Expert Tips


Best Live Music in Kansas City

Kansas City's Live Music Scene Showcases Jazz to Rock and Beyond

Live music is going strong in the Kansas City area. Treat yourself to some classic jazz, in the neighborhood where it all began, when you spend an evening at The Blue Room, an entertainment fixture inside the American Jazz Museum and the legendary 18th & Vine jazz district. If you enjoy the excitement of open air concerts amid sparkling city lights, make a date to enjoy some live music at CrossroadsKC at Grinders. Happily rowdy and full of great music, Howl at the Moon has become a favorite watering hole in the downtown area that especially appeals to a younger crowd. If you prefer a more intimate setting there are several great choices, from the small, dark and cozy Green Lady Lounge, just south of the urban core, to a one-time basement speakeasy offering live jazz five nights a week, which is now part of The Majestic Restaurant. Live musical remains an integral element of Kansas City's arts and entertainment scene. 


Howl at the Moon
Photo courtesy of Howl at the Moon

Part bar and part concert venue, Kansas City's Howl at the Moon has quickly become exceptionally popular among the over-21 crowd. A local Visitors' Choice Winner for Favorite Nightlife Spot, Howl at the Moon operates on both coasts as well as in Denver, Louisville, St. Louis, Chicago and Houston. There are dueling pianos, plenty of guitars, percussion and horns, performing original takes from multiple music genres, with a focus on dance hits and 'party anthems' that get the crowd up on their feet. Enjoy specialty drinks such as Howlin' Punch (Tito's Handmade Vodka, Finest Call Watermelon Puree, Pineapple Juice, Lemon Lime Soda, Sweet and Sour) and flashing colored lights amid this big and bold entertainment venue. Arrive before the show starts to find a seat, or purchase a 'jump the line' package to join the VIP list. You never know what to expect at Howl at the Moon.

Recommended for Live Music because: Despite its corporate roots, Howl at the Moon is a Power and Light District staple with a great Kansas City vibe.

Lisa's expert tip: Although there's never a cover charge for Howl at the Moon Kansas City, the surrounding Power and Light District charges $10 to enter this area after 11, on Friday and Saturday nights. Check the Howl at the Moon Kansas City web site to learn how you can bypass this charge.

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Um-kansas City
The Kill Devil Club
Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray

If you like piano bars, you've come to the right place. You'll hear talented piano performances and much more at The Kill Devil Club, in Kansas City's bustling core. One visit will convince you why Food & Wine Magazine has named this among the "Best New Bars in the U.S.," several times. You'll support exceptionally talented local musicians whenever the house band shares their highly polished vocals and instrumental expertise too. Enjoy hand-crafted signature cocktails such as a Howlin' Mule – with Tito's handmade vodka, Gosling's Ginger Beer and fresh lime – or vodka- and fruit-infused Howlin' Punch while you enjoy this rowdy, fun environment. Great music and drinks create non-stop parties at The Kill Devil Club.

Recommended for Live Music because: There aren't many piano bars around, let alone one that has received national recognition.

Lisa's expert tip: Call ahead for reserved seating and VIP treatment throughout the evening. You'll avoid the last-minute crowd and ensure enough comfortable seating, with a great view, for your special guests.

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BB's Lawnside Barbecue
Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray

Since 1990, BB's Lawnside Blues & BBQ has been a landmark destination for live blues performances on many nights and weekend afternoons, meats that are slow-smoked in a 1950s 'pit,' and scratch-made Louisiana dishes such as jambalaya or gumbo. A featured destination on Travel Channel (Kansas City Top 5), Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, and the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, it's run by husband and wife team, Jo and Lindsay Shannon. Well-educated in all things 'blues', Lindsay chooses the music too. This one-time blues radio DJ, was also a founding member of the Kansas City Blues Society, and a blues booking agent for Kansas City's Spirit Festival. Strings of lights illuminate memorabilia-cluttered walls in this vibrant yet casual atmosphere and there's dynamite outdoor seating for warm weather socializing.

Recommended for Live Music because: Mix one part blues expert, one part barbecue and Louisiana culinary favorites with one part honky tonk vibe, for a night of rowdy musical fun.

Lisa's expert tip: Don't let the location for this out-of-the-way, unassuming spot dissuade you from stopping in to enjoy blues, barbecue and inventive dishes such as battered fries, Louisiana Swampman Boudin Balls or Burnt End Soup.

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The Levee
Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray

It's been more than five decades since The Levee opened in Kansas City, Missouri's historic midtown. A favorite destination for lovers of live music, this classic club books local and regional soul, blues, classic pop, rock and other bands on the main level, every Wednesday through Saturday night. Check the web site to find dates for jam sessions and reggae nights too. The upstairs feels like a classic neighborhood bar where 10 HDTVs broadcast various sports events. When the weather turns mild, enjoy outdoor seating with your $5 cocktail. There's good 'snack food' on hand into the early morning hours, too, from quesadillas and hummus to wings or chicken wraps, plus dynamite fries. Want to catch up with friends while enjoying the music? This great 'dive bar' gets the volume right to facilitate conversation.

Recommended for Live Music because: Guests of all ages have a great time beyond the blue awnings. There's a warm industrial feel, with a wraparound bar and exposed duct work.

Lisa's expert tip: The Levee charges a $5 cover on live music nights, whether you're staying for the show or heading upstairs. Find out details about their Matinee Shows, at 5 p.m. Saturday, on the web site.

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The Phoenix
Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray

For a small cover charge, eat and drink while listening to live jazz amid historic surroundings. This popular entertainment venue is open six days per week, and for Saturday jazz brunches (closed on Sunday). Rumored to be a bordello rather than a hotel, in the late 1880s, The Phoenix then housed a first floor speakeasy with 'lodging' upstairs. Today this small, dark venue full of wood and antique brick, is a great place to savor lamb gyro or Fettuccini Diablo with andouille sausage and grilled peppers, alongside Bloody Marys and craft cocktails. The place can get crowded with appreciative music lovers, so arrive early for the best seats. But be aware that no minors are allowed at The Phoenix after 8 p.m., and you'll have to climb stairs to enter the club.

Recommended for Live Music because: Enjoy $5 Ginger Gimlets, wine and beer, and appetizers, during daily happy hours, from loaded fries, to Bavarian pretzels with Tank 7 Beer Cheese.

Lisa's expert tip: If you're looking for daytime weekend entertainment, check out The Phoenix's Saturday jazz brunch, from 10-2. There's a $7 Bloody Mary bar and dishes such as Crab Cake Florentine Benny. Want to support emerging artists? Stop in for Monday open mic nights.

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18th & Vine Historic District
Blue Room
Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray

One of Kansas City's most renowned hotspots in the legendary 18th & Vine Jazz District, during the 1930s and '40s, and a fixture in the Street Hotel, The Blue Room offers some of this area's most authentic jazz performances. Live bands perform near memorabilia collected inside the small but impressive American Jazz Museum. International, national and local groups play four nights a week – many times with no cover charge. Want another reason to check out this jazzy hot spot? DownBeat magazine has included The Blue Room in its list of the Top 100 Jazz Clubs in the world. Order cocktails, wine, or beer from staff members who provide friendly service, amid cozy ambiance, and then settle in for an unforgettable evening of music. But do grab a bite to eat before you arrive, unless you're visiting during Indigo Hour Friday evenings, when there's also an appetizer buffet available.

Recommended for Live Music because: Kansas City's rich jazz history is alive and well in the neighborhood where it became famous.

Lisa's expert tip: Check the web site for a schedule of recorded Blue Room Live concerts, when a jazz band, and a band with a different musical genre focus, pair up for one-of-a-kind musical meet-ups.

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Green Lady Lounge
Photo courtesy of Green Lady Lounge

The ambiance inside The Green Lady Lounge is almost magical while showcasing local musicians and vocalists who exemplify Kansas City's jazz tradition. With a vintage tin ceiling, this dark and narrow retro lounge feels cozy and welcoming. Friendly bartenders? Check. Reasonably priced classic cocktails, such as a whiskey Old Fashioned, or Campari and sweet vermouth? Check. There's a big beer menu and a small wine menu available, too, though the focus is clearly on handcrafted drinks and great music. You won't find a big food menu here, but available appetizers may include cheese or hummus platters. There's never a cover charge at The Green Lady Lounge and there isn't a single television in sight, to detract from performances. For devoted music lovers, it doesn't get much better than this.

Recommended for Live Music because: Beyond its unremarkable entrance lies a laid-back, jazz-filled lounge where bartenders craft terrific cocktails and the vibe is decidedly old-school.

Lisa's expert tip: You can take home a musical memory of your evening at Green Lady Lounge, when you buy a CD that features Kansas City jazz musicians.

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The Majestic Restaurant
Photo courtesy of The Majestic Restaurant

The Majestic Restaurant has long been known for great steaks served amid 1900s ambiance. But down in the cozy basement that once functioned as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, you'll also find live jazz performances on Tuesday through Saturday nights, by some of Kansas City's incredibly talented musicians. The rock-walled Jazz Club features soulful strains throughout the evening, with appetizers, dinner and cocktails, functioning as your 'ticket' to an evening of terrific music. Order a classic beverage such as The Last Word – a Prohibition-inspired drink featuring Beefeater's Gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and lime juice; or The Flapper – crafted with Wycliff Sparkling Brut, sugar and Angostura Bitters. Then sit back, relax and savor top-notch Kansas City jazz.

Recommended for Live Music because: Jazz Brunches pair legendary musical heritage with appetizer, breakfast and lunch offerings, from fried risotto to baked banana toffee French toast or grilled favorites.

Lisa's expert tip: Although there's no dress code at The Majestic, business or business-casual dress is the norm in this classy spot. If there's no street parking available, check out the free lot on nearby Broadway. This is a busy place so it's best to make a reservation.

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Photo courtesy of Knuckleheads KC

Who would expect to find a thriving entertainment venue in an industrial neighborhood near a series of railroad tracks?'Where the World's Greatest Musicians Play,' Knuckleheads KC is a 'must-visit' for devoted music fans. Laid-back, funky surroundings, and vintage neon create a fitting environment for this white-hot music scene. The large horseshoe deck at the Outdoor Stage and Courtyard is an inviting spot for cocktails, during nice weather, or you can enjoy a show at the Electric Park, which offered the first outdoor stage in Kansas City. Open jam sessions in The Saloon have included Leon Russell and Tower of Power, among many others. Held on Wednesday evenings, The Gospel Lounge has become synonymous with comforting 'Music for Your Soul'performances. No matter which venue you choose, you'll long remember a visit to Knuckleheads.

Recommended for Live Music because: The only music venue in the East Bottoms, this no-frills music destination offers plenty of cold drinks, good food and memorable performances.

Lisa's expert tip: Knuckleheads Garage is the newest performance venue at this multi-faceted entertainment complex. Across the street from The Saloon, it couples an industrial feel with a funky vibe and a state-of-the-art sound system, for an intimate yet exciting performance space.

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CrossroadsKC at Grinders
Photo courtesy of CrossroadsKC at Grinders

From rock to reggae and bluegrass to hip hop, CrossroadsKC has enthusiastically presented outdoor shows since 2007, with Kansas City's illuminated skyline as backdrop. In cooperation with Pipeline Productions, the popular downtown venue offers free parking, cold beers and other adult beverages. There's also plus multi-tiered ticket pricing. Concert goers can purchase hot pizza or sizzling barbecue from the adjacent Grinders and Grinders West too. A VIP ticket will provide you with additional perks, which includes access to several VIP-only bars and an air-conditioned lounge and restaurant. CrossroadsKC is well-priced, outdoor entertainment at its finest, with a distinctly urban vibe.

Recommended for Live Music because: It's been nearly a decade since Crossroads KC introduced this festive, outdoor concert destination to the heart of Kansas City, MO.

Lisa's expert tip: At CrossroadsKC you'll have easy access to Grinders restaurant, whose food has been featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives and Guy's Big Bites. This isn't just any bar food so get ready for some great eats.

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Meet Lisa Waterman Gray

Lisa Waterman Gray moved to the Kansas City area 35 years ago and has written professionally for 20+ years. A member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association, she's excited about the...  More About Lisa