Tourists come to Charleston, South Carolina for a lot of reasons – not least because the Holy City/Port City has been ranked as the best vacation destination in the world by more than one travel publication. Great food, terrific sites, plentiful craft breweries, a ton of history and historic homes – there’s not much that you can’t find here.
And that includes great music. Charleston has something for every taste, from the spacious North Charleston Coliseum’s Performing Arts Center to cozy, intimate little places that specialize in jazz, rock, country and – of course – that South Carolina staple, beach music.
Here’s a brief listing of some of the best the city has to offer. There are more than these, but this isn’t a bad place to start your musical adventures.
95 Calhoun Street, Charleston 29401; 843.577.7400
Charleston’s original music and arts venue opened in July 1968 as Gaillard Municipal Auditorium and Exhibition Hall (named after a former mayor), and its 2,750-seat music hall and a large exhibition hall became the city’s performing arts venue, as well as home to the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and a site of the Spoleto Festival. The renovated Gaillard Center opened in 2015 with the 1,800-seat Martha and John M. Rivers Performance Hall, plus an 11,500-square-foot exhibition hall. Acts include Broadway productions and classical (and other) music performances.
224 King Street, Charleston 29401; 843.577.4522
Okay, this fine dining restaurant, located inside the luxurious Charleston Place Hotel, is primarily about great food. But with terrific acoustics courtesy of its wood-paneled walls, the lounge has become a go-to locale for live jazz performances. And what night of music doesn’t go even better with a great meal?
295 Seven Farms Drive, No. 294, Charleston 29492; 843.641.0011; www.charlestonjazz.com
Speaking of jazz … Charleston Jazz has been the city’s clearinghouse for all things classical and modern jazz since 2012, hosting swing-time jazz orchestras, quartets and solo acts. A nonprofit organization, Charleston Jazz is not a venue but stages its shows at the Charleston Music Hall, the Gaillard Center, College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre and Woolfe Street Playhouse, among other venues. Charleston Jazz also hosts the annual (January) Charleston International Jazz Festival.
37 John Street, Charleston 29403; 843.853.2252
This downtown venue successfully manages to make its two-story, nearly 1,000-seat auditorium feel intimate, whether hosting national touring artists or local performers – plus being home to the Charleston Jazz House. Such a varied lineup of acts means the Music Hall can offer something for nearly every musical taste – and a feeling of up-close-and-personal.
504 Meeting Street, Charleston 29403; no phone number listed
Another downtown spot, this authentic, old-school jazz and funk lounge – formerly the Touch of Class jazz club – feels like a throwback to an earlier era with brass-and-velvet bar stools, velvet curtains, chandeliers and black tile, plus a disco ball sending patterns of light onto the dance floor. But it also has “really hip vibes,” according to local music aficionados. It also has a juicy rumor attached: Shep, of the reality-TV show “Southern Charm,” is reputed to be a part-owner, though that might come from the presence of nearby Sheppard Street.
32 Ann Street, Charleston 29403; 843.577.6989
One of two Music Farms in South Carolina (the other is in Columbia, both managed by Music Farm Productions), this 800-seat venue in the heart of Upper King Street’s entertainment district plays host to local, regional and national bands, with a variety of music styles and more than 200 acts annually playing the club. It’s also viewer-friendly with a sloped floor going away from the stage and two balcony standing areas upstairs. Be warned, though: floor space is standing room only.
5001 Coliseum Drive, North Charleston 29418; 843.529.5000
For more than two decades, the North Charleston Coliseum has played host to everything from college basketball, professional ice hockey and other indoor sports to a wide variety of musical acts. The arena has 14,000 seats and offers a lineup of performers including “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent,” jazz festivals and arena-sized music and comedy shows. A favorite is the “Best of Broadway” series, bringing such shows as “Jersey Boys” to Charleston, without the New York City price tag.
1977 Maybank Highway, Charleston 29412; 843.571.4343
Don’t confuse this venue with the former Columbia bar of a similar name. Charleston’s Pour House for years has been a locals favorite for live music, six nights a week, played both inside on the main stage – with a larger capacity than some competing clubs – and outside on the back patio deck, where free local acts are performed. A diverse and wide-ranging lineup of shows, including often-simultaneous performances indoors and outdoors, makes it easy for patrons to move from one show to another on the same night if they want.
547 King Street, Charleston 29403; 843.793.2964
With live bands or acts playing six nights a week, Prohibition offers a range of regular and guest stars, and a variety of musical styles, from acoustic performances by solo artists to 1950s “Big Band” and swing-dance music. The popular venue also has highly-regarded food choices from Chef Stephen Thompson, who specializes in Southern cuisine.
970 Morrison Drive, Charleston 29403; 843.817.6925
Since opening in 2011, this venue located a short drive from Charleston’s entertainment and bar district has become a popular stop for music fans, whether listening inside in a comfortable, bare-bones space decorated with vintage band posters, or outdoors on the deck festooned with string lights. Regularly scheduled musical acts, including a regular bunch of local musicians, come to this location in an area undergoing revitalization. Prices are listener-friendly, with costs in the $5-$10 range most nights.
1117 Magnolia Road, Charleston 29407; 843.571.0775
As with Music Farm, this “weird/funk place” has a “twin” venue in Columbia, also known as Tin Roof. Regular performances include local bands and regional “indie” bands that are coming through Charleston. The former owner, now living in New Orleans, knew his music; he previously played guitar in a band based out of Columbia. Small and intimate, this place works well for bands seeking a breakthrough.
1008 Ocean Boulevard, Isle of Palms 29451; 843.886.8948
One of Charleston’s iconic music joints, this beachfront bar and grill has played host to everything from local bands to national touring groups (including Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker, a Charleston native and resident). The place stages half-price burger nights, trivia nights and a locally famous “bikini bash” each summer. The most Charleston thing about the Windjammer, though, is its outdoor sand-volleyball courts, located between the club and the beach, where tournaments are held each year.