Best live music venues in NYC
The recording industry may be trying to destroy itself by combating music piracy by releasing as much terrible music as it can, but in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens you will find packed live music venues, from hole-in-the-wall dives to resplendent Midtown theaters. Plan accordingly and you can catch more than one world-class show on any given night. Music is back in town, in fact you could say Big Apple music is a-alive again.
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Run by local promoter Bowery Presents, this Williamsburg outpost is basically a mirror image of similarly sized Bowery Ballroom, one upping its Manahttan counterpart with improved sightlights—including elevated areas on either side of the room—and a bit more breathing room. With booking that ranges from indie-rock bands to hip-hop acts, it’s one of the best rooms in New York to see a show.
This spacious former vaudeville theater, resplendent after a recent renovation, hosts a variety of popular acts, from Steely Dan to Ryan Adams. While the vastness can seem daunting for performers and audience members alike, the gaudy interior and uptown location make you feel as though you’re having a real night out on the town.
The Blue Note prides itself on being “the jazz capital of the world.” Bona fide musical titans (Chick Corea, Ron Carter) rub against hot young talents, while the close-set tables in the club get patrons rubbing up against each other. Arrive early to secure a good spot—and we recommend shelling out for a table seat.
Radio City Music Hall
One heralded as the Showplace of the World, this famed Rockefeller Center venue has razzle-dazzled patrons since the 1930s with its elaborate Art Deco details, massive stage and theatrics. Though best known as the home of the Christmas Spectacular, which stars the high-kicking Rockettes and a full cast of nativity animals, many musicians consider the 6,000-seat theater a dream stage to perform on, including a recent extended stay from Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.
Built in 1886, Webster Hall has been through several iterations (and names) before settling into its tenure as a high-caliber concert venue. In the 1950s, performers like Tito Puente and Woody Guthrie graced the stage, and when it was known as The Ritz in the ’80s, the same venue hosted rock legends like U2, Eric Clapton and Guns N’ Roses. These days, you can expect to find indie acts, metal bands and hip-hop artists. Just be sure to show up early if you want a decent view.
A genuine DIY haven, Silent Barn—relocated to Bushwick from previous digs now occupied by Trans-Pecos—is one of those underground art strongholds that usually gets bought out by an enterprising sort. But happily, the Barn persists in its raw form, hosting noise purveyors, avant-rockers and all sorts of other peculiar visionaries, some of whom live on site.
This Greenpoint club—moodily decorated with all-black walls and dead roses hanging above the bar—is one of the best places in the city to see metal, rock and more experimental heavy music, with reliably loud bands typically booked seven nights a week.
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! (at the Prospect Park Bandshell)
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!—SummerStage’s cool, quirky Kings County cousin—is a major force in its own right. Unlike SummerStage, which spreads out across the five boroughs, all BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! shows take place at the beautiful bandshell in Prospect Park, a scenic amphitheater surrounded by trees. Catching one of these gigs is guaranteed to be a highlight of your summer showgoing season, whether you’re seeing a buzzy indie-rock band, a classic soul or funk group, or one of the best hip-hop artists around.
Forest Hills Stadium
After extensive renovation, this storied tennis stadium—home to memorable matches and concerts from the ’20s through the ’80s (including the Beatles, Stones and others)—reopened its doors in 2013 with a rowdy Mumford & Sons gig. These days, the venue regularly hosts a wide variety of artists ranging from Chainsmokers to Tom Petty.
After more than 80 years, this basement club’s stage still hosts the crème de la crème of mainstream jazz talent. Plenty of history has been made here—John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Bill Evans have grooved in this hallowed hall—and the 16-piece Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has been the Monday-night regular since 1966. Thanks to the venue’s strict no cell phone policy, seeing a show here feels like stepping back and time. It’s just you and the music.