Learn where to find your groove at music venues in Charlotte, each with its own style.
production & styling by Whitley Adkins | photographs by Olly Yung | written by Daniel Coston
makeup by Josiah Reed | production assistant: Emily Mydosh lighting assistant: Lola White
If life is meant to be lived, then music is truly meant to be experienced live and in person: The feeling of sharing a show with old friends, plus a few new ones. The roar of the crowd — or the hushed anticipation of an intimate gathering. Watching your favorite musician for the 25th time, or your soon-to-be favorite musician for the first time.
As rich and diverse as the local music community has been, 2023 may be the year that gives you, the listener, the most opportunities to see live music in Charlotte. Postpandemic, venues are staying booked more than ever, and fans are here for it. Whether venturing out alone or with a group of friends, you’ll find plenty of homes for music throughout the Queen City.
As Charlotte has changed and grown, so too have the places to hear live music. Larger venues such as Bojangles Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium stay booked after nearly 70 years. AvidXchange Music Factory offers a host of opportunities, from a summer evening show at Skyla Credit Union Amphitheatre to The Fillmore Charlotte to The Underground.
But for the smaller, independent venues, survival has been much harder. Longtime fixtures such as the Double Door Inn and Tremont Music Hall have slipped away in recent years. Thankfully, venues like the legendary Milestone Club, Smokey Joe’s and Comet Grill allow guests to step back in time, creating an ongoing tapestry of sounds and experiences.
Another venue with a rich history is the Neighborhood Theatre, in the center of NoDa. Opened as a movie theater in 1945, the space later operated as a retail storefront and a church before becoming a live-music venue in 1997. Along with hosting legendary performances by Doc Watson, Kings Of Leon and others, the venue was the first home for the Avett Brothers’ famed New Year’s Eve shows, and can be seen in their “I And Love And You” video.
Special mention should also go to Joe Kuhlmann and the Evening Muse, which has been one of the region’s best listening rooms for more than 22 years. Both the Neighborhood Theatre and the Muse are bedrocks of NoDa, even as the surrounding area has seen transformational change. Go see your next favorite artist play at the Muse, then see them at the Neighborhood, before they sell out shows at the Music Factory.
Downtown, Middle C Jazz has quickly emerged as one of Charlotte’s most popular new venues. Described by General Manager Teddy Johnson as “the little venue that could,” Middle C found a way to survive, and now thrive, despite opening just months before the pandemic. Launched in fall 2019 by longtime promoter and Music With Friends entrepreneur Larry Farber, Middle C pivoted by airing shows via livestream. The concept proved popular: Though its doors have reopened, fans still have the option of watching shows online from the comfort of home. Whether you’re checking out songstress Maria Howell at one of her regular shows or a legend such as drummer Billy Cobham, Middle C offers plenty of room to breathe and a top-notch food and beverage outlet, Dressler’s Improv Kitchen.
The rise of Middle C reflects a strong and diverse local jazz scene that has been steadily growing. JazzArts Charlotte has hosted monthly concerts since 2011 and now regularly sells out shows at Stage Door Theater, just blocks from Middle C. Monthly jazz performances at the Bechtler Museum and the Gantt Center also pack a crowd.
Wander down Elizabeth Avenue, and you’ll find monthly concerts by the Charlotte Folk Society at the Great Aunt Stella Center, which has survived in the shadow of downtown for more than 100 years. At the eastern end of Elizabeth Avenue, you’ll find the Visulite Theater, another venue that debuted decades ago as a movie theater.
In and around Plaza Midwood, you find Snug Harbor, Petra’s, Thirsty Beaver (which was world-famous long before Mick Jagger had a beer there), Tipsy Burro and Tommy’s Pub. Even Visart Video now offers a Tuesday night showcase, proving that there are still places, though perhaps unexpected, to listen to live music any night of the week.
A recent tour of Goldie’s, the newest live music venue in town, serves as a reminder there’s still room for growth in Charlotte’s music scene. Located in Lower South End, Goldie’s showcases a variety of local and regional musicians with nightly shows and stages throughout the venue. Want to hang out at the bar? Lounge on the back patio? Goldie’s has the spot for you, along with multiple menus (pizza, burgers, hot dogs) and cocktails to boot. Goldie’s joins other South End venues such as Amos’, The Gin Mill and The Music Yard.
The list of places to enjoy music in Charlotte goes on: PNC Music Pavilion, Coyote Joe’s, the Whitewater Center, Stooges Pub & Grub (in nearby Mint Hill). Numerous breweries and taprooms stretching from Lake Norman to Pineville offer live music as well.
For some, the journey of live music starts with one band, or a favorite hangout. Others frequent a host of venues, always searching for the next great discovery or that next great night of your life. If the love of music is a journey, so is discovering the places that celebrate the music. Go and find it, listen to the sounds of life, and enjoy. SP
Middle C Jazz
Date night with cocktails at Middle C Jazz: Revisit old-school glam in this intimate and moody club, where you can experience the music up close and personal.
featuring House of Funk
models: Ceara McKegney and Liam Newell represented by Marilyn’s Model and Talent Agency
On Ceara: Jonathan Simkhai dress, $645, Electric Picks earrings, $78, Staud bag, $195, all Thirty-One Jane; vintage acrylic bangles, stylist’s own
On Liam: Paisley & Gray jacket, $325, pants, $175, and shirt, $145, all Revolution Clothiers
A mother-daughter lunch date-turned-dance party at the newly opened Goldies’s in Lower South End, where you can grab a bite to eat and experience live music — rock, country and more — throughout the day.
featuring Scoot Pittman
models: Brooke Hawthorne Hall, represented by Directions USA, Model & Artist Management Agency, and Aubrey Gray
On Brooke: vintage plaid shirt, $35, and vintage Levi’s cut-off denim shorts, $42, assorted bangles, $2-16, all from East 8th Vintage; vintage Bangora hat, $40, vintage Nocona cowgirl boots, $85, Collins of Texas vintage purse, $65, all from The Rat’s Nest
On Aubrey: Pink Chicken skirt, $72, Rylee + Cru top, $53, American flag hat, $20, all from Coco Leto; Acme cowgirl boots, $85, The Rat’s Nest
Gritty and real, The Neighborhood Theatre has hosted some of the region’s most beloved bands. Model Jessica Vargas Koontz hangs out with The Blue Dogs during sound check, later having her own ’80s-style Courtney Cox-Bruce Springsteen “Dancing in the Dark” moment.
featuring The Blue Dogs
model: Jessica Vargas Koontz, represented by Directions USA, Model & Artist Management Agency
On Jessica: Hong Kong Vintage shirt and skirt, vintage belt and silver booties, all stylist’s own; Noelle Munoz Jewelry bracelet and earrings
On Jessica: Hong Kong Vintage sequin skirt; Rank & Sugar utility shirt, stylist’s own
Avidxchange Music Factory
backstage with The Robert Randolph Band
Big enough for mainstream acts but small enough to navigate, every venue at AvidExchange Music Factory has just the right amount of energy. Style Editor Whitley Adkins and artist Brooke Werhane Maples take us backstage at the Skyla Credit Union Amphitheatre with the Robert Randolph Band during their summer tour with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Ziggy Marley, Mavis Staples and others.