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Photograph: Michael YoungMiddle East

The best places to listen to live music in Boston

Looking for a fun night out? Catch a show at these venues hosting touring acts and local musicians

Olivia Vanni
Edited by
Olivia Vanni
Written by
Linda Laban
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Boston's live music scene has long been legendary, birthing some of the biggest names in the biz. Aerosmith, Donna Summer, The Cars, Mission of Burma, New Kids on the Block, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Aimee Mann, Dropkick Murphys, and, yes, the band Boston all once called The Hub home—and we've got an ever-changing pool of upcoming talent playing in these parts, thanks to Berklee College of Music. Rock and roll, classical, jazz, folk and even country music can be heard in clubs, bars and halls throughout the city, night after night. From the best nightclubs in Boston to the best record stores in Boston, music is, indeed, what we do. More of a visual art kind of person? You might want to browse through our Boston museum guide.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best bars in Boston

The best live music venues in Boston

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Central Sq
  • price 2 of 4

What started as a simple Middle Eastern restaurant in 1970, this Central Square spot expanded in the late 1980s and pioneered the burgeoning local alt rock scene, becoming a major tour stop for many groups. This address comprises several smaller venues for live performances, including the Upstairs, larger Downstairs (the site of a former bowling alley), Zuzu, which hosts experimental artists and the stellar Soulelujah DJs, and The Corner, where musicians play for tips and belly dancers perform. Everyone from Chris Cornell to Jaden Smith, and even Ryan Gosling, have trod these hallowed bohemian boards.

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Fenway/Kenmore

The home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, Symphony Hall is amongst the world’s most acoustically brilliant venues. Nothing shows off that attribute more than the BSO in full musical flight. The annual Holiday Pops is wonderfully festive and shouldn’t be missed. The very best classical conductors and musicians often join the BSO and Pops, and Symphony Hall also hosts many of the world’s top artists—from folk giants to pop stars.

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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Harvard Sq
  • price 3 of 4

This Harvard Square highlight pairs minimalist industrial chic style with the best up-and-comers and veteran cult artists, with genres ranging from indie rock to hip hop. Even the occasional mainstream pop youngster will strut their stuff in this bi-level room, which boasts a balcony and main floor, as well as a separate bar area. The adjacent restaurant and bar can be separately accessed, and it hosts regular DJ and trivia nights.

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Allston/Brighton

A 21st century revamp has turned this local favorite into a world-class jazz venue. Now situated on the ground floor featuring a smoky gray decor, sleek seating and state-of-the-art sound, Scullers showcases jazz legends or musical newcomers alike. The club has a bar menu and table service, and there’s an optional "It's a date!" dinner-and-performance package, which lets folks enjoy a three-course dinner upstairs in The Boathouse 400 Restaurant overlooking the Charles River before sitting down for a show.

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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Allston/Brighton
  • price 3 of 4

Everyone from U2 to Kings of Leon have graced the Paradise’s stage at one time or another. This mid-size venue is a local rock landmark and has been a part of the city’s music fabric since the '70s—even with its often difficult stage viewing. In addition to worldwide acts, local bands still often make up the bill. Entrance is through the Paradise Lounge on Comm Ave, which serves drinks and a bar menu, and is open on most concert nights one hour before the club opens.

  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Somerville
  • price 2 of 4

A Davis Square mainstay, the Burren is one of the most popular (and largest) Irish pubs on the north side of the river. During the afternoon, the front room—with its wood-slatted floors and a gentle light pouring through the windows—is full of folks tucking into bowls of beef stew, sipping pints of Guinness (or any number of local brews) and listening to informal Irish seisiúns. At night, the Burren is packed, largely with students from nearby Tufts University, who crowd the large back room to hear live (and loud) roots rock.

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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Allston/Brighton
  • price 2 of 4

This mid-size Allston venue includes a big stage with plenty of standing room and some seating around the exterior. (There are also seats towards the front, but you could lose out on prime viewing that close). The back room has pool tables—an entertaining diversion in between bands. Expect well-known artists in all genres—from roots rock band like The Blasters, to the insouciant pop of St. Etienne, to the industrial goth artist Ohgr.

  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Jamaica Plain
  • price 1 of 4

Earplugs and a rebellious attitude come in handy at this divey veteran bar and music venue located in Jamaica Plain. The Midway hosts local artists of the punk and rock persuasions, as well as cult indie touring bands. Booking is pro-LGBTQ, and queer-friendly bands are regularly featured. Otherwise, attendees might be treated to local legends like Thalia Zedek (of Come) or experimental noize merchants Sool.

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • South End
  • price 2 of 4

Situated next to the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End, The Beehive is a madly buzzing bohemia. Whimsical textiles, wild paintings and other odd objects offset the loft-like restaurant/bar/music venues exposed-brick rawness. The well-made cocktails and hearty bites coming from the kitchen are reason enough to come here—but its schedule of jazz, soul, funk and blues acts regularly entices lines of people to wait out front, in the hopes of getting in.

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Harvard Sq
  • price 2 of 4

Passim has a history and then some; during the late 1950s' and early 1960s' folk revival, it was called Club 47, where the likes of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Donovan put Harvard Square on the world’s folk scene. Under its current identity as Club Passim, singer-songwriters like Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega cut their teeth here. Now a non-profit with summer camps and an educational component, the basement club remains the city’s premiere venue for intimate folk and world music performances.

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Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen
  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Roxbury

Soul food and music intersect at this popular Roxbury spot. Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen serves comforting Southern fare—think country fried chicken wings, Jambalaya and shrimp and grits—as a steady stream of live tunes fill the neighborhood space with even more warmth and liveliness. Jazz brunch here is a must, but any meal (or cocktail, for that matter) is elevated by the steady lineup of local artists who play this joint, usually Thursdays through Sundays.

  • Nightlife
  • West End

This glamorous music venue captures the essence of elegant music halls and supper clubs of the past. The space features luxury seating, beautiful decor, several bars, mezzanine viewing and VIP areas. A variety of concerts and nightlife events pack the calendar, offering an elevated nightlife experience in the heart of downtown.

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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Fenway/Kenmore
  • price 3 of 4

Berklee School of Music’s in-house venue is a seated auditorium with a grand stage and stellar sound. Across Boylston Street you'll find its little sister venue, Café 939, which is more of a club-type venue. Both are used for student and faculty performances, but touring artists from around the world (i.e.Scottish post-rockers Mogwai and German neo-classical composer/pianist Max Richter) play the performance center.

  • Things to do
  • Concerts
  • Somerville
  • price 2 of 4

Tucked between Davis and Union Squares, Once is well worth the trek. In fact, its off-the-beaten-track location within an old ballroom gives this venue huge cred and even a certain allure. With solid bookings that bring equally off-the-radar acts (like the rockabilly trio Reverend Horton Heat or psychedelic rock surviver Roky Erikson), Once is even more of a treat for non-mainstream music fans. There's a separate space upstairs that boasts a retro-cool lounge with bar food and the occasional local band performance.

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  • Nightlife
  • Clubs
  • Theater District
  • price 3 of 4

Located downtown in the Theater District, the Royale is a rarity: a rock club that can actually be found in Boston proper. The large balcony—closed on quieter nights—offers seating, and a lavish foyer with settees is the place to be for a quieter chat. Weekend shows start and end earlier because they're followed by dance nights. Expect everything from rootsy rockers (Butch Walker), to artsy vets (The Jesus Lizard) to moody emotive newcomers (Car Seat Headrest).

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Boston
  • price 3 of 4

This gorgeous old theater dates back to 1852, when it opened as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s original home. It is one of the oldest theaters in the U.S. and remains a musical gem. These days, rock, pop and urban artists fill its seats. The low-ceilinged foyer includes a bar, where the scene is usually convivial and boozy. Expect big names like Robert Plant, soul-man Maxwell and upstart indie rockers Chvrches to grace the marquee.

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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Inman Sq
  • price 2 of 4

This DIY venue hosts under-the-radar classical and jazz acts, as well as outsider rockers of all stripes. Local artists are a big feature here, too. The tiny space delights fans who want to get up close and personal with performers as they showcased their craft. There's a regular jazz vibe, but bookings can run the gamut—from indie rockers like Church Girls to the bebop veterans Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club.

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Allston/Brighton
  • price 2 of 4

This small, no-nonsense all-black bar and club offers plenty of room to pile in and still have a good view of the corner stage. It’s a local favorite with a big, long bar on one side and some seating to give guests a bit of comfort during longer sets (or sips, for those only grabbing drinks). Sharing booking with Great Scott, this place has both local bands and visiting, out-of-towners play; it might be punk rock one night, and psych-folk the next.

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