The Live Wire: Where to Hear Music in Orlando
By A.D. Thompson
Orlando Local Expert
What’s that Triumph sang about – the “magic power” of the music? Well, you may have heard of Triumph – or not – but the sentiment holds true regardless. And Orlando's an ideal city when it comes to magic! 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? Looking for a Disney-based haven where you can feed your tummy, sate your liver and enjoy live tunes with the kids? Check out Raglan Road, where two stages offer up two different live-music vibes and Irish dancers stomp nightly. 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.
Orlando Farmer's Market
Orlando residents have been delighting in this weekly Lake Eola event since 1987 and it just keeps growing. The market features more than 50 vendors all year 'round, creating a veritable cornucopia of Florida fruits and vegetables. Also on tap: plants, jewelry, paintings, clothing, locally made specialty food items and more. The market is dog- and family-friendly; many residents bring the whole family to shop, grab a late breakfast or lunch and even enjoy beer and mimosas (courtesy of Orlando Brewing) in its oak-shaded "biergarten" where venerable local singer/guitar-slinger Joseph Martens entertains the crowd every Sunday with rock and pop classics, sometimes with accompanying musicians, as well.
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)
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)
Raglan Road Irish Pub
With live music on two different stages and Irish dancers every night of the week, Raglan Road really packs in the entertainment. And there's plenty of good food and cold drink with which to enjoy it. Monday through Sunday you can stomp, clomp and kick up your heels (or, you know, just watch) with Raglan's talented dance troupe from 5 -10 p.m. Performances run every hour on the hour. On Sundays, the Rollicking Raglan Brunch Irish Dance Show fills in the morning/midday slot (noon to 4 p.m.) and the Celtic revelry continues through to 10. A number of bands grace the main and patio stages -- the latter is a lovely place for an al fresco pint -- between 7:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. For brunch, the music starts up at noon. (4079380300)
The Plaza Live
This unassuming but amazing little venue in the Milk District is amid renovations and upgrades as we were updating this list. We can't predict what new heights such investment (courtesy of the Orlando Philharmonic) 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)
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)
What's black and gold and red all over? If you're in downtown Orlando and don't know the answer, the joke is on you, because you're missing out on the Bosendorfer Lounge, one of the city's sultriest locales for cool martinis and even cooler live jazz and soul. It's a sleek, stylish hotel haunt. And whether it's the soothing tinkle of the piano for which it is named (a gorgeous instrument, one of only a handful in the world) or the strains of Latin or acid jazz serving as the aural accompaniment to your wine or cocktail, it's certainly one of the toniest bars in downtown to catch some live music. Friday and Saturday nights, from roughly 7:30 p.m. to midnight, give or take, you can do just that. ((407) 313-9000)
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)
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)
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)
About A.D. Thompson
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 www.amydrewthompson.com.
Read more about A.D. Thompson here.