The 20 Best Live Music Venues In America
A great live band is always a great live band, no matter the venue. But, watching a show in an unattractive, uncomfortable, or poorly equipped venue is always unpleasant. The perfect venue adds to the experience of a concert and helps to make a great live band even better.
If you love music and you like to watch your favorite artists playing live, you should pay a visit to these 20 amazing venues.
20. El Club
Fans of alternative music will love the atmosphere at the amazing El Club, in Detroit, Michigan. With extremely well-curated late-night shows, a hip indie crowd, and reasonably priced drinks, the El Club is the crown jewel of Detroit’s former Mexicantown fiesta center.
The El Club isn’t a massive music venue, but it’s the club every music fan dreams of having in his or her hometown. The freshest indie acts in the world are there, and there are live shows practically every night, including weekdays.
The vibrant city of Austin, Texas is the perfect place to listen to great music and try some delicious food. At Stubb’s, one of the best places in town, you can do both. An outdoor music venue that’s also a barbecue restaurant. Stubb’s boasts a unique, 100% Texan vibe that’s only outshined by the music stars they book.
If you need any more reasons to visit Stubb’s next time you’re anywhere near Austin, keep in mind that the venue is run by C3 Presents, the company that organizes the renowned Austin City Limits Music Festival, one of the 50 best music festivals in the world.
18. Severance Music Center
Watching a great concert of classical music makes for an unforgettable experience. And is there a better place to do so than the iconic Severance Music Center, in Cleveland, Ohio? Previously known as Severance Hall, this luxurious music venue boasts a concert hall with 2,000 seats and a flawless concert calendar with lots of operas.
If “fancy” isn’t exactly your cup of tea, don’t worry: there’s no dress code at the Severance Music Center. Inaugurated in 1931, this Ohio landmark continues to resist the test of time and is still one of the best music venues in America.
While it’s described as a mid-size concert hall, Atlanta’s Tabernacle is huge when it comes to range. A music venue perfectly equipped to host all kinds of bands, the Tabernacle has one of the most eclectic live-show calendars in America, with everything from alt-rock and hip-hop to stand-up comedy shows.
What makes the Tabernacle unique, though, is the fact that it was once a church. It makes for one of the most beautiful buildings in downtown Atlanta and was initially constructed in 1911. In the mid-’90s, it was transformed into a music venue with room for 2,600 people.
16. Kingston Mines
The irresistibly cool sound of the blues has been a global phenomenon for a while now, but its roots are still in Chicago. The city that gave us the likes of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon is also home to Kingston Mines, arguably the most famous blues nightclub in the world.
Kingston Mines opened in 1969 and has already hosted concerts of bonafide blues legends such as Magic Slim and Koko Taylor. Needless to say, those who like blues (and old-school blues in particular) will truly enjoy a night at Kingston Mines.
15. 9:30 Club
It’s still hard to beat the pure energy, sweat, and dynamism of a great rock show. But a great rock show in a great music venue? That’s even better! While Washingtonians can still complain about “taxation without representation,” living next to the iconic 9:30 Club almost makes up for it.
Praised for its unique atmosphere and ruling Washington, D.C.’s rock scene since 1980, the 9:30 Club has already been visited by bands as legendary as The Police, the Ramones, The Bangles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the German act Einstürzende Neubauten. It’s one of the best rock nightclubs in the United States.
14. Brooklyn Steel
Brooklyn, New York City
If there’s a place where locals never miss out on great alternative music acts, that ought to be the city that never sleeps. The cosmopolitan New York City, and Brooklyn in particular, has been home to the indie favorite Brooklyn Steel since 2017. It already hosted some of the biggest alternative bands in the world, from LCD Soundsystem to PJ Harvey.
With three bars and room for 1,800 music fans, Brooklyn Steel is yet another must-go nightclub in New York. It sits in a building that was once a steel manufacturing plant.
13. The Ottobar
The best artists in the world attract huge crowds, and that’s why the best music venues in America tend to fit thousands of people. There’s one outstanding exception, though: Baltimore, Maryland’s The Ottobar. As the name implies, this is the smallest music venue to make it to the list; it’s a bar, not a nightclub!
However, The Ottobar is as small as it is cool, packed with top-quality bands, and delightfully alternative. Its unique atmosphere may help to explain why, despite its size, The Ottobar has attracted acts such as The Black Keys, Queens of the Stone Age, and TV on the Radio since it opened in 1997.
12. Tower Theater
Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
What makes a great music venue? The artists and the atmosphere are essential, but good acoustics also plays an important part. If you’re an audiophile who cannot stand a bad-sounding music venue, you will love the Tower Theater. Sitting in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, this unique indoor theater is praised for its acoustic qualities.
A local landmark since the ’70s, the Tower Theater has been the place many musicians have chosen to record their live albums. Curiously enough, David Bowie once released a Tower-Theater live album that he never heard.
11. The Gorge Amphitheater
Grant County, Washington
With room for approximately 30,000 music lovers, The Gorge Amphitheatre is a one-of-a-kind music venue often described as one of the best outdoor concert venues in the world.
Managed by Live Nation, The Gorge Amphitheatre is emblematic due to its cinematic scenery. Watching a live show there is like an experience coming straight out of a dream: you get to sit comfortably in the grass with a direct view of the stunning Columbia River.
10. First Avenue
Comprising two associated music venues, First Avenue has been one of the main cultural landmarks of Minneapolis for over half a century. Still going strong, First Avenue is often listed as one of the most influential nightclubs in America, and it’s a great place for listening to live music.
Immortalized for being the site where Prince filmed the iconic “Purple Rain,” First Avenue’s history is a little bit like the history of American music in the 20th century. Initially known for being a psychedelic rock venue, the club was turned into a disco danceteria in the ’70s.
9. Merriweather Post Pavilion
The outdoor concert venue that inspired a now-seminal Animal Collective album, Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of the coolest music venues in America and sits in the middle of a planned community of Columbia, Maryland. Inaugurated in the late ’60s, it hosted acts as iconic as Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and Led Zeppelin.
With room for approximately 20,000 people, the Merriweather Post Pavilion boasts a unique vibe and was once listed as one of the best amphitheaters in the United States by Rolling Stone magazine.
8. Red Rocks
It turns out the Mount Rushmore National Memorial isn’t the only great American landmark that was built into stone. The gorgeous Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a wonder of architecture that was initially opened in 1906 and was built into a rock structure sitting west of Denver, Colorado.
Considering Red Rocks has been around for over a century, it’s no wonder it hosted live performances by all sorts of acts, from classical-music orchestras to The Beatles. The Red Rocks Amphitheatre is so beautiful that it’s worth visiting even if there’s nobody on the stage.
7. The Fillmore
San Francisco, California
Initially known as the Majestic Hall, The Fillmore’s been around since 1912. Somehow, though, it has remained fresh and edgy after all these years. During the flower-power heyday of the ’60s, it was known for its now-collectible psychedelic posters. Later on, it was popularized for being one of the largest punk-show venues in the world.
If you’re into any type of counterculture, then you’re into The Fillmore. One of the places that helped to turn San Francisco into one of the most culturally-vibrant cities in the United States, this music venue has hosted gigs by Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, the Dead Kennedys, Aretha Franklin, Roland Kirk, and many others.
6. Ryman Auditorium
Much due to the success of the weekly country music stage concert Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium is still a place at the heart of one of America’s “most American” music genres. Make no mistake, though: the Ryman Auditorium has long become more than just a place for listening to country music. Today, it’s fair to say it’s one of the best-equipped music venues in the world.
Boasting excellent acoustics and sitting in a gorgeous building, the Ryman Auditorium was transformed by a $14-million 2015 renovation. Nowadays, it’s a state-of-the-art concert hall prepared to receive all kinds of shows.
5. Radio City Music Hall
Manhattan, New York City
While it’s tempting to say the Radio City Music Hall is a mainstream music venue, the word “iconic” is probably more fitting. Sitting in midtown Manhattan, this New York City landmark is home to events as popular as the Tony Awards, the Grammy Awards, and even the NFL Draft! At the same time, it continues to be one of the best places to watch a live show by the biggest music artists in the world.
Constructed in the ’30s in a beautiful Art-Deco style, the Radio City Music Hall helped to shape the culture of one of New York City’s primary business districts and continues to be a highly-influential music venue today.
4. Walt Disney Concert Hall
Los Angeles, California
While it was partially inspired by the Berliner Philharmonie, the Walt Disney Concert Hall can be fairly considered America’s answer to the Sydney Opera House. A gigantic, modern, and visually-appealing music venue worthy of the star-filled city of Los Angeles, the Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry and cost a staggering $240 million.
Like the venue itself, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is an erudite’s delight perfectly shaped for fitting the needs of the world’s most rigorous orchestras. Musically speaking, its standout feature is the gigantic mainstage concert organ.
3. The Caverns
Grundy County, Tennessee
While there are plenty of awesome shows to see at The Caverns Above Ground Amphitheater, the special thing about Tennessee’s The Caverns is the fact that you can listen to live music inside an actual cavern. If there’s a music venue that should also be called an experience, that’s The Caverns!
The prehistoric natural acoustics are yet another reason to explore one of the world’s most interesting concert halls. It’s not every day that one gets the chance to visit a music venue that’s existed for over 25,000 years.
2. Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles, California
There are few experiences more Californian than attending a live show at the iconic Hollywood Bowl. This massive amphitheater sits in the sunny neighborhood of Hollywood Hills and can fit approximately 17,500 people. One of the most interesting things about it is that it overviews the prominent “Hollywood” sign.
The Hollywood Bowl has hosted so many major acts over the years that it’d be impossible to list them all. In a nutshell, it’s the venue the biggest pop musicians of the hour want to play at; recent performers include Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Christina Aguilera, Shawn Mendes, and Coldplay (just to name a few).
1. Carnegie Hall
Manhattan, New York City
It’s always hard to pick the best of anything, as what defines ‘quality’ isn’t exactly set in stone. Yet, it’s more than fair to say that Carnegie Hall is, at the very least, one of the most emblematic music venues in history. Just like the Colosseum in Rome, this iconic concert hall sits at the heart of the American empire and has been a Manhattan milestone since the late 1800s.
There’s no doubt that Carnegie Hall is classy and luxurious. However, there’s nothing elitist about its concert calendar. Over the years, this Big Apple favorite has hosted artists as disparate as Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Jethro Tull, Ike & Tina Turner, and the Yugoslav National Folk Ballet Tanec.
The best live music venues make concerts an experience, whether it’s by their size, location, or history. The above venues are some of the most iconic and well-loved in the world, each with its unique flavor. From the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Bowl to the prehistoric acoustics of The Caverns, there are some amazing ones in America.
Carnegie Hall Featured Image by: Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons