Top live music venues of the Northeast / 10Best

These Northeast music venues are as legendary as the musicians who play their stages

Nothing like the energy of live musicNothing like the energy of live music — Photo courtesy of melis82 / Getty Images

Where did you see your first live music concert? Live musical performances can be transformative, and these 10 venues in the Northeast have certainly hosted their fair share of transformational evenings. If you’re in New England, be sure to check out a show at one of these halls, theaters or clubs.

Tanglewood Music Center, Lenox, Massachusetts

Enjoy music outdoors at the open-air Koussevitzky Music Shed at TanglewoodEnjoy music outdoors at the open-air Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood — Photo courtesy of Aram Boghosian

Tucked inside a leafy expanse just outside a small town in the beautiful Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts, Tanglewood is both a seasonal outdoor concert venue and a learning center. It was founded in 1940 by music director Serge Koussevitzky as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, and many musical legends have followed in his footsteps — from John Williams to James Taylor.

The Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Downstairs at The Middle East is one of a few stages at this Cambridge venueDownstairs at The Middle East is one of a few stages at this Cambridge venue — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

Legendary promotor, the late Billy Ruane, began booking shows in the late 1980s at what was a Lebanese restaurant. Now, this music complex and cultural hub in Cambridge’s Central Square has two main music rooms: Middle East Upstairs and the larger Middle East Downstairs, which occupies a former vintage bowling alley. Both host national and local acts in all genres. In-between, The Middle East venue is also home Zuzu, which is more DJ-oriented, and Corner, which offers a small stage for local artists to perform. The Middle East expanded to include a neighboring venue — once the legendary TT the Bear’s — which is now refurbished as Sonia.

Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Boston's Symphony Hall is simply a classicBoston’s Symphony Hall is simply a classic — Photo courtesy of Hilary Scott

Purposefully and thoughtfully designed and built by McKim, Mead and White to house the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the magnificent Symphony Hall’s acoustics rank it among the world’s top auditoriums. Opened in 1900, the venue also hosts concerts by the Boston Pops Orchestra, as well as visiting artists in all genres. It is the setting for the beloved Boston Pops holiday sing-along concerts too. Explore the ancient instruments on display, many of which developed into instruments we recognize in the orchestra today.

Portsmouth Music Hall, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth Music Hall opened its doors as a vaudeville theaterPortsmouth Music Hall opened its doors as a vaudeville theater — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

A few steps from Market Square, Portsmouth’s bustling center, and tucked down an alley off Chestnut Street, The Music Hall, built in 1878, still lights up the downtown area of this coastal city. Music lovers will be treated to national, international and New England artists, as well as the Great Bay Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Strand Ballroom and Theatre, Providence, Rhode Island

The Strand Ballroom and Theatre has hosted a variety of acts, from Johnny Cash to Ice CubeThe Strand Ballroom and Theatre has hosted a variety of acts, from Johnny Cash to Ice Cube — Photo courtesy of The Strand Ballroom and Theatre

Claiming to be the oldest theater in Providence, the Strand opened as a vaudeville theater and, for a few decades, operated as a cinema before morphing into the legendary Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. In 2017, the music venue reopened as the Strand Ballroom and Theatre. Even with its extensive renovations, the Strand retains Lupo’s rock ’n’ roll spirit. Expect everything from rock to hip hop to metal to funk.

Indian Ranch, Webster, Massachusetts

Indian Ranch brings next-level fun to Lake ChaubunagungamaugIndian Ranch brings next-level fun to Lake Chaubunagungamaug — Photo courtesy of Linda Laban

Right by the Connecticut border in rural south Central Massachusetts, Indian Ranch is a seasonal outdoor amphitheater that offers summer concerts by Lake Chaubunagungamaug, which is said to be the short version of the name! People often boat up to hear the music. A vintage riverboat, the Indian Princess, takes turns around the lake. There is a restaurant on site and an adjacent RV campground, so you can stay all summer.

Boch Center, Boston, Massachusetts

The Boch Center's Wang TheatreThe Boch Center’s Wang Theatre — Photo courtesy of Christos Palsios

The Boch Center on Tremont Street comprises two side-by-side restored historic theaters: the Wang Theatre (opened in 1925 as The Metropolitan) and the Shubert (opened in 1910 and a sister to the New York City Shubert). Both host music of all genres. The Wang also hosts the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame, where items from legendary artists like Pete Seeger, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are preserved.

The Stone Church, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Stone ChurchThe Stone Church — Photo courtesy of The Stone Church

When it comes to acoustics, live music in churches can sound heavenly, and this Victorian Gothic church, dating back to the late 1800s, is no exception. The Stone Church gets a boost from a state-of-the-art speaker system. The ambiance is stunning, with the church’s Renaissance, Gothic Revival, and Celtic and Scandinavian folk designs, complimented by the beautiful stained glass window. Stone Church attracts performing artists of all kinds to this southern Vermont town.

The Oakdale Theatre, Wallingford, Connecticut

The Oakdale TheatreThe Oakdale Theatre — Photo courtesy of Connecticut Office of Tourism

Local Ben Segal built the venue in an alfalfa field and opened it in 1954, primarily for summer stock productions. After purchasing the nearby Oakdale Tavern in 1962, the venue began hosting concerts. By the early 1970s, after various renovations and expansions, the Oakdale Theatre was established as a year-round concert venue.

Club Passim, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Club Passim has operated as a nonprofit since 1994Club Passim has operated as a nonprofit since 1994 — Photo courtesy of Club Passim

Tucked into a basement in Harvard Square, this small club has genetic roots dating to the 1960s folk revival scene, when Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan graced the stage. At about 100 seats, Club Passim offers an intimate experience and features music that varies from singer-songwriter to roots rock to bluegrass and Celtic.

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