Concerts in Kansas City: A guide to the best venues for live music around the metro
Kansas City has no shortage of great concerts coming through the metro. Whether you're paying out big for stadium tours or catching up-and-coming acts at the smallest punk club, here's where to get started in exploring the local music scene.
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Kansas City has long been known as a jazz town, and one evening at The Blue Room is enough to prove that legacy is still swinging today.
But locals also know that KC has even more than that to offer. Step into any one of our region’s live music venues and you’ll hear sounds and singers from all genres — and there’s more than enough shows to check out.
Whether you’re a regular at recordBar or an occasional opera-goer, here is a guide to some of Kansas City’s essential concert venues.
A category unto itself
Knuckleheads is a particularly distinct Kansas City venue. The sprawling complex is an authentic roadhouse in an era overrun by artificial kitsch.
Finding the East Bottoms establishment can be a bit of a journey. First-time visitors are bound to think they’ve made a wrong turn as they cross railroad tracks (as long as a train isn’t blocking your path), pass an imposing processing plant and make their way through a residential area on their way to the venue.
Growing originally out of a motorcycle shop, Knuckleheads is owner Frank Hicks’ ramshackle labor of love. Blues, country, folk, rock-and-roll oldies and old-school R&B are regularly performed on the venue’s four stages. Worship services are conducted Wednesdays in the intimate Gospel Lounge.
Upcoming bookings include country luminary Tanya Tucker at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12 ($58.50), and jazz fusion keyboardist Bobby Sparks II at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 30 ($29.50).
Eighty hours of toe-tapping jazz is performed every week of the year at Green Lady Lounge, a bustling jazz club in the Crossroads.
Elite guitarists Danny Embrey (7:30-10:30 p.m. every Friday) and Rod Fleeman (2:30-5:30 p.m. every Saturday) are among the Kansas City musicians leading groups on upstairs and downstairs stages.
Swinging music is just half the fun at Green Lady. A $5 cover charge gets you access to the swanky atmosphere accentuated by (infamously) dim lighting, and a fancy cocktail menu completes the experience.
On weekend nights, you can expect a packed house — but should the crowds become overwhelming, its sister venue Black Dolphin (also a $5 cover) is just next door, with a similarly upscale vibe and live jazz.
Equally memorable experiences are on tap one mile west of Green Lady Lounge. Jazz artifacts and artworks cover the walls at The Blue Room, a nightclub that’s also an extension of the American Jazz Museum. Its weekly jam sessions (7-10 p.m. every Monday, no cover charge) give intrepid hopefuls the chance to sink or swim. The James Ward Band, a staple at the Blue Room, returns for two sets on Saturday, March 25 (8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., $10 per set or $15 for both sets).
One of the most historically significant buildings in American music is a short stroll from the Blue Room. The Mutual Musicians Foundation was a vital hub for musicians during Kansas City’s jazz heyday of the 1930s. The public is welcomed into the building for post-midnight libations and casual performances every Friday and Saturday night. (The cover charge varies beginning at 1 a.m.)
Find a full guide to the best live jazz in Kansas City here.
With a full schedule of top-tier local and international bookings, recordBar on Grand Boulevard downtown sets the standard for the region’s rock music venues. Excellent sound reproduction and a friendly staff contribute to recordBar’s durability. The current schedule ranges from the Ohio metal band Ringworm at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 12 ($12 in advance) to the R&B stalwart Eric Bellinger at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 23 ($30 in advance).
Downtown is also home to two prominent Kansas City venues: the T-Mobile Center, an 18,500-seat arena that hosts many of the biggest acts in Kansas City, and the historic Midland Theatre, (3,000 person capacity) which schedules various concerts, Broadway shows and more.
In Midtown, you can find even more classic locations: the Uptown Theater, which can hold 2,400, and the 500-seat Madrid Theatre. (Take a tour of Kansas City's historic theaters here.)
Just east of downtown on Truman Road, The Truman has hosted national touring acts and local musicians since its opening in 2017. With a standing room capacity of 1,200, it's a destination for slightly bigger rock, indie, hip hop and pop concerts. Upcoming shows include The New Pornographers on April 29 and a Dolly Party-inspired "country diva dance party" on May 20.
Farewell is a recent addition to the scene. The punk-oriented upstart near the Truman Sport Complex is a refuge for fans of the loud. The Philadelphia shoegaze band They Are Gutting a Body of Water headlines a four-band bill on Monday, March 20 (8 p.m., $15 cover charge.) Don’t miss the back room that’s plastered with plush toys – it’s one of Kansas City's trendiest selfie hot-spots.
Nearby in Lawrence, Kansas, The Bottleneck has provided Midwestern rock fans with unforgettable memories for decades. Radiohead is among the acts that has played the club on their way to becoming legends. The Lemon Twigs, New York-based revivalists of 1970s-style soft rock, hope to follow that career trajectory at 8 p.m. March 12 ($22 in advance).
Over the years, Liberty Hall in Lawrence has served as a disco club, a movie theater and music venue, hosting performances from Tina Turner and the Wu Tang Clan. Today music fans can catch national acts and cinephiles can still enjoy films as well. Upcoming shows include indie-pop duo Tennis on April 12 and folk-rock band Dawes on April 16.
On the same street, The Granada boasts its own history as a beloved venue for local music fans. It’s where The Get Up Kids played before (and after) they made it big and where you can see a range of artists from across genres — from indie rock groups to rappers like Tech N9ne, who plays the Granada on March 31. See more upcoming shows here.
Have an elegant evening
An impressive fine arts scene defies Kansas City’s roots as a cattle town. Yet few will blink at anyone wearing cowboy boots with their finest formal attire at any one of these venues.
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is an iconic part of Kansas City’s skyline. The distinctive structure houses two very different venues. Helzberg Hall, a wondrous space resembling the wooden interior of a fabled ark, is home to The Kansas City Symphony. The smooth jazz icon Kenny G plays the first of three nights with the Symphony on Monday, March 13 (tickets start at $58.50).
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City stages most of its productions in the glittery Muriel Kauffman Theatre. “The Shining”, a 2016 opera based on Stephen King’s infamous horror story, opens Saturday, March 11 (tickets start at $53.50.)
The Kauffman Center isn’t limited to arias and overtures. Floyd Nation is among its forthcoming bookings. This Pink Floyd tribute band performs at Muriel Kauffman Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 7 (tickets start at $57.50).
The Folly Theater was operating more than 100 years before the Kauffman Center was constructed. The venerable space serves as a sonically superior home for a variety of presentations. A concert by hometown hero Oleta Adams is the next presentation of the Folly Jazz Series on Saturday, March 11 (tickets start at $25). The Heartland Men’s Chorus pays tribute to gay icon Cher on Saturday, March 25, and Sunday, March 26 (tickets start at $25). Pro tip: tall and plus-sized people should avoid selecting the cramped balcony seats.
The Midwest Trust Center fulfills fine arts demand on the other side of town. Two adjoining spaces on the campus of Johnson County Community College stage a variety of compelling programming.
This week is no exception. The veteran folk troubadour John McCutcheon will perform at the smaller Polsky Theatre on Saturday, March 11 (tickets start at $25). Winterlude, MTC's jazz series, continues March 19 with KC Jazz Disciples.
Here comes the summer
Much as dining el fresco can enhance the taste of food, music tends to be more enjoyable when consumed in the open air. Four outdoor venues bring some of the biggest attractions in music to Kansas City year after year.
Generations of Kansas Citians have been entertained at Starlight Theatre. The spectacular venue is next to the Kansas City Zoo in Swope Park. In addition to the popular Broadway musicals, Starlight boasts a typically strong concert calendar in 2023.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, the odd couple pairing of the former Led Zeppelin howler and the bluegrass standout, returns to Starlight on Friday, May 5. (Tickets begin at $35.) A sold-out concert by the country sensation Tyler Childers on June 15 is among the additional auspicious bookings.
One of the summer’s most ambitious tours is coming to Grinders. The Crossroads space with outstanding city views (and giant slices of pizza) presents the quadruple bill of the New Orleans party ensemble Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, reggae notable Ziggy Marley, the legendary vocalist Mavis Staples and the band led by steel guitar master Robert Randolph on Saturday, July 22. (Tickets begin at $62.)
Rock-and-roll history is still made every summer at Azura Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, although some old-timers may still insist on its original name: Sandstone Amphitheater. Among the year’s biggest offerings is the package tour of indie-rock outsiders Weezer, alternative rock radio staples Modest Mouse and promising newcomers Momma on Sunday, June 1. (Tickets begin at $35.)
Although their primary functions are obviously not for concerts, you'll find some of the biggest touring acts coming through Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium. Instead of the Chiefs, you can catch Luke Combs on June 10 and Taylor Swift on July 7-8 (provided you got tickets), and the Royals will step aside for Guns N' Roses on Sept. 23.
KC Live!, the courtyard of the Power & Light District, is Kansas City’s de facto town square. A crowd will gather for DJ Diesel — better known as the basketball star Shaquille O’Neal — at the KC Live! stage on Saturday, March 11 ($20 cover charge). He’ll perform in conjunction with the conclusion of the Big 12 men's college basketball tournament, which is being held across the street at the T-Mobile Center.
And look for the announcement of this year’s slate of performers in the Hot Summer Nights concert series. The weekly country-themed party at KC Live! may be Kansas City’s most popular concert tradition.