The Atlanta Music Scene

By Sara Freeman

Originally published Spring 2012.

sulcus121As an Atlanta native, a sister to a guitarist who’s in four local bands, and a lifelong music enthusiast, I wanted to put together this article describing the various venues in Atlanta where you can go for live music. I’ve spent countless hours unwinding and enjoying some tunes in these venues around town, and I hope that this list can both introduce the newer students to the Atlanta music scene and encourage some of the upperclassmen to get out of their homes or offices and enjoy a good live show!

For an interactive google map that includes websites for each venue, please go to: http://g.co/maps/r7zkq

sulcus122

LARGE SCALE VENUES:

These are the venues in town where internationally touring bands like Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, or Radiohead would play.  Some of these venues, especially The Tabernacle and Cobb Energy Center will also book newer or “indie” bands/artists/comedians who are currently growing so much in popularity that they will likely sell out the venue, such as Fleet Foxes, Of Montreal, or Jim Gaffigan.

Highlights:

Sara Freeman at the Tabernacle
Sara Freeman at the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle is an old, gutted church with three balcony levels and original hand-painted walls and ceilings; it’s beautiful, and also has bars and bathrooms on almost every floor.

Chastain Park Amphitheatre holds a pretty fun outdoor summer concert series each year where you can bring a cooler and chairs for a picnic dinner; while they have brought in bands like the Flaming Lips, they tend to book “older” acts like Jimmy Buffet, The Monkees, Ringo Starr, and Blondie (warning: beware of dancing old ladies in pastel colors who are drunk on white wine and giggling intensely).

The Fabulous Fox Theatre is an Atlanta landmark, bringing the best of Broadway shows, comedians, and musical acts to the stage in its remarkable “outdoor” Moroccan city courtyard décor; the stage and seating lie under a fake sky, complete with glistening stars in a fading blue background overhead.

MEDIUM SCALE VENUES:

Mid-sized venues are significantly lacking in Atlanta, which often prevents many bands from stopping here on their tours. Musical acts that aren’t yet popular enough to merit booking one of the larger scale venues described above, but who would easily sell out one of the numerous smaller venues in Atlanta, are left with very few options when considering booking a show in our city. There are a few venues that meet the criteria though, and they are often very reliable locations to hear some amazing “indie” bands, some more local/eastern U.S. acts, or your favorite bands before they “make it big” or if their current tour necessitates a more intimate setting than their typical sold-out arenas.

Highlights:

Variety Playhouse is a tried and true location for live music in Atlanta with a great layout for both sitting or standing during shows, an upper balcony, and no smoking allowed indoors. If you plan to go to a show at Variety, I would suggest making an evening out of it

Sara and her friend Jamie with Chris Martin of Coldplay outside of The Masquerade, September 2002
Sara and her friend Jamie with Chris Martin of Coldplay outside of The Masquerade, September 2002

by having dinner and drinks beforehand at any of the delicious restaurants in Little 5 Points because they’re all within walking distance to the venue.

The Masquerade, an entire complex of different live music listening spaces, including an outdoor lawn in the back, was originally the DuPre Excelsior Mill in the 1890s-1910s and has recently been declared a historic landmark. The Masquerade is best known for bringing metal and punk bands to town, but it will also book bands from other genres that fit their mid-sized capacity (for example, I met Chris Martin of Coldplay at The Masquerade in 2002 when they were on tour for their 2nd album).

SMALL SCALE VENUES:

Truly the heart of Atlanta’s music scene, the small-scale music venues are the most numerous, most accessible, and cheapest way to see live music in Atlanta. With the plethora of local bands from all genres, ages, and walks of life, it’s hard to accurately describe in only one paragraph the small music venues that these bands frequent. But perhaps that is a good thing, as it will encourage you to go out there and discover these places yourselves. Keep in mind, this is not a complete list by any means, especially due to the fact that coffee shops, bars, art galleries, and outdoor parks are common sites for local bands to perform as well. I tried to focus mainly on the locations that either function primarily as a music venue (even if they also serve food) or are restaurants that have live music regularly.  I’m sure I’ve left out many great places, so I hope this list serves as a guide and conversation starter, rather than a complete inventory.

Highlights:

Eddie’s Attic, a Decatur restaurant and music venue known for discovering artists like Edwin McCain and John Mayer, has a listening room ideal for the acoustic singer/songwriter, because no talking is allowed in the performance space; the back patio and bar are for “getting rowdy.”

The Goat Farm in Westside
The Goat Farm in Westside

The Goat Farm is a large converted farm and factory on the Westside of town that is difficult to describe, so I defer to their own words instead; it is a 20,000+ square foot “mid-Victorian industrial site with twelve acres of grounds and twelve turn-of-the-century brick structures” which includes “five new performance and exhibition halls and spaces” and hosts “classical & contemporary music concerts, traditional and experimental theatrical performances, film screenings, contemporary dance performances and art exhibitions.” If that wasn’t enough to entice you, The Goat Farm also has a “cafe/library, an on-site organic farm, a 5,000 square foot sprung floor for contemporary dance, newly built creative studios now occupied by more than 300 artists, and an education center that provides youth based creative programs.” It’s one of my favorite spaces in the entire city for live music, as well as art openings, dance performance, and film screenings.

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