When people think of cities in the south with major live music scenes, Nashville is usually the first place to come to mind. However, what many people don’t know is that Kentucky also has a thriving music scene. Most major national acts make a stop to play at either the KFC Yum! Center or Rupp Arena, and bands just getting started often get their name in Louisville, playing at local venues and festivals like Forecastle, Headliners Music Hall, and Waterfront Wednesday. If you’re looking to see your favorite band—or next favorite band—playing live, check out the lineup at the 10 best music venues in Kentucky.
Headliners Music Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, looks just like any dive bar: It’s relatively small, has minimal décor, and is located away from the city’s major nightlife stretches. However, many major rock, metal, hip hop, and indie bands have made appearances at Headliners over the years, including My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Lindsey Buckingham.
Every Monday night, visitors to the historic Lyric Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky, can watch the live performance that is filmed for the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour. The show features the best new and established folk, blues, and bluegrass bands and is aired on more than 500 radio stations across the country. The theater was recently renovated and is an intimate venue that offers a personal experience.
Louisville’s Waterfront Park becomes the city’s largest outdoor music venue on the last Wednesday of the month from April through September for Waterfront Wednesdays. Hosted rain or shine, this free event brings thousands of residents to the banks of the Ohio River to watch live bands and indulge in fair food and draft beer from local food trucks.
Broadbent Arena, located within the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky, has hosted many major national acts over the years. It was the main place for concerts in the city before the opening of the KFC Yum! Center, but now it’s biggest concerts happen during the annual Kentucky State Fair. The arena has seating for more than 6,000 people and frequently hosts major country music acts.
The Iroquois Park Amphitheater is an outdoor music pavilion in Louisville’s Iroquois Park. The venue has more than 2,000 seats, all of which provide excellent views of the stage. Major acts like the Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Billy Idol, and Ryan Adams have played shows there in recent years, and shows are played rain or shine. All shows are open seating, so early arrivers score the best seats.
The MoonDance Amphitheater in Lexington, Kentucky, is an outdoor theater that’s home to the city’s Summer Nights in Suburbia series. Summer Nights in Suburbia is a free concert series hosted every Friday night from May to September that features live jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass, and indie bands. Residents bring blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy live music and indulge in food from local food trucks.
With seating for more than 20,000, the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, has become a regular stopping point for major national acts that are touring the nation. In recent years, the arena has hosted Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Prince, and Madonna. The KFC Yum! Center is located on the Ohio River waterfront and boasts ample parking and nearby nightlife for food and drinks before and after shows.
The Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky, is a restored one-screen movie theater that is now a live music venue. The two-level venue packs in audiences to watch rock bands play in an intimate setting. In recent years, the venue has hosted bands like the Indigo Girls, Young the Giant, and Walk the Moon. Next door you’ll also find Madison Theater Live, a smaller venue that frequently hosts local bands.
The historic Louisville Palace Theater is an architectural marvel inside and out. Every detail of the venue boasts it Spanish-baroque style, and you can spend hours just wandering around the building taking in every detail of its architecture. When seeing a concert at the Palace, you’ll feel like you’re at Hogwarts: when the lights go down, the ceiling glows blue and twinkles like stars in the night sky.
Rupp Arena, while best known as the home of the Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team, is also a great place to catch national acts touring through Kentucky. The massive arena seats more than 23,000 people, and when it’s not filled with college basketball fans, it becomes a live music venue. Rupp Arena has hosted many major acts in recent years, including Elton John, Taylor Swift, Drake, and Pearl Jam.