The Live Wire: Where To Hear Music in Orlando

What’s that Triumph sang about – thee “magic power” of the music? Well, you may have heard of Triumph – or not – but the sentiment holds true regardless. Most people aren’t steadfast in their musical tastes. Jazz, blues, hip hop, soul, rock, country…. It just depends on the mood, really. So, what’s yours? Are you staying in the resort area and looking to stay put and marinate in a vacationer’s vibe? Check out Bob Marley: A Tribute To Freedom at Universal CityWalk for live reggae and the umbrella drinks to pair with it. Feel like unearthing something special that even the locals aren’t all hip to just yet? Head over to Maitland for cool jazz, smooth wines and tasty tapas at Jazz Tastings, an unexpected oasis in an unassuming shopping plaza. Touring acts of all stripes hit Downtown Disney’s House of Blues, a beautiful venue with great sound and multiple bars – but then they also visit The Social and the Plaza Live, two amazing venues held dear in the hearts of local music lovers. From the smoky “underground” jazz vault of downtown’s Tanqueray’s  to the convivial everyday-fun vibe of Casey’s on Central, there are enough live music haunts in town to please everyone, whether your love of music was born of the Victrola or the MP3.


10 Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom
Orlando has many things. The ocean, sadly, is not one of them, but that doesn't mean you can't get the vibe of a Caribbean vacation while you're in town for business or pleasure. Enter Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom, conveniently located in the Universal CityWalk complex (especially convenient for those of you who might be staying here or nearby). Sure, they serve food. And yes, they offer a full bar loaded down with Red Stripe and all manner of tropical drinks to get you in the mood. But moreover, they serve reggae � live, soulful reggae for tapping your feet or swaying your hips or both (while enjoying that aforementioned Red Stripe). (407-224-2262)

9 Tanqueray's
Small, smoky and -- if you like intimate spaces and great music sans pretention and expensive decor -- sexy, Tanqueray's is an "underground" music venue where the drinks are cold and the horns blow hot. Wind your way downstairs and there's that feeling of immersion into music that's pure and free and primal. The place has big-city, film-noir dive-bar essence, friendly staffers, inexpensive beverages and a devoting following. For some, it's the ideal appetizer for a night exploring Orlando's downtown. For others, it's a nightcap. Or perhaps a way to extend the revelry into the wee hours -- in the company of some spectacular local musicians. (407-649-8540)

8 Fiddler's Green
Fiddler's Green gets an undeniable boost due to its proximity to Rollins College in Winter Park, but this is no college bar. Families, couples, locals of all stripes frequent this neighborhood pub for its welcoming atmosphere, foodstuffs -- much of it Irish, and they serve Sunday brunch, as well -- great selection of beers and whiskies and yes, live music every Thursday through Saturday. On tap for your ears: acoustic, blues and light rock acts along with Irish folk and traditional. It can get lively and loud in here and that's the way most of the regulars -- and the congenial staff -- like it. (407-645-2050)

7 Casey's on Central
There's really only three things you need to know about Casey's on Central, a local kinda joint in the heart of downtown Orlando: free popcorn, homemade moonshine and live music seven nights a week. Acoustic and plugged-in, country, southern rock, classic rock, blues -- you name it -- with a setting so uber-casual, it's hard to believe you're in bustling downtown. Patio seating keeps things airy and strong pours keep it interesting (with added value). Check their website for who's playing when and hit them up for happy hour for an even better deal. And if you're not a fan of moonshine, fear not, they've got a full bar. (407-648-4218)

6 Vines Grille and Wine Bar
Top-shelf live jazz and blues -- nightly -- set the tone for the Vines Grille & Wine Bar experience, creating atmosphere that speaks to romance, relaxation, sophistication and, if you take advantage of the stellar wine selection a modicum of inebriation. Live music starts every night at seven, marking the end of happy hour and the beginning of the dinner hour (Vines is also an upscale dining venue and wine shop). Let staffers steer you toward the perfect drink selection. Music plays in the bar, but an open layout lets everyone enjoy the vibe, whether the band is playing hot or cool. (4073511227)

5 The Plaza Live
This unassuming but amazing little venue in the Milk District announced plans for a renovation just as we were updating this list. We can't predict what new heights such investment (courtesy of the Orlando Philharmonic, which is acquiring the decades-old venue) will bring, but all reports say that it will continue to operate as a concert and performance space for all the same acts locals have come to love it for -- with the additional cache of chamber music in its regular rotation. At Plaza Live, artists from George Clinton to the Irish Rovers, Citizen Cope to Yngwie Malmsteen, Bruce Hornsby to Judy Collins to Travis Tritt, pack the place regularly, along with comedy shows and other events, including occasional food-truck gatherings in its parking lot. Orlando and its visitors look forward to more great performances -- before, during and after the upgrades. (407-228-1220)

4 Will's Pub
Serving up drinks and live music to Orlando locals thirsty for both for 15-plus years, Will's is something of a petri dish for indie music, a come-as-you-are joint if ever there was that has played host to burgeoning acts of all stripes. Recent improvements to the joint have only bolstered its ability to musically baptize all comers. Bands love playing here. People love seeing them. And if you're looking for reasons to come by before showtime, how do pool, drink specials, 16 taps flowing with microbrews and free WiFi sound? Important to note: Will's Pub isn't just about touring acts; they also host open-mics, hip-hop nights, poetry slams and more. (407-898-5070)

3 Jazz Tastings
It's a common occurrence in the City Beautiful: you're minding your own business in some unassuming little shopping plaza and BOOM! (or in this case, the noise is a bit smoother, maybe with a little piano, some sax and some subtle, sultry vocal acrobatics) you unearth a small treasure you never knew existed. Such could be the case with Jazz Tastings, an intimate and cosmopolitan little hang tucked into the Village Plaza in Maitland. Live music six nights a week seduces customers, many of whom say they feel like regulars on their first night thanks to gracious staffers and owners who oversee the operation from end to end. A small menu of interesting tapas and rich desserts rounds out the experience, but the music and ambiance -- and maybe a nice bottle of bubbly -- would surely be enough to keep you in your seat for the evening. ((407) 661-1190)

2 The Social
Consistently voted a favorite live-music venue by critics and locals alike, the Social's laid-back vibe, efficient barkeeps and relatively intimate space draws an eclectic crowd of music lovers, be it blues, folk, rock, metal, reggae.... Really, anything goes. With quality sound and an unpretentious atmosphere, the Social hosts big-name acts along with local and regional favorites, making it an ideal venue not only to catch your favorite acts but discover new ones on the nights your live music craving won't go unsated. The Social also features regular and semi-regular genre-driven nights. Salsa Sundays, for example, feature DJ Frankie spinning salsa, merengue and bachata with an open premium bar for a flat cover. Salud! (407-246-1419)

1 House of Blues Orlando
The acts that perform at Orlando's House of Blues run the gamut from metal to folk, rock to pop, country to -- of course -- blues and everything in between (and let's not even talk about its Sunday Gospel Brunch). HOB is an all-around incredible venue -- wonderful sound, great atmosphere and home to the largest musical folk art collection in the world. Balcony seats afford birds-eye views but reasonable design -- there are higher and lower portions on the first floor for better vantage points if you're not one for the proper "floor section" fray -- are easily staked out. The sound is solid, as are the pours at the bar. (407-934-2583, 407-934-2002)

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A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum. A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city. Visit her colorful compendium at  

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Maps and Directions

Tanqueray's 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar, Live Music, Lounge
Neighborhood: Downtown
Fiddler's Green 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar, Live Music, Pub
Neighborhood: Winter Park
Casey's on Central 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar, Live Music
Neighborhood: Downtown
Vines Grille and Wine Bar 10Best List Arrow
Type: Wine Bar
Neighborhood: Doctor Phillips
The Plaza Live 10Best List Arrow
Type: Live Entertainment, Live Music
Will's Pub 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar, Live Music
Neighborhood: Colonialtown
Jazz Tastings 10Best List Arrow
Type: Wine Bar
Neighborhood: Maitland
The Social 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar, Dance Club, Live Music
Neighborhood: Downtown
House of Blues Orlando 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar, Live Music
Neighborhood: Downtown Disney ®