Kentucky has a storied history in music, from Bill Monroe to Slint, and Louisville some of the most variety of concert opportunities. National and international acts come through to play at Freedom Hall, but smaller venues in the city offer excellent local music in a much more intimate and interesting setting. There are bars with small stages and halls dedicated to showcasing live music, and the variety of music on any given night should leave no one asking what to do with their evening.
Perhaps the best-known small venue in Louisville is Headliners Music Hall, which is devoted to featuring both local acts and those coming from outside the region. Headliners offers an almost nightly opportunity to see a variety of shows from the exceptional to the intolerable, depending on your taste. The venue is a hall sans chairs with a stage up front and a bar in the back. The ventilation system could be improved; the cigarette smoke leaves you sounding like Joan Rivers and smelling like an ashtray. It can be worth it, however, to see an incredible band without binoculars. Most shows are 18 and over, but occasionally access is restricted to those who are under 21.
The Rudyard Kipling on Oak Street has been a mainstay for music fans in Louisville for years, offering a small but intimate area for concerts and a separate bar area. “I see more good music at the Rud than anywhere else, including the bigger venues, and it has a community feel you can’t get other places,” said Neil Mulac, an English major at U of L.
There are quite a few bars around town that offer the music lover an opportunity to see some great local acts. Uncle Pleasant’s, Gerstle’s Place and Dutch’s Tavern often showcase local artists, and with pool tables included, you can get live music with your barfly at your side. Uncle Pleasant’s can get really crowded, and in a narrow space with low ceilings, it’s hard for those not in the first few rows to see the performance.
Michael Black, a U of L senior, said, “Uncle Pleasant’s is my favorite place to see live music. It has a good atmosphere, and it definitely doesn’t get as crowded as Headliners. Headliners feels like they transported Freedom Hall to a smaller venue.”
Downtown there are quite a few venues along Main Street that offer the opportunity to see a variety of music. The Jazz Factory, Main Street Lounge, Zena’s and Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar all offer a selection of music (check out the Industrial/Goth night at the Main Street Lounge). Main Street Lounge frequently features a DJ instead of a live act, but it is still a great place to go dancing.
Two places that wouldn’t be considered small venues but aren’t in the same category as Freedom Hall are the W.L. Lyons Brown Theater and the Louisville Palace. The Brown, located in Louisville’s historic theatre square, is the smaller of the two and often features more widely known bands. Adjacent to the Brown Hotel, the theatre seats approximately 1,400 people. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts allowed the completion of major renovations in the late ’90s.
The Louisville Palace shares a distinct history with the Brown and is also located in theater square. The Palace seats up to approximately 2,700 people, and features beautiful architecture that can entertain you during intermission. Tickets for shows at these venues is far more expensive than the typically minimal cover charge at smaller bars and clubs, but often it’s worth it to catch a band that is just passing through.
The opportunities to see live music in Louisville are getting more populous every day, and with some talented local bands and wide-ranging venues, there shouldn’t be an empty space in your schedule unless you need a break from all this bar-hopping.