While roaring crowds in rocking amphitheaters are thrilling, nothing beats the intimacy of a small, iconic music venue. From a funky beach bar with an attic library to a glam concert hall with chic chandeliers, these local legends prove it’s not the musician that creates the unforgettable experience, but the venue itself.
1 185 King Street
1 185 King StreetBrevardSee on map
Though Asheville remains the art authority of Western North Carolina, Brevard has its own burgeoning art community. Not be outdone by its neighbor to the north, Brevard offers 185 King Street, bringing the beats in the sleepy mountain town. 185 King Street offers the best of both worlds – listen to live music while keeping up with the latest sports scores from one of the multiple televisions above the bar. The venue itself mixes old and new with both music and décor – a visit to the restroom is like stepping back in time, as both are adorned with antique doors reclaimed from the Historic Brevard Train Depot.
2 The Orange Peel
2 The Orange PeelAshevilleSee on map
While Asheville offers the opulence of Biltmore and The Omni Grove Park Inn, the music scene is a bit more down-home. The Orange Peel embraces the eccentric locals, and though the town sits among the mountains, don’t expect just mountain music – enjoy an eclectic lineup of both local favorites and legendary headliners. On the venue’s lower level is PULP – an 80-person private lounge outfitted with a fully stocked bar and funky atmosphere, otherwise known as how the Orange Peel skirts around Asheville’s liquor laws. If music isn’t your thing, sip your legal spirits at PULP while enjoying the rotating exhibits by local artists.
3 The Grey Eagle
3 The Grey EagleAshevilleSee on map
Situated in the heart of North Carolina’s craft beer capital, the Grey Eagle’s beer selection reflects its locale – a collection that is vast and craft-driven. The Grey Eagle brings the beats in the River Arts District, Asheville’s neighborhood dedicated to the burgeoning arts community. Whether a punk or pop show, this is one of the only venues where you can enjoy live music along with Mexican food and margaritas from the in-house taqueria.
4 The Evening Muse
4 The Evening MuseCharlotteSee on map
Since 2001, The Evening Muse has presented thousands of original independent music acts to Charlotte. Bands from all genres come to share their music – from acoustic sets to full electric band shows. Owner Joe Kuhlmann wanted to own a small music venue that would be the best sounding room in the city, and Creative Loafing has appropriately called it the “Best Place to Hear Local Music.” Feel like a local before you’ve even stepped into the place in this vibrant little corner of the NoDa neighborhood, surrounded by bars, breweries and restaurants.
5 The Fillmore Charlotte
5 The Fillmore CharlotteCharlotteSee on map
The Fillmore is a quintessential Charlotte landmark, echoing the state’s history with its textile mill digs. But this isn’t your dingy dive bar. Chandeliers and a disco ball bring the glitz while the scarlet walls bring the glam. Moreover, what would a chandelier-clad venue be without a VIP room? Guests willing to pay the price can enjoy the likes of everything from hip hop to reggae without the fear of falling crowd surfers.
6 Cat’s Cradle
6 Cat’s CradleCarrboroSee on map
Carrboro earned the moniker “Paris of the Piedmont” for good reason – art and music thrive in this town, and at the heart is Cat’s Cradle. In close proximity of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Cat’s Cradle is where intellect and artistry collide in an intimate music venue that delivers a raw authenticity. In a rather unassuming location – a strip mall to be exact – Cat’s Cradle is a local legend in the Triangle, exuding that hole-in-the-wall feel but hosting class acts ranging from current artists like The Avett Brothers to renowned rockers like Nirvana.
7 Lincoln Theatre
7 Lincoln TheatreRaleighSee on map
The Raleigh area is known for one of the best music scenes in the state. And with more than 80 live music venues to choose from, there’s no shortage of options no matter your taste in tunes. In downtown Raleigh, crowds line up nightly to see some of the country’s best national and regional touring acts along with great tribute and local artists at Lincoln Theatre. What began as an African-American movie theatre in 1945 is now one of downtown Raleigh’s flagship live music venues. It's recognizable by the huge mural of Honest Abe behind the wheel of a vintage Lincoln on exterior of the building.
8 Rusty Nail Saloon
8 Rusty Nail SaloonWilmingtonSee on map
While Wilmington boasts a carefree sand and sun feel, Rusty Nail Saloon is all about the blues. Reminiscent of a Mississippi juke joint, the Rusty Nail sweats character and remains a sacred local secret. Open since 1957, the funky façade is modest, only adding to its juke joint charm, and the music is raw, bringing the rare art of the blues back in full force. Don’t expect fancy cocktails and elaborate bar bites – the Rusty Nail is a dive bar in its purest form, promising only good beer and great music to its patrons, and of course, a great time.
9 The Backstreet Pub
9 The Backstreet PubBeaufortSee on map
Housed in what was once a century-old Beaufort bakery, the Backstreet Pub is a classic beach bar that loves its beer and loves its dogs, and of course, loves its music. Adorned with nautical paraphernalia, you’ll find yachters and blue collars drinking together. A cold beer on the patio is a perfect remedy from a full day of sun, and the rotating rock, funk and blues bands keep the good times rolling. Take in a Wednesday “Hoot Nite,” when local musicians gather for improv jams in the courtyard, or retreat to the upstairs library and lose yourself in an old favorite.