Music to your ears: 7 iconic concert venues in America

Take a closer look at some of the best music halls in the country.

The lights dim. The crowd roars. The air becomes thick with anticipation as you wait for the artists to appear onstage. The music starts, and you’re all cheering because you know this performance could be the most memorable night of your life.

Music has that kind of power. It brings people together from all over the world to share in electric experiences that can only be felt when you catch them live.

It’s this kind of feeling that brings people like photographer Brandon Ballweg out to live shows. “It’s one thing to watch a live recording on a good home theater. It’s an entirely different experience watching one of your favorite bands in person, with the energy of a big crowd, at a venue with incredible acoustics,” he says.

But are some stages better than others? Much like the music itself, it’s all a matter of personal taste. However, there are a handful of historic music halls that have been shelling out concert tickets to some seriously stand-out performances for decades on end.

Here are 7 of the most iconic music venues in America today:

Metro Chicago

Metro might not be the biggest amphitheater to make this list, but it’s arguably one of the best concert venues in America—and with good reason. What Metro lacks in square footage it makes up for in intimacy.

With a cozy capacity of 1,100, this Chicago staple has been rocking out since 1982. When Joe Shanahan came across the circa 1927 structure, he envisioned the perfect platform for emerging industrial artists. But it didn’t take long for him to expand his reach to all genres of music.

Imagine catching an up-and-comer like R.E.M. just before they blew up. Or witnessing an up-close-and-personal performance from a legend like Iggy Pop. It’s all possible at Metro, and being able to say you were there is worth far more than the face value concert tickets.

Ryman Auditorium®

Nashville’s own Ryman Auditorium was born from the brain of businessman Thomas G. Ryman in 1892. Originally constructed as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the Ryman provided thousands with a place to hear Rev. Sam Jones preach.

In 1943, The Grand Ole Opry® moved in and offered the multitude of Nashville music lovers a haven to hear their favorites until 1974. The Ryman remains open today, hosting hundreds of concerts each year and offering daytime tours.

Whisky A Go Go®

Likely needing no introduction, the world-famous Whisky A Go Go has probably played host to half your playlist. From The Doors to Guns N’ Roses and hundreds more from every era in between, “The Whisky” has ruled rock and roll on the Sunset Strip since the ’60s.

Garnering respect from all avenues, this concert venue could even be considered the birthplace of the go-go dancing craze. And it was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of FameTM!

So if you like live music and happen to be in West Hollywood, catch a show at the Whisky A Go Go. It’s “all ages, all the time,” and it won’t ever disappoint.  

Schubas Tavern

Often considered one of the best small venues in Chicago, Schubas Tavern is a must-see when visiting the Windy City. And its storied past is nothing short of impressive.

The tavern began as a brewery-owned bar. Schlitz brewery claimed this “tied house” as a way to exclusively sell their own products. The establishment was polished and aimed to paint a different (better) picture for the bar business as Prohibition was on the rise.

Since reopening as Schubas in 1989, the tavern’s capacity for a mere 165 people has helped pave the way for current all-star acts like My Morning Jacket and The National. Remnants of Schlitz brewery still adorn the walls, both inside and out, and they still serve their beer on tap.

So, if you want a taste of history, stop into Schubas for a Schlitz and catch a show. They have live music nightly, and you never know who might turn up.

Severance Hall

Arguably one of the best concert venues in America to feature symphonic tunes is Severance Hall. This Cleveland landmark has served as the home of The Cleveland Orchestra since 1931, and it’s widely considered to be an acoustic masterpiece for one of the world’s best ensembles.

An architectural marvel, Severance Hall really is a sight to be seen—and it’s always filled with notes to be heard.

The Bowery Ballroom®

Sure to make every major list of concert venues is the famous Bowery Ballroom in New York City. The Bowery completed construction just before the stock market crash of 1929, and ultimately closed. It wasn’t until after the Great Depression and the Second World War that this NYC icon reopened as host to high-end retailers. Hats to high-end jewelry...they had it!

In 1998, the space reopened as the music venue now known as The Bowery Ballroom. With a capacity of 575 people, it allows each live-music event the golden opportunity to become a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

A list of unforgettable concert venues wouldn’t be complete without this iconic rock formation. Both a natural wonder and a first-rate musical amphitheater, Red Rocks delivers both astounding acoustics and natural beauty underneath the starry skies of Morrison, Colorado.

Just a short drive from Denver, Red Rocks Park has been attracting the biggest artists in music since 1906. But its history begins over 200 million years ago when the rocks started to naturally form this amphitheater structure.

When John Brisben Walker discovered the area, originally known as the Garden of Angels, he had a vision. His dream of providing a platform for musical artists to perform in the great outdoors came to life in 1906.

Eventually, the city of Denver purchased Red Rocks from Walker for $54,133. By 1936, Denver architect Burnham Hoyt completed his plans to create a stage designed to both preserve Red Rocks’ natural beauty and boost its acoustic abilities.

Educator and self-proclaimed concert junkie Mary Billiter says, “What makes Red Rocks so iconic is the rock formations that create this open-air venue. The acoustics are phenomenal.  Sitting beneath the stars while experiencing a live show there is a must on a concert-goer’s bucket list.”

The park has since been designated a National Historic Landmark. The amphitheater continues to host up to 9,525 fans on event nights, each able to enjoy an unobstructed view of almost every major artist you can imagine.

Wherever your well-attuned ears may take you, there’s bound to be a concert venue nearby with beautiful acoustics. So do a little searching and start getting excited. Who knows? It could end up being the best night of your life.

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