Charlotte might be best known for big business—Bank of America, Lowe’s, NASCAR, Family Dollar and Duke Energy are all based here—but this is a city that plays just as hard as it works. And much of that playing has always been music; the city is rich in music history.
In the early 1900s, before Nashville took top billing as the country music hub of the U.S., country and blues artists came to Charlotte to play for the textile workers—and record their albums. Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass,” cut his first recordings here in the 1930s. James Brown recorded “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” here in 1965.
Charlotte still loves live music every night, found at local clubs, stages and music halls all over the city.
The Big Time
When it opened in March 2008, EpiCentre and its restaurants and entertainment venues became a new destination in Charlotte’s urban hub. Bordered by College, Trade and Fourth Streets, its central location and proximity to the Lynx Blue Line made it a major player in 2012, when Charlotte played host to the Democratic National Convention and the official launch of President Barack Obama’s second-term campaign.
Since then, it’s become a solid option for live-music lovers, with Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar; Tin Roof, the Charlotte outpost of a Nashville-based live-music venue that features local musicians (and sometimes karaoke); Vault and Suite, nightclubs that feature a roster of local and visiting DJs; and frequent live music at restaurants BlackFinn and Mortimer’s.
NC Music Factory
Across the city, on the outskirts of Uptown, sits NC Music Factory. Because local mill workers drove some of Charlotte’s earliest music history, it’s only fitting that the entertainment hub that includes some of the city’s trendiest music venues would be in a former textile mill. The primary venue within the Music Factory is the Fillmore, a sleek, indoor music hall with a stylish rock-and-roll vibe, from the red-oak floors to the oversized chandeliers. It holds 2,000 music lovers but still feels intimate, and counts The Black Crowes, B-52s, BB King and The Flaming Lips among its past performers. This year, the lineup includes Indigo Girls, Willie Nelson and Carly Rae Jepsen.
The Factory’s other venue, the Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre, can really draw a crowd, with a capacity of 5,000 and performers such as The Fray, Cake, My Morning Jacket, Cake, Ke$ha and Alabama Shakes. But there’s more to this historic hotspot than tunes; it played supporting roles in the films “Shallow Hal” and “Talladega Nights” and the Showtime hit series “Homeland.” And in 2009, it was awarded the Preservation Award from Historic Charlotte.
A More Intimate Affair
McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square
Named for legendary jazz pianist Loonis McGlohon, this theater is a brilliantly restored church sanctuary, complete with Byzantine dome and stained-glass windows. Its roster of performers is revealing— Pat Benatar, Aretha Franklin, and Lyle Lovett are a sampling—but the coolest thing is seeing up-and-comers. 345 N. College St., Charlotte, N.C.
Holding only about 120 people, the Evening Muse may be small, but Charlotte concertgoers know the sound is big. The owner is also the sound specialist, and he gets it right. Only original, independent acts are booked at this cozy spot, so you won’t find cover bands here. And the fans really want to listen. Original artwork on the walls adds to the homey feel. 3227 N. Davidson St., Charlotte, N.C.
The Neighborhood Theatre has quite a colorful past—in fact, it has been both a church and an X-rated movie theater—which is probably why it fits so well in artsy NoDa. The workers are musicians and fans who genuinely love being there. Celtic to country is played here, plus local artists. 511 E. 36th St., Charlotte, N.C.
Built in 1936 as a theater and modernized into a music hall about 60 years later, the Visulite is known for its intimate setting. Capacity is 700, and fans say there really isn’t a bad seat (or place to stand) and love the low-priced beverages. 1615 Elizabeth Ave., Charlotte, N.C.