Portland Walking Tours

Local Hot Spots to Experience Portland’s Legendary Music Scene

February 17th, 2016

Since we “stole” the “Keep Portland Weird” motto from Austin, we’ll let them call themselves the Live Music Capital of the World. But we not-so-secretly think we might be able to take them on in that category as well. Portland’s live music scene is extremely robust, and there are a plethora of venues that offer a wide range of settings to hear local as well as national and international acts. There really is something for everyone to discover and enjoy at any given time. We’ve chosen some of our favorites, in no particular order, but make no mistake, there are lots more throughout this very musical city. Just follow your ears!

1. McMenamins Crystal Ballroom
Downtown’s West End


Image courtesy of Crystal Ballroom on Yelp

The most famous attribute of this enormous, historic grand ballroom is its floating or mechanical dance floor which is purported to be the only one of its kind in the country. Even if you only went to feel what it’s like to “dance on clouds,” it would be worth it because let’s face it, everyone is going to ask if you have been to the Crystal Ballroom. Oh the things this elegant music palace has seen (and heard!) in its over 100-year history. All kinds of legends have come there since the 1960s when it became a must stop for acts like Ike and Tina Turner and the Grateful Dead. Nowadays you can find the ballroom filled with the sounds of rock ‘n roll, hip hop, swing, and more. And for additional onsite fun, the little sister of the Crystal Ballroom, Lola’s Room, is located on the second floor, directly below the Crystal where you can experience 10-foot screen MTV videos in the celebrated ‘80s Video Dance Attack.

2. Doug Fir Lounge
Industrial District Inner Southeast


Image courtesy of Doug Fir on Facebook

One of the great things about being at Doug Fir is, you know you’re in the Pacific Northwest. With its unique, rustic yet chic log cabin decor, it embodies what we love about this area of the country: it’s comfortable, accessible, with a nod to nature, but it’s also immeasurably hip and instantly recognizable as being proud to be here. And we couldn’t be happier about that. Not just a pretty Portland face, Doug Fir also offers a unique place to hear an eclectic mix of indie bands and acts almost every night of the week in its intimate space for 300. In 2013 Rolling Stone magazine named Doug Fir Lounge as one of the top 100 club venues in the country. Well then! Go there any night and stay long enough to grab a room at the equally cool Jupiter Hotel just next door and then enjoy breakfast at the Doug Fir Restaurant starting at 7:00 AM. This whole experience just says “Portland.”

3. Jimmy Mak’s
The Pearl District


Image courtesy of Jimmy Maks on Facebook

According to Down Beat Magazine, Jimmy Mak’s is one of the top 100 places to hear jazz in the world. Harkening back to the age of the intimate jazz club with its small stage, red velvet curtains, and well placed tables, it is open every day of the week except Sundays, so you can easily catch legendary drummer and bandleader Mel Brown in one of his three groups. Called the Godfather of Portland Jazz, Brown also performed with the Supremes and the Temptations, and has been in residence at Jimmy Mak’s for years. Since we know talent like this runs in the family, we are not surprised that in 2014 the Christopher Brown Quartet, led by Mel’s son, has also been in residence. Weekly well known guest acts also vie for time on the calendar. Impressed? We definitely are. Jimmy Mak’s is currently looking to relocate after the building that houses their current location was recently sold and the property will be redeveloped, however it will reside in its current location at least through July, 2016. So go grab a table, order some old fashioned cocktails, and get your jazz on!

4. Aladdin Theater
Brooklyn neighborhood of Southeast


Image courtesy of Chris Sansenbach on Flickr

This former vaudeville and movie house was built in the 1920s and converted to a live music venue in the 1990s after achieving widespread recognition as one of the most well known places to watch adult movies. The 600-seat space has played host to an astounding number and range of accomplished acts from all musical genres and also launched the careers of many famous performers. The Aladdin Theater has hosted Lindsey Buckingham, Brian Wilson, David Crosby, Lucinda Williams, T-Bone Burnett, Pink Martini, Death Cab for Cutie, John Hiatt, and Mumford & Sons, just to name a few. You get the idea — this is a highly respected place by performers and audience members alike with a history all its own.

5. Mississippi Studios
Historic Mississippi District in North Portland


Image courtesy of Sam Beebe on Flickr

“Built, owned, and run by and for musicians,” this unique music venue and recording studio was converted from a former Baptist church in 2003. Known for its great acoustics and extremely intimate setting with balcony overlooking the small stage, Mississippi Studios offers a wide range of local, national, and international acts covering a wide range of music genres. You can even book the apartment next door on Airbnb in case you’ve got plans to indulge at the attached Bar Bar, the cocktail and burger lounge that is popular in its own right (and open to the public even if you’re not seeing a show at Mississippi Studios). You don’t have to be a musician to appreciate all that goes into making this place a success!

6. Revolution Hall
Buckman neighborhood inner Southeast


Image courtesy of darklenzes on Flickr

Move over Kennedy School, there is another converted schoolhouse in town! Revolution Hall opened in 2015 as the restored 850 seat auditorium of an early 20th century high school that food god James Beard and Nobel Prize chemist Linus Pauling happened to attend. An amazing state of the art modern venue with a wrap around balcony and original wooden seats, Revolution Hall is getting great grades for its “old school” charm. We’re sure you’ll enjoy the local and touring indie rock, folk, and pop acts in this setting that has already made a name for itself. A+ for sure!

Article by Natasha Kelly


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