Best (Small) Live Music Venues in the Twin Cities

Best (Small) Live Music Venues in the Twin Cities

Just about every day there’s a great live music event going on in the Twin Cities, and it’s usually not at a sports stadium or arena.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are usual stops for big concert tours, whether it’s at Target Center, the Xcel Center, or even US Bank Stadium, these venues are showcases for some of the biggest bands in the world. But who wants to mortgage their home to sit a mile away from the stage? Not to mention having to listen to the music over tens of thousands of screaming fans.

These shows are great, and if you can afford to go to those concerts you are lucky. But to really see, hear and feel the music, to almost become part of the show, you need to go to a small venue, a venue that seats hundreds, not tens of thousands. The music is usually better, the food is cheaper and the tickets are affordable.

There are hundreds of venues in the Twin Cities where you can find any kind of music you want, on an almost nightly basis. But there are a few standouts, for their history, their ambiance, and sometimes even their food.


First Avenue, Minneapolis MN

Yes, this is an obvious choice, but no one can call themselves a real Twin Cities resident if they haven’t seen a show at First Avenue. Prince made First Avenue famous in Purple Rain, but there’s a lot more this old Grey Hound bus station than the echoes of Prince and Revolution rivalry with fellow Minneapolis funk masters Morris Day and the Time. When you go to First Avenue you will see a great local band or a future superstar. If you want to party likes it 1999 or 2017, First Avenue is the place.

The Dakota, Minneapolis MN

If rock and roll isn’t your thing, The Dakota may be right for you. First opened as the Dakota Jazz Bar and Grill in St. Paul over 30 years ago, this club moved to its current location on Nicollet Mall in 1992. This is the Twin Cities place for all things jazz with some old school R&B thrown in to mix things up. Make your reservations early because the Dakota fills up fast, due mostly to the music but the food is great too. This venue doesn’t miss a beat.

St. Paul

The Turf Club, St. Paul, MN

Music is always good and loud at the Turf Club, and so is the food. This club traces its history all the way back to 1933 when Prohibition ended, but it didn’t get its signature name until the 1950s, named for the nearby stables that had been closed long before. This venue might be called a dive bar by some, but it’s that “dive” atmosphere that only adds to the music and vibes of this local music landmark. The Turf Club is where the music is at every weekend.

The ’Burbs

Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater, Apple Valley, MN

When you think of the Minnesota Zoo, live music may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but maybe it should. This world-class zoo has an outdoor amphitheater that is just as entertaining as the wild ‘life’ that that goes on here. While this venue has similar seating capacity to First Avenue in Minneapolis, it couldn’t be any different, but s just as fun. The zoo’s live music only plays in the summer, but they make the most of it with some of the best rock concerts year after year. There isn’t a bad seat in house, and the stars above make a great backdrop to music on stage. Don’t monkey around if you love outdoor concerts. Slither on into the Minnesota Zoo.

Read this next: Best local outdoor music festivals

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Sarah Steil is a Minnesotan by way of Denver, CO and hails from the metropolis of Algona, IA (once home to the world’s largest Cheeto). Sarah puts her visual and communication nose to the design and brand grindstone each day as founder of a local brand and design agency.