Seattle’s live music venues are scattered like seabirds across the city. Those looking for lost words set to tuneful melodies will discover honkytonk vibes in Ballard, world beats in Fremont and a little bit of everything downtown, on Capitol Hill and in Columbia City. Here’s our definitive list of where to see live music in Seattle.
Every city needs a reliable world music showcase and, for Seattle, Nectar serves up those African and island-infused beats on a nightly basis. Located in Fremont, the city’s hippest neighbourhood, the Wailers, Third World and Afrika Bambaataa all infuse Nectar with their sweetness when in town.
Showbox’s venues provide the last opportunity to see musicians in an intimate setting before they explode onto arena and stadium tours. Not that every band playing here goes platinum, but it’s still fun to say you saw Miguel at Showbox SoDo way back when. The Showbox also produces shows like Wilco and Sublime at Marymoor Park, Seattle’s premier outdoor amphitheatre.
Like Melville’s Great White Whale, you won’t find the Seamonster unless you’re looking for it. Shoehorned into the sleepy Wallingford neighbourhood, the Seamonster provides crazy good jams Tuesday nights and squeezes the masses in every Friday for live soul from house band, Funky2Death. This haunt proved so popular that owner/singer Andrew Nunez expanded the habitat, doubling capacity.
Okay, first let’s get the name dropping out of the way. Yes, Nirvana and Pearl Jam put in many of their “10,000 hours” here, and start-up acts like R.E.M., Beastie Boys and Macklemore have taken to this medium-sized stage in a perfectly sized hall. Reopened in 2009, The Crocodile still feels a little “grungy,” an ideal setting for Macy Gray, Megan Nicole, Benjamin Booker, and a must for anyone wondering where to see live music in Seattle.
Neumos has served as an incubator for eclectic, independent music dating back to its 1994 opening as Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Café. Back then, a band called Pearl Jam chose to launch its Mirror Ball album here with a musician named Neil Young. Since then, The Shins, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, Vampire Weekend and scores of other indie “unknowns” have made their Seattle debut here.
You never know exactly who you’ll find inside Chop Suey, which is the way those booking the acts like it. The music tends to be theatrical and complex, like Meridian Arc, Alicia Amiri and Transglobal Underground. One night might present bohemian songwriter Zella Day, the next a postpunk band out of Austin. There is one constant however, those exciting Chop Suey shows help to give Capitol Hill’s Pine-Pike Corridor its character.
Old Ballard Avenue bears resemblance to Austin’s legendary 6th Street not only because of the cobblestone and brick façades, but also because of the roadhouse tunes emanating from the Tractor Tavern. The Tractor features live music five nights a week without fail, specializing in tunes that twang and tickle your feet, if not your heartstrings. If pedal steel doesn’t feed your soul, wander up to the Sunset Tavern for a taste of indie rock in a venue that perfectly captures “Old Seattle”.
Once a year, Seattle serves up a mighty set list during Bumbershoot, touted as the largest arts and music festival in North America – 2,500 musicians, visual artists, writers and comedians vie for our attention every Labor Day. Half the fun comes from hatching your festival strategy: do you encamp at the World Music stage or race about to catch entertainment of every stripe? Either way, this hootenanny exemplifies Seattle’s fixation with live music and arts culture.
Written by Crai Bower