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House of Blues Boston
Photograph: Courtesy Live Nation House of Blues Boston

A guide to the best live music in Boston

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

By Linda Laban and Time Out Boston Staff

As one of America's top cities for enjoying live music, Boston sports quite the musical legacy. 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, Boston all called the Hub home over the years. Star Wars composer John Williams led the Boston Symphony Orchestra and singer songwriter James Taylor honed his craft here. Rock and roll, classical, jazz, folk, and even country music play out in clubs and halls across the city, night after night. As a bonus, some venues are also great places to eat, or noted gay bars, and all showcase stellar sounds. 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

City Winery
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/City Winery

City Winery

Music Music venues West End

Part of a national chain that debuted a decade ago in Manhattan, City Winery's mid-size music room is separate from a bar and lounge area. Make no mistake, though wine-making is a focus, music is a big part of City Winery’s make up—the Knitting Factory (NYC) founder Michael Dorf is behind it all. Programming is eclectic but approachable rather than experimental. Expect veteran greats like blues lady Marcia Ball and indefatigable rock singer-songwriter Rhett Miller.

Lizard Lounge, Music and nightlife, Boston
Photograph: Michael Young

Lizard Lounge

Music Music venues Harvard Sq

If you are lucky enough to get into a show when an esteemed artist is playing, the Lizard Lounge is a real treat. There is no stage: bands and artists set up on the rug and play eye to eye. Michael Penn (brother of Sean) is one such star whose intimate performance brought down the house, but residencies by local artists like Tim Gearan and blues player Duke Levine are a draw. Monday is open mic night and the rug is open to all.

Wally's, Music and nightlife, Boston
Photograph: Courtesy Wally's

Wally’s Cafe

Music Jazz Roxbury

Since 1947, this unassuming South End spot has been the premier showcase for local jazz talent, including plenty of students from Berklee, the Boston Conservatory and the New England Conservatory of Music. The crowd is a colorblind mix of post-grads, South End professionals, and cool-cat septuagenarians. The drinks are strong and reasonably priced. No matter the day of the week, it’s invariably jazzy, often inventive and always free.

The Cantab Lounge, Bars, Boston
Photograph: Michael Young

The Cantab Lounge

Music Music venues Central Sq

Part dive bar, part music venue, and a character-packed Cambridge institution, the Cantab thankfully survives shifting musical trends and trendy developments. It’s a low-key, come-as-you-are place with regular bluegrass jams and local rock scenester Mickey Bliss’s Club Bohemia, which brings in mostly local rock bands to the basement club.

TD Garden
Photograph: Courtesy TD Garden

TD Garden

Things to do Event spaces West End

Known locally as The Garden, and home to the Boston Bruins and Celtics, this is the city’s biggest arena...and the biggest names in music play here. Some hold court—literally—for multiple nights: Madonna, Aerosmith, Billy Joel, all bringing enormous spectacle. Sports arenas generally do not have the best sound; it’s a place where you go to see music writ large as spectacle, not hear it. Still, if Metallica is churning out, say, “Creeping Death,” spectacle sometimes serves a song.

Midway Café
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/drauh

Midway Café

Bars Dive bars Jamaica Plain

Earplugs and a rebellious attitude come in handy at this dive-y veteran bar and music venue, which 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 legend Thalia Zedek (of Come) or experimental noize merchants Sool.

Loretta's Last Call
Photograph: Loretta's Last Call

Loretta’s Last Call

Music Music venues Fenway/Kenmore

Boston isn’t well-stocked with country music venues, and Loretta’s is the closest you’ll get to a honky tonk vibe. Despite being themed, it feels as genuine as many of the newer Nashville joints. Sure, it’s no Bluebird Café, but some talented local musicians play the large stage. Look out for the unexpected national country act now and again, and the bluegrass brunch is a fun hootenanny. Moonshine Bellini in hand, you’re soon in high lonesome land.


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