By Katie Chang
Updated January 11, 2016
Inside the Howard Theatre
| Credit: Courtesy of Howard Theatre

Catching a live show is one of the best ways to blow off steam in the pressure cooker we call Washington, DC. And thankfully, there are plenty of spots to indulge in your favorite form, from EDM to jazz to alternative. Here, we share 8 of the best live music venues in the nation’s capital.


As the District’s biggest concert venue, Echostage clocks in at a whopping 30,000 square feet, and is the place EDM fans flock to for a full sensory, high energy experience. An imported German D&B Audiotechnik V system – it’s the only one on the east coast – ensures supreme bass and beats, while cutting-edge LED displays flash gripping visuals. No wonder it’s attracted the biggest names in the industry like David Guetta, Calvin Harris, and Skrillex.


For 35 years, 9:30 upheld its longstanding reputation as a institution by consistently booking top acts across genres, from hip hop to punk to country – the likes of Nas, Iggy Pop and Willie Nelson. Even though it’s standing room only, you’re guaranteed a clear view, no matter where you’re hanging out. And the four bars ensure you’ll never be thirsty or empty-handed.

The Howard Theatre

After a 32-year hiatus and spiffy $29 million renovation, the historic arts landmark – legends Duke Ellington, James Brown and Marvin Gaye have all performed here – reopened in 2012. Today, it continues to host some of the most exciting acts around, like Janelle Monae and The Roots. Should the spirit move you, hit up the Harlem Gospel Choir Brunch held on the first Sunday of every month.

Black Cat

Many locals consider this venue on 14th Street as 9:30’s cousin. It’s smaller, a bit grittier, and the drinks are cheaper. And while Black Cat may not pull in the big, flashy names 9:30 might, it’s the spot to be if you want to catch bands on their way up. The on-site cafe, Food For Thought, turns out hearty vegetarian and vegan bar snacks such as nachos, sliders, and chili.

Blues Alley

Many of the greats – think Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Sarah Vaughan – have rolled through the doors of this historic venue, the longest continually operating jazz club in DC. Discreetly tucked away in an alley in Georgetown, the charming space boasts top-notch acoustics for the most die-hard jazz fans. Even better, there’s not a single bad seat in the house.

Bohemian Caverns

Even though it was founded in 1926, the beloved U Street venue is more popular than ever, thanks to the care of owner and booker Omrao Brown. If you’re new to the world of jazz, swing by on Monday nights, when the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra plays two sets for only $10 each. It’s a bit of a local secret, and a terrific way to watch some local talent shine.

Rock & Roll Hotel

A former funeral parlor on bustling H Street is now one of the most raucous, yet intimate places to catch a show and throw back drinks. The first floor houses the concert hall – where co-owner Steve Lambert says, “We’re dedicated to the discovery and recovery of great music” – while the second and third floors are dedicated to the bar, lounge, and rooftop deck. It’s an especially good time when the weather’s warm.

U Street Music Hall

This basement club boasts a seriously sick sound system – in fact, decibel levels can get so intense headphones are available for purchase at the bar – and a spacious, cork-cushioned dance floor. Because it’s DJ owned and operated, U Street Music Hall brings in some of the industry’s top talent. And the affordable drinks and tickets bring in young, rowdy crowds who like to party deep into the night.