Best Places to Listen to Live Music in Pittsburgh

Our categorized roundup of live music venues (by genre) walks through what you can expect at over 26 music venues found all around Pittsburgh.

by David Bernabo
March 4, 2020

Pittsburgh has a vibrant, diverse music scene, and there are plenty of venues to see local and national acts no matter what type of music gets you going.

Rock and Rap and Folk and Pop

As genres have changed in predominance and the pop music landscape has shifted, so have Pittsburgh music venues.

Thunderbird Cafe and Music Hall went from a comfy, but slightly awkward split-level stage to a professional 380-capacity midsize venue. Add in a partnering venue–the 1,500-seat Roxian Theatre in McKees Rocks–and you have the bandwidth to accommodate touring bands that would previous skip Pittsburgh due to the scarcity of midsize venues. Roxian Live is the production company that books both venues, and they bring a consistent lineup of indie and mainstream rock, blues, folk, and, occasionally, some hip hop and metal.

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Running in the same waters, but, historically, a touch more out there is Mr. Small’s Theatre and The Funhouse at Mr. Small’s. The Theatre, booked by Opus One Productions and housed in the former St. Ann’s Catholic Church, attracts hipper indie bands and national acts while The Funhouse, booked by the in-house Mr. Smalls Productions, is perfect for local band bills. The complex also houses a recording studio, skate park, and professional development non-profit Creative.Life.Support. And if open mics are your thing, check out AcoustiCafe, every Monday in The Funhouse.

If you like eating pizza, drinking quality cocktails, and listening to music, definitely check out Spirit. This former Moose Lodge has two venue spaces, the massive “Hall” space and the cozier “Lodge” room. Both spaces have bars, easy access to delicious in-house pizza, and a stellar lineup of national and local indie, experimental, rap, and jazz shows. Check their calendar for bingo nights and Justin Strong’s monthly Interval Jazz and Spirit Sessions nights.

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For more bar-centric shows, do yourself a favor and check out Hambone’s (now home of Experimental Guitar Night), Howlers, Brillobox, Cattivo, and Club Cafe.

If you’d rather forego the bar, but are still in the mood for some synth explorations, doom, goregrind, punk, post-punk, hardcore, or post-hardcore then get over to the long-running DIY venue The Mr. Roboto Project, the new Black Forge Coffee House in McKees Rocks, or Babyland in Oakland.

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Acoustic

Acoustic Music Works is mostly known for selling exquisite high-end, handcrafted acoustic guitars, but luthier Raymond Morin also runs a music series that books some of the coolest nationally-touring finger-style guitarists. These are intimate, limited seat endeavors, so the best way to find out about them is to swing by the store and check out a show poster.

Jazz

Jazz has rightly or wrongly been called “America’s classical music.” It’s a genre that was born in the African American communities in New Orleans, Louisiana, fermenting late 19th century brass bands, blues, and ragtime into a swinging, polyrhythmic stew. Over the years, jazz has absorbed elements of other genres–rhythm ‘n blues, folk, 20th century classical, and musics from around the world.

Pittsburgh was a jazz capital in the 40s and 50s. The “Pittsburgh Sound” bore out in the playing of drummer Art Blakey, bassist Ray Brown, singers Lena Horne and Billy Eckstine, pianists Mary Lou Williams and Erroll Garner, and countless others.

Today, Pittsburgh jazz lives on in weekly series like:

Monday nights at Savoy, where you can indulge in dinner and drink specials while listening to some of Pittsburgh’s biggest talents.

Tuesday nights at Backstage Bar at Theater Square and, in the summer, outdoors in the Agnes R. Katz Plaza aka “eyeball park,” where an enthusiastic audience chills out after the work day.

Thursday nights at Kingfly Spirits, where you are likely to see increasingly cutting edge jazz.

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If none of those nights suit you, Con Alma hosts jazz concerts of impeccable quality most days of the week. Wallace’s Whiskey Room + Kitchen in the East Liberty Hotel Indigo serves up jazz most weekends–Thursday, too. And if your tastes run a bit weirder, City of Asylum consistently brings heavy-hitting jazzers from New York and all over the world.

Also, remember to mark your calendars for the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, happening this year from June 18-21, 2020.

DJ & Dance Music

If you need Korean BBQ, karaoke rooms, and steamy dance parties, Cobra PGH is the place for you. Yelp reviews have favorably compared this place to the “Snakehole Lounge” from Parks and Recreation. Gone is the koi pond from the days of the Feng restaurant, and in its place is calendar full of experimental dance, Trap, Jersey Club, Cumbia, Rap, Disco, and Turntablism.

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DJ-owned and operated, The Goldmark hits its peak in the late evening with an ace crew of nightly DJs–DJ Nugget, DJ Selecta, DJ Midas, and more! Tuesday nights are Service Industry Nights featuring a number of drink specials.

The Harder To Classify

When The Glitter Box Theater arrived on the scene in 2016, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Here was an affordable room that bookers could rent and put on crazy shows. Years later, that mentality still holds. The theater regularly hosts music shows–dipping into electronic and ambient musics, singer-songwriter, and things like a 90s-themed open mic night–but there is so much more. Comedy shows, science fairs, documentary screenings, puppets! This is a great space that aims to provide infrastructure to creators doing their thing.

Since 2004, the Sound Series at The Andy Warhol Museum has taken inspiration from Warhol’s collaborations with underground rock and avant-garde experimentalists to bring a wonderfully-curated series that spans Indie Rock, West African guitar music, and experimental R&B. The Sound Series also collaborates with The University of Pittsburgh’s Music On The Edge series to present cutting edge classical ensembles. If interested in a show, order tickets sooner than later as many of these shows sell out.

The Government Center is a record store that seems to be tailor-made to separate me from my money. And they also do shows! There’s feminist post-hardcore bands and breezy, haphazard folk and spectral microtonal investigations. Check out their calendar and bring some extra cash to pick up a few records.

Despite this lengthy list of venues, a lot of Pittsburgh music has a hard time finding a home and seeks refuge in the art gallery or art studio. So, it’s definitely worth your time to check in with places like BOOM Concepts and 3577 Studios for innovative programming that doesn’t quite fit in at the bar or theater.

Happy listening!

 

Header Photo by Justin Boyd; taken as part of Pittsburgh’s Very Own 2019 at Mr. Smalls Theatre.

David Bernabo is a writer, filmmaker, musician, dancer, and visual artist, performing with the bands Host Skull, Watererer, and How Things Are Made; devising dances with his variable dance company, MODULES; and often collaborating with Maree ReMalia | merrygogo. He curates and produces work for the Ongoing Box imprint and co-curates the Lightlab Performance Series with slowdanger.

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