Washingtonians, the local music scene has never been so exciting. From the best jazz clubs in DC to the best DC clubs, now is the time to fully explore the best creative talent that the city has to offer. What better way to do that than head to these local venues, all showcasing the best live music in DC? Whether catching your favorite band or discovering new musicians, you’ll want to sing your heart out to pop, rock and country songs all night long. Pro tip: before catching a show, head to one of the best pick-up bars in Washington, DC to find a concert buddy.
Where to listen to live music in DC
Catch a touring act, concert or a local musician playing top live music in DC at these venues any night of the week
Best live music in DC
As famous for having Foo Fighter Dave Grohl as a backer as it is for the bands it books, the Black Cat has picked up where the old 9:30 left off when it comes to hosting less mainstream acts. Opened in 1993, the Black Cat began with the Fall, Stereolab and Slant 6 and has been continuing pretty much along those lines ever since. The vibe is dark and homey. A downstairs area—Back Stage—hosts greener local and out-of-town bands, as well as DJ nights that range from ’80s retro to bhangra. Past acts have included Gold Panda, the Thermals and Wire.
DC’s largest dedicated concert venue reopened in 2013 after major renovations. The 30,000-plus-square-foot space attracts everyone from deejays to emcees to big names in hip-hop and pop—previous acts have included Lorde, Cut Copy and DMX—and hits the sweet spot, size-wise, between 9:30 Club and the Verizon Center. Tickets can run pricier than at other DC music venues, and getting there is a bit tricky—if you don’t want to cab or drive, free shuttles run between the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station and Echostage until 3am. Also worth noting: Headlining acts often don’t take the stage until after 1am, so be prepared for a late night. For parties, or just a more private experience, tables with bottle service are available in the upstairs mezzanines—which also offer better views of the stage.
After many delays, the 2,000-capacity club in the suburbs (a member of the franchise from famed San Francisco promoter Bill Graham) opened with a sold-out Mary J Blige show in September 2011. Since then, it’s been hard to pin down exactly where the Fillmore fits into the region’s music scene; acts have been all over the map, including classic rock (Cheap Trick) and jam bands (Trey Anastasio). Olly Murs, Rancid and Flogging Molly have also graced its stage.
This club’s long, thin, vintage-looking first-floor bar leads to an oddly shaped upstairs performance space. It showcases the same sort of local and touring indie bands that play Galaxy Hut, Velvet Lounge and the Red & the Black, but has a larger capacity. Expect mostly alt-rock acts, although the Very Best made its DC debut here to a packed house.
IOTA boasts an intimate atmosphere that makes it an excellent place in which to hear singer-songwriters such as the child-friendly Dan Zanes or the all-grown-up Ron Sexsmith. Unfortunately, the surroundings can be a little too intimate and it’s not unknown for patrons to be asked to shut up or leave the premises—sometimes by the performers themselves—as even the slightest whisper can interfere with the music. The artist-comes-first policy has its benefits: Norah Jones and John Mayer played their first DC shows here. The layout of the tiny club doesn’t provide many optimum vantage points, so early arrival is advised.
A movie theater turned concert venue, the State is a favorite haunt of jam bands, blues and reggae artists—and lots of tribute bands—from near and far. Notable acts in the past include Buddy Guy, the Smithereens and Soul Asylum. The club has ample seating in the back and upstairs, plus a raked floor for good sightlines throughout the room. It may feel like a hike to get out there, but it’s only a 10-minute bus journey from the East Falls Church Metro station.
This bohemian music venue opened in 2014 and aims to evoke the neighborhood’s famed music clubs of yore, such as the Cellar Door and Crazy Horse Saloon. The lineup focuses on Americana acts; the space also hosts occasional special events such as fundraisers and beer release parties, as well as a monthly Flashband concert showcasing local aspiring musicians. Husband-and-wife owners David and Karen Ensor emphasize a more comfortable concert experience: The venue offers plenty of seating, the music is never injuriously loud and the majority of shows are 21 and up. The menu will please vegetarians and locavores alike; dishes such as sunflower–hemp seed hummus and kale salad share space with Virginia ham sliders. The adjacent Vinyl Lounge is a haven for LP enthusiasts, who can relax in a booth while listening to albums played in their entirety and can even bring in their own to take for a spin.
Just two blocks from the White House is this massive 37,000-square-foot restaurant with a separate music venue, Hamilton Live, downstairs. The main eatery seats 500; the multilevel stage area holds 300 seated and 150 standing. Both offer a diverse menu of New American food, with everything from sushi to charcuterie to spaghetti (though the downstairs menu is more limited). With so many guests ordering food, shows at Hamilton Live feel a bit more like dinner theater than a typical concert—though the standing room directly in front of the stage does encourage dance parties as the night goes on. Acts run the gamut—including ‘80s rocker Eddie Money, Texas trio Los Lonely Boys and singer/songwriter Lisa Loeb—plus the main restaurant hosts an all-you-can-eat gospel brunch on Sunday.
As comfortable as it is historic, Constitution Hall—housed within the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters—tends to host more mellow acts. Think The Head and the Heart, Eric Benet and Keith Sweat. Arrive early if you can and take a quick tour of the building, whose cornerstone was laid with the same trowel George Washington used on the Capitol building. The hall has been graced by countless US presidents and formerly had a glass ceiling when it opened in 1929. Today, Constitution Hall hosts performances other than musical concerts, including discussions by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and comedians such as Louis C.K.