Beyond Spoleto: Charleston's Best Spots For Live Music Year-Round

Charleston is celebrated for its charming cobblestone streets, graceful architecture, and stunning natural beauty. Much like its location on the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, Charleston preserves its history while welcoming cultural vibrancy into its modern currents. Each spring, the city's historic downtown hosts the Spoleto Festival USA, a world-class performing arts festival. A blend of old and new, Spoleto Festival USA welcomes famous and emerging artists in music, theatre, and dance into Charleston's historic venues, churches, and outdoor spaces. Showcasing performances from opera to jazz, the festival highlights the artistic diversity and musical inclusivity of modern Charleston.

However, Spoleto is only one oyster shell in the bucket when it comes to Charleston's established yet evolving music scene. In Charleston, blues and jazz have long been staples of the area's musical past, a testament to the underbelly of the genteel South. Carrying this musical heritage, the city still boasts an array of venues catering to blues and jazz. But, much like the city itself, the city's music scene continues to evolve, welcoming a range of musical genres. Beyond the Spoleto Festival and springtime dogwoods, music reigns supreme at these famed Charleston spots all year long.

Charleston Music Hall

Centrally located in the city's historic downtown district, the Charleston Music Hall is a large yet intimate concert theater. Known for its incredible acoustics, the Hall tends to welcome larger acts that would overcrowd some of Charleston's mid-sized venues. The concert theater also hosts a broad range of performances, from the Charleston Jazz Orchestra to artists representing a range of genres.

Charleston Music Hall is located inside one of the oldest buildings on the block. Historically known as The Tower Depot, the building was constructed in 1849, serving as a passenger station for the South Carolina Railroad. After sitting vacant for 60 years, developers transformed the building into a performance arts center in 1995. 

More of an intimate listening room than a raucous concert venue, the 965-seat Charleston Music Hall combines its historical elegance with modern technology, making it one of Charleston's premier stages for live music performance.

The Commodore and Forte Jazz Club

The Commodore is quintessential jazz club cool. Formally known as Touch of Class, another jazz club staple of Charleston from the early '80s, The Commodore's interior has remained relatively untouched for decades. The small, intimate venue features dark-corner booths, a dimly lit stage, a small dance floor, velvet curtains, and a disco ball. The atmosphere remains classic and iconic, a natural evolution from the earliest scenes of Charleston blues and jazz. Located in Eastside Charleston on Meeting Street, the vintage jazz club hosts both touring and local acts, typically showcasing jazz, funk, and R&B.

The Commodore's gritty elegance is something to experience, but if you're looking for more of a dinner and a show, then maybe consider the swankier Forte Jazz Club. Unlike The Commodore, which is intimate with its classic jazz club atmosphere, Forte Jazz Club is modeled after the New York City-styled jazz clubs, featuring big bands and big sounds. Located on bustling King Street, Forte is only a few blocks from The Commodore, so jazz enthusiasts may want to check out both.

Riverfront Music Park of North Charleston

Located in North Charleston in the heart of Lowcountry, Riverfront Park is the area's premiere venue for large outdoor shows and music festivals. In the spring, the annual two-day High Water Festival welcomes world-renown artists in rock, alternative, Americana, and hip-hop, while a new festival, River Revival, now highlights the park's autumn calendar. Curated by South Carolina native Darius Rucker, River Revival celebrates the music and heritage of South Carolina's Lowcountry. 

Along with its music festivals, Riverfront Park also holds large concerts throughout the warmer months. Drawing artists such as The Roots and Umphry's McGee, Riverfront Park is a particularly scenic venue to catch a show. Set on the banks of the Cooper River, the park features a large meadow flanked by Spanish-mossed oak trees and waterfront trails. If you happen to visit Charleston when a show isn't scheduled, the 15-acre park is still worth a visit, as the park is also home to the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial, outdoor art installations, and riverfront vistas.

The Music Farm

If the Charleston Music Hall offers an intimate, listening room experience, The Music Farm is the Hall's more raucous little brother. The downtown venue on Anne Street is a standing-room-only venue with a 650-person capacity, offering a lively and dance-forward atmosphere. The Music Farm frequently welcomes musical acts in rock, hip-hop, reggae, and EDM.

The promotional behemoth Live Nation books the headliner shows at The Music Farm, giving you the chance to catch some of your favorite regional and national acts in a smallish setting. However, The Music Farm does help cultivate the local scene on select nights by showcasing area artists.

The Music Farm recently announced a partnership with The Royal American, another iconic music venue of Charleston that's celebrated for both its underground shows and food menu. The Royal American will now serve food at all of The Music Farm's concerts. For visitors who want to experience Charleston's music scene with a quality bar bite, The Royal American's menu with The Music Farm's stage is a nice pitch-to-palate pairing. We also recommend seeing a show at The Royal American, which has proven pivotal in fostering the growth of Charleston's local music scene. 

The Pour House

When speaking about iconic venues in Charleston, The Pour House may be the city's most well-known and cherished spot. Founded in 2002 on James Island, The Pour House features both an indoor and outdoor venue. Along with a Grateful Dead tribute band that plays every Wednesday outside for free, The Pour House welcomes local, regional, and national bands to its stages nearly every night.

If you enjoy the Grateful Dead, or the psychedelic culture in general, then you'll appreciate the artwork, laid-back vibe, and energetic crowds of The Pour House. Over the last couple of decades, The Pour House has established itself as one of the most popular venues in the Southeast, and after attending a show, you'll understand why.

While this isn't a comprehensive list of all Charleston's music venues, it's a decent place to start. You can also attend a large show at the 13,000-seat North Charleston Coliseum, or dance in the sand at Party at the Point, a beach concert series hosted by Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina throughout the summer. But no matter when you visit Charleston, music lovers can experience its vibrant music scene year-round.