20 of the Best Small Music Venues in America!
The Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland on March 21, 1952 was the first ever rock â€˜nâ€™ roll concert. This show marked the beginning of it all.
There's really nothing quite like live music. The crowd's collective voice booms throughout the venue as they sing along to their favorite jams and the lighters (or cellphones) go up for the slower songs, twinkling all around you.
But you know what is even cooler? Seeing your favorite musicians inside a more intimate space, a club or bar type setting with a small crowd.
Small music venues all around the world allow for an experience unlike massive stadium shows. Everyone is standing together and personal space really isn't an option. It's important to visit the places with history, the small bars and halls where the biggest names in music got their start.
There is a certain charm about jumping and dancing along to your favorite artist or band in a crowd of less than a thousand. There are plenty of places all across the nation that offer this experience. Here are the 20 best small music venues in the United States.
1. The Troubadour - West Hollywood, California
It's not easy picking a single small music venue as the very best in the large, musically-rich state of California but if there is one that tops the rest, it's the historic Troubadour. Opened in 1957 and with a capacity of about 500, this nightclub has held some of the most iconic concerts in the history of music. This West Hollywood hot spot has featured artists ranging from Elton John, Carole King and Van Morrison to Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel and Guns N' Roses. This wasn't just a place where these huge artists performed. The Troubadour played a pivotal role in shaping the futures of these musicians as it helped to launch their careers. Does it get much bigger than that?
2. 9:30 Club - Washington D.C.
Many argue that the 9:30 Club is the very best club on the East Coast. With a capacity of about 1200, the venue was hugely important for the D.C. alternative scene in the 80s. The 9:30 Club seems to be a hotbed for historical moments in music history as well. Whether it was the back-to-back performances by Bob Dylan or the celebration for the Smashing Pumpkins release of Zeitgeist, this place has seen a lot. This venue also introduced the world to popular punk groups like Minor Threat and Bad Brains.
3. Fox Theatre - Boulder, Colorado
Just like a variety of other notorious venues, this concert space that was once an old movie theater has welcomed a list of legends since it opened its doors in 1991. Among a few of the musicians that have graced the stage here are the Allman Brothers, Phish and Bob Dylan. Recently, the Fox was voted the fourth best music venue in the country by Rolling Stone Magazine. And that is no surprise as it provides a distinctive atmosphere and wonderful concert-going experience to everyone that steps inside.
4. Churchill's Pub - Miami, Florida
If you know of Churchill's Pub, you also know that pretty much every punk, metal and hardcore group has toured through this historic spot. Famous bands such as Agent Orange and Social Distortion are among some of those huge punk performers. The venue helped to jump start the career of iconic metal musical figures like Marilyn Manson. The vegetarian-friendly venue greets you with a massive mural of Winston Churchill right above the door.
5. Middle East - Cambridge, Massachusetts
Something particularly unique about this live music venue is that there is a Lebanese restaurant located right upstairs. You'll be hard-pressed to find another place quite like this. The restaurant opened in 1970 and started hosting bands 17 years later. With nearly a 600-person capacity and three stages for live music, this space attracts Cambridge's alternative and underground music scene. Boston Phoenix newspaper deemed Middle East "the nexus of metro Boston's rock club scene for local and touring bands."
6. Great American Music Hall - San Francisco, California
The landscape of music is evolving perpetually, and the Great American Music Hall is following those changes closely. You can always expect to catch the most talented and relevant musicians of today at this San Francisco spot. Constructed over 100 years ago, this venue possesses some of the finest acoustics in the country. The interior is marked by its decorative balconies and columns. The location was once a spot for burlesque dancing but later became a music hall for jazz, folk, and rock music. Some notable performers include Journey, Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead and more current groups such as the Killers and Imagine Dragons.
7. Schubas Tavern - Chicago, Illinois
With a capacity much smaller than its sister venue Lincoln Hall, Schubas Tavern offers interesting sets and an intimate experience night in and night out. The birthplace of house music and home to a prominent hip-hop scene, Chicago's music has always been greatly significant to this country. Schubas Tavern, owned by the Schuba brothers Mike and Chris, has been inviting in on-the-rise musicians since it opened its doors in 1989. One of the most notable things about the club is that it hosted one of the very first Dave Matthews Band shows ever.
8. Slippery Noodle Inn - Indianapolis, Indiana
With two performance stages, a bar and a restaurant, the Slippery Noodle might not exactly be considered small, but it's still very much an intimate concert experience. The blues bar is located in downtown Indianapolis and is the oldest continuously operating bar in the state of Indiana. For a little bit of historical information, the bar once served as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. You can feel the history of the place right when you step inside with its tin ceiling dating all the way back to 1890 and the oak bar over a century old. Famous blues musicians such as Luther Allison, Jay Giles and Edgar Winter have graced the stage at this famous venue. And a few famous faces have been seen in the crowd as well with names such as Harrison Ford, Neil Diamond, and Robert DeNiro making appearances.
9. 40 Watt Club - Athens, Georgia
This Athens, Georgia venue sat near the top of many lists of the best small venues in the country. The 500-capacity 40 Watt Club is similar to famous venues such as CBGB's and the Whisky a Go Go as it was massively influential in developing the American punk rock and new wave scene. Athens is the home to many iconic bands such as R.E.M. and the B-52's, groups who have frequented the club. Some other superstar artists that have performed at this historic spot are Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth and Snoop Dogg.
10. Bluebird Theater - Denver, Colorado
Instantly recognizable by its bright blue neon sign illuminating above the marquee, the Bluebird Theater is one of the finest places to see live music in Colorado. What was once a movie theater is now a concert venue with near perfect views and "a chest-rattling sound system," as the Guardian puts it. The theater has seen a nice assortment of heavy metal bands, indie groups and singer-songwriter types such as Kurt Vile. In 1997, the venue was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
11. Headliner's Music Hall - Louisville, Kentucky
What was once used as a cafeteria for the bottling facility that surrounding it is now an illustrious music hall located in Louisville, Kentucky. According to its website, Headliner's was used as a rehearsal space for big bands playing at nearby hotels during the Prohibition era. Allegedly, the public was allowed to watch these bands practice and drink "medicinal" bourbon that was bottled on the property. The venue has recently hosted acts such as Kings of Leon, Disclosure and Tame Impala.
12. Great Scott - Allston, Massachusetts
An intimate dive bar in Boston, Great Scott has some of the better acoustics you'll find in a small bar music venue. The calendar generally features edgier indie and more alternative artists all while providing a top-notch atmosphere. For a cool, underground show, Great Scott is the place to go. The venue is regularly recognized as one of the best places to see live music in Boston and its calendar ranges from hardcore shows to dance nights.
13. Bluebird Cafe - Nashville, Tennessee
While there are plenty of bigger, more extravagant places to watch a show in Nashville, the Bluebird Cafe cultivates a low-key environment that's better than any other spot in Music City. Open since 1982, this 90-seat venue has been the preferred spot for the country music industry's most highly-touted artists. Another fun fact? ABC's hit series Nashville has filmed part of their show in this space.
14. First Avenue - Minneapolis, Minnesota
A club that holds about 1500, First Avenue has seen a great deal of attention from world-renowned artists. The spot was originally constructed as a Greyhound Bus Depot in 1937 and reopened as a nightclub in 1970. First Avenue really put itself on the map when it received attention from Prince who recorded a great deal of his Purple Rain album at the venue. Some of the other noteworthy performers that have visited this Minneapolis club are U2, Lenny Kravitz, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Duran Duran.
15. Maxwell's - Hoboken, New Jersey
This Hoboken hub for independent music was named the third best club in America by Rolling Stone Magazine. According to Rolling Stone, parts of Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" music video were filmed at this spot. While touring to promote their debut album Bleach, Nirvana made an appearance at Maxwell's in 1989. Prior to the show, a photographer named Ian Tilton took several photos of the band walking around Hoboken. One picture of Kurt Cobain that was taken that day has since been used frequently in magazines and for websites.
16. Bowery Ballroom - New York, New York
The East Coast music rival of places like California is of course: New York. This city has hosted hundreds upon thousands of legendary artists in their endless list of historic nightclubs and bars. Once again it's almost impossible to pick just one joint to represent a place so steeped in musical culture but if there's one place, it has to be the Bowery Ballroom. The building, located on the Lower East Side, was constructed at the end of the 1920s but left untouched for decades due to the state of the stock market. Opened as the Bowery Ballroom in 1998, the venue has spent the last 18 years as the spot for on-the-rise musical talent. The 550-capacity space has qualities that make it cozy and tight-knit but also qualities that make it spacious and magnificent.
17. Kilby Court - Salt Lake City, Utah
Opened in 1999, Kilby Court is Salt Lake City's longest-running music club for all ages. This small space hosts underground, DIY-type artists regularly and sort of feels like you're inside a garage or someone's backyard when you're watching a show. Nationally-known indie groups such as Neon Indian, Walk the Moon and Young the Giant have all played this spot.
18. The Crocodile - Seattle, Washington
Many would call The Crocodile Seattle's best live music venue. Famed Seattle-based groups such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney have all played here. In fact, Nirvana was billed under the name Pen Cap Chew as an opening band when they played The Croc. The Beastie Boys, Macklemore and Alabama Shakes are among a few other famous groups that have performed there. And if you're looking to just hang out, visit the legendary Back Bar, where you're greeted with hot pizza, cold drinks and a $5 cover.
19. Beerland - Austin, Texas
The music scene in Austin, Texas is rich in culture and talent. Beerland's website instructs its patrons, "Beer, music, liquor, beer, music. Not necessarily in that order." The site describes the small club's 14 years of business as "well tempered mayhem" and boasts about its inexpensive beer and performances from talented underground musicians. USA Today's Readers' Choice rankings placed Beerland at No. 2 for best small music venues of 2016.
20. Cake Shop - New York, New York
The Cake Shop, opened in 2005, has been widely-regarded as one of the best small venues for music in the entire city. The former bakery is the premier space for indie music in New York and can house about 125 people. If you're looking for a beautifully lit, small, basement space with local performers displaying their talents, Cake Shop might be a place you want to check out.