Top 10 Music Venues in 10 American Cities
The electricity in the air. The roar of the crowd. The people sharing the experience. And the physical structure making it all possible. A good concert can happen almost anywhere--but truly memorable performance requires one key ingredient: the perfect venue. Vivid Seats and Consequence of Sound teamed up to celebrate the music venues that have created countless memories for fans in some of the biggest concert-loving cities in America.
The electricity in the air. The roar of the crowd. The people sharing the experience. And the physical structure making it all possible. A good concert can happen almost anywhere--but truly memorable performance requires one key ingredient: the perfect venue. Vivid Seats and Consequence of Sound teamed up to celebrate the music venues that have created countless memories for fans in some of the biggest concert-loving cities in America.
Vivid Seats/Consequence of Sound Top 10 Music Venues in 10 American Cities
The 10 Best Music Venues in Atlanta - Isabella Gomez
Concert venues are the birthplace of a plethora of emotional attachments -- to a band you saw, to the people you went with, to the t-shirt you bought, and more times than not, to the venue itself. They encapsulate a show into a perfect memory that you carry with you, details of which you probably don’t forget even when the setlist fades or the opening act starts becoming fuzzy in your mind. In Atlanta, a city known for its robust music scene rooted in everything from hip-hop and punk to jazz and Southern rock, there is never a shortage of places to catch a show. Obviously, not all venues are created equal (that’s what makes them so fun in the first place), but whether you’re looking for a tiny dive bar or an elegant moonlit dinner and a show, these are 10 venues that are always worth stopping by.
Tucked inside MJQ Concourse on Ponce De Leon Ave., The Drunken Unicorn is literally underground and often hosts bands to match. It’s a fun and intimate venue that is super well-located and, with low cover charges, is always worth a visit. Don’t expect to get cell service -- you could probably use the time away from your phone anyway -- and definitely bring cash if you plan to buy drinks. Nicely enough, the bar is in a separate room inside MJQ and can be a great place to take a break if you’re waiting for a particular band to take the stage.
This one is a bit of a drive from downtown, but still qualifies as an ITP (inside the perimeter) venue. The outdoor amphitheater, most commonly known as Chastain for the expansive park that it’s located in, first opened in 1944 and has hosted everyone from Frank Sinatra to Mary J. Blige to Gipsy Kings throughout its history. A special treat on summer nights, many of this Buckhead venue’s shows permit outside food and beverage for a full-picnic experience under the stars (or a fancy table setup if you’re splurging for the pit and orchestra sections).
Also located in East Atlanta Village, 529 is like The EARL’s little sister. The smoky dive bar and small venue space hosts local acts and touring bands six days a week and is a perfectly cozy spot for grabbing a drink and listening to something new. The outdoor patio offers a nice break from the sweaty performance area, but isn’t that the whole point of a tiny, personal venue? Shows are always 21+ and don’t get rolling until later in the night.
07. The Masquerade
This Atlanta staple is sadly no longer based out of the historic Excelsior Mill on North Avenue -- where bands like Nirvana, The Cranberries, and The Flaming Lips rolled through -- but it’s still a core part of the city’s music scene. Now operating out of Underground Atlanta, The Masquerade continues to bring a wide variety of high-quality programming to its three stages: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. The venue may have lost its battle against Atlanta’s gentrification machine, but it’s still one of the best places to catch a general admission show in the city.
06. The Fox Theatre
Truly a classic, The Fox Theatre dazzles every single time. The 4,665-seat venue started out as the epicenter of Atlanta’s Shriner organization but quickly transitioned to the hands of William Fox, who turned it into a whimsical “movie palace” before losing ownership in 1932. Today, you can admire its intricate interiors and famed star-studded ceiling, which emulates a sparkling night sky, while listening to anyone from Vampire Weekend to Brian Wilson and Christina Aguilera. It was also notably the location of Prince’s last show.
05. Gallery 992
Gallery 992 is a special kind of place. Located in Atlanta’s historic West Side, it was founded by Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Kebbi Williams as part of a larger project to promote music, art, and performance education as an uplifting community experience. The venue functions as a multi-purpose space, also serving coffee, tea, and drinks and often featuring food from a local business. It’s a small yet welcoming arena for expression and exploration and hosts the best Sunday night jazz jam in town.
04. The EARL
An East Atlanta Village icon, The EARL, which stands for East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge, is known as one of the best places to both get a burger and catch a show in the city. Founded in 1999, the front of the house is a restaurant and bar, and the venue is in the back. The bar itself is made from a tree that fell on the venue during construction, and the venue’s lineups range from local acts to well-known touring bands. Cat Power, My Morning Jacket, and Deerhunter are just some of the artists to have graced The EARL’s stage over the years. Its Yelp reviews are equal parts praise for the house hamburger (which many call the best in Atlanta) and nods at the venue.
03. Terminal West
Originally a 20th century plow factory, Terminal West is the resident venue of the King Plow Arts Center in West Midtown. It retained its industrial architecture along with modern touches and has lots of comfortable standing room for any of its shows, which range from Big Boi to The Killers to Zeds Dead. The in-house cafe, named Stationside for the venue’s proximity to the railroad tracks, also sells delicious snacks (the black bean empanadas are killer) with TV screens broadcasting the stage so you don’t miss anything. Bonus: Once a year, T-West teams up with OuterSpace Project to throw a dope block party called “The Big Bang” that combines music, street art, skateboarding, live art installations and more.
02. The Tabernacle
Situated in the heart of downtown Atlanta, The Tabernacle is probably the most famous venue in the city. It opened in 1910 as both a Baptist church and medical center and had over 4,000 members through its peak in the 1950s. It was eventually converted into a House of Blues club for the 1996 Olympics and has remained a music venue since then, currently operated by Live Nation. Whether you’re down on the floor (which once started cracking during a Panic! At the Disco Show) or seated in one of the balconies, the perfectly preserved neoclassical interior makes any concert experience at The Tabernacle as sacred as Sunday Mass.
Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood is known for its funky vintage shops, independent record stores, and gritty bars, so it makes sense that it’s also home to the best concert venue in town. Initially constructed in 1940 as a movie theater, Variety Playhouse has a perfect mix of seating and standing room on both the first floor and the second-level balcony, plus a lowered pit area right by the stage. Over the years, it’s hosted everyone from Phish to Gnarls Barkley to Tank and the Bangas.The venue underwent renovations in 2016 and came out better than ever with a full bar on each floor, a food joint called DAS BBQ, and plenty of draft beer options. Since most of its shows are general admission, you can easily move from space to space while enjoying the intimate feel of the venue -- any place you hang out feels like the best seat in the house.
The 10 Best Music Venues in Austin - Brice Ezell
In 2018, it’s easy to complain about what Austin is becoming. The once-small state capital, now a traffic-burdened, overcrowded tech hub. The once “weird” city, now a hip destination where tourists and California expats flood downtown on a weekly basis. As the influx of capital and gentrification remold Austin into a bustling metropolis quite unlike its former self, certain things can and do get lost. Low-income neighborhoods face hiking rents, unique local spots are forced to give way to major chains, and in the “Live Music Capital of the Country,” music venues face tighter competition than ever to stay afloat. Luckily, even with competition from music-rich cities across the United States, Austin continues to credibly own its status as a premier musical destination. One thing that hasn’t changed in the past 10 years is the ability for locals and tourists to flock to a variety of music venues, spanning small honky-tonks to arenas capable of hosting any musical superstar.
Music venues, like breakfast tacos, spur constant debate in Austin. There is no uniform answer to “the best music venue in Austin” that will please everyone and not just because Austinites often take firm stances on the venues to which they are devoted. Not everyone wants the same musical experience when they go to a live show: Some are happy to slog through long lines and parking garage traffic for big artists while others prefer smaller, intimate venues, even if that means being sandwiched between people recording the concert on their cell phones. Whatever your preference may be, know that the list below reflects the Austin music landscape as it exists at this moment, and this moment will almost inevitably give way to a different one. But, for the time being, these 10 venues reflect the wide range of musical performance that can be experienced in Austin.
Cheap drinks and proximity to campus make The Hole in the Wall a popular spot for students at the University of Texas, but this little dive isn’t just for undergrads. If you sit through one of the many sets The Hole hosts from local artists on one of the two intimate stages, a Shiner in hand, you can easily find yourself catching Dazed and Confused vibes. The entire place gives off the vibes of what Austin once was, before it was cool and back when it was fully weird.
09. Cactus Café
Speaking of UT campus venues, the Cactus Café doesn’t look like much when you walk into it, a small rectangular room housed in UT’s Student Union Building. But when you look at the many posters just outside the interior entrance to the venue – advertising sets by Bob Dylan, Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt – it becomes clear that this small room has and continues to host greatness. Tickets are almost always cheap, and the simple wood tables that fill the room are worn-in and comfortable, perfect for a cozy and inviting performance environment.
The locals typically select one of these two saloons as their go-to for line dancing and live country music, and there are plenty of arguments you’ll hear about which one is the best. I include both on this list to highlight Austin’s continued investment in the honky-tonk, a kind of space that feels like a relic of a time gone by. People hit up these hotspots for more than just music: A night at either of them means drinking, dancing, and maybe spotting a famously reclusive Austin filmmaker. But the music is crucial to the honky-tonk experience, and both The Broken Spoke and The White Horse excel at hosting traditional music and dancing for Austinites who like a twangy night out.
Once you walk under Antone’s marquee smack dab in the middle of downtown, you’ll find yourself in a small, T-shaped space, where nearly every spot affords a good view of the stage. Billed as “Austin’s Home of the Blues,” with greats like Stevie Ray Vaughan once gracing its stage, Antone’s actually hosts musical artists of all stripes. Yet, if one wants to know a consistently great hub for blues and soul music, hop past the crowds of Sixth Street and go one block over to this Austin essential.
Just down the street from the enormous Texas State Capitol – the largest in the United States – and inconspicuously nestled in a below-ground space lies The Elephant Room, one of the few jazz clubs in Austin. The Elephant Room keeps a steady roster of performers rotating on its stage, and on most days of the week, there isn’t even a cover to get in. Aesthetically, this space evokes a vintage New York jazz club, but its Congress Street location and frequent performances by local acts makes it feel like an Austin original, which it is.
With an on-and-off campus venue already represented on this list, the University of Texas does a fantastic job of representing the city’s musical reputation, both to its population of 50,000 students and to the broader public. In contrast to the smaller Cactus Café -- which emphasizes country, folk, and singer-songwriter fare – Bass Concert Hall’s spacious environs and 3,000 seats make it a popular spot for performers of all stripes to work their magic. In just the past year alone, acts as varied as the Philip Glass Ensemble, Punch Brothers, and Steve Martin and Martin Short have graced this stage.
Mohawk sports a design that makes it unique not just amongst Austin venues, but American venues in general. The audience space is partially covered, and the roof over the stage sits at a near A-frame angle. The semi-open-air experience at Mohawk can be rough during the brutal days in Austin’s increasingly lengthy summers, but the excellent crop of artists that Mohawk regularly attracts makes braving the heat more than worth it.
03. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q
With Stubb’s, concertgoers get both prongs of the Austin experience: live music and BBQ. Just down the street from nearby Mohawk and, weather permitting, a comfortable walk from Antone’s and The Moody Theater, Stubb’s is an irreplaceable part of Austin music and performance. Not only do major acts routinely select this as their Austin stop, but every year the Austin City Limits Festival at the start of fall hosts several “late night shows” where ACL artists put on full-length performances for those not sated by the 50-minute sets at the festival.
The rapidly developing South Congress strip surrounds The Continental Club, with chain shops like Warby Parker and Madewell cropping up at a speedy pace. But no amount of modern development and gentrification can dampen the presence of The Continental Club; when the sun goes down, its distinctively retro neon sign shines bright, indeed. This Austin classic doesn’t always draw the biggest names, but it’s hosted more than its fair share of legends. More than most venues on this list, The Continental Club feels like an embodiment of Austin’s ethos as the U.S.’s live music capital.
Some may think The Moody Theater a conservative choice for Austin’s best music venue. The reasons for its placement are obvious: it’s a well-maintained and modern venue in the heart of downtown, it draws musicians from all over the world, and, oh yeah, it’s where the Austin City Limits television broadcast is filmed. No Austin venue has been seen by more folks worldwide than The Moody Theater, but ubiquity doesn’t negate excellence. If you’re one of the select few lucky enough to end up with a ticket to an ACL taping, you’re among fine company.
The 10 Best Music Venues in Boston - Nina Corcoran
Boston may be young, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t know how to party. When it comes to the city’s music scene, it manages to always feel bright with energy and eager with expectations. Maybe it’s because Boston is home to an absurd number of colleges and universities, so the average age in the city lingers around the early 20s. Maybe it’s because the venues foster a comfortable, intimate environment. Maybe it’s because it’s often the first stop on a tour, especially for European artists starting a North American tour. We can’t pinpoint the exact reason, but we can guarantee seeing a show in Boston is always the right call.
Despite its relatively small size as a major city, Boston sneaks in a handful of reputable and interesting places to see music. Hole-in-the-wall spots like The Lilypad, Atwood’s Tavern, Brighton Music Hall, and even the Waterworks Museum draw out music devotees. Longtime staples like the House of Blues or TD Garden have their fair share of history. But the Boston music venues that are actually worth seeing juggle a balance of qualities: age and history, capacity and booking, logistics and attitude. The ones chosen below stand out because of what they offer the city and how the city has embraced them in return.
10. ONCE Somerville
Perhaps the biggest complaint about the music scene in Boston is its lack of all-ages venues. Back in 2014, JJ Gonson opened two performance spaces at her restaurant Cuisine en Locale to help solve that problem. Rebranded as ONCE Somerville, the 9,000-foot event space looks like a middle school dance ballroom on the inside, yes, but it offers food and drinks upstairs at the adjacent restaurant, and, most importantly, works to book the kind of shows that represent overlooked touring artists as well as the local acts that make up Boston's own backyard. It’s a solution-in-progress for the city and one that’s quickly become a new home to concertgoers of all ages.
09. The Wang Theatre
History buffs have plenty to admire in Boston, and that includes its music venues. There's a handful of century-old theaters in the city, and The Wang Theatre, which originally opened in 1925, will join the club in a matter of years. Walk into the all-seated venue and you feel like you're inside a golden Fabergé egg. Every inch of the walls, ceilings, and flooring are lined with detailed wooden carvings, complex paintings, and thoroughly vintage decor, nearly all of which was designed by renowned architect Clarence Blackall. The sound quality isn’t too shabby either. These days, the Boch Center-owned theater hosts more rock-leaning artists than its early days of housing the Boston Ballet.
08. Cambridge Elks Lodge (AKA Hardcore Stadium)
Congratulations, you’re holding a flyer for a local hardcore show! Let’s head to Hardcore Stadium, shall we? For years, Boston’s straightedge and not-so-straightedge scene gathered in the basement of the Cambridge Elks Lodge to throw all-ages shows, and for the most part they continue to today. While the building itself isn’t anything to write home about, the service it provides the community is. With a wood-floored open ballroom upstairs and a clammy two-room basement below, Cambridge Elks Lodge offers several options for those looking to throw a show that focuses on the talent instead of the space.
Check the time before you head to the Royale. Boston's biggest nightclub doubles as a normal music venue during earlier evening hours, but if you show up closer to midnight, your casual sneakers and oversized hoodie will bar you from entering the venue. While Royale's reputation for being a noisy, overdressed nightclub during the darkest hours proceeds it, it’s normal evening hours rule. Decked out with velvet couches, glass chandeliers, a circular bar in the middle, and an entire upstairs section where you can sit down and watch the show, Royale is the place to see artists right before they play the House of Blues — or, even better, to see those marquee artists when they choose this slightly smaller venue rather than the House of Blues despite being too big to play here.
06. Middlesex Lounge
Those looking for Boston's low-key electronic scene will find themselves becoming a regular at Middlesex Lounge. The Cambridge-based nightclub is the dance floor for people who geek out on online forums instead of lifting weights at the gym. That takes shape in the booking, as Middlesex consistently nabs some of the biggest DJs and artists from around the world and then places them in the intimately sized venue for a night of sublime dancing. The vibe there is phenomenal, especially during Boston's electronic festival Together. Though, if we're being honest, it helps that the bartenders craft killer cocktails, too.
If you have even a passing interest in rock, make it a point to stop by the Paradise Rock Club while in Boston. The moderately sized venue holds just under 1,000 people, yet some of the biggest artists around prefer playing here. With its unique rectangular setup and wraparound upstairs standing area, the Paradise is laid out in such a way that it's hard to have a truly awful viewpoint. Now imagine seeing artists like R.E.M., U2, Billy Joel, and AC/DC there, and it's easy to understand why it's such an iconic Boston venue.
04. Orpheum Theatre
The Orpheum Theatre makes the Wang look like a youthful teen by comparison. As one of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the entire United States, the Orpheum Theatre first got its start with the moniker Boston Music Hall back in 1852. It wasn't until 1900 that it was converted into the vaudeville theater it is now, with additional substantial changes made by architect Thomas W. Lamb in 1915. These days, it's the place where you can see a big-yet-intimate Regina Spektor concert or the intricate workings of Joanna Newsom. It's modestly ornate, complete with red velvet seats worn down from old age. And while the theatre has hosted its fair share of louder artists, it's the quieter sets that showcase what a well-designed building the Orpheum truly is.
03. Club Passim
Boston's folk scene is more robust than it gets credit for, and Club Passim is largely to thank for keeping it alive. Tucked away in Harvard Square, Club Passim is easy to miss if you aren't looking for it, as the venue is underground and only a set of stairs off to the side in an alley will get you there. Walk indoors, though, and you're greeted by a quaint, close-knit, and intimate setup. Patrons are welcome to sit where they please at any of the tables and choose from the club's homey menu of beverages and small bites. Club Passim gives patrons a rich and vulnerable performance if only by size alone. Though it began as a jazz and blues club when it opened back in 1958, Club Passim quickly began ushering in folk artists and singer-songwriters, including artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Muddy Waters. It's one of the few venues in Boston where you don't need to be familiar with the name of the artists performing to know that you'll have a memorable evening.
02. The Sinclair
It's hard to imagine what Boston's music scene was like without The Sinclair because of what an integral part it has become. After opening its doors in early 2013, the brand-new venue immediately became a dominant force in the music bubble. The venue was delayed several months in opening, but looking back it makes sense the owners sought to eliminate any hurdle venues traditionally have. The Sinclair really did think of everything. While the left half of the space operates as a new American restaurant, the right half is a chic industrial-designed venue home to the trendiest touring artists. The staff at every post is friendly. The spaces are always impeccably clean. The drink menu is modern and fun. The sound is hands-down the best in the city. And, supposedly, the crew help make artist load-in and loud-out times as smooth as possible. It’s all you could ever ask of a modern music venue and then some. Ask any artist who has performed here before — they will say the same.
01. Great Scott
If there's a perfect dive bar venue on Earth, it's called Great Scott. It's not difficult to turn a bar into a music venue, nor is it difficult to find local talent to throw on the stage. But what Great Scott offers as a music venue somehow surpasses both the standards and expectations of most every dive venue in Boston and beyond. The sound engineers at Great Scott work alongside the bands instead of sticking it to them. The bathrooms remain weirdly clean for a place coated in stickers and perpetual beer spills. The drafts remain cheap, even as Allston gentrification skyrockets. And these days, Great Scott remains one of the only venues in the city that still retains independent booking rights. Experiencing a sold-out show here is like watching a house show if everyone was in a good mood, could actually see, and could actually hear well. It's why artists like Ty Segall or Pg.99, who undoubtedly could sell out venues four times the size of this one, decide to return to it. It's why adored local artists like Speedy Ortiz and Pile plan the occasional residency here. And it’s why Great Scott will never go out of business despite looking like a generic shithole from the outside.
The 10 Best Music Venues in Chicago - Lindsay Teske
Chicago is a known musical exporter. However, what occurs within the city limits is just as dynamic and exciting as what has transcended it. Chicago is home to a flourishing music scene, backboned by venues that not only give artists unique spaces to share their work, but concertgoers a sonic oasis to escape for a night of unforgettable music. Many of Chicago’s music venues are deeply rooted in history, and, as a result, have countless years’ worth of welcoming celebrated touring acts while simultaneously maintaining a dedication to putting its resident creators onstage.
Each of Chicago’s music venues has its own distinct story and soul. They each have devoted packs of regulars, traditions, quirks and incredible talent that graces their stages. They are places that are incredibly meaningful to locals -- so meaningful, in fact, that it would be nearly impossible to designate just one as a favorite. So, here are 10.
10. Schubas Tavern
Originally a Schlitz brewery, Schubas has since metamorphosed into a quaint music venue that has seen countless artists -- both acclaimed and undiscovered -- appear on its stage during its enduring history as one of Chicago’s noted cultural fixtures. Complete with a full bar and food service, Schubas packs in any aspect of the live music experience one could crave under one roof. The charming corner tavern has earned a place in the heart of many a Chicagoan.
09. Beat Kitchen
Washed in warm colors, Beat Kitchen is an inviting bar/restaurant venue that regularly hosts local and touring artists in addition to a burgeoning calendar of special events. When bands aren’t taking the stage, Beat Kitchen hosts weekly events ranging from comedy, kids’ performances, “bluegrass brunches,” and, yes, even heavy metal yoga (in which participants receive beer afterward - making it perhaps the most inventive and rewarding workout of all time). Beat Kitchen’s ability to not only place the local community onstage but curate events for all-age demographics has attracted a devoted following of regulars, making the venue a local favorite.
08. Thalia Hall
What was originally designed as an opera house in the late 1800s now plays host to a variety of alternative standouts. Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and Black Lips are among the scores of artists who have taken the stage at the iconic Pilsen venue throughout the years, cementing its status as one of the city’s most desirable destinations for artists and concertgoers alike. Inside its gothic-like exterior lies a performance space with ample floor for standing, two separate bars on the floor alone, as well as a balcony for those who’d prefer to take in the gig while seated. Thalia Hall is spacious yet still maintains an integral element of intimacy, making it the perfect environment to take in the dynamic programming it offers.
07. Aragon Ballroom
Resembling a cosmic palace with its celestial ceiling and Spanish-style architecture, Aragon Ballroom infuses an air of majesty into the concertgoing experience. The historic venue opened its doors in 1926 as a literal ballroom, and it now serves as one of the most sought-after venues for an eclectic group of artists -- such as Brockhampton, Nine Inch Nails, Dua Lipa and Tash Sultana -- to perform at. The combination of its physical beauty, history and noteworthy performances cements its significance in Chicago’s cultural landscape.
06. The Empty Bottle
With a nondescript exterior save for a chalkboard-like front door inscribed with the night’s events, The Empty Bottle has an enduring status as one of Chicago’s most adored indie spots. Though many of the venue’s performances have a 21-plus age restriction, which is understandable given its name, it is certainly well worth the wait. The Empty Bottle regularly -- as in, seven days a week regularly -- showcases some of the most exciting independent rock, pop and western artists of the moment. Additionally, the venue also has a strong history of placing local artists on the bill with out-of-town headliners and featuring all-local lineups as well. Its blending of local and national acts has made it a favorite among Chicagoans since opening in 1992.
Subterranean is a longstanding champion of the emerging artist. Tucked away in Wicker Park, its two stories contain multiple bars and two performance spaces that have their stages filled with some of the most buzzed about rising names in the music industry. Though Subterranean showcases a variety of styles and sounds, they’ve built up a reputation as a rock haven by consistently welcoming some of the genre’s most beloved, mid-level touring acts. Subterranean’s dedication to amplifying independent artists makes it the ultimate oasis for music lovers craving fresh finds.
04. Lincoln Hall
Lincoln Hall’s capacity barely exceeds 500, but that makes its concertgoing experience all the more exciting given the magnitude of the artists who grace its stage, such as The Vaccines, The Frights and Greta Van Fleet. As if the combination of three bars and great acts wasn’t enticing enough, Lincoln Hall also spearheads Tomorrow Never Knows, a music festival that takes place annually in late January. Its lineup features an eclectic hybrid of musicians and comedians alike, and last year’s included the likes of Diane Coffee, No Age and Snail Mail. With its knack for bringing sizeable acts into a homey environment, Lincoln Hall rightfully earns its status as one of Chicago's most beloved neighborhood venues.
03. The Vic Theatre
Having planted its roots in Chicago over 100 years ago as the Victoria Theatre, The Vic has long been attracting celebrated, established artists to its stage. Standing at five stories, The Vic scores points for being one of the few venues where one is able to see the stage relatively well from any vantage point, including the floor. The Vic also remains open on non-performance days, hosting the Brew & View, where the venue’s bars remain open while cult classic and sleeper-hit films are shown. Whether one turns up for the music, movies or both, The Vic’s all-star programming and rich history make it a Chicago venue not to be missed.
02. The Hideout
Opened as an illegal remedy to Prohibition, the self-proclaimed “most loved small venue” in Chicago has maintained its longstanding status as a secret slice of delight. In what resembles a nondescript two-story home from the outside resides a cozy performance space that boasts just as much charm as it does diverse programming. In addition to regularly showcasing artists from all sides of the sonic spectrum, The Hideout hosts standout special events -- namely, a single event dedicated to celebrating both Black Sabbath and ABBA. Regardless of whether you prefer “Dancing Queen” or “Iron Man,” The Hideout is the perfect place for anyone craving an intimate, unique musical experience.
It’s rare to see a venue regularly have their stage occupied by both high-profile and emerging artists, but that’s precisely where Metro excels. Originally dubbed Cabaret Metro, the venue has made a name for itself by hosting a number of heavy-hitters in rock, pop and rap, including The Replacements, Chance the Rapper, Pixies and Nirvana. However, Metro is also an active supporter of Chicago’s creative community and has proven so by consistently serving as a space for local bands to perform. All performances, of course, are hallmarked by the distinctive, ornate frame on the stage’s periphery that makes taking in concerts comparable to seeing a technicolor painting come to life. Metro has spent its nearly four decades in business opening its arms to artists of all magnitudes and from all locales, making its cavernous yet comfortable space a home for all.
The 10 Best Music Venues in Los Angeles - Scott T. Sterling
Los Angeles is a concertgoer’s dream. From tiny indie clubs to the finest in arenas and outdoor amphitheaters, the city is ripe with something for every fan. Being LA, it also attracts the kind of unique and one-of-a-kind concert events that can leave even the staunchest of New York music lovers green with FOMO. The SoCal city is such an embarrassment of riches that whittling this list down to 10 was a genuine challenge. There are rooms that ended up on the cutting-room floor that would easily top venue lists in a good three-quarters of America’s major cities. What we’re left with is a stellar collection of top-flight concert locales that fit every budget and type of fan.
This new kid in town has already made a sizable splash since arriving in 2014. Located just south of the heart of downtown, this throwback venue has already hosted the likes of Blood Orange, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Slowdive and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who played there as part of a Bernie Sanders benefit. It’s also where the late Chris Cornell interviewed Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page onstage for Page’s eponymous 2014 book. With room for 1,600 people, it provides an intimate space for bigger artists to do something a little bit different from the norm.
09. The Forum
This Los Angeles classic has been given a new lease on life thanks to a 2014 renovation launched with a concert by The Eagles. Operated by The Madison Square Garden Company, The Forum is an old-school legend that has welcomed legendary acts since first opening in 1967. Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Black Sabbath, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors — The Forum has seen them all. Situated in the nearby city of Inglewood, the former home of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers has quickly established itself as one of the area’s premier venues, featuring top-shelf sound and a comfy environment rare in 17,000-capacity arenas.
08. The Wiltern
Emerging acts know they’re getting somewhere once they start filling shows at this classic art deco palace built in 1931. With a capacity of 1,850 fans, The Wiltern has hosted shows by Wilco, Etta James, Beastie Boys, and Iggy Pop. The multi-level main floor can be something of a zoo during general admission shows, but the reserved balcony seating offers the perfect spot for those looking to relax more than rock out.
This gem of an amphitheater is nestled in the hills of scenic Griffith Park, just a brisk uphill hike from Los Feliz and its myriad restaurants and shops below. The list of legendary shows there is lengthy: Radiohead’s transcendental show on the Kid A tour, The White Stripes’ four-night stand in 2005, and Massive Attack with TV on the Radio in 2014. With a capacity of just under 6,000, the space maintains a sense of intimacy that belies its size. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler learned that the hard way when the singer marched all the way to the very last row during a raucous 2007 show. By the time he got to the top, a clearly winded Butler made it obvious that the trek was much farther than expected.
This warm and intimate space on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood is a music venue that is also something of a standing history lesson and pop-culture museum. It’s the hallowed ground where Elton John made his vaunted American debut with a six-night run back in August of 1970. Lenny Bruce was arrested onstage there for daring to utter the word “schmuck” during a 1962 set. In the years since, the likes of Mac Miller, Chris Cornell, Band of Horses and Deftones are just some of the acts to grace the stage of this small but mighty 400-capacity legend with a famously pristine sound system.
The Palladium is something of a living legend along Sunset Boulevard. It’s gone through a variety of changes and renovations over the years since first opening its doors back in 1940. The room was most recently refurbished in 2008 thanks to an investment from Live Nation, kicking things off with a splashy show from Jay-Z. Nine Inch Nails (who have a multi-date engagement there this December), Bowie, Björk, KISS and Childish Gambino are among Palladium alumni. It’s also the spot where Prince played his final LA concert.
This Hollywood hotspot is deceptively simple. It might not feel like much until you realize that for a midsized venue (cap: 1200), even sold-out shows remain comfortable, moving around is a breeze for runs to the bar and bathroom, and the sight lines are ideal no matter where you are in the room. There’s a rooftop bar where you can really get away from the mob and watch what’s happening on the main stage thanks to a massive wall projection under the stars. The Black Crowes, Stereolab, and TV on the Radio have all rocked the Fonda stage.
Only in Hollywood can you have a picnic and take in shows from the likes of The Weeknd and Tame Impala in the very cemetery where Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and Johnny Ramone are laid to rest. As such, it’s not a space that everyone will feel comfortable visiting. For those who are, it’s a lush, grassy spot that easily fits somewhere in the vicinity of a couple thousand people. The cemetery also features a second venue: the intimate Masonic Lodge, which houses just 150 people for events. The likes of Clams Casino and The The have thrilled fans with up-close-and-personal shows in the Lodge.
02. El Rey
This art deco gem in the heart of LA’s Miracle Mile district is definitely intimate, with a capacity of less than 800. Still, it’s hosted such red-hot acts as The Knife and Lana Del Rey. Something of a proving ground between small clubs and bigger, we-made-it-sized venues like The Wiltern and The Hollywood Palladium, the El Rey is thick with an elegant vibe, all red, crushed velvet and ornate chandeliers. Many an established act has made a big splash here en route to international stardom, like Frank Ocean’s legendary show there in November 2011.
01. Hollywood Bowl
It’s the icon for a reason. Officially opening its hallowed doors back in the year 1922, the 17,500-capacity outdoor amphitheater has hosted everyone from President Roosevelt, Mikail Baryshnikov, and Fred Astaire to The Beatles, Prince, Billie Holiday, Pink Floyd, and the final shows from Tom Petty (before his untimely death in 2017) and Genesis in 2007. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house, though the highly coveted boxes down front make for a perfect pre-show cocktail hour. The Bowl also has its own onsite museum, which hosts a rotating roster of exhibits and venue tours.
The 10 Best Music Venues in Nashville - Carson O’Shoney
A city with as rich a musical legacy as Nashville is bound to pick up a few world-class venues along the way. They don’t call it Music City USA for nothing. In fact, there’s such an abundance of unique, vibrant rooms to see live music at here that it was hard to cut this list down to 20, let alone 10. Shout-outs to several other venues are indeed deserved, but we’ve made the hard choices. If you’re visiting from out of town and want to see what the hubbub about this so-called “Music City” is, this list is a good place to start!
10. The End
The End is the Nashville venue most likely to leave you covered in sweat or beer… or both. The tiny dive bar primarily hosts punk, metal, and rock and roll acts. It’s rare to see a show here without a mosh pit or stage divers making the most of the sub-200-capacity room. The bar only serves beer, but it’s cheaper than any other venue you’ll find. The End is the punky, rebellious younger brother of the legendary Exit/In (more on that later), which sits just across the street, together making up the revered “Rock Block” of Elliston Place.
You may know the fictionalized Bluebird Cafe from the hit show Nashville, but the real thing is less glamorous than it may seem. Housed in a strip mall outside of town and small enough to force you to be uncomfortably close to your seat neighbor, this legendary acoustic songwriters’ club still sells out every show, every night. Even if you don’t recognize the names on the bill, you’re guaranteed to see true talent on display nightly at The Bluebird. Plus, you might just catch the next big thing. Both Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks got their start here.
Just steps away from Nashville’s famous replica of the Parthenon, Springwater Supper Club claims to be the oldest bar in the state. In fact, it’s even older than the “Parthenon” itself -- first opening in 1896 to serve patrons of the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition. It has endured many iterations over the years, including a speakeasy said to be visited by the likes of Al Capone and Jimmy Hoffa, and now stands as one of the best dive bars in town. You’ll mostly catch underground acts here, but they’ve been known to host secret shows from the likes of Kesha and The Black Keys.
Not only is Fond Object one of the best record (and vintage clothing) stores in Nashville, it’s also one of the coolest places to see a show in town. Their East Nashville location sports a backyard that is perfect for just about anything -- from movie screenings to yoga to concerts to community hangouts. There’s a tiny house in the backyard that can handle shows both inside the walls and out on the porch, and don’t be surprised if you see pigs and goats hanging around behind the house in the “petting zoo.”
Sure, you’re going to pay Big Venue prices. Sure, the bathroom and concession lines are long. But the setting makes Ascend one of the best open-air venues in the Southeast. Situated on the riverbank between downtown Nashville and the beautiful Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge, just blocks away from Broadway, this small amphitheater allows you to see huge bands under the stars while still managing to be more intimate than your average outdoor venue. With stunning views of skyscrapers just behind the stage, Ascend is the best venue in town to see a show on a clear, warm summer night.
“The Basement East” is a misnomer. This venue isn’t in a basement at all; it’s the sister venue of the The Basement (which is an actual basement), but the locals just call it The Beast anyways. This laid-back 400-capacity club is the newest venue on this list, but since opening in 2015, it’s quickly established itself as the premiere live music destination on the East side of the Cumberland River. It’s also one of the most versatile venues in town, small enough to host local shows, tribute bands and dance parties, but large enough to host big-name touring acts of all genres.
04. Mercy Lounge
Mercy Lounge is one of three venues that make up the live music mecca that is Cannery Row, alongside the larger Cannery Ballroom and the smaller High Watt. Each has its own distinctive flavor, but Mercy -- the first among them to open, in 2003 -- is just right as the mid-size venue that hosts buzzy bands across all genres. The 500-capacity venue not only offers a full bar and an outdoor smoking deck with decent views from the second story, but you can kick back and play pool in the back room in between sets.
The original home of Nashville punks and outsiders seeking shelter from the country music scene, Exit/In is a legendary venue, and they wear it on their sleeves. Lining the walls and a mural outside are the names of hundreds of the artists who have graced their stage during sold-out shows since opening in 1971 - a list that includes heavy hitters like Neil Young, Johnny Cash, The Ramones, Talking Heads and more. The venue’s legendary status is earned, too; for a simple 500-capacity black-box rock club, it hits all the right notes and still attracts top-tier talent to this day.
Part recording studio, part photography studio, part music venue, Jack White’s personal 250-capacity playroom can be disorienting on first visit -- with intense blue lights, blue walls that curve into the floor, and an enormous elephant head in the corner. Aside from the eccentricities, The Blue Room has the best sound of any rock club in town, which is necessary because it’s also the only venue in the world that can record a live show direct-to-acetate, producing a vinyl master in real time and allowing you to pre-order a copy of the show you just saw before you even walk out the door. The Jack White connection also draws acts that would normally play much bigger venues, often for special, last-minute shows that sell out instantly.
01. Ryman Auditorium
Did you really think any other venue would dethrone the Mother Church from the top spot? There’s simply no debate. Ryman Auditorium is not only the best venue in Nashville, it’s one of the greatest venues in the country. Its history in country music is unparalleled, it’s won countless awards and it continues to crack the top 10 of venue lists. It’s not lost on the performers either -- nearly every act that takes the stage waxes poetic about what it means to be playing at the Ryman Auditorium.
Even ignoring its legendary history, which dates back to 1892 and has earned it National Historic Landmark status, the Ryman would still top this list with ease as a gorgeous place to see a show in a room that experts say has the 2nd best acoustics in the world, behind only the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City. The archaic church pews may be a little uncomfortable, but it only adds to the unforgettable experience of seeing your favorite bands in a historic 126-year-old church.
The 10 Best Music Venues in New York City - Ben Kaye
A conservative estimate puts around 120 music venues in New York City. On any given night, in any borough, in almost any neighborhood, you wouldn't have far to look if you wanted to find live music in one of the world's most vibrant cities. From preeminent arenas to dingy DIY holes, the sheer profusion of spaces hosting all levels of acts isn't just impressive -- it can be intimidating. With so much to see and so many places to see it, creating a list of the best venues in NYC is almost an unfair assignment. How does an underground spot like The Glove rank next to a billion-dollar landmark like Barclays Center? Well, on this list, neither actually does, but we've taken a look across the city and narrowed all the amazing venues down to a solid top 10. Ranging from the most iconic stadiums to freshly opened locales, these are the venues that give performers and concertgoers alike unparalleled live music experiences. You almost can't go wrong in NYC, but at these spots, you're guaranteed to go right.
DIY is an important faction of any music scene, so it hurt when Glasslands shut its doors in 2014. But when the owners came back in 2017 with Elsewhere, they came back with a vengeance. The Bushwick club houses five different spaces, three of which serve as the main venues, including a rooftop. Hitting that sweet spot between Brooklyn chic and pretension, the huge space feels like a welcoming home to the hip and the lost. Add in eclectic bookings, the art gallery, cafe, and more, and it's easy to see why the nascent club is becoming one of the city's fastest rising locales.
Perhaps the most famous venue in America, Madison Square Garden is equally well known for its sporting events as its concerts. Arena gigs are never perfect; if the over-priced concessions don't kill your good times, the crappy sound and distant viewpoints will. Though MSG hasn't solved the first issue, it does a remarkable job with the second set. Few giant spaces like this boast the quality audio present at MSG, and at least the nosebleeds don't feel like you're watching from another planet. As much a bucket list venue for performers as it is concertgoers, it deserves the legacy it’s earned.
08. Brooklyn Steel
For all the variety in venues the city has to offer, New York lacked a solid 1,500-plus space for the longest time. There's T5 in Manhattan, but even after renovations, that place remains something of a mess. When the same developers discovered this former steel manufacturing plant, however, they saw potential for something greater. While it's essentially a big, black box, Brooklyn Steel provides incredible sound and impressive light arrays, with plenty of bars to keep patrons happy and excellent standing space wherever you look. When the doors opened in 2017, it was like the entire scene breathed a sigh of relief to finally have a worthy, large venue in Brooklyn, which makes it unsurprising that LCD Soundsystem claimed it as their home spot.
Music Hall of Williamsburg is that rare case of DIY culture getting gentrified and still maintaining its appeal. Formerly known as Northsix before Bowery Presents came in in 2007, MHoW is partially responsible for bringing the indie and underground music scene over to Brooklyn from the formerly more popular Manhattan. With three floors each having their own bar, curved walls providing excellent acoustics, and solid sightlines from anywhere in the main room or balcony, it's one of the most comfortable venues you'll find. To see such an indelible part of the city's music scene stay so vital is a testament to this spot’s greatness.
06. Baby's All Right
It's always nice when a relative newcomer can really make an impact on the scene, and in just five years, Baby's All Right has established itself as a must-see venue in the NYC scene. Walk through the restaurant and bar and you'll enter a cozy 260-capacity room with intriguing design details, like the scale replica of The Shining's hedge maze on the floor and the ash trays lit by LEDs that make up the stage's backdrop. Popular risers, local upstarts and major touring acts all can be seen playing the tiny Williamsburg spot. It’s the best-designed, intimate experience to be had in the city.
Only slightly less renowned than Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall is a considerably better venue. And arguably more important from a historic perspective. Leave aside its landmark status and the litany of artists who have played there (Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tame Impala, Lady Gaga); John D. Rockefeller, Jr. helped revitalize the entire city when he developed this iconic venue during the Great Depression. Inside the remarkable Art Deco interior sits The Mighty Wurlitzer organ, a massive instrument with 58 ranks and 4,178 pipes, as impressive as the building in which it sits.
04. Kings Theatre
Where Manhattan has the Beacon, Brooklyn has Kings Theatre. Left vacant for 33 years, renovations began in 2010 before the Flatbush venue reopened in 2015. Inside the 3,000-capacity theater are impeccable sightlines amidst elaborate gold and bronze architecture, all situated under a marvelous domed ceiling. Kings can play home to a highly choreographed David Byrne or St. Vincent concert as comfortably as it can Nine Inch Nails or Tenacious D. Or, for that matter, podcasts, comedy or ballets. All of it will look and sound fantastic in this nationally recognized historic venue.
There's something obviously funny about walking past tennis club members on the courts as you make your way to Forest Hills Stadium, but you forget all about the outside world when you're in the venue's bowl. Not only is it the best place to catch a sunset show in town, the skyscrapers of Manhattan poking out above the rolling trees of Queens, but it remains remarkably intimate for a 14,000-capacity space. The large stage and sloped bleachers create beautiful sightlines from nearly any location -- especially the secret Speakeasy rooms, if you can get in. Forest Hills has only hosted concerts for five years, but its uniqueness as an outdoor stadium makes it one of the best places to catch a summer show.
02. Beacon Theatre
Of all the ornate theater venues in the city, none is as breathtaking and acoustically sound as Beacon Theatre. Built in the '20s to house pre-talkie films, the place was perfectly tuned for live accompaniment, which means bands like My Morning Jacket and Hot Tuna may never sound as good as they do on that stage. And when musicians aren't delivering performances, you have the stunning statues, architecture and ginormous chandelier to admire. That unmatched balance between visual and aural appeal is what makes the Beacon a monument of a venue.
Right off the train, nestled inside an unassuming beige façade, is the most gorgeous and storied venue in the city. Decadently designed -- as any good ballroom should be -- The Bowery Ballroom looks as good as it sounds. It's the type of space that can host a band about to break one night and an established favorite playing a special undersell the next. To be able to say you saw your favorite band at The Bowery is a mark of pride as much as it is a landmark moment for any act to play there.
The 10 Best Music Venues in Portland - Robert Ham
Thanks to a beloved TV comedy and dozens of breathless trend pieces, Portland, Oregon’s reputation around the world has been as an enclave for free spirits, foodies and ravenous soccer fans. But the true heart of this Northwest city has long been the artistic community that calls it home, particularly its musicians. The local scene has produced its fair share of well-known talent, from smooth pop duo Nu Shooz to glam rockers The Dandy Warhols to the two current juggernauts: alt rock outfit Portugal The Man and hip-hop artist Amine. What has helped stock this abundant pool of talent has been the city’s small but passionate network of venues. The smaller clubs often give these new artists a place to get their work heard for the first time; the bigger spots are where they either seek inspiration from a touring act or have a moment of triumph once they’ve hit the big time. For music fans, it’s an embarrassment of riches. But for newcomers and visitors, it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to Portland’s live music scene. While you often can’t go wrong no matter where you choose, there are some spaces that rise above the rest. To help guide you on your journey in the Rose City, here are our picks for the 10 best venues in Portland.
The free-form spirit of this humble cafe is perfectly reflected in its charmingly cluttered decor and the sweet gruffness of its staff. But to truly understand the heart of this tiny place, drop by for a few successive evenings and you’ll get an entirely new experience every time: ragged country rock one night, free-form jazz on another and pure noise on yet another. The owner’s deep connections to the underground rock world of the ‘80s and ‘90s mean that you might also run into august talent from the furthest reaches of your record collection.
If your tastes run toward the worlds of country, blues, and Americana or some wild, jam band-like combination of the three, this SE Portland bar should be on your radar. The employee-owned business has been a mainstay of the local scene for three decades now, with a consistent thread of irreverence and top-notch musicianship running through its timeline. The nighttime weekend shows bring in the crowds, so consider popping in during the week or earlier in the evening when admission is free and the performers tend to get a little more freaky.
08. Bunk Bar
During the day, this venue serves as the hub for the growing Bunk Sandwiches empire. Once the sun sets, the tables are replaced by a stage, and this spot in Portland’s industrial district becomes a hub for garage rock, old-school indie and Americana artists. As the business is owned by a couple of indie rock lifers and music junkies, the bookers of Bunk Bar have an ear for young talent and a charm that allow them to convince acts that could fill rooms 100 times its size (Built To Spill, Drive Like Jehu) to perform there.
The bread and butter for this Southeast Portland hot spot are the dance parties that go down there on the regular. And the music on offer at these club nights can range from indie pop to future R&B to Bollywood. Holocene’s calendar does make room for plenty of live performances, with a distinct leaning towards electronic fare, dream pop and hip-hop. Even if the music onstage or being spun on the turntables isn’t your bag, the open layout of the club makes for a great people-watching spot.
06. The Fixin’ To
For folks visiting Portland who are looking for a sense of what the local underground music scene is all about, this should be their first stop. Tucked away within a bar/restaurant and far removed from the downtown bustle, The Fixin’ To is a tiny spot (capacity is just over 100) with big ears to accommodate up-and-coming Portland acts that ride that thin line between accessible and experimental. The leaning tends to be towards guitar-based bands, but the bookers have kept their minds and calendars open to just about any kind of music as long as it’s played with heart and verve.
05. The Old Church
The name of this all-ages venue isn’t just a clever concept; the building was an actual church built in 1882 in a Carpenter Gothic style and has been restored and maintained beautifully over the past 50 years. The stained-glass windows and exquisite pipe organ remain. It’s just the music being heard inside the space that is much different. Alongside their weekly noon-time showcases for classical music, the concert hall plays host to jazz and Americana, with occasional forays into indie rock.
04. Crystal Ballroom
For over a century, this downtown theater has been in operation, in some form or other. But it has only been over the last 20 years that the Crystal Ballroom has built its current status as one of the best places to see live music in Portland. To outsiders, the space is known primarily for its spring-loaded dance floor and the two antique chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. To locals, it’s the place to revel in live performances by well-known touring acts of all stripes.
The location of this nightclub — in the basement of a downtown pool hall — and its speakeasy-like decor make the experience of catching a show feel like a sneaky thrill. The perfect setting, then, for The Jack London’s regular burlesque reviews. The vibe puts an extra charge into the musical performances on their calendar, which includes many performers from the city’s thriving jazz, R&B and hip-hop scenes, including legendary drummer Mel Brown, who has a standing weekly gig there, as well as a regular rotation of touring acts.
02. Doug Fir Lounge
The interior of this basement space looks like a futuristic log cabin, which should be reason enough to pay the Doug Fir Lounge a visit. But what will keep you downstairs is the killer sound system and cozy confines that offer up a perfect in-your-face concert experience. The venue has helped usher many a buzz band on their journey to the top while providing a space for already well-known artists to get back in touch with their humble roots.
This North Portland venue was built with the serious music lover in mind. It’s small enough to feel intimate yet big enough to fit about 300 people comfortably and boasts one of the best PA systems in the city. Add to it the acoustically minded design and great sight lines of the main room, and you’ll be set to catch every last detail of the performance. The venue is also supported by some seriously plugged-in booking agents who have brought in everyone from HAIM to free jazz saxophonist Peter Bröztmann to their humble stage.
The 10 Best Music Venues in San Francisco - Katie Moulton
San Francisco is a historical epicenter of American countercultures, long associated with the Beats’ jazz fascination, ’60s flower-child psych-pop, punk, alt-rock, and even the original home of Rolling Stone. Today, San Francisco is rapidly changing, as tech money raises rents out of reach of the musicians and artists who once made the city a destination. However, even in this shifting landscape, San Francisco’s seven hills are overflowing with options for live music seven nights a week. These are the spots where you can’t go wrong.
10. The Masonic
The California Masonic Memorial Temple, known as the Masonic, sits atop Nob Hill, blocks from downtown San Francisco. The building is an architectural landmark for its façade’s 12-foot-high sculptures and the lobby’s 38-by-48-foot mural. The stately 3,000-seat rounded theater hosts a variety of shows, including pop and crossover acts like Troye Sivan and Kacey Musgraves, legends like Joan Baez, and comedians like Conan O’Brien.
Opened by R&B legend Boz Scaggs in 1988, Slim’s is a 500-capacity venue that specializes in roots music, blues, R&B, metal, hip-hop — basically anything with underground off-shoots. The no-frills venue is located in the SoMa neighborhood, offering an alternative to nearby dance clubs. In a given week, you might catch Justin Townes Earle, Gomez, Ghostface Killah and Soccer Mommy. The venue has the same ownership as Great American Music Hall (further down the list) and falls under the umbrella of Goldenvoice, the California arm of AEG Presents.
08. The Warfield
If you’re looking to recapture San Francisco vibes of yesteryear, take a long strange trip over to the Warfield in the Tenderloin. Opened in 1922 as a vaudeville theater and movie palace with stars like Buster Keaton gracing its stage, The Warfield became a concert hall in 1979 when famed local promoter Bill Graham booked a two-week run of shows there with Bob Dylan. After that, the rock stars kept coming — including Green Day playing all of American Idiot in 2005, Kanye West performing a DNC fundraiser for Barack Obama, and of course, the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia solo, who performed dozens of shows at the 2,250-capacity venue. Garcia’s longtime dressing room is preserved as the green room with his name on the door. The Warfield also maintains an autograph room, where all its performers sign their names on the wall. The hall’s original red and gold is preserved, and it’s a bit funky, a bit gaudy, and all glorious.
07. The Independent
The Independent, or the Indy, stands apart on several fronts. It’s not housed in an ornate, repurposed San Francisco building; it’s a black box, a bare-bones 500-person, standing-room-only club that prioritizes sightlines, production values, and sound. Opened in 2004, it’s a relatively young venue, though the space in the Haight/Fillmore neighborhood had previously been a jazz club and was the birthplace of the Noise Pop festival. SF Weekly called the Independent one of the best mid-size venues in the region, and it remains the place to catch excellent up-and-coming acts (like Sabrina Claudio or All Them Witches) just before they make the leap to larger theaters and arenas.
06. The Chapel
This former mortuary, located in the heart of San Francisco’s colorful Mission District, has been a hub for the hip, indie crowd since it opened in 2012. The concert hall looks less like a funeral parlor, however, and more like, well, a chapel: its 40-foot wooden-arched ceilings awash in Technicolor lights. The Chapel hosts indie performers of all genres, from Waxahatchee and Ty Segall to Big Data and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The space features free music in the attached restaurant during Sinners Hour and is said to be haunted.
Great American Music Hall frequently lives up to its name, nabbing high ranks on Best Clubs in America lists from both Rolling Stone and Consequence of Sound. Its racy history also traces eras of San Francisco nightlife: Designed in 1907, GAMH opened as a jazz club where you could hire prostitutes, before being taken over by a burlesque dancer; later still its owners’ plans blew up with the dotcom bubble. Through it all, the 600-capacity venue endures, boasting marble columns and cheeky frescoes, as well as some of the most exciting performing artists of recent memory: St. Vincent, Dev Hynes, FKA Twigs, Hop Along, and more.
04. Golden Gate Park
Okay, so Golden Gate Park is much more than a music venue. But we have to pay tribute to the way music — excellent, often free music — is integrated into this city-defining green space. The 1,000-acre park opens its rolling meadows and glens to host major festival Outside Lands, which featured Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Lana Del Rey, and more last year. The park also invites visitors to take in free summer concerts, from classical musicians and opera to pop artists like M. Ward and Femi Kuti. Then there’s the weekend-long FREE Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival every fall, which in 2018 featured Mavis Staples, Chris Thile, Jeff Tweedy, I’m With Her, Ani DiFranco … we could go on, but sheesh.
03. Rickshaw Stop
Rickshaw Stop is a destination for intimate shows and popular dance nights, set inside a 4,000-square-foot former TV studio. The eclectically decorated venue, located on an unlikely street between Civic Center and Hayes Valley, has hosted sets by Grimes, tUnE-yArDs, Dan Deacon, Courtney Barnett, the Hold Steady, and others. Though it opened in 2004, Rickshaw Stop is the current home of even longer-running club night Popscene, which has brought in artists like The Faint and Sky Ferreira.
Located in a two-story Edwardian building at the literal bottom of the hill in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, this venue has rock cred in spades and has been described as the heart of the city’s indie-rock scene. Opened in 1991, the 350-capacity space has hosted seemingly everyone on their way up, from Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel to Cat Power and Queens of the Stone Age. Bottom is name-checked in NOFX song lyrics and was the site of a Beastie Boys “secret” show that turned into a riot. Now, the owners remain committed to good sound and all-ages shows, and the famous blue neon sign welcomes fans to gigs by emerging artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Floral.
01. The Fillmore
The Fillmore never stops reminding you of its star-studded history — and keeps delivering on it today. Opened as the Majesty Hall in 1912 in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, the city-block building, which also served as a dance hall and roller-skating rink, looks fairly nondescript from the street. Once inside, however, concertgoers walk through halls of gilt-framed posters of the greats who passed through its initial counterculture heyday: Janis Joplin, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Otis Redding—the list goes on. The 1,100-capacity general-admission venue is a ballroom decked with chandeliers and purple lights. The venue was retrofitted and reopened in 1994, fulfilling the wish of the late Bill Graham, the concert impresario who got his start at the venue in 1965. Graham’s traditions are carried out at the Fillmore to this day: A greeter welcomes each guest, and visitors are given free apples as they head back out into the San Francisco night.
The 10 Best Music Venues in Seattle - Dusty Henry
Seattle’s in a constant and anxious state of change. It’s especially true for the city’s arts community, trying to find sustainability amid the chaos. However, live music continues to thrive. Many venues have come and gone since grunge’s heyday, but bits of history can be found in numerous theaters, clubs, and DIY spaces still active today. New venues have also continued to open and parallel the emergence of new and exciting Pacific Northwest talents. As much as Seattle changes and its future gets constantly debated, you can always count on finding a great show. If you find yourself in our fair, rainy city, you can’t go wrong buying tickets for a gig at any of these fine establishments.
There’s no shortage of great, small-capacity venues in Seattle, but few create the same intensity between artist and audience as The Sunset in Ballard. Walking through the warm glow of the front bar, you’ll find a black door in the back of the room, leading to the performance space. The low ceiling and low stage put concertgoers face-to-face with the artists. This lack of divide gives a thrilling sense of spontaneity to the room, leading to some “you had to be there” performances from the likes of UK punks IDLES and Vancouver electronic superstar Grimes.
With The Paramount, The Moore, and The Neptune, Seattle has some pretty noteworthy theater spaces. But not to be overlooked is the smaller, but equally stupendous, Columbia City Theater. As one of the city’s oldest running venues, Columbia City Theater still feels as fresh and vibrant as it did when it was hosting performances from Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles. Now, it’s a popular locale for catching touring acts, intimate solo performances, and the occasional burlesque show and open mic. You get all the theater feel with the closeness of a small club – an ideal hybrid.
The Tractor Tavern doesn’t exclusively book country music, but you wouldn’t know from a walk inside. Bullhorns hang on the back of the stage, scrap-metal art adorns the walls, and the rustic aesthetic of the bar leans into the “tavern” part of their name. The brick walls of the venue mirror the cobblestone roads outside in the downtown Ballard neighborhood. While the venue has steadily embraced booking electronic, rock, and hip-hop acts, there’s nothing quite like the sound of steel guitar and a rowdy band playing in that room.
Electronic and dance music are steadily finding a foothold in Seattle, emerging out from the underground clubs and into the heart of the downtown (although, ironically, Kremwerk is still physically underground). Kremwerk is where you can spend a whole night dancing to a deep house set from Yaeji or experience the enigma of Yves Tumor before they become breakout stars. The venue’s commitment to supporting Seattle’s queer community also results in some of their most exciting, recurring series and events with regular drag and burlesque shows. Kremwerk shares a complex with another venue – the above-ground Timbre Room – making for double the amount of great DJs and experimental artists coming through both spaces.
06. Black Lodge
For years now, the instructions for finding Black Lodge have been “ask a punk.” However, savvy concertgoers will find a way to track the venue down, and it’s completely worth it. Seattle is host to numerous excellent DIY spaces, several always coming and going, but Black Lodge has steadily maintained a presence in the city. The paper mache stalagmites on the walls and the giant pentagram painted on the floor may either appeal to or repel some concertgoers, but the loving community behind it will certainly attract all who come through. While you’re certainly going to see plenty of underground acts pass through Black Lodge’s rainbow halls, the venue frequently attracts signed touring acts like Jeff Rosenstock, LVL UP (RIP), The Men, Seattle’s own Chastity Belt, and more. Occasionally, Black Lodge will coordinate set times with neighboring venues Victory Lounge and Lo-Fi so you can catch three shows in one night, tripling your music intake.
05. The Vera Project
All ages venues are getting harder and harder to come by. While spaces in Seattle will host many all-ages shows throughout the year, few commit to making their shows accessible to everyone year round. That’s what makes The Vera Project such a beloved operation. Located in Seattle Center, just a short walk away from the Space Needle, The Vera has become a hub of youth to dip their toes into the music industry and help become integral parts of Seattle’s wonderful music scene. The venue’s staff works with teams of volunteers to put on their regular performances. More than just a venue, The Vera also has its own recording studio and classes for screenprinting, audio engineering, visual arts, and more. The Vera also brings in a steady stream of excellent acts, from Parquet Courts and Frankie Cosmos to Julien Baker and Rico Nasty.
04. The Crocodile
Seattle music is far more far-reaching than grunge, but the city’s ties to the movement’s history can be unturned seemingly everywhere around town. Nowhere is this more apparent than iconic Belltown haunt The Crocodile. One wall of the venue features a mind-boggling array of show posters for guests to bask in. The Croc famously hosted early performances by Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam and continued to be early in the mix for other classic Pacific Northwest acts like Sleater-Kinney, Sunny Day Real Estate, Death Cab for Cutie, and more. After a brief shutdown in 2007, the venue started back up again in 2009 and has continued on booking tomorrow’s legends. With the addition of the Back Bar, The Croc can now host multiple shows at once (and don’t sleep on the pizza at the Back Bar either). It’s one of the best spots in town to grab a slice and a pint.
Seattle is home to so many stunning theatres, all with their own unique charms, but it’s hard to top the sheer majesty that is The Paramount. The glowing, vertical neon sign and marquee out front hint at the prestige of the venue inside. The historic theatre recently celebrated its 90th anniversary, but it still looks like the luxurious marvel that it was when it opened in 1928. The gold light fixtures, paintings, and hand-carved furniture pieces are reason enough to buy a ticket. Despite its refined look, The Paramount has hosted some notoriously gritty and iconic performances from the likes of Nirvana and Soundgarden and continues to host artists all across the genre spectrum. The theatre also hosts touring Broadway performances and even goes back to its roots with screenings of silent movies. Among all of its great attributes, The Paramount is definitely the classiest venue in town.
Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood has changed rapidly over the years, as any exhausted local will tell you, but Neumos has remained a constant. Located right in the thick of everything on Pike Ave. and 10th, the venue really feels like the epicenter of the city’s most bustling area – a North Star to guide you as you make your way through Seattle’s nightlife. Neumos’ 650-person venue keeps shows intimate, and sold-out performances are made even more powerful for it. The upper-level balcony is great for those who don’t want to fight the sweaty pits and just want to watch from afar with a drink in hand. In recent years, the venue’s upgraded their sound and light systems, creating an arena-sized feel in a smaller space. Most of all, though, it’s the venues reliably great bookings that take it to the next level. Neumos is the spot where you can say, “I saw them back when.” Whether it was The Flaming Lips in 1996 or Skepta in 2017, Neumos is always ahead of the game in booking acts who will become future household names. Now, the site can book twice as many buzz-worthy acts with the addition of their basement Barboza venue, which opened in 2012.
01. The Showbox
When news broke earlier this year that a British Columbia-based developer intended to tear down the Showbox and raise a 44-story condominium, Seattleites didn’t take it lightly. Protests and petitions began immediately, evening garnering support in an open letter from 150 musicians including notable locals Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie, and Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan. The swift response led to the city council unanimously voting to protect the venue … for now.
This wellspring of response speaks volumes about The Showbox. There’s the obvious: among Seattle’s numerous historic venues, The Showbox boasts one of the most enviable rosters of artists who’ve played the space. Over 80 years, the venue has hosted Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Ramones, Iggy Pop, Soundgarden, Kanye West, D’Angelo, Modest Mouse, and too many other timeless artists to list. But beyond its history, The Showbox is simply one of the city’s best rooms to see live music in. You never forget the first moment you walk into The Showbox and see the giant chandelier gleaming and glistening above the crowd. The circular shape of the room makes for plenty of bar space for those who don’t want to venture off into the pit. Though it’s one of the bigger venues in town, the height of the stage and length of the room makes marquee artist performances surprisingly intimate.
Package all of that together with having the most consistently great sound in town, and it makes The Showbox a bona fide Seattle institution. Going to The Showbox for a gig invokes some of the most nostalgic parts of the concertgoing experience and the magic of seeing live music. Now let’s hope it sticks around for good.