Portland, Oregon was once dubbed “America’s indie rock theme park,” and the city has been home to members of The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Sleater-Kinney, The Shins, She & Him, and Blitzen Trapper. So it only makes sense for PDX to have a live music scene to match its rock ‘n’ roll soul. From low-key neighborhood joints to huge arenas and picturesque outdoor venues, here are the city’s best spots to catch a show.
The Crystal Ballroom
The Crystal has been attracting dancers and music lovers for more than 100 years. Remarkably, its original mechanical floating floor is still intact (it may be the only one left in the country), making concertgoers feel like they’re walking and dancing on air. The venue is centrally located downtown on West Burnside and NW 14th Street and has room for 1,500 people. Come for a diverse range of shows ranging from hard rock to folk and electronic dance music. It’s run by the McMenamins, two brothers who buy historic buildings in the PNW, retain the architecture, and turn the properties into an eclectic portfolio of hotels, restaurants, pubs, and concert venues.
Doug Fir Lounge
You’ll feel like you’re in a friend’s basement (in a good way) at the Doug Fir, a Portland institution connected to the Jupiter Hotel, located on a busy stretch of East Burnside. Upstairs there’s a mid-century modern diner and bar serving up retro deviled eggs and burgers, plus a sleek patio with outdoor fire pits. Hang out in the basement to listen to indie rock, folk, or punk with a couple hundred of your closest friends. There’s something on every night of the week, so keep an eye on Doug Fir’s calendar.
The Aladdin first opened in the 1920’s as a vaudeville house. Over the years, it transitioned from a family movie theater to an adult movie house, but it’s been a go-to music venue for Portlanders since 1993. Everyone from Stephen Stills to David Crosby, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Cat Power, Gillian Welch, Brandi Carlile, and local favorite Death Cab for Cutie have taken its stage. In recent years, the 600-seat theater has also become a popular spot to catch comedians like Chelsea Handler and Aziz Ansari.
When it’s not packed with 20,000 screaming sports fans cheering on the Portland Trail Blazers, the Moda Center serves as the city’s largest music venue. Go here to see big-name bands and performers. Upcoming shows include the Backstreet Boys, Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver, Iron Maiden, the Jonas Brothers, Cher, and The Black Keys with Modest Mouse. Once inside the arena, don’t head for the first stand with stale nachos you see: there are 70-some vendors, including Sizzle Pie pizza, tamales from Tamale Boy, Salt & Straw ice cream, and beers from 10 Barrel and Widmer.
Goodfoot Pub & Lounge
Pool tables and pinball machines line the walls of the lounge at the fun, funky, and totally low-key joint on Southeast Stark. Downstairs, the dance floor is perpetually packed with locals getting their grove on to an eclectic mix of live rock, funk, Afrobeat, and bluegrass. The Goodfoot also hosts Portland’s longest-running DJ dance night: Soul Stew with DJ Aquaman, A.K.A. Eric Hedford, a former member of The Dandy Warhols.
Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn
In summertime, it’s well worth the drive out to Troutdale (about a 20-minute drive from downtown Portland if traffic is in your favor) to take in a concert on the lawn of the Edgefield, a beautiful outdoor venue near the Columbia River. It’s another McMenamins project with an interesting history: the estate was built in 1911 as the county’s poor farm, where those in need received room and board in exchange for their work on the land. Today the main building is a hotel, and you’ll find bars and restaurants, a soaking pool, spa, and distillery on the grounds too. Every summer, the Edgefield books an impressive lineup of artists like Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder, the Fleet Foxes, and The National.
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
“The Schnitz” is Portland’s destination for an upscale evening downtown. The historic 1920s theater and performing arts center hasn’t changed much since the glamorous era in which it was built. Visitors are welcomed by the theater’s iconic “Portland” sign above the Broadway Marquee, which is 65 feet high and comprises 6,000 lights. Step inside the doors to take in The Schnitz’s ornate and opulent Italian Rococo Revival architecture, including the majestic crystal chandeliers, grand staircase, and gorgeous gilded auditorium walls. The Hall is home to the Oregon Symphony, but it also hosts comedians, plays, dance troupes, and rock bands. Upcoming performers include Tony Bennett, Ray LaMontagne, Brian Wilson, Andrew Bird, and Glen Hansard.
Inside the 1914 Hibernian Hall on Northeast Russell is the Wonder, a longtime destination for music lovers looking to hear local favorites and discover new bands on the rise. Get there before a show to tear into a sandwich from Bunk Bar, then pick a spot to rock out the main floor or balcony. The venue can handle just shy of 800, but manages to feel more intimate.
“Built, owned, and run by and for musicians.” That’s the motto of Mississippi Studios, a converted Baptist church on North Mississippi Avenue. It opened in 2003 as a recording studio, then evolved into a beloved music destination, helping the historic neighborhood transition from seedy to trendy. Enter through the bar, order one of their stellar burgers, and soak up some sun on the patio. Then head to the ground floor stage to sway to the sounds of indie bands and big acts alike, or grab a comfy seat in the balcony to take the scene below.
Want to feel like a high schooler without the risk of getting busted for smoking? Head to this mid-sized concert venue in Southeast Portland, a former schoolhouse built in 1924. Grab a spot in the 700-seat auditorium to take in a rock or bluegrass act, podcast taping, sing-along, or burlesque show. And be sure to sneak up to the roof deck to take in the views (or for a smoke). It’s one of the best rooftops in Portland.