Live music in Kansas City is synonymous with jazz thanks to some of its greatest musicians like Count Basie and Charlie Parker playing in clubs in the city in the 1920s and 1930s. Jazz has since grown beyond its one-time epicenter in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District but so has Kansas City’s musical diversity. Live music in every genre including indie, rock, pop, and even Broadway musicals are played in a variety of venues intimate, casual, grand, indoor, and outdoor throughout the metro area. No matter what you want to listen to or the setting you want to hear it in, there is a venue for every type of music fan in Kansas City.
Warm tones of red lighting and dark furnishings give Green Lady Lounge a plush feel only heightened by its nightly live jazz music. Green Lady Lounge is the venue to settle into one of the booths or at a small cocktail table and take in the experience over a signature cocktail – or two – from the menu. Or head downstairs to the basement for an even more intimate setting. A big bonus is that there is no cover charge, ever.
For those looking to check two boxes – indie music and an outdoor setting, Crossroads KC is the place to be. Located in the buzzy Crossroads Arts District, Crossroads KC is a high-energy, standing-room-only spot. The stage is in the backyard of Grinder’s, a bar and restaurant known for its New York Style pizza, Philly cheesesteaks, sandwiches, and wings making it easy to re-up on drinks and snacks during the show.
From the first step into The Majestic, it feels like a trip back in time to the Golden Age of Kansas City’s jazz scene. The steakhouse is inside a historic building from 1909 and is decorated with touches from the time with a tin ceiling and a New Orleans bar from the 1900s, an homage from one jazz city to the other. In the basement, classic live jazz from the Great American Songbook plays in a warm setting. Take a seat at one of the cocktail tables and be transported.
The aptly named Starlight Theater puts the audience under the stars in one of Kansas City’s most stunning venues. The outdoor amphitheater, which holds nearly 8,000 people, is best known for its Broadway musicals. But the show starts before the ticketed event does, with doors opening early for tours and free shows on the community theater stage. For those with VIP tickets, the Applause Club provides pre-show entertainment with a private bar, catered hors d’oeuvres, and restrooms. Though Starlight is known for hosting musicals, various bands and solo acts play at the venue throughout the year, so check the schedule.
RecordBar is dark, uncomplicated, and classic, a large part of why it is one of Kansas City’s favorite places to see live shows. The dual-level dive bar offers a split experience. Stay on the ground floor to get close to the band, or go upstairs to get a birds-eye view of the stage from the railing – there is no wrong choice. Not-too-big but not-too-small, recordBar’s layout gives listeners an electrifying experience from wherever you’re standing (or sitting). On the walls, vinyl records hang for simple but charming decor.
The Brick’s small space is straightforward and has no stage, providing a candid experience that puts the music (typically local bands) right on the floor in front of you. Though there is a small bar, the majority of the restaurant is filled with tables, making it the best place to enjoy a casual meal with a side of music. On the menu is everything from appetizers and sandwiches to hot dogs, veggie dogs, and desserts.
The Madison Square Garden of Kansas City, Sprint Center is an arena where some of the biggest acts in the world take the stage, including Taylor Swift, Elton John, and Drake. The nearly 19,000-seat venue is located downtown in the nightlife-centric Power & Light District making it easy to get dinner and drinks before or after a show. Sprint Center is easily accessible, a two block walk from the Kansas City streetcar stop on 14th and Main Street
A fixture since 1929, historic Arvest Bank Theater at the Midland is one of the city’s most ornate theaters. Original Art Deco architecture and fixtures throughout in lush jewel tones make it a must-see. Before the show, hang out at the attached bar, The Indie on Main. It’s easy to refresh during shows too, with bars inside the main room and on the balcony level. The Midland has a capacity of 3000, making it a cozy midsize venue that feels like a ballroom that happens to have modern music.
If you want to listen to music outdoors but still be steps away from an entertainment center, KC Live!’s outdoor amphitheater is self-contained in a quad of nightclubs and restaurants. The music events vary day by day from celebrity DJs to bands and solo acts, so checking the calendar before heading down there is key. In the summertime on Thursday nights, the KC Live! stage is home to Hot Country Nights. Most of the shows are free but some are ticketed so check in advance.
Depending on the experience you want to have, enclosed event space, The Truman provides several different ones. Venue-adjacent Bearing Bar opens an hour prior to shows where ticket-holders can enjoy beer, cocktails, and snacks. Inside the venue, tickets can be purchased for the Aristocrat A’List loft where shows are viewed from a balcony which has a private bar and restroom. Or experience it from the general admission main floor.