Charleston’s nightlife is dominated by bars and restaurants, so if you’re looking for something different to do while visiting the city, try exploring the underground music scene. Dive bars and cafes often host pop-up performances while more spacious venues welcome higher profile musicians from Charleston and beyond. In recent years, several Charleston natives have gained national attention, including Shovels and Rope, Susto and NEEDTOBREATHE, among others. Whether you’re lucky enough to catch one of these beloved artists in their hometown or you’re interested in hearing something fresh, you won’t be disappointed by the unique music scene.
Hosting shows and events that encompass everything from electronic dance and hip-hop to alternative and reggae, Music Farm is one of the most popular venues in Charleston. If a well-known artist is coming to the city, it’s likely that they’ll be playing at this unassuming establishment. The inside is relatively small but roomy enough for dancing. During certain shows, patrons are permitted to stand on a second-story platform for a unique vantage point overlooking the stage and crowd below.
This bar/music venue located north of the city’s center welcomes weekly acts by local and visiting artists. Eclectic decor hangs from the walls and mismatched chairs are scattered throughout the bar. The stage itself is uniquely elevated to bar-level allowing the bands to look out over the crowd. If you need a break from the live music, take your beer out to the large patio, which offers plenty of seating room. The bar’s biggest claim to fame? Their boozy 32-ounce signature punches made with rum, bourbon or vodka, served in a souvenir stadium cup.
Fans of jam bands should venture off the downtown peninsula to experience James Island’s Pour House. With live music every night and a free Wednesday-night tribute to the Grateful Dead on the back deck each week, this venue tends to welcome more experimental musicians. Some nights, the Pour House will host one show inside the venue and another on the funky back deck, which bears a resemblance to an oversize tree house.
Boasting its own house band, this refurbished jazz club also hosts other musicians several times a month. On weekend nights, the bar’s band performs funky renditions of modern hits, while Tuesdays welcome the talented soul group The Black Diamond Band. Check The Commodore’s schedule for a list of upcoming performances by visiting and local musicians.
While there are plenty of venues specifically designed for live performances, many other bars make room for musicians on a weekly and monthly basis. Downtown you can catch live music at Big Gun Burger Shop, Republic Garden & Lounge, Prohibition and JohnKing Grill + Bar. If you head off the peninsula to West Ashley, you can hear local bands like Youngster and Dumb Doctors at Tin Roof and 3 Matadors. Head to North Charleston for live performances at The Purple Buffalo and The Sparrow. If you’re looking for beachy vibes, check out the live music at The Windjammer on Isle of Palms.
The place where many Charleston bands got their start, Awendaw Green is an outdoor venue best known for a weekly series called the Barn Jam. Taking place in a repurposed barn, the shows host performances by local and traveling musicians from around the country, and audience members are encouraged to BYOB, build small campfires and shop the local vendors’ booths. Boasting a very communal vibe, this weekly event is a vital part of the town of Awendaw and an intriguing snippet of the music scene.
A handful of notable music festivals crop up in Charleston annually, along with several art festivals that incorporate musical elements. The week-long PBR Dirty Southeast Music Festival hosts free and $10 shows at venues throughout the city during the spring. Summer ushers in the popular High Water Fest, which takes place at North Charleston’s beautiful Riverfront Park and has welcomed big-name acts like The Shins and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
To learn more about local bands and upcoming shows, check out Charleston music blog Extra Chill.