An Overview of Boston-Area Music Venues

I thought this would be a good time to post some lists. One I’ve been thinking about for a while is to my ten favorite shows of the year. That’s going to be a hard list to make since I’ve seen about 125 shows so far.

In this first list, I’ll tell you about many of the venues where I’ve seen shows, and what I like as well as dislike about them. This will be in alphabetical order so as not to imply that the top of the list is my favorite venue – I’m also forcing you to read the entire post! Aha, an ulterior motive!

This list is not complete because there are venues at which I have not attended shows – Iron Horse in Northampton, The Center for the Arts in Natick, T.T. the Bear’s and The Middle East in Cambridge. I have also not included music festivals because I don’t believe anyone attends a festival because it’s held at a particular venue or outdoor space. 

Berklee Performance Center.  This is the large venue at the Berklee College of Music and, as you’d expect, is an incredible space. The sound is acoustically perfect, or at least as close to perfect as possible. I will admit to never sitting in the mezzanine or balcony, but from what I’ve been told by people who have, the sound is great there as well. The views might not be as good as in the orchestra, but it hasn’t been enough of an issue to stop people from buying tickets for those sections. It’s a long space that isn’t terribly wide. I’ve sat almost at the back and could hear and see perfectly. This might be my favorite venue in the area; if not my favorite, one of my top five.  Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Opera House.  I love this venue! I’ve seen concerts, theatre, and ballet here this year, sitting in different parts of the auditorium, and I can’t say anything bad about it. It’s a beautiful space, completely renovated about ten years ago after being in a terrible state of disrepair. The capacity is 2,677, and offers good sight lines from almost everywhere. I sat all the way on house left for one of the theatre productions, and missed action that happened at the back corner of the stage; since the main action was toward the front, I didn’t truly miss anything. The sound quality is excellent from everywhere. It feels special from the moment you go through the entrance. I can’t comment on the drink prices because I haven’t bought anything from the concessions in the lobby. Boston, Massachusetts

Brighton Music Hall.  This is one of the smallest major venues in the Boston area. The layout is a bit different – instead of being centered on the back wall, the stage comes out from the left wall and stops about two-thirds of the way across the back wall. The stage is a great height, but the floor is flat so if you’re toward the back of the crowd at a sold-out show you can’t see well. The sound is good although it can be very loud. The biggest negative about this venue is that parking can be very tough to find, especially if you get there just before the show starts. The bars are fairly well stocked which is a plus.  Boston, Massachusetts

Bull Run Restaurant.  This is another venue that I really enjoy and wish it were closer. The Sawtelle Room seats around 280 people (there is another room – the Ballroom – where they have music but I have not been in it so I will not comment on it) at tables of eight (with a few tables for six). You can eat here although you are not required to do so. The food is good and reasonably priced. They book a lot of the same acts that are booked at Tupelo Music Hall and The Narrows, which are all comparable sizes.  There’s a wide variety of music here as well. The building is an old wayside inn from the 1700s although once you are in the Sawtelle Room you forget that. The sound system is definitely 21st century.  Shirley, Massachusetts

Church of Boston.  I really like this venue! It’s small – about 220 person capacity. The sound system is good, although shows here can get quite loud. They host a very wide variety of music here, including hip-hop and DJ shows. The first show I saw here was a solo acoustic show. It’s a standing venue, although there are seats at the bar from which it would be possible to see the stage. The bar is excellent and the food, which is possible to get in the club space, is quite good. I’ve not eaten in the attached restaurant yet. There’s a parking lot in the back which is free unless there’s a Red Sox game that night; if there’s a game, parking can get expensive even though you’re going to the club. Street parking is difficult.  Boston, Massachusetts

Club Passim.   Sure, this venue has an amazing history. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Tom Rush, to name a few, got their starts here when it was called Club 47. It is a small venue that packs 125 people into a fairly tight space. Other than the potential of having a pole block some of your view, there’s not a bad seat.  Most of the acts who play here are acoustic, and the sound seems to be geared toward their instruments. They book both up-and-coming artists and established musicians covering a wide range of styles – folk, bluegrass, Celtic, and rock. Ideally you want to arrive in time to eat dinner before the music starts; you aren’t required to eat when you reserve a table, but the vegetarian food is quite good and reasonably priced. Cambridge, Massachusetts

Great Scott.    I don’t particularly like this venue. It’s small – 240 people is the capacity – and the sound system is not very good. The bar has a good beer selection but it is cash only. The bar area is larger than the floor in front of the stage. If you can grab a seat at one of the high-top tables, you can see the stage.  I try to avoid the bathrooms. If there’s someone you really want to see who’s playing there, you should go. Just don’t expect a lot, other than good music. Boston, Massachusetts

House of Blues.  I don’t mind this venue the way some of my friends do – they won’t go see an act they love if they’re playing at HOB. There’s not much in the way of atmosphere at this 2,425 person space. Standing is on three levels, depending on how well a show sells (for some shows, they start by selling the main floor and then open up the mezzanine and balcony if there is a need). The sound system has been improved over the past few years and is much better than it was the first few times I was there. There is some reserved seating on the third level; I was up there once and liked it. We were a little further away from the stage than I’d like (we were in the last row though), but the sight lines were good and the sound was fine. I’d sit up there again, but only in one of the first few rows. I’ve been there enough times that I have a favorite place to stand (and no, I’m not going to tell you what it is).  They have a coat room and the line moves fairly quickly after a show ends.  Shows are fairly reasonably priced here.  Boston, Massachusetts

Johnny D’s.  This is my favorite venue in the Boston area. Part of that is because they book a huge variety of music genres – African, zydeco, cajun, rock, funk, folk, blues, country. The sound system is excellent – I spoke with a musician who played there recently for the first time, and he related that he’d been a little afraid when he saw how low the ceiling over the stage is. He was quite pleased with the sound though and said he was looking forward to playing there again. Johnny D’s is also a restaurant; if you reserve a seat, you can keep the seat during the show after ordering a minimum amount of food (most of the shows I attend have a $15 minimum). The food is good as is the service. The crowds are generally very respectful of the music too, which is so refreshing.  Somerville, Massachusetts

Lizard Lounge.  I have only been to this small venue once. It’s an odd shaped space – the square stage, which is either level with the rest of the floor or only set up a few inches, is open to seating on three sides. From house right, the view isn’t great although the sound is fine.  The sound seemed quite good. The beer list is fabulous and well-priced! There is parking in back of the venue although it fills up quickly. Street parking is possible but not easy to find. It’s Cambridge, after all… You can eat here as well – there is a restaurant upstairs and the food comes from the same kitchen although I believe the menu in the club is limited.  Cambridge, Massachusetts

Lowell Summer Music Series.  This venue is near and dear to my heart. Boarding House Park is, as you’d expect, an outdoor venue. The lawn is tiered so you can see from pretty much everywhere (at the back of the lawn, if you’re sitting on a blanket rather than a folding chair, you won’t be able to see but that would be your own fault). The sound system is fantastic – they have worked quite hard over the 25 years (as of 2014) that the series has existed to ensure that both fans and the musicians appreciate the quality. The range and quality of the music is outstanding for a not-for-profit series. As far as I’m concerned, this is the go-to venue of the summer. 2014 should be an incredible lineup because it’s the 25th anniversary of the series.  Lowell, Massachusetts

Museum of Fine Arts.  The summer concert series held outside in the courtyard, weather permitting, is fantastic! You sit on a small lawn surrounded by the museum, and on a nice evening it’s almost soporific. I always feel special when I’m sitting (or standing) and enjoying a show. Bring a lawn chair and a picnic dinner, and it’s heaven. The sound is quite good for an outdoor venue. They do have some folding chairs if you are not interested in bringing your own chair, but they are at the rear of the lawn. There is a bar that also sells some pre-made sandwiches and snack items, but it’s more fun to bring your own meal. It’s one of the city’s hidden jewels.  Boston, Massachusetts

The Music Hall.  This is another venue that was originally built in the 1800s as a theatre.  The main hall seats 900 with excellent sight lines from almost everywhere in the auditorium. Sound is good everywhere, although I prefer not sitting under the balcony overhang. The ladies’ room is amazing – it has to be seen to be believed (I have no idea if the mens’ room has some of the same fixtures). This is the first place at which I held a membership and I have fond memories of all the excellent shows I have seen here. They book a wide variety of music, from classical to bluegrass to soul, and also have lectures by authors as well as films.  Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Narrows Center for the Arts.  I love this venue and wish it was closer to home. The general admission seating holds around 280 people. There are some tables directly in front of the stage which can be reserved by members of the venue; if they are not reserved, they are available to non-members. It is wide and shallow and there’s not a bad view in the house. The sound system is excellent. The venue is in an old factory so there are brick walls, high ceilings, and exposed pipes. At the back of the room there are artists’ studios that are usually open for shopping. There’s also an art gallery just outside the third-floor space which has some interesting exhibits. They host a wide variety of acts.   Fall River, Massachusetts

Paradise Rock Club.  This is another venue with which I have a love-hate relationship. The layout is strange – it’s much wider than it is deep. There are a few large pillars in the middle of the floor; they provide a place on which to lean but that’s about all they do. There’s a balcony where you can get a decent view of the stage – that helps here because it seems that much of the crowd consists of young men who are 6’6″ tall! The sound system is okay. The capacity is 925 people, which is a manageable size. What I hate about The ‘Dise is the audience – at every concert I attend here, I see young women arrive late and then push and shove their way to the stage. They stay at the stage for a few numbers, taking lots of selfies, and then push their way back to the bar.  The coat check line can move slowly at times but unless you’re at the balcony rail and have a place to stow your coat, it’s a necessary evil. Boston, Massachusetts

Regattabar.  There’s a lot to like about this venue. The lineup of musicians is fantastic and covers a wide range of mostly jazz but some blues and world music as well. The sound is fabulous. The sight lines in most of the room are good, with a huge exception at the back corner (the room is more or less diamond-shaped, so I’m talking about the corner that directly faces the stage); there’s a huge pillar that blocks the view almost completely and the tables are not high-tops so you have to stand in order to see anything. Seating is at tables for four and it’s fairly tight. The beer list is not very good and service can either be good or terrible, and rarely in between. I continue to go there because the music is so good and it’s convenient. The venue is in a hotel in Harvard Square, but street parking is possible; the venue validates parking so it’s discounted.  Cambridge, Massachusetts

River Club Music Hall.  This is a nice little venue south of Boston. The room looks like it could also be a function hall, but for concerts the floor is either set with rows of chairs or with small tables (I’m sure the type of seating reflects how well a show sells). The sound is surprisingly good in this intimate space. The chairs are very comfortable. They book mostly acoustic acts, but the range is wide. There is a full bar and you can bring drinks to your seat.  This is a very civilized venue and I wish it were closer as well.  Scituate, Massachusetts

The Royale.  There are a number of things I love about this venue. It’s very pretty, almost sexy. Lots of dark velvet, over-stuffed sofas, lovely woodwork. There’s a balcony which, when it’s open (it isn’t opened when a show fails to sell well), offers excellent vantage points. There are some high-top tables scattered throughout the floor. The bars do not have a good selection and service can be slow. The sound is quite good. What I truly dislike about this venue is that there is only one staircase from the second floor (where the box office is located; the main floor is on the third floor) to the street, and if there were an incident of any kind in the club, getting out would be a nightmare.  Boston, Massachusetts

Sanders Theatre.  This auditorium is part of Harvard University and it is a fabulous space. It is wood paneled and is gorgeous. The seats are in a semi-circle around the stage, which is large. Sound is wonderful here. I’ve sat in a few different places in the room and heard well everywhere. The sight lines are really good. They feature a wide variety of music here; some of the shows are part of the World Music/CRASHarts schedule. I would like to attend more shows here than I have in the past because it’s a very enjoyable space.  Cambridge, Massachusetts

Scullers Jazz Club.  This is an excellent small jazz club in a hotel. The floor comprises tables for four – if every person at a table was eating, the table would be overcrowded but most people don’t eat there. You can do a dinner and show package with the restaurant in the hotel and that’s a reasonable value. Some sight lines, especially at the back of the room, are not great because there’s at least one pillar in the way. But even the side of the room is fine and the sound is excellent everywhere in the room. Table service is quite good.  The one negative to this venue is that you have to pay for parking in the hotel.  Boston, Massachusetts

The Sinclair.  This venue opened in Harvard Square a little more than a year ago and I love it. It’s a small standing venue with a capacity of 525 people. The sight lines are excellent from the four different levels. The stage isn’t so high that you’re looking up the nostrils of the musicians when you stand up against the stage. The level just behind the sound board has the best view but sometimes the crowd that stands at the back of the hall can be very loud, especially during opening acts, which is annoying. There are three bars, so you rarely have to wait for a drink, and the beer list is good. The sound system is wonderful, and they’ve partnered with Grain Audio which is a bonus for us. It’s also attractive – it reminds me of a New York City subway station.  I avoid checking my coat here because it looks like the line to retrieve coats moves slowly after a show ends.  Cambridge, Massachusetts

Somerville Theatre.  I enjoy this venue quite a bit. It’s not terribly big – about 900 people – and the sound is very good. I prefer sitting in the orchestra here – I find the mezzanine and balcony to be cramped, even if you’re sitting in the front row of each.  The theatre hosts a wide variety of music, in part because it is one of the venues where shows that are part of the World Music/CRASHarts are held. I’ve seen African, bluegrass, and solo acoustic acts here and have enjoyed them all regardless of where I sat. The sight lines are good everywhere, even all the way on the side. There are two down sides – parking in Davis Square can be tough to get, and you can only buy one drink at a time. This theatre is also used for films.  Somerville, Massachusetts

Symphony Hall.  What can I say about this venue that hasn’t already been said elsewhere… It’s terrific. Everything about it is wonderful, other than the prices which can be high. It is the home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, but they have popular music shows here as well.  Boston, Massachusetts

Tupelo Music Hall (Londonderry).  This is another venue I love. It is located approximately 45 miles north of Boston and is an easy drive if there’s no traffic. There’s not much in the way of atmosphere – for almost all shows, there are 236 folding chairs set up in rows in front of the stage. The sound system is excellent! The stage is only about 8″ off the floor, but sight lines are fairly good from every spot in the small room. This is a bring your own booze venue; they charge $3 cash for every person who’s drinking and provide plastic cups, bottle openers and corkscrews. There is some food available, but that area is being moved and expanded so I will not comment on it. The rows are fairly close together. Scott is able to book a large variety of national acts. If it was closer to my home, I’d be there once a week!  Londonderry, New Hampshire

Wang Theatre.  This venue is similar to the Opera House, but it’s larger – 3,600 seats. I’ve only seen concerts here in the past year, and have sat in various sections of the theatre. Sometimes the shows are a little pricey so I get seats in the front of the balcony or the mezzanine. The sound is wonderful and I can see well. And I’m seeing the same show that people in other sections are paying three times what I paid. Sure, sitting close to the stage is better. But paying less means I can see more shows there. Drink prices are on the higher side here, but they are in line with ticket prices.  Boston, Massachusetts

The Wilbur Theatre.  I have a love-hate relationship with this venue. They get great acts at fairly reasonable prices. The sound is quite good. If you’re in the first row of tables across the front of the stage, you’re almost too close because the stage is high. The floor seats are fairly well crammed into the space. There are little tables at which four chairs are placed. If all four people have a drink, the table is crowded. It’s difficult to move around. Drink prices are very high. Service is fairly good though. The rows in the mezzanine (and balcony, I presume, although I’ve never sat there) are fairly close together so if you have long legs, you’ll be uncomfortable.  Boston, Massachusetts

About suze72

I've loved the arts all my life... I go to a lot of concerts, take lots of photos and want to share them. Every once in a while I do something other than a concert, too. The Boston area is full of opportunities to indulge my passion - I'd like to help make it yours too!

Posted on December 27, 2013, in music, Uncategorized, venue and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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