Venue Explorer: Boston – Concerts + Arts
The home of legends from Aerosmith, to J. Geils, to New Edition and beyond, Boston has a wide array of places to catch a concert, whether you’re in the mood for a sweaty club show or a picturesque evening of music under the stars.
Boston Music & Theater Venues
Located adjacent to the lush Great Woods Conservation Area, this tree-lined outdoor amphitheater is one of New England’s premier summer concert destinations. Since 1986, the Xfinity Center — originally named after Great Woods — has hosted big-name tours and multi-act festivals on its two stages. The parklike atmosphere provided by the trees allows for unique touches, like leafy VIP areas and grub-slinging food trucks, throughout the venue, while the 19,000-fan capacity of the center’s seats and general-admission lawn area ensures that every show will be a good time.
With its gorgeous views of Boston Harbor and prime location in Boston’s booming Seaport area, the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion has been the city’s leading outdoor concert venue since it opened as Harbor Lights Pavilion in 1994. Boasting a capacity of 5,200, Rockland combines the breezy vibe of a waterfront venue with the convenience of a city concert hall. Its concession stands, which feature local beers and fair food, add to the summertime vibe, while a tent over the main seating area keeps concertgoers dry even during surprise rainstorms.
Just across Lansdowne Street from Fenway Park, House of Blues Boston continues the tradition that Isaac Tigrett and Dan Aykroyd began across the river in Cambridge back in 1992. The original House of Blues was located on Winthrop Street in Harvard Square, and after spawning a chain of clubs around the world, it closed in 2003. In 2009, House of Blues found its new Boston home at 15 Lansdowne Street, marrying the venue’s earliest history with that of the location that housed legendary Boston clubs like The Ark and Avalon. Now boasting a capacity of 2,600 and the dragons-den-styled VIP area Foundation Room, House of Blues is one of Boston’s premier rooms for music of all stripes.
Part nightclub, part live-music venue, Royale, which opened under its current management in 2010, is located just outside the theater district on Tremont Street. Located in an opera house that was built in 1918, Royale’s grand entrance staircase, gold-leaf wall detailing, large circular bar, and chandeliers let concertgoers know that they should expect a fantastic outing, whether they’re seeing a four-band bill of death metal or an hours-long set by one of electronic music’s up-and-coming DJs.
Located right near Boston University’s campus on Commonwealth Avenue, the Paradise Rock Club — which locals affectionately call “the ‘Dise” — doubles as a monument to concert promoter and Boston music-business powerhouse Don Law. The 933-capacity Paradise is an intimate two-level hall that has hosted legends of all stripes on its stage, from Aerosmith (who got their start a few stops down the B line) to U2 (whose first Boston gig, in 1980, was here) to Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder (who played a lengthy set at the Red Sox Foundation’s Hot Stove Cool Music benefit in 2017) and beyond. The Paradise remains one of the jewels in Boston’s rock-club crown, its cozy feel and great acoustics giving concertgoers a chance to experience the city’s musical history.
Built in 1852, the Orpheum is one of America’s oldest performing-arts halls. As the Boston Music Hall, this theater just off Boston Common was the original home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and remained so until 1900, when the BSO moved to Symphony Hall. Renamed the Orpheum in 1906 and rebuilt in 1915, the Orpheum became a movie theater and a vaudeville house before transitioning to a mostly live-music venue in 1971. The 2,700-capacity Orpheum retains its old-Boston charm even when hosting concerts by electro acts and hip-hop groups.
Allston Rock City’s largest live-music venue began its life in the 1970s as Harpers Ferry, a Boston-beloved music hall that hosted shows by the likes of Aerosmith, Fall Out Boy, and hometown heroes Dropkick Murphys, as well as a slew of punk and hardcore acts from all over New England. It closed in 2010 and in 2011, the space on Brighton Avenue reopened as Brighton Music Hall, a 476-capacity room with excellent sightlines, eclectic bookings, and a separate back bar with pool.
The Middle East
Upstairs • Downstairs • Sonia • ZuZu • Corner
Central Square’s music-and-food complex, which now boasts five venues, has just kept growing since it was founded as a Lebanese restaurant in 1970. In 1975, the restaurant’s owners began hosting belly dancers and live music in the space behind the restaurant, which is now known as the 194-capacity Middle East Upstairs. Thirteen years later, they bought the bakery on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Brookline Street, turning it into The Corner, a 60-capacity venue with a stage visible from the street. In 1993, a bowling alley below the restaurant was transformed into the 575-capacity Middle East Downstairs, and in 2001, the Middle East solidified its control of their Massachusetts Avenue strip when its owners purchased what’s now the nightclub ZuZu. When T.T. the Bear’s, a storied rock club adjacent to the complex, closed in 2015, the Middle East’s owners bought it and transformed it into Sonia, a 350-capacity room that hosts live performances and DJ nights. Each room within the Middle East complex has hosted its share of local and global legends.
Bowery Boston’s flagship venue, which opened in 2013, has the feel of the concert-promotion company’s New York venues, with subway tiles lining the walls and a layout that recalls its bilevel clubs like Music Hall of Williamsburg and Bowery Ballroom. But thanks to savvy booking, a great drink menu, and a top-notch sound system, the 525-capacity Sinclair has carved out its own niche. Located just off Harvard Square, The Sinclair’s bookings include legends, up-and-comers, and celebrated parties like Emo Night Boston and Soulelujah.
The cozy, 1,093-capacity Wilbur Theatre has been one of the Theater District’s anchors since 1914, when it was opened as Ye Wilbur Theatre. The colonial-styled Wilbur remains a stately presence amidst the electronic marquees of Tremont Street, although the comedians and musicians it books result in the intimate interior getting wild more often than not. Booked by local comedy impresario Bill Blumenreich since 2008, The Wilbur is a great room for comedy and music alike.
In 1925, The Metropolitan Theatre opened on Tremont Street, showing movies in an atmosphere that was dubbed a “cathedral” by critics at the time. While it served as the home to the Boston Ballet and hosted famous touring projects like the Metropolitan Opera, times got tough. a 1983 gift from Dr. An Wang revitalized the space. In the decades since, the Wang Theatre — now operated in concert with the Shubert Theatre across the street — has become one of Boston’s premier venues for intimate shows by huge artists.
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