Nathan Tucker

Niche Live Music Venues in Portland

These hidden gems are havens for jazz, punk, bluegrass, funk and more.

3 min read

Nathan Tucker

Portland boasts a thriving live music scene, and the city’s unusual urban mixture of nightlife and residential districts means that unassuming neighborhood bars and galleries are often the best places to catch impassioned performances from talented local and touring musicians. Many of these hidden gems are known locally for their offerings within a particular genre, but visitors might miss them entirely if they didn’t know where to look. Up your indie cred with these under-the-radar music venues.

Bluegrass & Americana

This low-key, homey bar is a neighborhood favorite for a nightly selection of the kind of folksy Americana and bluegrass that pairs perfectly with a cold pint and a cozy, comfortable atmosphere. The Laurelthirst Pub typifies the small-town vibe with big city possibility that longtime Portlanders cherish; patrons can sip locally brewed IPAs and marvel at an undiscovered finger-picking savant one night, and catch a Decemberists side project the next.

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Jazz

Located inside historic Union StationWilfs is a jazz mainstay. The old school decor and red brick walls offer a cozy vibe and the menu boasts belly-filling dinners, like a 10 oz. coriander-crusted pork chop, as well as more relaxed bar snacks and a satisfying wine list. Wilfs plays host to live jazz bands, highlighting some of Portland’s best musicians, every Wednesday-Saturday (cover charged).

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Portland Jazz

In Portland, it's pretty easy to find small venues hosting intimate combos of world-class talent, or bigger, more boffo live shows.

Psych Rock & Garage Rock

You can’t throw a distortion pedal in Portland without hitting a garage or psych-rock band. Nostalgia for the ‘60s and ‘70s has been a dominant trend in the city’s indie-rock community for the better part of the last decade. Though the Liquor Store — a relatively new addition to Southeast Belmont — offers a wide variety of live music, it’s quickly become an anchor for the long hair and longer guitar pedal chains of Portland’s more experimental rock acts like Psychomagic or AAN.

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Soul, Funk and R&B

One of Portland’s best dance parties is tucked away under a pool hall on a fairly quiet stretch of Southeast Stark Street. When DJs aren’t spinning disco and soul hits on old 45s, the Goodfoot Pub and Lounge offers up a giddily cacophonous calendar of the city’s best groove-centric bands, from the modern funk of trumpeter Farnell Newton to the retro R&B of Ural Thomas & the Pain. This is also the go-to spot for jam bands.

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All-Ages Punk & Metal

Northeast Broadway’s Black Water is one of the few venues in the thriving but largely underground all-ages scene that also offers alcohol for patrons 21 and older. Rave-worthy vegan cheeseburgers and a proudly untamed metal bar aesthetic make the perfect backdrop for the unapologetically loud, raucous guitar music from groups like punk up-and-comers Blowout that graces the stage most nights.

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Up-and-Coming Local Acts

Six nights a week, well-coiffed hipsters flock to Rontoms like moths to a porch light. But on Sunday evenings, the candlelit tables are pulled back to make room for a showcase of Portland’s best emerging acts, which span the retro pop of New Move, the lo-fi folk of Little Wings, the heavy psych of Cambrian Explosion and everything in between. It’s the Central Eastside’s weekly coming-out party for the local music names you’re about to see everywhere.

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Blues

At the Blue Diamond on N.E. Sandy, blues music reigns supreme, drawing local, award-winning musicians like Curtis Salgado, Kevin Selfe and LaRhonda Steele.

Avant-Garde

Tiny neighborhood haunt Turn! Turn! Turn! is both a bar and a record store, and somehow also squeezes in regular live performances from local and international acts of every musical genre.

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Portland Music