July 29, 2019
Charlotte has suffered the rapid loss of many significant music venues in the last few years as city developers mercilessly demolish the treasures that make this city great in lieu of generic apartment buildings. Naming a new and unremarkable (yet so very expensive!) buildings after a brand of guitar or musical phrasing does not, in fact, make it interesting. Instead, it comes off as a fresh slap in the face to working artists around town.
But where there is destruction, there is also the resilience of rebirth. Numerous venues, bottle and coffee shops around town have banded together and opened their doors as a direct response to losing our beloved places to enjoy music. The emotional weight, however, still rests heavily and bitterly in a lot of Charlotteans’ hearts as popular points of interest continue to be swept out of sight.
When Google searching for venues in Charlotte, there’s a lot of outdated information. It’s time to pay attention to the local artists, the smaller touring musicians, the neighborhood creative hubs that foster community, pride, and friendship. To help shine a light on several of Charlotte’s under-the-radar spaces, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of venues where you can catch the exciting and emerging underground acts in our city for free or minimal charge.
Lovingly referred to as “Snug,” the loosely rockstar/glam/pirate-themed venue is one of the now oldest music venues in the city. Locals wouldn’t say that this place is “under the radar” as it consistently hosts powerhouse shows of local, regional, and global talent while remaining friendly to all walks of life– Snug was awarded as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly venues in the city. Comfortable, casual, and accepting, you’re sure to find something interesting going on any day of the week. Known for their residency showcases where a local band/artist curate’s the month’s Wednesday-night line-up, they’ve discovered a way for local artists to form lasting relationships with one another, test out-of-the-box lineups, and help music lovers get acquainted with the varying styles of Charlotte music. From queer-celebrating disco and drag nights to Sunday night karaoke masses and Southern hip hop blowouts, it doesn’t matter when you stumble into Snug– you’ll find a friendly face and a party brewing.
Another Plaza Midwood heavy-hitter, Petra’s is one of the most diverse and friendly music venues in the Charlotte area. Petra’s proudly employs musicians and is even co-owned by Perry Fowler, half of the stompin’ Americana act Sinners & Saints, which keeps the venue on the pulse of local acts. The building is a complete circle with multiple rooms including the main stage, an art gallery, an impressive outdoor back patio, and a draft beer taproom that transforms into a glorious tiki hideaway every 4th Tuesday. The main room’s open floor plan, low-lying stage and easy access to other parts of the bar allows the venue to turn into a dance floor making it perfect for the wildly popular recurring dance soirees that range in theme from Latin and ‘50s/’60s to Afro-Brazilian, funk and New Wave.
Opened in 2017 by longtime friends Chris Hostetler, Phillip Gripper (Modern Primitives), and Brett Coppedge, this indoor skatepark also doubles as a music venue. The best part about Oso being both an active skatepark and a venue in one room, is that one doesn’t stop to accommodate the other. During a band’s set, riders that come to skate are allowed to safely express themselves through the art of BMX, skateboard, scooter, etc. They don’t serve alcohol and have early hours, so shows tend to be more open to an all-ages crowd. And, every second Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Oso opens their doors for Community Unity– an event in partnership with Issa Vibe Adventures that invites all people to come together and make hundreds of sandwiches for Urban Ministry.
This unassuming pub, located conveniently next to the light rail extension in NoDa, serves both fair trade coffees and craft cocktails while offering a near constant stream of musical events throughout the week. Owned by avid music fans Billy Dail and Mike Dawson, Crown Station’s new raised stage and PA system means they can properly host anything from bands to full rap bills to DJ sets. Crown Station has ample seating including a cozy living room setup away from the stage in case you need the comfort of a plush couch in between sets.
A victim of the Central Avenue condo explosion, the decades-old Tommy’s Pub building was flattened a few years ago. New owner, and original Tommy’s Pub bartender, Jamie Starks has resurrected the place in its new home within the Eastway Crossing shopping center. Knowing how special Tommy’s was to Charlotteans, Starks took extra care in decorating the new spot to be just as homey and comfortable as the old bar, even going so far as to paint the walls Nicotine Yellow to emulate the years’ worth of cigarette tar that had seasoned the walls of the original location. Tommy’s has always been an open space for creative musical outlets and now that their building can actually fit more than two people onstage, they host a wide array of local and touring talents. Throughout the week, the bar holds a singer-songwriter showcase, open mic nights, karaoke, and bluegrass jams, peppered in with a collection of free shows.
The Beaver has acquired monumental fame since refusing to let the condo wave take over its place on busy Central Avenue, the controversy drawing comparisons to the old man’s house from Pixar’s Up. But a cute exterior surrounded by laughably towering condos is where the comparisons stop. As you walk into The Beaver you’re baptised underneath at least a hundred bras (probably more), as a fair warning to what kind of place you’ve just entered. Counteracting their polished neighbors, The Beaver is timelessly legendary with reruns of Hee-Haw buzzing on tiny retro TV screens, a jukebox beaming with every fabled country western song, and tastefully tacky velvet paintings adorning the walls. Owned by brothers Mark and Brian Wilson who also own The Tipsy Burro and NoDa’s Rat’s Nest, and who play in outlaw band, The Loose Lugnuts, the bar is about as big as a fly’s shoebox and has select nights of music where people aren’t afraid to get rowdy and have a damn good time.
Owned by many of the same hands that brought Snug Harbor to life, Tip Top was originally designed to be a small neighborhood spot to grab a beer, snacks, and connect to the people around you. Named in tribute to an older community store in NoDa that’s no longer in business, Tip Top has become an ideal setting for amateur DJ nights, local producer showcases, a food truck origin story, and a record shop by Premium Sound and Digger’s Delight. Tip Top’s resident food truck, Killer B’s, fires up their griddle for weekly Scrambled Eggs Jazz Brunch on Sundays, while every Tuesday Premium Sound and Diggers Delight host BYODJ, a night where music lovers can sign up to be the resident DJ from 7-9 p.m.in a safe and encouraging atmosphere. Their recurring events inspire people to fall back in love with music in a way that is often lost through streaming services. USB Roulette, Vacation Pay’s Repainted Tomorrow, High Tide, and the last Friday Music Tastings all bring people together to fully appreciate the music and people around you.
A hidden game of Charlotte located in a quaint brick shopping center next to the Food Lion is Comet Grill, a neighborhood restaurant and bar that just so happens to have free local live music every night, including a Wednesday night open mic. The open area inside includes a second story to provide double the front row views for busier nights, while the bar below offers abundant seating on normal evenings.
Charlotte’s oldest, grittiest, and likely most famous venue, the humble Milestone stage has held the likes of Nirvana, Bad Brains, R.E.M. and even the glitter sleaze queen herself, Kesha. The Milestone’s devoted staff keep the heartbeat of the place pumping, pouring themselves into the old building and its preservation. The Milestone is also known for its sound, with many bands throughout the years setting up to record their albums in the venues’ main room. There is punk rock history and glory breathing out of the sturdy wooden beams of The Milestone and the place boasts near nightly music events at prices as cheap as their beer.
The Evening Muse has been called one of the best sounding rooms in the east and touring acts stream in to play and see if the rumors check out. Owned by community leader and sound tech extraordinaire, Joe Kuhlmann, the Muse has brought a pristine sound to Charlotte’s NoDa district since 2001. Kuhlmann and the Muse’s friendly staff champion honest songwriting and the craft, no matter what traditional genre artists are placed in. That understood and nurtured love of the craft make it such an exceptional place; people who chatter during sets are asked to take it outside or keep it hushed and a level of respect is shown to whoever’s on stage. The Muse holds great local shows and events like their award-winning Monday night open mic, as well as nationally known names from Open Mike Eagle to Modern Lovers’ Jonathan Richman.
What started out as a tap house and tavern quickly became a refuge for local acts needing a place to play once venues started closing down in NoDa. The small bar, located next to the aforementioned Tip Top has a ton of local and regional draft beers, is dog-friendly, and has a great outdoor area that wraps halfway around the back of the building. Events like Country Music Mondays, Bingo Tuesdays, and Karaoke Thursdays keep the weekdays light but Friday and Saturday are typically reserved local and regional acts.
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