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The Music Lover's Guide to Durham

Estimated Read Time:
8 minutes

From intimate concert venues to historic halls and pop-up performances, Durham's live music scene has grown from its historic roots planted by local icons of jazz, hip hop, funk, indie and more.

Posted By Kristin Bedinger

Durham's music scene is about more than just a few touring acts stopping at a venue or two; it's a tradition built on decades of influence from musical giants across genres. Any weekend, you’ll find Broadway performances, major hip-hop concerts, soulful jazz shows and rocking indie bands. From elegant theaters and outdoor venues to crowded shows at tiny clubs, there’s plenty of live music in Durham for the music-focused visitor to explore in the Bull City.

1. See Your Favorite Bands and Musicians in Intimate Venues

Durham's small venues are the place to look for big names in laid-back, cool atmospheres.

Missy Lane's Assembly Room

310 E. Main St.

When Missy Lane's opened in early 2024, it was immediately embraced as a popular new social hub for music lovers in downtown Durham. The new space for near-nightly live performances of jazz and other musical genres hosts local musicians as well as touring acts. Enjoy a show or open mic night from the comfort of a seat and table, dinner-theater style, and order cocktails from the bar or from your cocktail server. If you're coming in from out of town, Missy Lane's has partnered with the Marriott downtown to offer a neighborhood discount on overnight stays. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

A woman performs with a pianist and stand-up bass on a stage in front of a crowd at Missy Lane's Assembly Room.

Catch local and touring talent at Missy Lane's Assembly Room. Photo: Chris Charles

Motorco Music Hall

723 Rigsbee Ave.

A small venue in a former cotton mill, this concert hall has an industrial vibe and hosts acts across genres. With Parts & Labor serving upgraded bar food just next door, and a covered patio attached, you can start and end your evening all in the same hip spot. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

Pinhook

117 W. Main St.

At this gritty, intimate venue downtown, you're equally likely to be one of a lucky few to see a popular band up close and personal, to discover your new favorite band, or to meet new friends singing YOLO karaoke or watching a drag show performed by the House of Coxx, Durham's drag house. Either way, you'll find a space committed to inclusion, equity and amplifying marginalized voices. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

The Fruit

305 S. Dillard St.

This former produce distribution warehouse is now a raw, versatile space committed to the arts. Dance parties and music performances abound, along with events of all kinds. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

Duke Coffeehouse

Crowell Building, 106 Epworth Ln.

Perhaps the smallest venue in the city, Duke Coffeehouse is a student-run music venue and study space hosting experimental & independent music, dance parties, film screenings, poetry readings and more for Duke students, faculty and the community. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

Sharp 9 Gallery/Durham Jazz Workshop

4608 Industry Ln.

This South Durham space is dedicated to providing the best in jazz education in the region, offering educational programming for all ages as well as over 100 events per year at its Sharp 9 Gallery Jazz Club. Here, you'll see jam sessions from local artists as well as concerts from local and regional performers. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

A crowd watches a concert at The Pinhook in downtown Durham, NC.

A show at The Pinhook. Photo: Discover Durham

2. Score Tickets to Top Concerts at Tasteful Theaters

Fans can enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience with even the biggest shows at Durham's historic theaters and top-rated performing arts centers.

Durham Performing Arts Center

123 Vivian St.

Sleek and modern, DPAC is the premier performing arts center in Durham, consistently earning top rankings nationally. DPAC is your go-to for concerts from global music artists and touring Broadway productions. This year marks its 15th anniversary, and music lovers can look forward to appearances by acts from Lake Street Dive to Bush to Elvis Costello or David Foster and Katherine McPhee. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

The Carolina Theatre

309 W. Morgan St.

Since 1926, this historic theater in the heart of downtown Durham has been celebrating the arts as a movie theater and stage for shows and concerts. Music lovers gather to see performances from local acts as well as touring acts like The Guess Who, A.J. Croce, Donna the Buffalo, Trombone Shorty and more. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

Baldwin Auditorium

1336 Campus Dr.

Located on Duke's East Campus, Baldwin Auditorium is one of the top small venues for classical music in the Southeast. Its acoustics and intimate seating make for an unparalleled opportunity to experience the music of artists who need little to no amplification. Check the schedule for upcoming shows.

3. Restaurants and Bars with Live Music in Durham

Durham's bars and restaurants are constantly evolving and adding to their programming. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a few that host reliable and longstanding musical acts to accompany your night out.

Alley Twenty Six

320 E. Chapel Hill St.

Durham's original craft cocktail bar hosts regular live jazz and other musical performances. Count on Jazz Brunch from noon to 2 p.m. every Sunday and follow their socials and our event calendar for additional pop-up performances.

Beyu Caffé

341 W. Main St.

Downtown's Beyu Caffé offers refined southern cuisine for breakfast and lunch, as well as occasional live jazz and Latin music performances. Keep an eye on their schedule for dates.

The Blue Note Grill

709 Washington St.

Enjoy live blues and bluegrass music every night at the Blue Note Grill while enjoying a plate of classic North Carolina pulled pork barbecue.

Kingfisher

321 E. Chapel Hill St.

Enjoy live music with your expertly made cocktail at this upscale basement bar. See local Jazz luminaries perform together on Tuesdays as well as periodic performances throughout the week.

Lula & Sadie's

2022 Chapel Hill Rd.

Looking to watch a live performance while savoring a soulful Southern plate? Reserve a table at Lula & Sadie's for their Jazz Brunch, between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. every Sunday.

The Roof at The Durham

315 E. Chapel Hill St.

The Durham Hotel's iconic rooftop is the place to be for sunset views, and you can catch live music performances by local acts throughout the year.

4. Relax at Outdoor Performance Venues

From festivals to free concerts to picnics in the park, Durham's outdoor venues bring energy into our public spaces.

American Tobacco Campus

300 Blackwell St. #104

Generally held from May to September, the American Tobacco Campus hosts American Tobacco Music on the Lawn, a free concert series featuring both regional and national artists, hosted by Duke Arts.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

420 Anderson St.

Also presented by Duke Arts, Music in the Gardens is a summer series in the gorgeous botanical garden on Duke's campus where guests are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs, blankets, picnics and beverages (yes, beer and wine are permitted) to enjoy while taking in musical acts across many genres.

Durham Central Park

501 Foster St.

As the meeting spot for yoga in the park, both the Durham Farmers’ Market and Durham Craft Market, Durham Central Park is the epicenter of outdoor entertainment in Bull City. Don’t miss the PLAYlist Concert Series on the first Friday of each month, May-October, as well as many other festivals and events throughout the year.

PS37

600 Foster St.

One of Durham's many DIY creative spaces, this 11,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor space is regularly booked with dance parties, DJs and eclectic entertainment.

Boxyard RTP

900 Park Offices Dr.

In the heart of one of the nation's largest research parks sits Boxyard, an innovative dining and entertainment space that's packed with local vendors and retailers drawing crowds from miles away to experience some of Durham's top barbecue, local beer, a great wine selection, baked goods for people and pups, and musical acts and community events booked most nights of the week.

A band plays music on an outdoor stage in front of a crowd of people in Durham's American Tobacco Campus.

Back Porch Music at American Tobacco Campus. Photo: Hal Goodtree / ATC / Discover Durham

5. Attend One-of-a-kind Music Festivals

Durham's festival scene spans decades and genres, celebrating the diverse culture and heritage that makes up our city's communities, preserving musical traditions and looking to the future with experimental sounds.

Durham Blues & Brews Festival

The blues are on full display at Durham Central Park each May with soulful performances and brewed accompaniments by North Carolina craft breweries (we’re talking full 12-ounce pours, too)! This annual festival benefits local Durham charities and programs.

Festival for the Eno

The annual Festival for the Eno is the place to be on 4th of July weekend in Durham, with more than 70 bands across four stages, a craft market, an international food court and of course, plenty of fun along the Eno River.

Slingshot Music Festival

Electronic music lovers converge in Durham at The Fruit each October for a weekend of dance, forward-thinking pop and experimental music from around the world.

Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival

For more than 50 years, Durham Parks and Recreation has gone all out with this FREE, family-friendly, all-day festival celebrating African and African American culture, history, arts and traditions. Daytime entertainment from local acts and youth ensembles progresses into well-known headliners (especially for hip-hop enthusiasts) as the sun sets. Past performers have included KRS-One, Juvenile, Biz Markie Dru Hill ... you get the idea.

Looking for additional entertainment ideas in Durham, NC?

Concert goers at Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival hold pink umbrellas over their heads in the sun as they enjoy live music.

Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival. Photo: SP Murray

6. Take Home a Treasure From a Durham Record Store

As a creative city home to record labels, musicians, college students and fans of all types of music, it follows that Durham would also have great record stores. Take a moment to browse the crates at any of these shops to take a little piece of Durham's music scene home.

Carolina Soul

117 E. Main St.

A beloved downtown stop for jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, reggae records and more.

Chaz's Bull City Records

124 E. Main St.

Also downtown, find new and used vinyl rock, indie, garage, punk, psych, jazz, electronic, hip hop, experimental and more.

Hunky Dory

718 Ninth St.

At this Ninth Street shop, shop records while you sip draft beers and say hi to the shop dog, Brew.

7. Appreciate Durham's Musical History

Durham's magnetism for performing musicians and their fans is built on decades of influence by iconic artists and creatives who proudly have ties to the Bull City.

Merge Records

Now operating for over 30 years, Merge is an iconic label whose artists have shaped American indie rock. Founded by Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance of Superchunk, Merge operates out of offices in downtown Durham and its artists, currently including Hiss Golden Messenger, A Giant Dog, Fruit Bats, Neutral Milk Hotel, Destroyer, The Mountain Goats and more, regularly play and attend concerts in Durham.

NCCU Jazz Studies Program

North Carolina is well known as the home of influential Jazz musicians like John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Nina Simone. That tradition is alive and well in Durham. Since 1979, the Jazz Studies Program at North Carolina Central University, one of the premier university programs led by giants like Branford Marsalis and Lenora Helm Hammonds, holds tremendous influence with its commitment to shaping the futures of aspiring musicians and preserving the integrity of the great art form. You'll often see NCCU students and their instructors playing together at venues, bars and restaurants around the city.

Hip Hop History

In the 50 years since the birth of hip hop, Durham has been home to numerous artists who have shaped the genre. Durham-based rap group Little Brother celebrated the 20th anniversary of their album, "The Listening" with a downtown block party in the fall of 2023. Grammy-winning music producer 9th Wonder is a member of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame and a professor at NCCU and Duke University. The history runs deep, all the way back to 1968 when Durham-born Pigmeat Markham released what might just be the first rap song. Hillside High School alumna Rapsody has earned Grammy nominations in recent years and Kane Smego, DJ Skaz Digga and others boast ties to the Bull City.

Award-Winning Icons

Between Grammy nominees, Hall of Famers, and legends in their own right, there are truly too many influential Durham musicians to try and name them all, but that's the point. We've got murals celebrating them, a hometown anthem and worldwide superstars Sylvan Esso bringing their "Greatest Show on Dirt" to a creative Durham venue, to highlight a few.

In 2023, the Durham-born "Queen of Funk" Betty Davis is set to be inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. She joins nine others with ties to Durham, including another queen – "Queen of Gospel" Shirley Caesar.

The best way to get to know Durham's music scene is to get tickets to a concert, step into an intimate venue or stumble upon an outdoor performance. Here are our recommendations for how to do just that.

About the Author

Kristin Bedinger - Sr. Manager of Content
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Lover of plants, books, wine, cooking for my friends and hanging with my pup, Arlo. Find me trying every new bar and restaurant in Durham the moment it opens.



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