Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again. … ~ The Bill
Music. Music. Music.
Unspent plutonium cores powering ferocious, untamable hearts. Radioactive with memory. Fuel for a fire spanning young to old. Coursing through the grizzled veins of Greybeard Jazzbos. Furious ‘pon the fevered brows of Metalheaded Maniacs. Punkers Who Say Oi, Oi, Oi!!! Technodweebs. Folkies. Angel-eyed Hip-Hopsters. The Cello Bound. Angry Lipped Noise Rockers. Harrowed and Haunted Emo’s. And all the notes laying at the tween.
The hallowed halls through which one plugs into this inescapable energy? They’re control rods. Curators of the Great American Beat. From doo-wop to doo-run-run to dawww-dawww-dawww to dikka-dikka to dubbbb-dubbbb-dubbbbbbbbbb. Without a doubt the great cities of great eras are almost always defined by live music. Which is in turn defined by great places to hear live music. 1782: The Tratterhof in Vienna. 1889: Le Moulin Rouge in Paris. 1923: The Cotton Club in Chicago. 1974: CBGB in New York. And on and on and on.
Each of the venues we speak to below the fold? They may appear to an untrained eye mere collections of brick and mortar. Electrical outlets powering sonically charged boxes through which music salves and swells. But in truth? Each of these spots is a Golden Ticket. An electric opportunity for you to say:
And it was the greatest moment of my life.”
Before we get too crazy: Let just say that for me, personally? The long defunct Boathouse was the hands down pinnacle of live music experience. Within the membranes of the memory of those walls I remain tightly in the grip of auditory tendrils from the greatest bands ever to boost signal though amplifier: The Ramones. Stevie Ray Vaughn with Double Trouble. 10,000 Maniacs. Iggy Pop. Joan Jett. The Violent Femmes. Husker Du. Siouxie and the Banshees. Ani Difranco. And so on.
The acoustics were beyond awful. It stank to high heaven of beer and sweat. The over 21 patrons were invariably obnoxious. The concrete floor hurt like nobody’s business when you fell after slipping while headbanging. There were few rules. Crowd surfing was allowed. Mosh pits were allowed. Or if they weren’t allowed, nobody bothered to stop them. Most anything could go and more often than not? Did.
I miss that place like I’d miss a limb. When Hurricane Isabel mortally wounded it in 2003, we lost something special that could never be replaced. Sadly, the Boathouse is dead, but the beat moves on.
And so we present a list comprised of my current favorite Hampton Roads’ venues. Spots where you might fill your soul with atomic chords of sweet, sweet music – whether it be locally bourne or merely passing through, along with a few recommendations from friends sprinkled in of spots I haven’t been to, but plan to check out soon.
Don’t see your favorite place on here? Pipe up in the comments and let us know. Indubitably, it’s likely there’s houses of which I’ve neither been to nor even heard of. These are in no particular order, outside of size and scope.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Bob Dylan. Jimmy Buffet. Dave Matthews.
The largest venue in the area, formally known as Farm Bureau Live, or more colloquially as just: The Amphitheater. This is the place you go to when you want to see a large band or megasuperstar. Or you know.. Someone like Barry Manilow. In days of yore I’ve seen Dylan, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, and BB King here. The general admission tickets grant access to an expansive grassy area. While it’s been awhile since I’ve caught a show out this way, it’s pretty much the default choice for large venue shows.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Huey Lewis & The News. Rob Zombie. Chicago. Phish.
If a huge act isn’t playing the Amphitheater, chances are they’re coming here instead. Slightly smaller, but generally speaking laid out in the same manner. The Pavilion suffered some damage a few years back due to a storm – there was a question as to whether it would continue, but they managed to bounce back. I saw Willie Nelson here a few years back and it was a great experience.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Keith Urban. Nicki Minaj. Pearl Jam. Van Halen.
The grand old dame of Hampton Roads arenas opened up way back in 1970. With its unique lighting scheme and visibility from I-64, the Coliseum has become a venerated landmark of sorts. You know you’re almost home when you spy it on the way back from a northerly trip. I have fond memories from here of watching Billy Corgan get pelted by glo-sticks while singing about being a rat in a cage.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Symphonies and orchestras. Jazz virtuosos. Fading megastars not capable anymore of filling the Amphitheater, but too big for the NorVa.
Designed by famed architect Pier Luigi Nervi, the Scope generally operates as overflow for events too large for Chrysler Hall but too small for the Ampitheater. There were rumblings a few years back arguing for tearing the structure down to replace it with a more modern and spacious facility but public outcry combined with a well timed survey of the city that particularly cited the uniqueness of its Italian architecture seem to push the city into funding an expansion instead.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Modest Mouse. Sigur Ros. James Taylor.
The “Ted” is the new kid on the block. Opening in 2002, it was ranked 8th in the world for arenas under 10,000 seats and 2nd in the United States. in a Pollstar survey. Last year the arena received a state of the art upgrade to it’s video set-up. I caught Modest Mouse here a bit ago and was impressed by what a tight operation it was. For an arena, the acoustics are pretty sweet and the sound system is top notch.
The Just Rights
Type of acts you’ll see here: If they’re not big enough to play an arena, but too large for a bar? This is where you’ll see it.
The NorVa is essentially the only type of its venue in this market. Nine out of ten of the concerts I go to? They’re at the NorVa. The staff is consummately professional and the lighting is almost always solid. I’ve been to over a hundred concerts here over the years and have never had a bad experience. Pro-tip? The VIP section has a neat little bar to get away from the crowd and catch your breath. It’s closest equivalent would be the National up in RVA.
Bars and Nightclubs
Type of acts you’ll see here: Garage bands. Punk rockers. Blueshounds. Eclectic.
What a glorious dive! And I mean that as a compliment. This is the kind of place rapidly disappearing in a sea of chain bars and homogenized sameness. I adore this venue. There’s absolutely no separation between you and the band when you see a show here. Get there early enough and you can probably help set up their equipment! Charlie’s is possessing of a DIY charm that makes it the perfect place to experience small bands the way they’re meant to be experienced. Up close and intimate.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Hip-Hop. Rock bands. Up and comers.
Formerly called the Backstage Cafe, FM is nestled behind the NorVa. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of the NorVa’s bands before and after the show grabbing some drinks or a bite to eat. They host a variety of showcases highlighting local acts.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Arthouse. Noise rock. Ambient. Hip-Hop.
A recent addition to the scene, Work Release is the home of Alchemy’s Careyann Weinberg & Charlie Rasputin. Doubling as a contemporary arthouse, Work Release does “cool” like nobody’s business while at the same time never failing to bring the noise. Arguably the hottest club in the 757.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Punk. Hard Rock. Folk Rock.
The Taphouse has been around for ages and has demonstrated a long held commitment to featuring local and regional bands. Known for its vast selection of micro-brews, they’re a venerable staple in the bar rock scene.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Punk. Hard Rock. Arthouse bands. Folk. Blues.
The Belmont is a bit of an oddity in the scene in that they host great dining downstairs, but rock the house upstairs. Another venue with a fine reputation for supporting local bands over the years.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Fusion. Funk. Reggae. Party Bands.
I’ve not been here myself, but I’m told the food is great and they sporadically host some great party music.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Rock.
Grumpy’s is a locals bar. The kind of place where people know your name (Cue piano music here.) On a given night you can catch longtime local rock and rollers like 710 Oil bringing down the house.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Country.
Let’s be real. If it isn’t Johnny Cash or Willy Nelson? You won’t catch me dead listening to country music. That said, some people like that sort of thing, and this is the spot to see it locally.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Alt Rock. Singer / Songwriters. Pop Rock. Country. Folk.
Another spot I have yet to visit personally, but their event calendar is chock full of local and visiting artists. People I know rave about this place. I plan to check it out soon.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Punk. Heavy Metal. Hard Rock. Hip-Hop.
Hosting local and national acts on a weekly basis, Shaka’s boasts a spacious vibe while steadily building a reputation for hosting some fairly large bands. Corrosion of Conformity played here recently. The sound system is excellent, and the bouncers are cool. It’s a great place to get up close to the show.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Americana. Alt Country. Roots Rock.
Sports bar that caters to a mostly country music crowd. Not my scene, really, but my friends whose scene it is rave about this place.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Acoustic. Alt Country. Singer / Songwriter. Eclectic.
Lulu’s is a down-home BBQ house that has shown an unwavering commitment to supporting local bands on weekends.
Type of acts you’ll see here:
This has to be one of the longest running music venues in Virginia Beach. I have vague memories of catching bands there back in the late eighties. I’m pretty sure every major punk band in the history of the form has played here at one point or another. In service of that tradition, 2nd Wave Punkers “Pennywise” are making a rare east coast appearance over three nights coming up this May.
The Wine and Cheese Crowd
Type of acts you’ll see here: Jazz. Symphony, Eclectic.
Home to the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the historic Chrysler hall is the spot to experience refined music. The acoustics are phenomenal, and there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Jazz, Symphony, Opera, Eclectic.
One of four spots hosting the Virginia Opera, the Sandler Center opened in late 2007. It’s notable for a willingness to push outside the boundaries normally associated with this style of venue. Out of the Box’s Paul Shugrue hosts a recurring showcase here featuring all sorts of NPR darlings. The acoustics are outstanding.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Jazz. World Music. Classical. Eclectic.
Built in 1955, one of Portsmouth’s oldest concert venues has fallen on hard times and is in danger. Plagued by age related issues, the facility is desperately in need of renovation. That said, the space has a charm that’s hard to come by these days. The furthest seat from the stage is under 200 feet away. And the booking staff has done a fantastic job bringing in the kind of acts that you just don’t see anywhere else. Here’s to hoping that the City of Portsmouth does something to rescue this special place.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Jazz. Blues. Americana. Eclectic.
Honestly, this place reminds me of what I imagine Austin City Limits probably feels like. I’ve never been there, but that’s the vibe I get. The acoustics in here are amazing, probably because the space was designed for Theatre.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Jazz. Jazz. More Jazz. Maybe some RnB every once in a blue moon. But mostly Jazz.
Hands down the oldest venue in the city. Cab Calloway played here back in the thirties. Designed and built by African American entrepreneurs in 1919: a time when that was an unfortunate rarity, the Attucks enjoyed a successful run from the 20s to the 50s before falling into disuse. Revived in 2004, this piece of history now serves as the home of the Crispus Attucks Cultural Center.
Odds and Ends
Type of acts you’ll see here: Alt-Rock. Southern Rock. Folk Rock. Usually some kind of Rock.
A recent trend: The Brewery / Concert Hall thing is growing on me. I caught the Futurebirds here not too long ago. Good people. Good beer, and they have a penchant for bringing some interesting music through the door.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Oldies. Pop-Rock. Alt-Rock. Country. RnB. Jazz. Eclectic.
Home of the annual American Music Festival, now in it’s 23rd year. Generally speaking, you’re going to hear family oriented, tourist friendly bands here. Essentially, Beach Street is a series of stages sprinkled along the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. This isn’t a venue so much as a destination where you can catch some surprisingly large bands on the big stage, get intimate with the not-so-bigs, or enjoy local buskers as you travel between sets. Not a lot of places you can get from ZZ Top to Boyz to Men in the same season.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Anything goes, really.
Branded by our fair Cannonball City as the ‘People’s Park,’ Town Point hosts a series of free concerts during the nicer parts of the year. You never really know what you’re going to get for some of the schedule, but mainstays include The Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival and The Latino Music Festival.
Type of acts you’ll see here: I haven’t been here yet but I hear they like Southern Stuff.
How do we have more than one brewery in Hampton Roads? Have I been asleep? And why must the Gods mock me with local beer now that I’m no longer really allowed to drink beer? Blast you, carb counts! I have yet to check this spot out. I’m told the vibe is super local and plenty friendly.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Super small. Extra local.
Elliot’s makes this list solely because of the biweekly open mic hosted by one of my favorite local musicians, Ronnie Talman, of “the Mirrors” and the “Janks.” You can often catch some stalwarts of the local scene stopping in every other Thursday to drop a few solo offerings.
Type of acts you’ll see here: Hip-Hop. Spoken Word. Rock. Folk. Eclectic.
Primarily known as a hub of the local spoken word scene, The Venue has recently begun expanding into music. Boasting an intimate space with a rabidly supportive crowd, I’m hoping to see big things local-music-wise come out of this small house.
That’s my list. Don’t see your favorite space? Holler out and I’ll give it a look.
As we further shatter traditional boundaries into a generation of music-lovers who defy any and all attempts to be neatly categorized by boxes, yet day by day define ourselves as a people who prefer typing words **into** boxes from the comfort of home rather than actually.. You know.. Going outside.. It’s becoming ever more vital that we support the places bold enough to spend money on concerts.
So.. Put some pants on. Go see your favorite bands in person. Heck, go see a group you’ve never heard of in person. Twenty years from now it’ll be way cooler to tell your kids or your kids’ kids about that time you had your face melted off by [insert band here] in the actual flesh. Instead of being able only to wax poetic about the supercool floral patterns of your living room walls or that time you made a really scathing comment on Facebook.
Trust me. It’s not so bad out here. Try it. You’ll like it.
About the sponsor of this article: Rose & Womble Realty Co. was born and bred in Hampton Roads – our owners live and work here in the Seven Cities. We are a family owned and operated business – with multiple generations working at all levels, from agents to managers. Our agents have access to the owners for guidance and advice. Our mangers meet regularly with the owners, face-to-face, to discuss real estate in Hampton Roads. Our Board of Directors members are consistently asked to speak about local real estate issues. The leadership within the company is LOCAL – not out of state – but right here in Hampton Roads.