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Variety Is the Spice of Life at Columbia’s Musical Performance Venues

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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Over the decades, Columbia has developed a reputation as a city that offers opportunities to enjoy all types of music. Some of that is due to the presence of the University of South Carolina, whose students cater to the latest rock, hip-hop and even country. But there are plenty of choices for old-timers, Baby Boomers, the Millennial Generation - you name it.

While other, larger cities might offer more locales, the Capital City can satisfy every taste, ranging from big arena shows featuring national groups to tiny, cozy spots to hear up-and-coming bands or singles. So book a ticket online or just show up at the door, depending on the venue. If music moves your soul, Columbia can provide the beat.

Here are 10 of the city's best spots:

Art Bar
1211 Park Street; 803.929.0198

"Eclectic" doesn't do justice to this small but colorful spot in Columbia's Vista entertainment district. Live music, generally geared to the college-age crowd, is usually available each Saturday, with cover charges under $10. Recent or upcoming groups include FLOOD, The Raz, Silver Tongued Devils and Skymonk.

Bill's Pickin' Parlor
710 Meeting Street, West Columbia; 803.796.6477

If bluegrass and country music in an intimate venue is your passion, this is the place. Bill's, a longtime institution just across the river from The Vista, is known for its Friday bluegrass jam sessions and live music with line dancing on Saturdays. Recent or upcoming acts include The Edgar Loudermilk Band, featuring Jeff Autry.

Colonial Life Arena
801 Lincoln Street; 803.576.9053

For the biggest names in concert music, the 18,000-seat home of the University of South Carolina men's and women's basketball teams also stages a healthy list of touring acts, from Pearl Jam, Cole Swindell, Carrie Underwood and Maroon 5 to vintage groups like The Eagles, Journey, Def Leppard and Elton John.

Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College
7300 College Street, Irmo; 803.407.5011

Take a drive up Interstate 26 to the Harbison area, where this small venue offers special presentations, dance events and some classical music shows - as well as some that also dabble in more current offerings. One March 2018 event will feature the Lake Murray Symphony Orchestra performing "Beethoven, Brahms and The Beatles."

Koger Center for the Arts
1051 Greene Street; 803.777.5112

As a showplace of the University of South Carolina, the Koger Center tends to go highbrow, with ballet performances (including the annual Nutcracker) and appearances by the SC Philharmonic Orchestra and USC's Symphony Orchestra. But the plush building also has offerings for the masses, from Weird Al Yankovic to "Rocket Man: A Tribute to Elton John."

Music Farm
1022 Senate Street; 803.252.9392

This is the place for serious lovers of current rock, pop and hip-hop. Opened in 2016 in The Vista area of town, its recent and upcoming roster includes Robert Earl Keen, the Ying Yang Twins, the Blue Dogs and Flogging Molly. But this "twin" of Charleston's Music Farm also presents tribute-band shows for such classic names as Prince (Eddie Bush and Endorphin Machine), Grateful Dead (Cosmic Charlie) and Widespread Panic (Machine Funk).

New Brookland Tavern
122 State Street, West Columbia; 803.791.4413

Those who love hard-driving music (heavy metal, punk, etc.) and new independent bands, plus a gritty, dark environment and an intimate stage, go to NBT. Maybe you've heard of such groups as Boo Hag, Boomtown Waifs, Big Thunder and the Rumblefish and Violent Life Violent Death. If not, here's a chance to expand your musicology.

Tapp's Arts Center
1644 Main Street; 803.988.0013

This converted department-store building, which also is home to aspiring local artists, has become the place to hear music that's different and "out-there" but still enjoyable to fans of a new wave, replacing the now-closed Conundrum Music Hall. Wailin' Storms, Vincas, Florida Man, Vacation State - this is where to find them and many more.

Tin Roof
1022 Senate Street; 803.771.1558

If you like Music Farm, you'll like Tin Roof, which sits next door to that venue and occasionally teams up with its neighbor to stage combined events (the Freeway Music Festival, for instance). The Roof also stages Building the Band, featuring up-and-coming South Carolina talent, on Tuesdays, plus music trivia nights (30 Second Rocks). And unlike the all-music Farm, Tin Roof offers a full restaurant menu for those who want sustenance for the body as well as the soul.

The Township
1703 Taylor Street; 803.576.2350

Looking for bigger-name acts than the clubs but a more intimate venue than the CLA? The Township has a long, distinguished history of providing Columbia with great music (and other shows) and doing so in an environment where you can actually see the performers. Some of its acts are geared to the Boomers (Patti LaBelle; Rain, A Tribute to the Beatles), but The Avett Brothers are as current as they come. And there's the annual Columbia South Carolina Blues Fest, for those who love soulful sounds.

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.