Washington, D.C.’s Best Live Music Venues, According to the Musicians Who Live There

Surround yourself with sound in the city’s best concert halls and venues.

The Anthem live music venue at the Wharf in Washington DC.

The 6,000-capacity Anthem is just one of many spots to dive into D.C.'s musical past and present.

Photo by BrianPIrwin/Shutterstock

Washingtonians love their live music: The city has numerous venues, ranging from legendary clubs to dance hot spots to divey bars. “There’s something about live music that’s so raw and of a moment,” says longtime D.C. resident O’Shannon Burns; the founder of Ochre, a sustainable travel consulting practice, she’s also a music aficionado who attends shows throughout the city. “Each performance only happens in that moment in time with those specific people in the room.” The city’s concert spaces provide an astounding amount of diversity, Burns says, with something for everyone in terms of size and the genres and sounds represented. Here are 10 of the best D.C. music venues—recommended by locals—to catch a one-of-a-kind performance:

Ben Harper, with acoustic guitar, performs at the 9:30 Club

The 9:30 Club is steeped in musical history.

Photo by Benjamin Doyle/Shutterstock

9:30 Club

  • Location: 815 V St. NW

Any list of D.C. music spots must include the 9:30 Club. The storied venue opened in 1980 at 930 F Street NW—hence the name—and moved to its current, bigger digs (capacity 1,200) near U Street in 1996. It’s beloved by concertgoers and artists alike. I saw rocker Amanda Palmer put on a spectacular show here in 2010; other headliners to grace the stage have included the Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and Adele. “I feel like it’s the perfect amount of grungy—almost effortlessly so,” says local musician Soren Walljasper. “You feel like you’re at a place that’s had history.”

The Atlantis

  • Location: 2047 Ninth St. NW

One of D.C.’s newest venues, the Atlantis was built to resemble the original 9:30 Club. “It’s a blend of both the old and the new, in a great way,” says musician and Lost Origins Gallery owner Jason Hamacher. He would know—Hamacher’s teenage punk rock band, Frodus, played at the 9:30 in the ’90s before the original site closed. With a capacity of only 450, this new space promises the original site’s killer shows without its infamous rats. D.C.-area native Dave Grohl (a regular at the 9:30 Club in the ’80s and ’90s) and the Foo Fighters were the first to play at the Atlantis when it debuted in May 2023.

Songbyrd Music House

  • Location: 540 Penn St. NE

Previously located on 18th Street in Adams Morgan, Songbyrd moved to the Union Market district in 2021 and has served as a launchpad for up-and-coming bands like Big Thief, EarthGang, and Tank and the Bangas. “I love Songbyrd,” O’Shannon Burns says. “They have a lot of cool acts go through there, and it’s a great area for people to check out.” Vinyl fans can flip through more than 5,000 titles at its sister store, Byrdland Records, just down the street.


  • Location: 1940 Ninth St. NW

A perennial favorite among locals, DC9 is situated along the buzzing U Street corridor, a center of D.C.’s nightlife. The club offers live music almost every night and frequently features emerging artists. Its performance area on the second level has a fantastic dance floor (I danced up a storm here to celebrate my 30th birthday), and the third-story roof deck is perfect for a breather. After a show, grab a late-night snack nearby at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a beloved D.C. institution.

The Anthem

  • Location: 901 Wharf St. SW

Anchoring the trendy Wharf district is the Anthem, which opened in 2017 with capacity for 6,000 people. It boasts multiple tiers in the concert hall, three full-service bars, and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. “I’ve seen a wide variety of genres at Anthem, and it’s always been great,” says Walljasper, who likes how large it is. “Oftentimes in other cities, those types of shows would have to be a stadium show, where the sound isn’t going to be nearly as good,” he says. “It’s nice to be in a big space that’s dedicated to music.” Additional venues drawing audiences on the Wharf are Union Stage and Pearl Street Warehouse.


  • 6950 Maple St. NW

This nonprofit community art space in Takoma is Burns’s top recommendation for getting immersed in the D.C. arts and music scene. It hosts workshops, exhibitions, and eclectic music; local performers have included cellist Janel Leppin, country band Heaven Forbid, and folk duo Canandaigua, led by Burns’s partner, Raul Zahir De Leon. “It’s a house, so you’re sitting in the living room for shows,” Burns says. “You bring your own beer to put in the kitchen fridge. Upstairs, the bedrooms are art galleries.”

Exterior of the Black Cat, between other small businesses in a busy strip in the Shaw-U Street neighborhood, with row of cars parked in front

Hardcore hangout the Black Cat is situated in the U Street Corridor, once a thriving jazz neighborhood.

Photo by Liz Albro Photography/Shutterstock

Black Cat

  • Location: 1811 14th St. NW

With its iconic black-and-white checkerboard floors and impressive 7,000-square-foot performance room, Black Cat has been a mainstay of 14th Street since it opened in 1993. “What makes it so awesome is that it was actually opened and run by all of the first-wave hardcore punk crew,” Hamacher says. The place was founded by the drummer of Gray Matter, and original investors included Dave Grohl and members of the bands Iron Cross, Embrace, and the Faith. “It was a club for the scene by the scene,” he says. Today, it still showcases indie and alternative rock. The atmospheric Red Room bar, in the back, has pinball machines and a jukebox.

Bossa Bistro & Lounge

  • Location: 2463 18th St. NW

When I want to dance to Latin beats, I head to Bossa in Adams Morgan. A fixture on 18th Street for more than 20 years, the bar presents nightly live shows spanning all music genres. Every Saturday is Latin Night, masterfully led by the band Tumbao. Visiting artists also make appearances throughout the week to play salsa, cumbia, samba, and more, including D.C.'s samba school, Vavá. Between sets, you can savor tasty caipirinhas and Brazilian tapas (the head chef is from the state of Minas Gerais).

Pie Shop

  • Location: 1339 H St. NE

True to its name, this spot on H Street dishes up delectable pies . . . and excellent music, mostly by local acts. For Walljasper’s band, Pine Apple, it’s one of their favorite places to play. “It’s a venue that’s not super big but has professional-level sounds,” Walljasper says. “It’s a really intimate vibe with the artists performing.” The elevated stage, unusually high for a space this size, means the whole audience can get a good view.

Summer 2024 at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts will feature everyone from Rick Wakeman to KT Tunstall.

Summer 2024 at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts will feature everyone from Rick Wakeman to KT Tunstall.

Photo by Carolin Harvey

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

  • Location: 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna, VA

“I always want to remind people how cool Wolf Trap is,” Burns says. Located on 130 acres of rolling Virginia countryside about 15 miles outside the city and managed by the National Park Service, Wolf Trap has a summer opera residency program and has hosted concerts featuring Diana Ross, Wynton Marsalis, Sting, and the National Symphony Orchestra. Visitors sprawl on the lawn during shows at the Filene Center amphitheater (cushions are available for rent at the gift shop). “I love going there, the setting is amazing,” Burns says. “People bring their own food and drinks to have a picnic outdoors.”

Karen Carmichael is a Washington, D.C.–based travel journalist. Production editor for AFAR, she has also been published in National Geographic, Budget Travel, and the Los Angeles Times.
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