Itinerary

Atlanta Music

Musical points of interest, venues and festivals in Georgia's capital

As Georgia’s most populous city, and among the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, it should come as no great shock that Atlanta offers a cornucopia of musical culture, history and entertainment offerings. Metro Atlanta’s diversity has expanded along with its population, making for a dizzying array of musical options to explore. Simply put, it’s a great place for lovers of live music, overflowing with a myriad of venues and festivals to suit any taste.

Known as a mecca for rap, hip-hop, soul and R&B, Atlanta also has loomed large as a destination for rockers since the 1960s. Country and blues are never hard to find in the capital city, where live music can be found any night of the week. With approximately 6 million people in the metro area, Atlanta is a major player in the festival scene, hosting huge multi-day shows at iconic Piedmont Park and Centennial Olympic Park, among other venues.

Read more about Atlanta's musical influence and the artists who built their careers in Georgia's capital city. Below, use the itinerary to find must-see music venues, festivals and more points of interest, and listen to music by local artists in the "Our Atlanta Picks" playlist.

  • Points of Interest
    Kishi Bashi performs at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta Nov. 2, 2016
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Points of Interest

1. A Cappella Books

Longstanding independent bookshop with a sizeable selection of music-oriented tomes, as well as many local interest books (music and otherwise). In-store signings are a regular occurrence, and in 2015 they expanded that concept to present readings, conversations and performances with Patti Smith and Elvis Costello at nearby Variety Playhouse.

2. Atlanta History Center

Museum, gardens and research facility, with temporary exhibitions that occasionally focus on aspects or eras of Georgia’s rich musical history.

3. The Goat Farm

A worn-down 19th century cotton gin manufacturing complex that’s been repurposed into a urban arts community, housing residences and studios for hundreds of artists, performers, designers and the like, along with a small, pay-what-you-can coffeeshop. Events can include but are not limited to live music of all sorts, offbeat theatrical and dance performances, film screenings, art exhibitions, etc. Goats and other farm animals roam the site, and the brick buildings in various states of dilapidation and abandoned machinery strewn about lend it a truly surreal atmosphere that’s been used for scenes in the Hunger Games films and The Walking Dead.

4. Little Five Points

Although it’s evolved over the years, Little Five Points remains Atlanta’s “alternative” shopping and nightlife district, with several blocks’ worth of colorful boutiques, markets, eateries, bars and characters. Music lovers will want to spend hours browsing the racks at long-running record stores Wax n’ Facts (est. 1976) and Criminal Records (1991), as well as comparative newcomer Moods Music (2003), which specializes in neo-soul, acid jazz, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop and house music. For live music, the Star Community Bar and the Variety Playhouse have both been anchoring the neighborhood since the early '90s, and when weather permits, there are occasionally street musicians performing in Findley Plaza. To experience L5P on steroids, don’t miss the annual Halloween Festival and Parade in mid-October.

Musician-owned Businesses

One of the most acclaimed restaurants in Atlanta, serving fresh, farm-to-table Southern-inspired dishes, 5. Watershed is co-owned by Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls, and features live jazz music during Sunday brunch.

And if you’re looking to get faded, rapper Killer Mike has a barbershop near College Park, southwest of Atlanta, called 6Graffiti SWAG; “swag,” by the way, is short for shaves, washes and grooming.

7. Special Collections & Archives at Georgia State University

Want to seriously delve into the history of some of Georgia’s music and musicians, much of it little known? The Special Collections & Archives at GSU’s library is a priceless resource. The Johnny Mercer Collection includes decades of personal papers by the prolific Georgia songwriter, including an unreleased autobiography, song drafts, reviews, and much more, plus awards, video footage and other artifacts. Other collections are devoted to obscure Georgia musicians such as Emma Kelly, Bobby Atcheson, Cotton Carrier, Harpo Kidwell and numerous others from around the city, state and region.

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Venues

1. 120 Tavern & Music Hall

The tavern’s a sprawling roadhouse romper room complete with outdoor “beach” volleyball; the adjacent music hall is a professional, mid-sized concert room that books mainstream rock and country acts like Shooter Jennings, Fuel, John Anderson and Drivin’ N’ Cryin’.

2. 529

Indie, punk, garage, metal, hip-hop, rap and dance-party cubbyhole in the East Atlanta nightlife area. It’s where the cool kids hang out.

3. Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood

This durable “shed” can hold 7,000 seated fans (4,000 of them covered) with room for 12,000 more on the lawn area for major touring acts, festivals and package tours during the warm months.

4. Aisle 5

Excellent sound and lighting make this small Little Five Points club a popular destination for DJs, hip-hop, jam bands and indie rock.

5. Apache Café

Funky and comfy joint with a mostly local assortment of hip-hop, soul, jazz and spoken word artists and events.

6. Atlanta Symphony Hall

It should come as little surprise that this is the place to regularly take in a performance by the award-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, but this sonically pristine hall also hosts a regular infusion of big-name non-classical acts like Chris Cornell and Indigo Girls.

7. Blind Willie’s

Named in honor of Georgia bluesman Blind Willie McTell, local and nationally touring blues/roots acts are the specialty at this intimate, long-running drinking hole in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood.

8. Buckhead Theatre

Reopened in 2010 after two years of renovations, and with a capacity of 1,500, this onetime movie house from the '30s has been through numerous incarnations and currently attracts touring acts of all manner, not to mention musicals, comics and private events.

9. Center Stage

This efficient Midtown facility actually boasts three separate venues: the 1,050 capacity Center Stage Theater, with its steeply-inclined semi-circle of seats cradling a (usually) standing-room pit; mid-sized upstairs hall The Loft, which holds 650 standing; and the 300-capacity Vinyl, perfect for local bands and smaller-name touring acts.

10. Chastain Park Amphitheater

A longtime social destination for music lovers during the warmer months, this open-air facility holds 6,900, with many of the closest views being at tables seating six. Yes, this means you can bring your own food and beverages (including alcohol) to most shows.

11. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

You might have spotted this modern, 2,750-seat facility in a few episodes of The Walking Dead, when it masqueraded as the headquarters for the Centers for Disease Control. But pre-apocalypse metro Atlantans cherish it for its wide variety of live music (Sufjan Stevens, Alice Cooper and Emmylou Harris have been among the headliners), comedy, dance and drama offerings. It’s also the home of the The Atlanta Opera.

12. The EARL

The epicenter of Atlanta’s hip indie rock scene, this 270-capacity room is a consistently great place to enjoy scrappy local and touring bands. Divided from the rear performance space by a narrow hallway, the front room is a lively bar and restaurant frequented by a familiar cast of regulars and weekend warriors.

13. Eddie’s Attic

Cozy bar and “listening room” in Decatur has built its reputation on presenting the best in both national and local singer-songwriters, although in recent years the venue has branched out into more eclectic musical fare.

14. Erosol

Also often referred to as “Department Store” due to the fading painted name on the old, two-story brick building along the bustling Edgewood Avenue nightlife corridor, this small space hosts both live music and DJs focusing on hip-hop, jazz, Afro-Cuban and electronic music.

15. Everett’s Music Barn

For over 50 years, this friendly gem in Suwanee (just northeast of Atlanta) has been an essential destination for bluegrass fans and musicians. Every Saturday evening, pluckers and pickers both local and national perform for a family-oriented crowd – no smoking or drinking allowed.

16. Fox Theatre

Opened as a movie palace on Christmas Day 1929, this ornate theater with beautiful, restored Moorish design and starry indoor “sky” is on the National Registry of Historical Places. Most often you’ll find touring musicals and retro movie events there now, but the 4,678-seat venue also books a steady supply major acts such as Beck and Leonard Cohen. The adjacent Egyptian Ballroom, often booked for proms and private events, is also occasionally used for concerts.

17. Kat’s Café

Cozy Midtown nightclub offers an eclectic array of live jazz and soul acts, singer-songwriters, spoken word nights and more.

18. The Masquerade

A cavernous old building that once housed a mill, this longstanding Old Fourth Ward venue boasts three skull-rattling levels – not to mention an outdoor area in back – of metal, emo, punk, indie, rap and other genres and sub-genres. A two-day summer festival, the Wrecking Ball, was established in 2015.

19. Northside Tavern

Scruffy but friendly dive bar hosts live local blues and roots acts seven nights a week. Atlanta institution Daniel Dudeck plays with his durable band Mudcat the last weekend of every month, plus every Wednesday with whomever shows up to join him. Don’t miss the venue’s two-day Chicken Raid festival every March, honoring late Atlanta bluesman Frank Edwards.

20. Red Clay Music Foundry

Overseen by Eddie Owen, founder and former owner of Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, this intimate, 260-seat concert hall in downtown Duluth presents local and touring singer-songwriters and low-key folk and Americana ensembles. It’s also home to the Gwinnett School of Music, which offers private music lessons and group classroom instruction and workshops.

21. Rialto Center for the Arts

Part of Georgia State University, this 833-seat venue’s musical presentations are prestigious and diverse, befitting its academic affiliation. National and international jazz, world music and dance ensembles are what you’re most likely to discover here. Located in the heart of downtown’s historic Fairlie-Poplar district.

22. Smith’s Olde Bar

Upstairs, the main concert room holds upwards of 300, mostly for rock, roots, jam and indie acts, both touring and local. Downstairs, there’s a smaller venue better suited for singer-songwriters and aspiring acts building their fanbase. There’s also a large downstairs bar/restaurant area with a pool/game room.

23. The Star Community Bar

Still known as a great place for twangy, rambunctious country-rock and rockabilly acts, this Little Five Points dive long ago transcended those boundaries to include punk, garage rock, metal, indie and even rap and hip-hop. There’s also comedy on Monday, a DJ dance party on Tuesdays and live band country karaoke on Wednesdays. Down in the basement, the Little Vinyl Lounge also hosts shows and weekly events.

24. The Tabernacle

Mid-sized concert hall in a beautiful, historic Baptist church from the early 1900s. With a capacity of 2,600, the Tabernacle regularly presents an array of touring acts like Wilco, Rise Against, Jeezy and Sturgill Simpson.

25. Terminal West

There isn’t a bad view in this mid-sized, spacious, well-designed Westside venue. Smart bookings cover a wide range, from rock to rap to electronic/DJ, both nationally touring and local. Yummy food and excellent craft beer selection, too.

26. Variety Playhouse

Variety’s the word at this much-loved 1,000-capacity onetime movie house where the Black Lips, Dawes, KMFDM, Leo Kottke, Lucinda Williams and Leon Bridges are but a few of their recent headliners.  A major remodeling is planned for late spring/early summer of 2016. 

27. Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park

This 12,000 capacity amphitheater, with both seated (covered and uncovered) and general admission lawn areas, brings a wide array of major rock and pop acts, plus themed performances by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, to the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, due north of the city.

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Festivals

1. Atlanta Mess-Around

Punk, power-pop, garage rock and related sounds reverberate throughout the East Atlanta business district when this two-day rumble at the EARL and 529 clubs gets rolling in April. Pleasingly cross-generational, you’ll enjoy veterans like Dwight Twilley or Flamin’ Groovies amidst a cavalcade of PBR-slugging upstarts.

2. Sweetwater 420 Fest

Jam-friendly groovers, funk and soul, hip-hop, reggae and indie rock are the norm at this three-day April gathering in Centennial Olympic Park, presented by the local beer kings.

3. Shaky Knees

Well-programmed three-day weekend in May focuses mainly on alternative rock. New in 2016 is Shaky Beats, a sister fest devoted to DJ’s, EDM, hip-hop and electronic-based groups.

4. Candler Park Music & Food Festival

Springtime jamboree brings a sea of music fans to this quiet 55-acre city park. Bands tend to be of the rootsy, Americana variety – Drive-By Truckers, Shovels and Rope, Lucero and Trombone Shorty are among past performers.

5. Atlanta Jazz Festival

Four weeks of smaller shows throughout the city culminate in Piedmont Park on Memorial Day weekend for a hugely attended free outdoor event featuring internationally renowned jazz acts.

6. Sunset Sessions

This free Sunday night concert series at Park Tavern, in the southeastern corner of Piedmont Park, has been boasting increasingly impressive lineups in recent years, mostly featuring indie/alternative rock and local acts with solid followings. Shows start at 7 p.m. Sundays during the spring and summer month, and are outdoor but covered. 

7. AtlantaFest

Three-day, mid-June gathering is the largest Christian music festival in the South. Previously held in Stone Mountain Park, it’s now at the Strong Rock Christian School in the southeastern Atlanta suburb of Locust Grove.

8. Tunes From the Tombs

Relaxed, family-friendly June event in Historic Oakland Cemetery encourages strolling the grounds and discovering offbeat, mostly local acts performing under trees and over the dearly departed.

9. National Black Arts Festival

Events are held at various venues, galleries and facilities from mid-July through mid-September, many of them involving live music or dance.

10. Imagine Music Festival 

Electronic dance music palooza in August, complete with Cirque du Soleil-style sideshow performers and mind-blowing art installations.

11. Decatur BBQ, Blues & Bluegrass Festival

Local and regional acts entertain as you savor some of the most mouth-watering Atlanta barbecue to be had. Mid-August in Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood.

12. Music Midtown

Major headliners and a jumble of established and hot ascending mainstream musical acts are the recipe at this annual two-day September festival held in Piedmont Park.

13. ONE Musicfest

An intriguing mix of genre-bending neo-soul, R&B and conscious hip-hop highlight this smartly curated September festival.

14. Sweet Auburn Music Fest

R&B, hip-hop and gospel are the primary sounds at this early fall street party, held on one of Atlanta’s most historic corridors for African-American music, food and culture.

15. A3C

Arguably the biggest and most important hip-hop festival in the country, this sprawling four-day October affair stages concerts and events throughout the city featuring both established acts and little known aspiring MCs, DJs and musicians.

16. Wire & Wood Songwriters Festival

Three-day mid-October event in downtown Alpharetta (due north of Atlanta) offers an impressive lineup of local and nationally recognized groups and tunesmiths.

17. Parklife

Americana-leaning festival presented by the folks behind Eddie’s Attic, it’s currently an October event in Piedmont Park.

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