Although Charlotte may be known as a major player in the U.S.’s banking industry, the city still knows how to show music lovers a good time. From country dance halls and posh nightclubs to packed stadiums and performing arts theatres, the Queen City’s friendly local charm will make you feel right at home. » Read More
Although Charlotte may be known as a major player in the U.S.’s banking industry, the city still knows how to show music lovers a good time. From country dance halls and posh nightclubs to packed stadiums and performing arts theatres, the Queen City’s friendly local charm will make you feel right at home.
North Carolina’s music scene has come a long way from its country and bluegrass beginnings. In the late 1920’s, North Carolina natives Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, Earl Scruggs, and Doc Watson brought their love for the guitar, fiddle, and banjo alive, introducing a new kind of music to North Carolinians, but it wasn’t long before the scene changed. The 1930’s Piedmont blues scene melted into the 1940’s/1950’s gospel scene that pervaded North Carolina’s culture before transitioning into classic rock. Even the late Nappy Brown, a Charlotte native, switched from singing gospel music to R&B. Wilbert Harrison, also hailing from Charlotte, spent the 50’s cranking out rhythm and blues songs that have later been deemed Rock & Roll Hall of Fame worthy. Due to musicians like Harrison, a more soulful brand of rock music gained popularity through the 1950’s. The sound became even edgier as the late 1970’s hit. With the introduction of more college towns, North Carolina saw the beginnings of punk rock, still a Charlotte staple (think David Vincent aka “Evil D” of the death metal band Morbid Angel). Other musicians hailing from Charlotte include Deniro Farrar and K-Ci & JoJo. While bluegrass and country still play a prominent part in Charlotte’s culture, there are many jazz, rock, mainstream, and punk rock outlets for those seeking a less twangy sound. We all know there are nights where we’re feeling a little country or a little edgy. Charlotte’s nightlife can keep up with your changing musical moods, and its understated, anything-goes kind of attitude comes from years of change and raw talent.
If you’re looking to be entertained by local and national acts in a simply styled venue, Amos’ Southend fits the bill. Having seen the likes of Rusted Root, Yelawolf, TV on the Radio, Chiddy Bang, the Darkness, and Talib Kweli, Amos’ Southend offers a good variety of live music. With a deceptively small exterior, this venue opens up into a larger space with clear acoustics and a standing room only floor. Prefer to take in the show from above? The standing balcony area allows you to look down on 1,000 of your sweatiest pals as you sip your cold beer.
The NoDa arts district in Charlotte is a music haven for all you audiophiles. The Chop Shop is a funky, casual venue housed in a former textile plant. Everything you see in the Chop Shop’s main room is hand-built from re-purposed industrial and auto parts. Two broken down motorcycles will greet you out front as you have your ticket ripped to see bands like Moon Taxi, the Mantras, the Revivalists, and Green River Ordinance. There are two stages in the venue: a multi-level main stage and a second stage that makes the Chop Shop an 800 capacity venue perfect for hosting locally promoted music festivals and soulful rock acts.
Want a place with a bit more history? The Double Door Inn, founded in 1973, is a dive bar with a feel-good friends and family vibe. If you don’t know anyone in the crowd, it’s likely that you’ll make a new friend by the end of the night. Located in the Elizabeth neighborhood, the Double Door Inn has come a long way since the time only six people showed up to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s first gig in Charlotte! Blues quickly became the venue’s niche, as acts like the Nighthawks, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Roomful of Blues served as regular entertainers. Willie Dixon and John Hammond have also stopped by to lend some talent and history to the space. In the early 80’s, Eric Clapton infamously stopped by with the Legendary Blues Band after performing a show, much to the locals’ delight. Known for its jazz, funk, bluegrass, and classic rock roots, the Double Door Inn will take you back to the good ol’ days.
Another staple in the Elizabeth neighborhood is Smokey Joe’s Cafe. This place is crawling with history, and you can certainly tell given the decor. Pool tables, old-school popcorn machines, jukeboxes, and Adirondack-style wooden barstools and benches make Smokey Joe’s a must-visit venue. With its bluesy rock aesthetic, Smokey Joe’s puts on the rustic charm. It’s a fun, female-friendly man-cave with coasters and posters plastered to the walls. In the winter, keep warm by the wood-burning stove. If you get a little overheated from dancing, have a seat on their outdoor Adirondack swing (their patio is a fire-pit laden masterpiece complete with beach ping-pong!). Let your entertainment ADD kick in at Smokey Joe’s: play pool, foosball, and darts, marvel at the neon signs, TVs, and Star Wars pinball machines. Explore! It’s encouraged at Smokey Joe’s (then again, so is dancing!). Blues and rock acts flock to play on Smokey Joe’s floor-level, Oriental-rug stage. Sink into one of the comfy leather couches, people watch, and take in some authentic live music at this local favorite.
If you’re in a graffiti and stickers kind of mood, the Milestone Club is a punk/metal-lover’s dream. Since 1969, the Milestone Club is a no-muss, no-fuss kind of venue with an extremely underground vibe that also caters to the New Wave lover inside us all. This underrated Charlotte venue serves cheap beers and favors live talent over ambience, boasting a rich musical background including the Violent Femmes, the Replacements, R.E.M., the Flaming Lips, and Black Flag to name a few (a more complete list is featured on their website).
Dating even further back is the Neighborhood Theatre, originally built in 1945 as the Astor Movie Theatre. Located in the NoDa arts district, the Astor was closed from the late 1970’s until 1997 as it was restored and transformed into the Neighborhood Theatre. The 956 capacity venue has a divey feel (noticing a theme?), and features movie nights, art shows, and church services in addition to live music. Artists that have taken the Neighborhood Theatre’s stage include the Indigo Girls, Rusted Root, and bluegrass legends Doc Watson, Del McCourey, and Acoustic Syndicate. You’ll keep cool while you dance, as the venue has an enormous ceiling fan that rarely ever goes unnoticed by concertgoers. The old school marquee on the building’s exterior pays homage to its film roots, but the Neighborhood Theatre thrives in Charlotte’s multi-faceted music scene.
The NoDa district places an emphasis on the arts, whether it be film, poetry, painting, sculpture, or jewelry making. The Evening Muse (founded in 2001) is a quaint, intimate venue that reflects precisely what the NoDa area is trying to achieve: an appreciation of the arts. The Evening Muse’s brick wall serves as a backdrop for open mic nights featuring local poets, writers, and musicians. The walls are covered in original artwork, and even the music must be original too (they have a strict no-cover band policy). Acoustic or full electric acts can be accommodated, and the Evening Muse welcomes many genres: alternative, Americana, blues, country, folk, hip-hop, jazz, pop, reggae, rock, and R&B. The Civil Wars played here (pre-fame), as well as Justin Townes Earle, Ben Bridwell (of Band of Horses), and Sean Lennon. Even if you’re just visiting, this cultural melting pot encourages you to stop by and find your muse.
If your poetry is a little darker and your eyeliner a little thicker, Snug Harbor may be a better fit for your entertainment needs. Although they do have “Country Tuesdays,” Snug Harbor is primarily a punk/hardcore venue. Fairly high on the hipster scale, this pirate themed space is located in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte. The whole place is rather low-key with a lot of bands you’ve probably never heard of, but all the mini plastic skeletons hanging from the lamps are the small touches that will make you and your friends chuckle.
You can always ditch the eye patch in favor of some club attire at Label (a part of the impressive NC Music Factory entertainment complex). Unfortunately, the dance floor is on the small side, but the décor and music is impressive (Bad Boy Bill and Benny Benassi have played here). The DJ stage area overlooks two massive bars, the dance floor, and multiple VIP bottle service tables. The main room has white modern couches and tables, while the entire space is up-lit with deep purple and blue lighting. The NY Lounge area features silver couches, unique puzzle piece tables, and oversized champagne bottles lining the walls. If you need a break from the sick beats being spun, check out their laid-back patio space with day beds and hookahs. Label is a trendy, upscale nightclub for those of you looking to dance, drink, and drop some money.
If you find yourself at the NC Music Factory and without your dress attire, The Saloon is a pub-style sports bar that also features live music and DJ sets. The big crowd-drawer at the NC Music Factory is the LiveNation venue the Fillmore Charlotte. Housed in an old textile mill, it channels the décor made famous by the Fillmore in San Francisco. The red interior, vintage concert posters, chandeliers, and red oak hardwood floors set the perfect stage for big names like Foster the People, Bastille, Juicy J, Dropkick Murphys, Young the Giant, Flogging Molly, Local Natives, and the Arctic Monkeys.
Another LiveNation owned venue, the PNC Music Pavilion (formerly the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre) opened in 1991. This 19,500 capacity outdoor venue in the University City neighborhood books the biggest names in music (Elton John, Dave Matthews Band, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, One Direction, etc.). Definitely make the time to catch a summer concert here!
The Time Warner Cable Arena (originally the Charlotte Bobcats Arena) in Center City also books popular acts. Having celebrated its grand opening with a concert by the Rolling Stones, the TWC Arena has held American Idol auditions, Democratic National Conventions, and NBA Charlotte Bobcats’ games (it’s even home to the largest indoor scoreboard in the U.S.). With an open plan that has airy walking paths, terraces, and exposed stairways, the TWC Arena commissioned local artist Paul Rousso to help with finding public art and displays that would pay tribute to the Charlotte community. Pearl Jam, the Avett Brothers, New Kids on the Block, and other big names have played the arena.
Charlotte’s first coliseum was the Bojangle’s Coliseum built in 1955. Now named after the Charlotte-based chicken and biscuits restaurant, Bojangle’s Coliseum hosts concerts, rodeos, professional bull riding, and figure skating. Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Queen, and Stevie Wonder have played sets in this 11,000 capacity dome.
If you want to avoid the long lines and metal detectors, head to Coyote Joe’s in the Southeast neighborhood. This large country dance-hall, complete with American flag décor, is a venue even country music haters adore. Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Charlie Daniels, the Bellamy Brothers, and Brooks & Dunn have all performed here. Coyote Joe’s even has its own award-winning, in-house band Out of the Blue. Every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night, there is live music for your entertainment. Pay a $1 membership fee, and the place is your country oasis for the evening.
The Ovens Auditorium, built in 1955, looks like a high school gym on the outside (picture two flag poles and a simple, rectangular building). When entering the 2,500 capacity performance area, you’ll notice the strips of multi-colored lights lining the seated portion of the auditorium. The Ovens Auditorium has played host to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Hope, Broadway shows like Wicked, symphonies, operas, dance, guest speakers, graduations, and a Billy Graham Crusade. Ignore the high school exterior and enjoy the show.
Blumenthal Performing Arts’ goal is to “… share and employ the arts as a major catalyst to strengthen education, build community cohesiveness, and advance economic growth.” With numerous venues throughout the Charlotte area, Blumenthal Performing Arts certainly achieves their mission, not to mention their initiative brings $52 million per year into the economy. The Belk Theatre features mainly symphonic and orchestral performances and is home to the NC Dance Theatre and Charlotte Symphony. The Knight Theatre at the Levine Center for the Arts (a part of Blumenthal’s uptown campus) is also known for featuring dance companies and orchestras without being too posh. It’s attached to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art for those of you needing an art fix. The Mcglohon Theatre at Spirit Square, a former Baptist church complete with stained glass windows, offers a wide selection of jazz performances and has hosted Iron & Wine, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Adam Ant, and Bruce Hornsby for small gigs. Since 1992, 7.9 million people have attended events planned and promoted by Blumenthal Performing Arts; won’t you join?
In June and September, Charlotte hosts jazz festivals like the Uptown Charlotte Jazz Festival (at the NC Music Factory) and the Charlotte Sunset Jazz Festival (at the Knight Theatre and Symphony Park). Also held at Symphony Park is the AWOL Music Festival. AWOL stands for All Walks of Life, and you can’t go wrong with that kind of message. Ten miles from Uptown Charlotte, the AWOL Music Festival has hosted Girl Talk, Skizzy Mars, Watch the Duck, Simplified, and Boy Beats World, among others. For those of you interested in music careers, whether it be on the corporate or performance side, the NoDa Fall Music Festival is the perfect event for you to pass out your card or demo at local NoDa venues (like the Chop Shop). The festival has industry-specific panels, local resources, and networking opportunities galore. Don’t worry, music fans, there are performances aplenty, so even if you don’t want to be the next Clive Davis, there’s still something for you at the NoDa Fall Music Festival. If you’re a bit more hardcore, check out the Carolina Rebellion Festival at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Bands like Kid Rock, Seether, Avenged Sevenfold, and Motörhead will rock you into oblivion at this two-day festival.