Portland Music Venues: 8 Hot Spots for Live Music
Best known as The City of Roses, Portland, Oregon, also features a burgeoning live music scene. The city presents a blend of urban-residential and old-modern venues that offer bars, clubs, concert halls, and even churches where fans witness performances from local and touring musicians. Here is a sampling of some of the best Portland music venues.
Portland Music Venues for Live Shows
For more than a decade Wonder Ballroom, located inside historic Hibernian Hall, has maintained position as one of Portland’s busiest mid-sized concert venues.
A variety of acts — from international folk singers and indie rock bands to popular artists — take the stage inside this locale renowned for its Spanish Revival-style architecture and comfortability. The room holds 778 people and offers a spacious main floor, along with full bar, café, and unobstructed sight lines from the balcony.
Originally a vaudeville house in 1928, the venue became Aladdin Theater in 1930 and played host to comedian Jack Benny among others. For the next 40 years, it served as a movie theater before rebirthing as a music venue in 1993, bringing rock ’n roll shows and comedy to southeast Portland.
An impressive list of performing artists — from Lindsey Buckingham, Stephen Stills and Black Keys to comedians Bill Maher, Paula Poundstone and Adam Carolla — have graced the 600-seat venue, which has won numerous awards as Portland’s favorite live music venue.
Black Water Bar
The coolest thing about Black Water Bar is its appeal to all ages. Kids often miss live music because they have to be drinking age to enter most clubs. Not at Black Water. This spot invites young fans to its underground scene to listen to local and touring punk and metal bands, while still serving alcohol to older patrons.
Music aside, its vegan food gets rave reviews. One customer claimed the menu’s cheese sandwich was like “angels singing in her mouth!”
This top among the Portland music venues joins hands with the burger-bar next door (Bar Bar). A huge, partially covered patio has picnic tables and a fire pit, with the occasional movie projected onto an exposed wall.
Mississippi Studios, which hosts local showcases, dance parties, and acts from every genre, occupies two levels: an upper balcony and a ground floor. Of special note are the amazing acoustics and sight lines, along with all-custom, non-parallel walls. Clean and comfortable, it’s the city’s ultimate mid-sized concert venue.
With DJ shows and electronic gigs, Holocene, Portland’s original electro-dance club, stands atop the city’s premier dance venues.
Futuristic art and pulsating modern dance music render the feel of a nightclub from a ’70s sci-fi movie. However, its current vibe stays in step with trends. Holocene’s long-running parties display a roster of Portland’s deep DJ talent, but it also showcases up-and-coming local and touring musicians.
The Old Church
Built in 1882 and listed on National Register of Historic Places, The Old Church is exactly that: an old church renovated into a concert hall.
The downtown non-profit venue periodically hosts jazz and folk artists, like Greenwich Village legend Eric Andersen and Julie Byrne. The Old Church’s dual mission aims to preserve and celebrate the building’s historic architecture, while creating music and arts programs that enhance the community. In addition, state-of-the-art sound and lighting and an intimate 300-seat space enhance a top-grade concert experience.
Laurelthirst Public House
This low-key neighborhood bar — billed as the city’s oldest independent music venue — serves Portland music fans a plate of bluegrass, Americana, roots rock, folk, jazz, old funk and soul.
Constructed in 1911, the building’s first occupant was a drugstore, followed by a series of bars. In 1988, it then became Laurelthirst Public House. Thirty years later, the establishment remains home to musicians and bands, offering 16 live shows a week.
Doug Fir Lounge
Doug Fir feels like a space-age log cabin where a few hundred close friends dropped by to hear great music. The upstairs includes an ultra-modern bar and a ’70s-style restaurant, with an outdoor back patio, fire pit and lots of tables. Downstairs houses the mid-sized venue, another bar, a disco ball, booths and standing room.
The majority of entertainers who play Doug Fir include indie rock, punk or folk musicians. Occasional CD-release showcases are booked featuring local talent. As a bonus, Dour Fir Lounge also ranks among the best American music venues.
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Want some grub before the show? Check out the top downtown Portland restaurants.