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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Concerts in Kansas City: A guide to the best venues for live music around the metro

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Jay Lindhorst captures Various Blonde during a livestream performance on RecordBar's stage.

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.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

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

Exterior view of Knuckleheads at night, with neon signs lit on the entrance.
JoLynne Martinez
It can be a bit of a journey to find Knuckleheads in Kansas City's East Bottoms, but the four stages are a ramshackle labor of love.

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.


Green Lady Lounge in the Crossroads District provides an intimate space to see, hear and experience late-night jazz sessions.
Green Lady Lounge
Green Lady Lounge in the Crossroads District provides an intimate space to see, hear and experience late-night jazz sessions.

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.

CJ Janovy
KCUR 89.3

Equally memorable experiences are on tap one mile east 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.

Get loud

When the Midland was constructed in 1927, it was the largest theater within 250 miles of Kansas City.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
When the Midland was constructed in 1927, it was the largest theater within 250 miles of Kansas City.

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.

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 ofKansas 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.

Farewell is a recent addition to the scene. The punk-oriented upstart near the Truman Sport Complexis a refuge for fans of the loud. Don’t miss the back room that’s plastered with plush toys — it’s one of Kansas City's trendiest selfie hot-spots.

Two people walk into a doorway beneath a sign that reads "Farewell." In the background are other wooden, nondescript buildings.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Patrons enter Farewell on July 23 where the club sits inside the ramshacle industrial district in the shadow of Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums.

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.

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. Check out their upcoming shows here.

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. See more upcoming shows here.

Have an elegant evening

Exterior view of the rounded shaped of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Tim Hursley
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts has two different venues. Touring and local acts perform there, including the Kansas City Symphony, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and the Kansas City Ballet.

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 Lyric Opera of Kansas City stages most of its productions in the glittery Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

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.

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.

Here comes the summer

For more than 50 years, locals and visitors alike have experienced Broadway musicals and unforgettable concerts on Starlight Theatre's mystical, castle-shaped stage.
Ryan McElwain
Starlight Theatre
For more than 50 years, locals and visitors alike have experienced Broadway musicals and unforgettable concerts on Starlight Theatre's mystical, castle-shaped stage.

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 strong concert calendar.

Another outdoor venue is Grinders, a Crossroads space with outstanding city views (and giant slices of pizza).

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.

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.

KC Live!, the courtyard of the Power & Light District, is Kansas City’s de facto town square. 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.

KCUR contributor Bill Brownlee blogs about Kansas City's jazz scene at plasticsax.com.
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