15 Iconic Music Venues Across America

By   

View as:

The Tabernacle
Photo credit: Tabernacle Atlanta/facebook.com

EAR AND NOW

From the acoustically perfect natural Red Rocks Amphitheater to New York City's awe-inspiring Radio City Music Hall to legendary music venues in tabernacles, these are America's concert spaces most worthy of inclusion on the bucket lists of musicians and fans alike.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Photo credit: Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre/facebook.com

RED ROCKS AMPHITHEATRE | MORRISON, COLORADO

The enormous, open-air Red Rocks is the world's only naturally occurring and acoustically perfect amphitheatre. Massive, red sandstone monoliths — Creation Rock, Ship Rock, and Stage Rock — form the stage and control the sound within the 9,500-capacity granddaddy of outdoor music venues, which sits 6,450 feet above sea level and offers stunning views of the Denver area. The mountain air and surrounding parkland has proven irresistible to musicians including The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Nicks, Grateful Dead, U2, and many others.
Hollywood Bowl
Photo credit: Hollywood Bowl/facebook.com

HOLLYWOOD BOWL | LOS ANGELES

Known for its iconic band shell (and Hollywood Sign backdrop), the Hollywood Bowl has been a fixture of Los Angeles since the 1920s. Formed naturally into a scenic hillside, the legendary outdoor amphitheatre, public park, and picnic grounds is a popular spot for catching big-name acts of all genres — from The Doors and Aretha Franklin to Yo-Yo Ma and Kanye West. Its rich history can be seen before the show at an admission-free museum.
Ryman Auditorium
Photo credit: Ryman Auditorium/facebook.com

RYMAN AUDITORIUM | NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

After beginning as a gospel church in 1892, the Ryman Auditorium gained acclaim in the 1940s as home to the "Grand Ole Opry" country music radio broadcast, helping Nashville earn its reputation as a music capital. Since then, the "Mother Church of Country Music" has welcomed just about every country star you can think of — Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, and Taylor Swift — as well as non-country acts such as Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong. Even farther afield, it's hosted the Metropolitan Opera, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini and President Theodore Roosevelt, and the venue's first-ever sellout was a lecture by Helen Keller in 1913.
Tipitina's
Photo credit: Tipitina's/facebook.com

TIPITINA'S | NEW ORLEANS

After previous incarnations as a gambling house, gym, and brothel, Tipitina's opened its doors in 1977 and became a staple of local music and culture. Founded as a clubhouse for pioneering local pianist Professor Longhair, the standing-room-only venue has played host to music legends such as The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Better Than Ezra, and Trombone Shorty, as well as Nine Inch Nails, Patti Smith, Willie Nelson, and Tim McGraw. Wilco and the Blind Boys of Alabama recorded live albums here. It can pack in 1,000, and reaches a wider audience through its nonprofit foundation.
First Avenue
Photo credit: First Avenue & 7th St Entry/facebook.com

FIRST AVENUE | MINNEAPOLIS

A Greyhound bus depot evolved into the no-frills heart of the Twin Cities' music scene in 1970, taking the name First Avenue in 1982. The stars emblazoned outside showcase the most high-profile performers from its storied history, from Joe Cocker to The Replacements, U2, and Hüsker Dü. But it was Prince that gave the 1,550-capacity hall its biggest boost: During the 1980s, the late legend's film "Purple Rain" spotlighted the venue as the protagonist's home away from home, and some of the classic album was recorded here.
9:30 Club
Photo credit: 9:30 Club/facebook.com

9:30 CLUB | WASHINGTON, D.C.

The original 9:30 Club was at 930 F St. NW in 1980 and renowned for hosting bands before they broke big: Nirvana, Bjork, R.E.M., and Rage Against the Machine rocked the he 199-person venue, which also spawned the city's hardcore punk scene with such acts as The Replacements, Fugazi, and Minor Threat, and held a "3 Bands for 3 Bucks" nights that once included the Smashing Pumpkins. Since relocating in 1996 to a 1,200-capacity space that was once Duke Ellington's Club, the intimacy of the original digs has been maintained by putting the stage on wheels to accommodate different-size crowds. Those indie acts on the rise also like its backstage bunk beds, kitchen, laundromat, and free cupcakes.
The Mohawk
Photo credit: Mohawk Austin/facebook.com

THE MOHAWK | AUSTIN, TEXAS

Among the many venues in the "Live Music Capital of the World," SXSW festival favorite The Mohawk stands out for its indoor and outdoor stages, which have hosted a slew of fresh talent and established acts (including Ghostface Killah, Iggy and the Stooges, and The Specials on a single bill) since opening in 2006. The multi-tiered outdoor viewing area, nestled into a rocky hillside, promises a good view of the stage from just about anywhere, and the vibe is Austin cool. The Mohawk doesn't consider itself a live music venue, just "a damn good bar that has live music in it."

Radio City Music Hall
Photo credit: Radio City Music Hall/facebook.com

RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL | NEW YORK

John D. Rockefeller Jr. wanted to give Depression-era New York "a theatre unlike any in the world," and two days after Christmas 1932, Radio City Music Hall opened to the public. More than 300 million people have come through the doors since, for the Grammys and MTV Video Music Awards as well as performances by the Rockettes and VIP musicians from Frank Sinatra to Tame Impala. The largest indoor theater in the world has a marquee that stretches a city block and 6,000 seats with unobstructed views of the Great Stage and its world's-largest shimmering gold stage curtain.
The Norva
Photo credit: The NorVA/facebook.com

THE NORVA | NORFOLK, VIRGINIA

The NorVa was a vaudeville theater in the 1920s, a movie theater in the 1970s, and an athletic club in the 1980s. After $6 million worth of renovations, the space — retaining classic movie hall looks as well as pieces of its athletic club history such as a hot tub and indoor basketball court — reopened in 2000 with James Brown performing. (A year later, Prince sold out the venue in less than five minutes.) Now powered by a cutting-edge sound system like few in the country, the 1,450-capacity club draws headliners including Kendrick Lamar and Justin Timberlake.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Photo credit: Millennium Park/facebook.com

JAY PRITZKER PAVILION | CHICAGO

Designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park opened in 2004, a $60 million open-air pavilion using 870 tons of brushed stainless steel and a sophisticated sound system to present concerts of every musical style — many free. The Chicago Jazz Festival and World Music Festival Chicago take place annually right downtown, with the city's skyline as backdrop.
Toad's Place
Photo credit: Toad's Place - Toads Place/facebook.com

TOAD'S PLACE | NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT

Toad's Place was a restaurant for only a year before music took over in 1976, with Muddy Waters becoming only the first big name to play the 750-capacity main hall. By the 1980s, Toad's was attracting R.E.M., U2, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Talking Heads, and David Bowie, and Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones have contributed legendary surprise shows. Nowadays, jam bands and tribute acts play regularly, and indie rock, electronic dance, rap, and metalcore performers draw students from Yale University across the street.
Photo credit:

GORGE AMPHITHEATRE | QUINCY, WASHINGTON

One of the nation's best (and most scenic) outdoor music venues can be found 150 miles east of Seattle at the Gorge, a 27,500-seat amphitheatre with views not just of the main stage, but of the Columbia River, Columbia Gorge canyon, and Cascade Mountains. It's hosted performers including Pearl Jam, Phish, and Foo Fighters and the annual mixed-genre Sasquatch! Music Festival; fans take advantage of on-site camping passes to turn a show into a weekend getaway.
The Fillmore
Photo credit: The Fillmore/facebook.com

THE FILLMORE | SAN FRANCISCO

Opened as the Majestic Hall in 1912, The Fillmore ultimately shaped the landscape of the 1960s psychedelic rock scene from San Francisco's Fillmore District. While Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Cream, and The White Stripes aren't touring now, you can check out their posters on the walls of the opulent 1,000-capacity theater, and still might catch performers such as Gary Clark Jr., The B-52s, Goo Goo Dolls, Radiohead, Los Lobos, and Metallica. A ticket to the Fillmore also still means a poster and a free apple, a relic from promoter Bill Graham's days.
The Tabernacle
Photo credit: Tabernacle Atlanta/facebook.com

THE TABERNACLE | ATLANTA

A thriving neoclassical Southern Baptist church for 80 years, then converted to a House of Blues club around the 1996 Summer Olympics, the venue that became The Tabernacle still holds remnants of the church — notably the pipe organ seen behind the stage. The Blues Brothers, Guns N' Roses, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Adele, and Atlanta's own Black Crowes have all played to some 2,500-plus fans crowding its churchy halls.
Bluebird Cafe
Photo credit: The Bluebird Cafe/facebook.com

THE BLUEBIRD CAFE | NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

Located in an unpretentious strip mall, the 90-seat Bluebird Cafe listening room is legendary for launching the careers of artists such as Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and Kenny Chesney since opening in 1982 — a legacy begun when country music singer Kathy Mattea landed a record deal in 1983 after playing there, and Taylor Swift got her big break when heard here at age 15. Even chart-topping artists such as LeAnn Rimes and John Prine have been known to pop in to play, though it was ABC's "Nashville" that made it virtually impossible to get a seat.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.