While roaring crowds in rocking amphitheaters are thrilling, nothing beats the intimacy of a small, iconic music venue. And these local legends prove it’s not the musician that creates the unforgettable experience, but the venue itself.
1 The Ramkat
1 The RamkatWinston-SalemSee on map
Though The Ramkat is relatively new to Winston-Salem, it nods to the city's historic arts scene by hosting both legends and legends-in-the-making. Concertgoers like grabbing a beer at Wise Man Brewing before heading over to this two-story music venue. The Ramkat also has a craft cocktail lounge connected to its balcony.
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.
3 185 King Street
3 185 King StreetBrevardSee on map
Not be outdone by its neighbor to the north, Brevard offers 185 King Street, bringing the beats in this 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 and outside. The venue itself mixes old and new with both music and décor, and adding to the vibe is Noblebrau Brewing, which opened in the space in 2020. Grab a locally crafted beer and hang out in the backyard, another recent addition, while you jam to music.
4 Lincoln Theatre
4 Lincoln TheatreRaleighSee on map
The Raleigh area is known for one of the best music scenes in the state. And with a huge number of 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 the exterior of the building.
5 Cat’s Cradle
5 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.
6 The Evening Muse
6 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. Another favorite local spot, Neighborhood Theatre, sits just across the street.
7 Motorco Music Hall
7 Motorco Music HallDurhamSee on map
Motorco Music Hall is a one-stop shop for a fun night out in Durham. The Showroom holds the venue’s intimate concerts, comedy shows and films, but you can also simply swing by the Garage Bar or expansive patio if you’d rather just hang out. Add in a full menu of sandwiches and appetizers being served until midnight or later (and plenty of local beer, wine and specialty cocktails), and it’s clear why Motorco is a staple in the Triangle.
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, dogs and 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.
10 The Grey Eagle
10 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.