Exploring Seattle’s Thriving Music Scene

Melinda Parks


It’s no wonder Seattle has been dubbed the “City of Music.” A small town, geographically isolated from mainstream record industries in New York, Chicago, and LA and steeped in the independent spirit of its northwest settlers, Seattle eventually gave rise to an innovative and wholly unique musical scene. In the late 60s, it gave the world rock legend Jimi Hendrix. In the late ‘80s, its underground hardcore punk and heavy metal influences fused to create grunge, made popular nationwide by bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. As the ‘90s gave way to the aughts, it became a launching pad for a host of indie rock bands (think Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, or The Head and the Heart) and a home to the thriving underground hip-hop scene that produced Macklemore.


Today, you can experience Seattle’s music scene – a blend of rock, pop, jazz, country and hip-hop influences – at any of its lively bars and clubs. However, since choosing from among its more than 80 hotspots can be a daunting undertaking, we’ve narrowed down the choices to give you eight of Seattle’s best music destinations. Whether you’re dying to see your favorite pop superstar, prefer the mellower sounds of an indie folk band, or want to groove to the rhythms of jazz and blues, we’ve got something for everyone.    


Rock and Pop Venues:


The Showbox at the Market

1426 1st Ave

(206) 628-3151



The Showbox has been a mainstay of the Seattle music scene since it opened in 1939. Over the years, everyone from Duke Ellington and Muddy Waters to the Ramones and Pearl Jam has graced its stage. Today, it features mainly national and international touring bands in a variety of genres. With its original art-deco architecture intact, three bars with tables overlooking the action, and a large dance floor for those inclined to move, The Showbox is the ideal destination for a big, energetic show. You can find it just across the street from Seattle’s famed Pike’s Place.


The Crocodile

2200 2nd Ave

(206) 441-4618



Originally opened in 1991 as The Crocodile Café, this venue quickly gained a reputation as the center of the grunge movement, featuring local bands like R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and Nirvana before they rose to fame. Its abrupt closure in 2007 disheartened Seattle natives who considered it a fixture of the city; after an extensive renovation, it reopened two years later with a new look and a new name – The Crocodile. The Crocodile now hosts local, national, and international artists in a range of genres, although it focuses largely on Seattle’s flourishing underground hip-hop scene. The venue also includes The Back Bar, which serves delicious food and cold drinks and features weekly events like happy hour bingo and Tuesday night karaoke.



The Paramount Theatre

911 Pine St

(206) 902-5500



In the nearly four decades since its 1928 construction, it seems The Paramount Theatre has lived a dozen lives. Originally intended as a “movie palace,” it has featured, at turns, live stage shows, movies, and concerts. In 1994, the Seattle Theatre group completely overhauled and restored the site, maintaining much of its original Beaux Arts style, complete with French baroque plaster moldings, chandeliers, draperies, and wall hangings. But The Paramount Theatre offers more than just history and beautiful architecture; it hosts major national and international bands in its large amphitheater and offers themed cocktails and seasonal menus prepared specially for each show. 


The Vera Project

305 Harrison Street

(206) 956-8372



The Vera Project is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven movement that seeks to educate youth about music and arts and to foster creativity through various shows, classes, and hands-on experience. Since the concerts at this venue are open to all ages, teenage volunteers fill all roles, the shows start and end early, and no alcohol is sold or allowed on-site (although there is a small snack shop near the stage area). Located close to the Space Needle, The Vera Project hosts several concerts per week featuring local and national acts.


Small, Acoustic Venues:


Columbia City Theater

4916 Rainier Ave

(206) 722-3009



Columbia City Theater consists of a tiny raised stage in front of a small standing-only room. Its size, as well as its cozy atmosphere – exposed brick, red velvet curtains, neon signs – make it the perfect venue for its mostly local acts. Built in 1917 as the oldest vaudeville theater in Washington, Columbia City Theater played an important role during the Seattle jazz boom of the 40s and the punk movement of the 80s. Renovated and reopened in 2010, it earned the distinction of “city’s finest sounding room” by SPIN Magazine. In addition to hosting several shows per week, Columbia City Theater boasts a great bar with weekly events like open mic night and karaoke.


Sunset Tavern

5433 Ballard Ave

(206) 784-4880



Housed in what was formerly a beloved Chinese restaurant that had served locals since the 1940s, Sunset Tavern maintains its funky, old-school vibe by retaining much of the Chinese décor from the original establishment. It hosts a slew of lesser-known bands and local acts in a range of genres, and it offers pizza and a decent beer selection. If the music and food won’t convince you that Sunset Tavern is the place for a small, underground show, the website also claims to have “the cleanest bathroom in rock n’ roll.”



Jazz and Blues Venues:


Dmitriou’s Jazz Alley

2033 6th Ave

(206) 441-9729



For dinner and a show, head to Dmitriou’s Jazz Alley, an upscale restaurant that has provided jazz-lovers with great live music for almost three decades. Jazz Alley hosts talented local and national artists six nights per week, Tuesday through Sunday, with up to two shows per night and occasional shows on Mondays. The stage is visible from every table in the joint; you can dine on a delicious meal from the varied menu while enjoying the artist of the night, or you can come just for the music and sit at a cocktail table on the balcony. With good acoustics, an intimate setting, and consistently great music, Jazz Alley is one to experience.


Highway 99 Blues Club

1414 Alaskan Way

(206) 382-2171



From its building, constructed in 1909, to its antique décor to its Cajun-style food, Highway 99 seeks to emulate traditional southern juke joints. With a bar constructed from five antique doors, reclaimed blue velvet benches, and walls decorated by pictures of classic bars, this spot captures the flavor of the south. Come grab a table with some friends and watch the best of the local blues artists on Highway 99’s centrally-located stage, which allows for intimate interaction between performer and audience. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday with occasional shows on Sundays.


Author Bio:

Melinda Parks is the pen name of a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


Photo credits: Depositphotos.com

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