Charleston Alive! The Lowcountry's Best Live Music Venues
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
Charleston, South Carolina is home to an a thriving nightlife scene, nursed by a steady flow of annual visitors as well as a local community that favors local artists and performers. From high-end jazz clubs to perfectly worn-in music halls and beachfront surf bars, Charleston's wide variety of live entertainment venues is impressive for such a small, historical city. During your visit to Charleston, dive into the live music scene and let the Holy City surprise you.
If an energetic live performance by a local or nationally-known band if what you seek, look no further than Music Farm on Upper King Street, or James Island's Pour House, who often hosts free local shows on their outdoor patio deck. Charleston Music Hall, located downtown on John Street, often hosts more acoustic or classical performances, with the occasional well-known group or musician gracing the stage.
For a taste of the local music scene in Charleston, visitors can find live music and entertainment at many bars and restaurants, such as The Royal American, who showcases rock and bluegrass artists, or Charleston Grill, a fine dining restaurant that pairs live music with elegantly presented dishes and high-quality service. If swinging jazz is your preference, make a visit to the Charleston Jazz House for an up-close-and-personal show, or head to Prohibition on Upper King, a 1920s-style bar and restaurant hosting live music and swing dancing six nights a week! Whatever your fancy, you're sure to find fun and flavorful live entertainment in Charleston.
10 Blind Tiger Pub
This popular restaurant and bar, housed in a building dating back to the early 1800s, brings a casual, kicked-back vibe to its otherwise pristine and upscale Broad Street surroundings. Regular patrons of The Blind Tiger keep coming back for its cheap beer specials, frequent live music nights and the unbeatable brick-walled back patio, which is secluded from the street and neighboring buildings. What's more, as you move between Blind Tiger's indoor and outdoor spaces, the music follows you, and so does the bar service; Blind Tiger runs a second bar outside so patrons don't have to keep running inside to refresh their drinks! Visit the Blind Tiger for after dinner drinks and entertainment, with bands and musicians scheduled nearly every night of the week! (843-577-0088)
9 Charleston Grill
This fine dining restaurant and lounge showcases a level of luxury dining and in-room entertainment that one expects from its grand Charleston Place Hotel setting. Easily Charleston's best hotel restaurant, the Charleston Grill has become a destination in its own right, as patrons become regulars for the live jazz performances that resound so well acoustically within the wood-paneled walls of the restaurant and lounge. The Charleston Grill menu somehow perfectly matches the style and elegance of the decor and the live musicians, boasting such dishes as the Octopus Salad, Braised Pork Shank and even a personalized 6-course tasting menu from Chef Michelle Weaver. (843-577-4522)
8 The Windjammer
This lively and sometimes rowdy beachfront bar and grill is home to one of the Charleston area's best live music venues, with many popular local and nationally touring acts appearing here several times each week. Located less than a half hour's drive from downtown Charleston, The Windjammer resides at Front Beach on Isle of Palms, arguably the most pristine of the city's beaches and a very popular family vacation destination. A night out at The Windjammer guarantees a good time, with its large and varied food menu, cold beers bottled and on tap, and a killer selection of live musicians. The Windjammer also hosts 1/2 price burger nights, trivia nights, and the locally-famous bikini bash, a weekly contest that continues throughout the summer. The Windjammer is also a hotspot for local volleyball lovers, hosting beach volleyball tournaments each year. (843-886-8596)
7 The Mezz
This relatively hidden second-floor jazz club and lounge is situated on the second floor of a historic King Street building, in which also resides Sermet's Downtown, an upscale Mediterranean restaurant. The Mezz lounge also boasts some restaurant-style seating and a semi-circle bar, serving sophisticated dishes from Sermet's downstairs. The Mezz encourages patrons to "dress to impress," with most visitors keeping it business casual at a minimum. The sleek decor, upscale dress code, and smooth live jazz found at The Mezz evokes the feeling of a classic jazz club once common to the golden age of the 1920s. Visit this intimate jazz club as a relaxing and entertaining end to your evening out on the town. (843-853-4515)
6 The Royal American
Located on Morrison Drive just a short bike ride or drive from the heart of Charleston's entertainment and bar scene, The Royal American has had no trouble attracting a crowd following since its opening in late 2011. Boasting a popular outdoor deck and an interior space that's festive and worn in just the right places, regulars come to The Royal American for a comfortable, no-frills atmosphere, and regularly scheduled live music. Vintage-style string lights and band posters adorn the walls behind the small stage area, so anyone can catch a great view of the show from any stool or standing spot at this happy dive. Beers are cheap, and live music typically costs just $5 - $10 as a cover charge. ((843) 817-6925)
It's no surprise that Prohibition makes our 10 Best list of live music venues in Charleston, as they have live bands in-house 6 days of the week! Prohibition's live musical lineup incorporates multiple regular and guest-star acts, as well as a wide variety of musical styles. Expect to enjoy an acoustic performance by a local singer-songwriter one night, and a festive band playing 1950's swing dance the next. Plan to pair your live music experience with some great grub; Prohibition's Chef Stephen Thompson dishes out some impressive brunch, lunch and dinner plates in hearty portions packed with traditional Southern flavors. Each appetizer or main dish goes nicely with a night out singing and dancing at Prohibition! (843-793-2964)
4 Charleston Jazz House
This house-turned-jazz club has been home to Charleston's home for all things classical and modern jazz for over five years, and isn't going anywhere anytime soon. From swing-time jazz orchestras to intimate saxophone quartets to stunning solo artists, the Charleston Jazz House puts on a fun and memorable show. It's recommended that you book your tickets in advance for events at the Charleston Jazz House, as performance rooms are delightfully small, making for an especially personal show for each guest. Check their website for upcoming events, or visit Charleston for the annual Charleston International Jazz Festival in January, organized by the Jazz Artists of Charleston who make their home at the Charleston Jazz House. (843-6410001)
3 Charleston Music Hall
Charleston Music Hall is considered by many to be one of the Holy City's most intimate music venues, and an excellent place to see a favorite local or nationally touring artist or group. When seeing a show at the Charleston Music Hall, one can expect a more personal experience, as if the artist is playing right to you, despite the fact that the main auditorium is two stories and actually holds nearly a thousand guests. Both nationally-known and locally-grown music acts and comedians perform at the Charleston Music Hall, giving their event schedule and lineup a great range in variety and personality. (843-853-2252)
2 Pour House
Located on James Island just a short drive from downtown Charleston, The Pour House has long been considered a locals' favorite for live music in a laid back setting. Pour House live performances, which take place 6 nights a week, are hosted both inside on the main stage and outside on their back patio deck. Deck shows are most often free local acts, and James Island and Charleston residents usually pack the Pour House and The Lot, its restaurant next door, for dinner and drinks before, during and after these free shows. These main stage and deck shows often take place simultaneously, so patrons can choose which show to attend, and can move between them if they pay the indoor admission fee for the better-known act. Ticket prices at The Pour House are always affordable, so popular shows do sell out! (843-571-4343)
1 Music Farm
The Music Farm, now with locations in both Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina, is managed by Music Farm Productions, who puts on over 200 live shows annually! At Charleston's Music Farm, located on Ann Street in the heart of Upper King's entertainment district, you'll find an impressive lineup of both homegrown acts and nationally touring bands and musicians spanning all varieties and styles, alongside several artisan craft fairs and comedic performances. Tickets to Music Farm shows vary by artist, but are nearly always very priced at an affordable rate. The venue itself is spacious, and well-worn in the way many beloved hometown venues are. The standing room-only floor space enjoys a gradual slope upwards as it moves away from the stage, and the stage itself is flanked by two balcony type standing areas upstairs. Show-goers of any height will be able to enjoy the view at Music Farm! (843-577-6989, 843-722-8904)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.