Sacramento live music venues: gig and shuffle

The latest roundup of Sacramento region live-music venues for all kinds of rock—and more

Be Brave Bold Robot drags out a set at Old Ironsides’ annual Halloween show. No matter how much you drink, the big, bright neon at Old I let’s you know where you are.

Be Brave Bold Robot drags out a set at Old Ironsides’ annual Halloween show. No matter how much you drink, the big, bright neon at Old I let’s you know where you are.


Sacramento has seen many great music spots come and go. Most notably, perhaps, the Cattle Club became BoJangles. Then it became the Library. Now it is a sports bar. Scratch 8 is long in the past; Sol Collective is the new. And, this year alone, many venues have come and gone, so it can be hard to keep tabs. City Hall doesn’t exactly make it easy to keep these music havens open, and same goes for the economy. To this end, bands in Sacramento deserve props for staying alive, and giving us not just something to do on the weekends, but also something to experience. Here’s where to find them—for now:

The Refuge

Only open for shows on Fridays, this venue offers an opportunity to give when you go out: It not only hosts benefit shows, but runs an espresso bar called Café Rwanda, which donates its proceeds toward construction of a community-sponsored medical clinic in Mumeya, Rwanda. 1723 L Street,

Ace of Spades

This location is experiencing its best incarnation since Empire opened. From the day Eric Rushing and Co. took the place over, the remodel, the booking—everything has been supremely professional. If you want to check out your favorite touring band, and you hope they are coming through Sacramento, Ace of Spades is the most likely place for them to play. Just saw Mastodon there: It. Was. Amazing. 1417 R Street,

Beatnik Studios

An art gallery and photographic studio by day, Beatnik occasionally holds music events for local promoters. Kid Sister, who had Kanye West guest on her single “Pro Nails,” performed a sick set to a packed audience in 2010. 2421 17th Street,

The Boardwalk

This spot is an Orangevale-area staple. It had a resurgence back when BoJangles shut down, years ago, and enjoyed a nice period of steady booking for many years. In the past few, attendance has been on the decline, particularly after Ace of Spades opened, since their calendars are very similar. They still do get some pretty damn good shows, however; I was really bummed I missed The Motels earlier this year. 9426 Greenback Lane in Orangevale,

The Blue Lamp

Formerly the last strip club in Midtown, Blue Lamp is a go-to for over-21 local and touring shows. There’s a great bar, and be sure to stay close to it, as when you leave, it seems Sac P.D. tends to be hanging out nearby pounding coffee across the street at Starbucks while on the lookout for hookers at the Super 8. 1400 Alhambra Boulevard,

Bows & Arrows

A relatively new spot, Bows & Arrows is a clothing collective/gallery/cafe by day, and hosts shows on occasion at night. The place has a lovely back patio and a decent capacity. The ladies that run the place are friends with a lot of talented locals and have already put on some exceptional bills. 1815 19th Street,

Capitol Garage

Not really in the same vein as the original location, the current incarnation of Capitol Garage is still a good spot to check out reggae on the weekends. 1500 K Street,

Club Retro

A Christian-run venue—on its Facebook page, it says it does “not preach at you, yes you will still get GOD!”—Club Retro is a suitable location to catch budding young, high-school-aged talent from the area. 6521 Hazel Avenue in Orangevale,

The Distillery

If you like punk and live downtown, chances are you don’t need anyone to tell you that The Distillery is where to be. A bit small, the place feels more like a restaurant than a venue—probably because it actually is a restaurant by day. They serve up more than just punk, but that’s what stands out. 2107 L Street,

Fox & Goose

Wednesday through Saturday nights, you can catch coffeehouse-style acts in a very wonderfully decorated British pub and restaurant. Fridays are typically bands. Not a very large capacity, but it makes a very quaint show environment. 1001 R Street,


If you have been to a concert in the past five years, you most likely have made a stop at Harlow’s. With a sleek interior and a promoter with great experience, Brian McKenna of Abstract Entertainment, they hands-down have the most reliable shows. Some of my personal highlights there have been Man-Man, Pinback, Chk Chk Chk (or !!!), Cold War Kids and Los Campesinos! 2708 J Street,


The ’Lounge is back. Though still putting on the finishing touches, it has already hosted at least one show. The place, which last closed in 2009, was well-known for great punk and hardcore shows—and hopes to regain its glory. 2416 16th Street.

Indie duo Dog Party graces the stage at Mondo Bizarro, a new singer-songwriter haven in Midtown.

Photo By Amy Scott

Luigi’s Fun Garden

Sacramento’s best all-ages venue outside of Ace of Spades, this pizza joint has a nice side room that hosts gigs throughout the week. Though it is a small venue, acts like Matt and Kim, Sister Crayon, K. Flay and Vivian Girls have been known to turn the place into a fucking sweatbox. The nice thing is they serve great beer as well; it’s hard to find Moose Drool on tap. 1050 20th Street,

Luna’s Café & Juice Bar

This location is well-known for its poetry readings and slams or folk bands and singer-songwriters. And the city’s best jazz on Mondays. Mostly though, it’s poetry readings. Lots and lots of poetry readings. 1414 16th Street,

Marilyn’s on K

If you are into adult contemporary, blues or rock, Marilyn’s on K is where you want to go. If you’re not, you will most likely feel out of place. My best experience there was seeing William Fitzsimmons and Jenny Owen Youngs play a show together. It was a really solemn, beautiful event. Its courtyard is quite nice, too. 908 K Street,

Mondo Bizarro

To be completely honest, I had to look this one up. Upon further investigation, I learned it has open-mic nights and poetry readings during the week and some shows on the weekends. The open-mic nights are hosted by a colorfully named Matt the Bastard. 1827 I Street,

Naked Lounge Downtown

I have not had a chance to see a show at Naked just yet, though I have done a fair amount of homework and intravenously injected caffeine there. Still, its calendar has been impressive. David Dondero and Jonah Matranga are just some of the highlights in recent months. The place reminds me of the old True Love shows. 1111 H Street,

Old Ironsides

Some changes have come to the downtown staple Old I, but it continues to put on shows regularly, mostly standard rock bands inside a historical bar. Its staple night of dance/debauchery/madness still goes on, though now only once a month: I guess the “Lipstick generation” of Sacramento is getting a bit old for hangovers every Wednesday morning. 1901 10th Street,

On the Y

If you are willing to step outside the grid, On the Y has been a pretty consistent location for local punk rock, hardcore and metal shows. There aren’t many places where you can catch Monday Night Football one night, karaoke the next and then a doom metal show on the weekend. 670 Fulton Avenue,

The Press Club

This wonderful dive has had a variety of local and touring shows over the years, although these days they skew local. Although the main reason most go to The Press Club is to get severely drunk, dance, then spend the rest of the night crying on their cellphone, there are still some pretty great bands and theme dance nights during the week. 2030 P Street,

Sacramento State University Union

Sacramento State’s events crew, Unique, has been upping the ante every year for the past five or so with its aggressive booking of great talent. Recently: Aesop Rock, Zion I, Friendly Fires and Atmosphere. 6000 J Street,


From what I can tell, Shenanigans, in its short existence, has been booking rock shows and holding UFC fight nights. I have not yet attended any shows there, though I have heard some positive reviews. Mark Gilmore has been known to book some weekend gigs. 705 J Street,

Sol Collective

A great local collective that works with the community to produce art and music, Sol hosts a variety, including hip-hop, electronic and indie. Its owners moonlight as the band World Hood, which was inspired by the amazing musicians that have played at their venue. Some seriously sick shows that have gone through including Staley, People Under the Stairs, Wavves, Ganglians and Ana Tijoux. Be warned, though, the place is small. 2574 21st Street,

Sunrise Event Center

Recently booking acts such as Kendrick Lamar, Wale and some large electronic events. Much like Tropicana, its big shows are not very frequent. 11167 Trade Center Drive in Rancho Cordova,

Torch Club

A great spot for local and touring blues and jazz; I saw John Lee Hooker Jr. there once. He was kind of an asshole (though he had an amazing kid guitar player), but I really enjoyed the blues atmosphere. 904 15th Street,

TownHouse Lounge

If you don’t mind the grimy feel (not a reference to its dubstep dance night, Grimey; more of a reference to the nasty smell that permeates the place), this two-floor Midtown venue offers some great indie shows. Acts such as Chk Chk Chk, Wallpaper and Lazer Sword have been known to blow this shit apart. 1517 21st Street,

Zuhg Life Store

Tucked inside the Downtown Mall, the Zuhg Life Store offers live local bands every weekend, along with drum circles and open-mic nights. Probably a great place to catch a jam band, though that really isn’t my thing, it might be yours, and the store has a very strong following downtown. Downtown Plaza, Suite 2090;