New York is often referred to as the music capital of the world – and for good reason. It was here that jazz was born, where the aggression of New York's punk scene found its voice, and where indie-rock flourished to create a style that will continue to be emulated for generations. Historic venues like Harlem’s Apollo Theatre
to Madison Square Garden
to Radio City Music Hall
provide the ultimate in live music experiences no matter what you fancy.
Where To Begin
A good place to start would be our up-to-the-minute Nightlife Guide
. It pays to check back regularly since New York offers so much for the music lover, leading to the all-too-familiar crisis of wanting to see two great shows on the same night. There are plenty of places to start, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you ignored places like The Mercury Lounge
, Bowery Ballroom
, Irving Plaza
, and Webster Hall
. Local and national acts play those venues all the time, and if you’re lucky enough to catch a big act in one of these (relatively) small places, it can almost be like you’re sitting inside your stereo speakers, surrounded by the band themselves. And compared to larger venues, which cater predominantly to huge pop acts, the ticket prices are generally reasonable.
If you’re more interested in being turned onto a new band than revisiting an old favorite, you can’t go wrong checking out a show at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg
(formerly North Six), The Knitting Factory
, Kenny’s Castaways
, Union Hall
, or The Living Room
. Each place is packed with local talent and under-the-radar bands ready to make it big, all with the kind of closed-in coziness that helps make discovering a new favorite band feel even more like a personal victory. Pianos, for example, often does residencies for bands they feel particularly strong about, and it’s a great way to get turned on to new music. And at Union Hall, if the music downstairs is no good, you can always head upstairs to the bocce ball courts, throw a few dollars into their well-stocked jukebox, and have a few drinks while the offending band runs out their stage time.
Jazz & Blues
The city that invented jazz still has the best clubs to see it performed live: Lenox Lounge
, BB King's Blues Club And Grill
, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
and the legendary Blue Note
and Village Vanguard
. Each one is brimming with local and international talent, well-stocked bars, and musical history. Speaking of which, jazz-lovers could do a lot worse than Jazz at Lincoln Center
, the native New York institution where performance meets education and broadcasting. Anyone who’s subscribed to their Jazzcast knows the breadth and brilliance of their year-round schedule of performers, and those who come to the city unaware of JALC will return home well-sated and ready for more.
There are the obvious places to visit in New York City for music lovers, and it’s not surprising that most people check out Strawberry Fields in Central Park (west side of the park between 71st and 74th Streets) first and usually follow that with a trip across Central Park West to the Dakota (72nd Street & Central Park West) for a look at the doorway where John Lennon was fatally shot by Mark David Chapman. Additionally, many Beatles fans mistakenly make their way to the Hit Factory, the recording studio where some publications at the time erroneously reported Lennon had been recording the day and night of his death. In fact—and according to folks who were with him on that day—Lennon had been mixing at Record Plant Studios on 44th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). A word of caution to anyone who wants to visit the Hit Factory just in case Lennon was there, too: the only remaining vestige of the now defunct New York facilities of the Hit Factory is the archway at the 421 W. 54th Street location—which many people mistake as the place where Lennon may have been recording, although it opened in 1992—having closed its doors in 2005.
Between 53rd and 54th Streets on Broadway, thought, is where The Late Show with David Letterman
is filmed, for which CBS gives out free tickets via the show’s website. This is nice enough, since each show has a musical guest anchoring the broadcast—however, the show is filmed at the historic Ed Sullivan Theater, and even in its current, renovated state, it’s hard to sit back at a taping of The Late Show and not imagine the Beatles strumming away against the toe-curling screams of an audience of teenage girls.
As for historic and still in business, it’d be hard to do better than the Apollo Theatre
or Radio City Music Hall
, where you can still see Rockettes
kicking or amateurs failing on a regular basis. Radio City offers tours Monday through Sunday from 11am to 3pm, and the Apollo has hour-long tours at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday and Sunday at 11am & 1pm.
Down on 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues lies the Chelsea Hotel (actually called Hotel Chelsea, for nitpickers), where musicians like Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Dee Dee Ramone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan all resided at one time or another. That’s without mentioning that Nancy Spungen—girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious—was found dead from multiple stab wounds in a room that the Chelsea doesn’t go out of its way to point out these days (first floor, all the way in the back left corner of the building, by the way). Aside from the musical history, Dylan Thomas also expired (alcohol poisoning) there after drinking all night at the White Horse
, and Arthur C. Clarke wrote his famous 2001: A Space Odyssey
at the Chelsea.
Punk rock malcontents might want to shake their fists at NYU’s Palladium Hall, the dorm built on the demolished New York Palladium, where the Clash played in 1979 (during which the cover picture for London Calling
was taken), as well as The Band, Frank Zappa, and where the Ramones recorded their live album, aptly titled Live January 7, 1978 at the Palladium, NYC.
But maybe you’re rather walk arm-in-arm on Jones Street, the tiny connecting street between W. 4th Street and Bleecker where the cover for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
was taken. Or maybe Led Zeppelin is more your style, and you want to see the cover of Physical Graffiti
(97 St. Mark’s Place). Or, of course, there’s Sniffen Court, in front of which a midget, strongman, mime, and two gymnasts sat (well, stood) for the cover of The Doors’ Strange Days
album (150-158 E. 56th Street).
Unfortunately for smokers—and this especially effects the lovers of music in general—there are no more smoke-filled rooms to watch your preferred music because of public health laws currently in effect in New York City. Generally speaking, all bars are non-smoking now, including clubs and live venues. Most places allow re-entry, so feel free to stand outside and enjoy your cigarettes there… for now, at least.