Louisville suffers no shortage of available music venues in town, more so than you may expect for a city of our size. While many spaces in town cater to a diverse set of musical interests, there are a number of places that, for one reason or another, tend to attract a specific genre. Here you’ll find the best rooms for the tunes that rock your world. (You can exclude places like Headliners or The Louisville Palace here, not because they aren’t exemplary spots to see fantastic music, but because both offer an incredibly mixed bag of disparate artists.)
When You Want to Hear Jazz
969 Charles St.
The jazz community in Louisville scattered after the closing of the Jazz Factory several years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s not here. Visiting the Louisville Jazz Society web site yields a variety of places to catch the genre in one form or another, and perhaps none quite so exciting as Germantown’s Nachbar, which features jazz that skews a bit more eclectic than not.
When You Want to Hear Folk Music
976 Barret Ave.
Folk or singer/songwriter music is a hard genre to find a good home for, given the tame nature of the music. For those seeking a comfortable locale without too much ambient noise to get intimate with the music, look no further than Gallery K. Located on Barret Avenue in Butchertown, Gallery K is a coffeehouse that welcomes the quiet and pensive moments that suit folk and similar forms so well.
When You Want to Hear Some Punk
442 S 3rd St.
Depending on how you identify punk rock, Third Street Dive is right on the money. True to its name, this is a dive bar with all the trappings: neon lights, dingy interiors, ample beer on tap, bathroom decked out in band stickers, and a pool table in the corner. But the centerpiece of this downtown bar is the stage area positioned right at the entrance, the home to plenty of bands out there just trying to make a little noise.
When You Want to Hear Metal
630 Barret Ave.
Where once The New Vintage offered an intimate spot to bust out your prized leather jacket and spiked gauntlets, Diamonds Pub & Billiards Highlands is still a rocksteady location to get in the pit and try to love someone. The room is large and open, but no less conducive to venting your aggression at maximum volumes. The venue hosts bands like Powerman 5000, Superjoint Ritual (featuring Pantera’s Phil Anselmo), hometown metalcore acts like Knocked Loose, and a heap of bands decked out in all black, midnight dwellers out to scream at the sun. Put on your black face paint and get into it.
When You Want to Hear Some Hip Hop
611 S 4th St.
Honestly, pretty much anywhere you can catch local hip-hop is a good spot, given the quality of the overall content, but if there were any one spot to pick, it’s certainly the Mercury Ballroom. It’s here that you can catch not only the biggest names coming up in town like Dr. Dundiff & Friends, 1200, Kogan Dumb, and more, but where you can see acts like Ghostface Killah and Raekwon or Joey Bada$$. A mid-sized venue, there is ample space to move around and plenty of good vantage points for the stage.
When You Want to Hear Something Eclectic
810 E. Market St.
For those seeking the weirder side of life, there is no better place than dREAMLAND. Located behind Decca in NuLu, dREAMLAND occupies the space that used to be the chapel for Wayside Christian Mission, which makes for some interesting acoustics. Performances range from improv jazz or electronic groups, to established acts like Will Oldham, Faust, or Skull Defekts who may show up on their way through town. This is the vanguard of weird and host to some of the most compelling and often indescribable music out there. Case in point: Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo recently played a set.
When You Want to Hear Bluegrass
1012 Barret Ave
Get a weekly dose of bluegrass at Germantown’s Barret Bar and walk away feeling good about yourself. Featuring a regular get down once per week, the Barret Bar is the spot to post up and tap into some old timey goodness. Typically hosted on the patio, grab some fresh air and let your mind wander outside of the city for a moment, moved by some gleeful picking and grinning.
When You Want to Hear a Cover Band
3801 Frankfort Ave.
The calendar for Gerstle’s Place, located in St. Matthews, is a who’s who of local cover band talent, and a mecca for those seeking to take a load off. The venue is a small compound with several stages spaced throughout different areas in the bar. This is where you go on a Friday night after work, with a cold beer in hand, and an open mind to hearing the best of classic rock.
When You Want to Hear Dance/Electronica
1398 S 2nd St.
It may come as a surprise to catch dance or electronica music in a dive bar, but Mag Bar offers the best of the best. With a good beer selection and multiple rooms to choose from, this Old Louisville venue is an excellent host to folks looking to rock a drum machine or turn table in a bid to get people moving.
When You Want to Hear Indie Music
2100 S Preston St.
There is stiff competition for best spot to see some of the best up-and-coming indie rock in the city, but Zanzabar wins out by staying consistent. Several nights a week you can catch anything ranging from Andrew W.K. to Young Widows to Earth and beyond, making sweet noise in this great Saint Joseph spot. The stage is reasonably short, making it feel like you’re right there with the band. The sound is great and there are plenty of places to visit if your ears need a break, including an excellently maintained arcade. Combine that with a good beer selection and great food and you’re in the right spot.