friends if you are.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “Looking Beyond Local: Taking Your Band to the Next Level”

The Hive specifically caters to local art and helps foster our all-ages community in a much-needed way. They only do shows once or twice a month, but they’re always all ages, and I believe they are free. Their mission is to foster the youth community’s opportunities to start learning how to play music with lessons and workshops, as well as provide practice spaces for bands in need (to rent at a pretty cheap cost/hour). They also have a recording studio for rent. My only complaint is how small the stage is, but that’s a small price to pay for something we desperately need in town.

Pollo El Ray/The Boise All-Ages Movement. As the band Lawn Chairs put it, “We’re playing in a chicken restaurant tonight.” Put together by Eric Gilbert of the Treefort Music Festival and indie-rock group Finn Riggins, it’s currently another response to a lack of all-ages venues in town. This place has only been around for a short time, but it’s a pretty darn good Mexican-food joint, and they’re located smack dab in the middle of all the downtown Boise action.

The Neurolux is a downtown bar next door to the Record Exchange that has hosts some incredible bands. Agent Orange, Hop Along, and mewithoutYou are among just a few of the names I’ve watched at the Neurolux, and it’s always a good time if you’re of age.

When you play there, you’ll receive drink tickets and be greeted by an easy-going staff. It’s definitely a good stop on your next tour if you’re looking to play to a 21+ crowd.

Record World is a newer record store in Boise, and while it doesn’t have the local reputation that the Record Exchange does, it is another vinyl store and the guy who runs it does a good job of serving his customers’ needs.

The biggest appeal of Record World though, besides having a second record store in town, is that their selection is different from Record Exchange’s. Many of the records I’ve seen there aren’t things I’d find at the Record Exchange.

A friend of mine bought an LP that was previously owned by the Boise State University Radio Station. It had hand-written notes on the sleeve and was a special piece of Boise music history. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were similar finds that haven’t been picked out yet!

Marmozets at The Shredder.

The Shredder is a venue that recently went from a 21+ venue to an all-ages space. They have a bar as well, making it the only other venue besides the Boise All Ages Movement I previously mentioned to cater to both the underage and 21+ crowd.

They also have a skate ramp in the back, as well as a giant projector screen inside and some old arcade games. Rumor has it that the owner whooped one of the guys from Taking Back Sunday in Mortal Kombat II, but I am unable to officially comment on this.

An open-mic at The District

The District is a local coffee shop that caters primarily to acoustic artists but has been known to host louder bands as well. It is, however, a family establishment, so cussing is prohibited. But it’s got a big stage and a decent sound system.

Sometimes they host special music events. Jon Foreman from Switchfoot played a secret acoustic show there after his band rocked a bigger venue a couple years ago. Boise’s Treefort Festival usually has bands playing there as well. But before I stop talking about it, I feel that I should mention: The coffee is great!

Boise is a fantastic place with a big heart for local artists. Come hang out and experience it.

Interested in hearing more about the sounds of cities from the artists who love them? Catch up on the full COMPASS series here and check out Touring on a Shoestring if you’re planning your next bunch of road dates! 

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