The fabric of Seattle is interwoven with sound so tightly that it’s impossible to imagine what the city would have felt like before tunes spilled from every business front. With some of the most iconic musicians of all time born here, a city where an entire genre was built and actualized, that has hosted nearly every artist imaginable at some point or another, music venues have been a cultural and communal hub since the city’s inception. There’s no shortage of places to catch live music, and they all provide a different experience, but these are some of our favorites.
Tractor Tavern / Ballard / Founded 1994
In recent years, many venues have moved away from wood paneling in favor of new technology and materials. But wood has been used for centuries, mainly because the internal friction between cells within timber, allows the wood to dampen sound more than other materials. Some venues, like The Tractor Tavern on historic Ballard Ave, have held on to that knowledge and we are all a little better off for it. When you walk into the Tractor you’re instantly transported into an old-timey saloon; western memorabilia and tchotchkes decorate the walls. Typically, the venue leans towards more of a rock and country audience, but if you’re lucky enough to catch a hip-hop set there, prepare to have your mind blown – the acoustics are insane. We’ve caught acts ranging from Tash Sultana, to ThunderPussy, to Dave B, to an N’SYNC tribute night. With one of the most well-respected sound teams in the city, and entering its 25th year of existence, we promise, you won’t be let down.
The Triple Door / Downtown Seattle / Founded 2003
Located on the site of what was once the elite Embassy Theater, The Triple Door re-opened in September of 2003. Following an insane series of events, in which a gang of armed men set off a pipe bomb in the Theater in 1988, as a diversion for an elaborate heist at Northgate Mall, the venue fell into disrepair. Purchased in 1999 by Rick and Ann Yoder, they set to work transforming the space into what has become one of Seattle’s most reliably awesome experiences. Their award-winning lounge, The Musiquarium, features a rotating roster of some of Seattle’s most accomplished musicians, while the main stage is undoubtedly the city’s best World music venue. With a vibe that caters to more of a traditional lounge style, it’s the perfect place to catch music during a happy hour work meeting or a wonderful space to wow a first date.
The Crocodile / Belltown / Founded 1991
If it’s not the music playing from the Croc’s main room that draws you in off the street, it might be the wood-fired pizza coming from the Back Bar. But it’s definitely the insane calendar of shows that keeps everyone coming back. Regarded by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the foremost venues for emerging artists (in the world), it’s difficult to overlook their staying-power when you check out some of the life-size prints of musicians they’ve housed over the years, that decorate the walls. The likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and more 90’s icons have left a little of their musical magic behind, and today the Crocodile is considered Seattle’s premier venue for upcoming talent. Beyond the main room, the Back Bar itself is home to recurring local hip-hop showcases, comedy sets, acoustic album releases and more. When it comes to music, the Croc has it all, and a track record to prove they’ve always had a knack for discovery.
Columbia City Theater / Columbia City / Founded in 2010
Columbia City Theater was also a movie theater when it first opened in 1923, but by the 1960’s they had already begun hosting live events and are rumored to be one of the first places the inimitable Jimi Hendrix ever performed. In the 1980’s it became a hub for the growing punk scene, and even hosted raves for years as “The Lish House”. They’ve since remodeled and reopened to the public in 2010 and have been dubbed the “The city’s finest sounding room” by SPIN magazine. In its short 8 years since their return, they have hosted household names like the Lumineers and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but have also been on the cusp of showcasing emerging talent with shows from the likes of Smino and Ro James. If you’re looking for a truly cinematic live music experience, this is your best bet.
KEXP In Studio Performance Space / Queen Anne / Founded 1972
KEXP is the quintessential radio station of the PNW. With deep, historical and communal music roots, it’s easy to catch a classic or discover a new favorite, on any of the unique shows throughout their 24-hours-7-days-a-week cycle. A favorite of ours is Street Sounds on Sunday evenings, hosted by local rapper and DJ, Stas THEE Boss, but the wide range in taste and selectors throughout the week means you might catch anything from classic rock to Afro Brazilian Jazz. While most people living in Seattle are aware of the radio station itself, what many people don’t know is that KEXP opens up several in-studio live performances a month to the public. Seating is limited and the viewing space is just outside of the sound booth, but this ‘free with sign-up’ venue is inarguably the most intimate space to catch some of the world’s best musicians who are traveling through the Emerald City, and rising local talent who you should get to know better.
Substation / Fremont / Founded 2015
Although Seattle’s music scene really got going in the roaring 20’s, it wasn’t until the emergence of the Grunge and Underground scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s that the city became internationally recognized as a hub for musical talent. Everything about Seattle is growing at an alarming rate, so it’s no surprise that newer venues with state of the art sound systems have begun to take shape in place of the previously lauded underground spaces. Enter Substation in Fremont, the youngest venue on our list. Substation has come to be known as a go-to space for the DIY, electronic, rock, and new wave scene. Self-defined as “Seattle’s Underground Venue” it’s a safe bet that young musicians from Seattle will increasingly get there start here – for example, 19 year old ParisAlexa recently had a headlining gig, performing her debut EP BLOOM, for the first time; and the vibrantly eclectic and avant-garde hip-hop collective 69/50, made up of Do Normaal, Guayaba, Raven Hollywood, Taylar Elizza Beth, and more, can be found on bills here regularly. It is undoubtable that this inclusive and progressive space will continue to play a big role in jumpstarting young careers.