Rocking The Night Away Exploring The Best Milwaukee Live Music Venues

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Welcome, fellow music lovers! If you’re a Milwaukee resident or visitor, you’re probably aware of the city’s thriving music scene. With dozens of venues, bands, and festivals, Milwaukee provides a unique opportunity to experience live music of all genres – from jazz to punk rock. However, finding the best and most accessible gigs can be a daunting task. That’s why we’ve prepared this article, to guide you to the most exciting tunes in town and help you fully enjoy Milwaukee’s vibrant music scene.

By reading this article, you’ll get all the insider tips on where to go for the best live music in Milwaukee. Whether you’re a blues enthusiast or a metalhead, we’ve got you covered. You’ll discover new venues and hidden gems you didn’t know existed, and find out how to get there easily. Moreover, you’ll learn about upcoming festivals and shows that you don’t want to miss, and how to book tickets ahead of time. With this knowledge in hand, you’ll be able to plan out the perfect night out with music that you love.

Our team of experienced music aficionados has put together this guide based on their own and other music lovers’ experiences. We’ve tried and tested all of the venues, shows, and festivals recommended in this article, so you can be sure that you’re getting the most reliable information. With our guidance, you’ll be able to explore the rich musical culture of Milwaukee, discover new artists, and make unforgettable memories. So, let’s get started on this exciting journey!

The History of Live Music in Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a city that has been ingrained in the live music scene for decades. It has been a hub for jazz, blues, rock, and other genres that have left a lasting impression on the city’s culture. This article will take a deep dive into the history of live music in Milwaukee by exploring various subtopics, including influential musicians, iconic venues, and pivotal moments that helped shape the city’s identity.

Influential Musicians

Many influential musicians have come out of Milwaukee and played a pivotal role in shaping the city’s sound. Here are some of the most significant:

  • Al Jarreau – Born in Milwaukee, Al Jarreau was a highly acclaimed jazz and R&B singer, winning 7 Grammy Awards throughout his career.
  • Spencer Tracy – Best known for his work as an actor, Spencer Tracy also played the piano and was a member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s band.
  • Les Paul – Born in Waukesha, a suburb of Milwaukee, Les Paul was a pioneer of the electric guitar and invented several crucial techniques that are still used today.
  • The Violent Femmes – Formed in Milwaukee in the early 1980s, the Violent Femmes became one of the most popular alternative rock bands of the decade.

These artists, among many others, have helped shape Milwaukee’s musical identity and influenced generations of musicians around the world.

Iconic Venues

Over the years, Milwaukee has been home to a wide variety of music venues, from small bars to large arenas. Here are some of the most iconic:

  • The Riverside Theater – Opened in 1928, the Riverside was originally designed as a movie theater but has since become one of Milwaukee’s most popular concert venues.
  • The Pabst Theater – Built in 1895, the Pabst Theater is one of the oldest venues in Milwaukee and has hosted a wide variety of acts over the years, including Broadway shows, stand-up comedians, and musical acts.
  • The Rave/Eagles Ballroom – Originally built as a ballroom in the 1920s, the Rave/Eagles has been a popular concert venue for over 100 years and has hosted acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
  • The Cactus Club – A small club that opened in the late 1990s, the Cactus Club has become a staple in Milwaukee’s music scene and has hosted up-and-coming acts like Bon Iver and Field Report.

Each of these venues has played an integral part in Milwaukee’s music history, providing a platform for both established and up-and-coming artists to perform.

Pivotal Moments in Milwaukee’s Music History

Throughout its history, Milwaukee’s music scene has seen its fair share of pivotal moments, including:

  • The Jazz Age – During the 1920s and 1930s, jazz music became incredibly popular in Milwaukee, and many notable jazz musicians performed in the city’s venues.
  • The Milwaukee Summerfest – First held in 1968, Summerfest has become one of the largest music festivals in the world, attracting over 800,000 attendees each year.
  • The Punk and Alternative Rock Scene – In the 1980s and 1990s, Milwaukee saw a surge in punk and alternative rock music, with local bands like Die Kreuzen and the Violent Femmes gaining national attention.
  • The Emergence of Hip Hop – Starting in the 1990s, Milwaukee’s hip hop scene began to grow, with local acts like the Rusty Ps and Wati Heru gaining acclaim.

These moments, among others, have helped to shape Milwaukee’s music scene into what it is today.

Pros of Live Music in Milwaukee Cons of Live Music in Milwaukee Comparison
Provides a platform for local musicians to showcase their talent and gain recognition. Noise complaints and the potential negative impact on surrounding neighborhoods. The benefits of live music outweigh the potential negatives, and measures can be taken to mitigate any negative impact.
Contributes to Milwaukee’s cultural identity and draws visitors to the city. Potential safety concerns at large events and concerts. The benefits of live music are significant, and safety measures can be taken to ensure the well-being of attendees.
Provides an opportunity for people to come together and share a common love of music. Potential traffic congestion and parking issues at popular venues. The benefits of live music are worth any inconvenience caused by traffic and parking.

Overall, the history of live music in Milwaukee is rich and diverse, with numerous influential musicians, iconic venues, and pivotal moments that have helped shape the city’s cultural identity. While there are some potential negatives associated with live music, the benefits far outweigh them, and measures can be taken to mitigate any negative impact. Milwaukee’s music scene is alive and well, with a vibrant community of musicians and music lovers who continue to make the city a hub for live music.

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Top Live Music Venues in Milwaukee

Milwaukee is a lively city with plenty of choices for music enthusiasts, from indie rock to hip hop, jazz to country. The city has several excellent live music venues catering to a diverse range of musical tastes. In this article, we will explore the top live music venues in Milwaukee and what makes them stand out.

The Rave/Eagles Club

The Rave/Eagles Club is one of Milwaukee’s premier music venues and is a historic landmark that has a long and storied past, dating back to 1926. Originally built as a ballroom for the Eagles fraternal organization, the venue was later renamed and underwent several renovations to become the iconic concert venue it is known today.

Key features:

  • Capacity: The venue has four separate spaces ranging from the 400-capacity Rave Bar to the 3000-capacity Eagles Ballroom.
  • Diverse lineup: The Rave offers shows across a broad spectrum of genres, including rock, metal, hip hop, EDM and country.
  • History: The venue has seen performance from some of the biggest names in music over the years, including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day, and The Black Keys.
  • In-house recording studio: The Rave offers its in-house recording studio, allowing for high-quality recording of performances.

The Rave is known for its diversity of acts and lineups, but it’s also well-known for its acoustics and impressive sound system. The Eagles Ballroom is a standout space, and many performers have commented on how the room’s size, layout and acoustics contribute to the experience. In addition to the cutting-edge sound system, the Rave also offers nearby parking and easy access to public transportation.

Turner Hall Ballroom

Turner Hall Ballroom is another iconic venue in Milwaukee with a rich history dating back to the 1800s when it was a gymnasium for German immigrants. Today, the space has been transformed into a live music venue, with an eclectic mix of acts gracing the stage over the years.

Key features:

  • Intimate setting: With a capacity of only 1042 seats, the Turner Hall Ballroom offers an intimate setting for attendees.
  • Historic charm: The venue is known for preserving many of its historic features, which contribute to the ambiance and uniqueness of the space.
  • Diverse lineup: The venue has hosted a wide array of performers over the years, ranging from jazz legends like Herbie Hancock to indie darlings like Bon Iver.

Turner Hall Ballroom offers an up-close-and-personal experience with the performers, encouraging a deep connection between the artist and audience. Unlike larger venues, the Turner Hall Ballroom’s intimate setting means that even attendees at the back of the theater have an unobstructed view of the stage. The historical charm of the venue is another big draw, making it a must-see spot for visitors to Milwaukee seeking culture and entertainment.


Summerfest is an annual music festival in Milwaukee that began in 1968, making it one of the longest-running festivals in the world. The festival lasts for 11 days and features over 800 acts across multiple stages, making it a must-visit destination for music lovers worldwide.

Key features:

  • Massive scale: With over 800 acts across 11 days, Summerfest is one of the largest music festivals in the world, attracting over 800,000 visitors annually.
  • Diverse lineup: The festival features a wide array of musical genres, from country to hip hop, pop to rock.
  • Family-friendly: In addition to music, the festival offers a range of family-friendly activities, including a children’s stage and interactive exhibits.

Summerfest is a unique experience, with its sprawling size and extensive range of music genres. From indie to country, heavy metal to EDM, there’s something for everyone at this festival. While the diverse lineup and impressive scale of Summerfest are big draws, the festival’s family-friendly atmosphere is another big selling point. The Children’s stage, along with other interactive exhibits, helps to make the festival an enjoyable experience for all ages.

Venue Capacity Genre Special Features
The Rave/Eagles Club 400-3000 Rock, metal, hip hop, EDM, and country In-house recording studio, great acoustics, and sound system.
Turner Hall Ballroom 1042 Eclectic mix of acts Intimate setting, historic charm.
Summerfest Over 800,000 visitors annually Wide array of musical genres Massive scale, family-friendly atmosphere

In conclusion, whether you’re a local or a music fan visiting Milwaukee, these top live music venues are essential destinations for experiencing the city’s rich music scene. From the historic ambiance of Turner Hall Ballroom, to the massive scale of Summerfest or the legendary acoustics of the Rave/Eagles Club, these venues offer something for everyone.

Best Genres of Live Music in Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a city that lives and breathes music. From jazz to punk, the live music scene in the city is vibrant and diverse, catering to all tastes and preferences. In this article, we will explore the best genres of live music in Milwaukee and what makes them so special.


Milwaukee has a rich tradition of jazz music, with notable jazz musicians such as Al Jarreau and Eric Benét hailing from the city. Jazz clubs are plentiful in Milwaukee, offering intimate settings with top-notch musicians. Some of the best jazz clubs in Milwaukee include The Jazz Estate, Caroline’s Jazz Club, and The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts.

Here are some interesting facts about jazz music in Milwaukee:

  • Milwaukee is known for its jazz festival, which has been running for over 20 years. The festival brings together jazz musicians from all over the world, showcasing the diversity of the genre
  • The Milwaukee Jazz Institute is a non-profit organization that offers jazz education to students of all ages. The organization has been instrumental in preserving the legacy of jazz music in Milwaukee
  • The Jazz Estate was once owned by legendary jazz musician, Charlie Parker. The club has since been restored and continues to host some of the best jazz acts in the city


Milwaukee has a thriving rock music scene, with venues such as The Rave/Eagles Club and Turner Hall Ballroom hosting some of the biggest names in rock music. The city has also produced some notable rock bands such as Violent Femmes and The BoDeans.

Here are some interesting facts about rock music in Milwaukee:

  • The Rave/Eagles Club was once a Masonic temple and is now a venue that hosts rock concerts. The building’s unique architecture adds to the experience of watching a live rock concert
  • Turner Hall Ballroom was once a gymnasium and now hosts a variety of events, including rock concerts. The venue boasts a large dance floor and a balcony, offering great views of the stage
  • The Fiserv Forum, a state-of-the-art arena, has become a popular venue for rock concerts in Milwaukee. The arena has hosted big-name rock bands such as Foo Fighters and Metallica


Milwaukee has a long history of blues music, with notable blues musicians such as Hubert Sumlin and Harvey Scales hailing from the city. The city has several blues clubs, offering a chance to experience live blues music in an intimate setting. Some of the best blues clubs in Milwaukee include The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, BB’s on North, and The Up and Under Pub.

Here are some interesting facts about blues music in Milwaukee:

  • Summerfest, the largest music festival in the world, often features blues musicians in its lineup. The festival has boasted big names in blues such as Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor
  • The history of blues music in Milwaukee is showcased in the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, which has a collection of artifacts related to the genre
  • The Up and Under Pub, one of the oldest blues clubs in Milwaukee, has been around for over 40 years. The club has hosted some of the biggest names in blues, including Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bonnie Raitt
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Jazz Rock Blues
Intimate settings Large venues Intimate settings
Notable jazz musicians from the city Notable rock bands from the city Notable blues musicians from the city
Plentiful jazz clubs Thrive rock music scene Several blues clubs

In conclusion, Milwaukee’s live music scene offers something for everyone. Whether you’re into jazz, rock, or blues, the city has a variety of venues and clubs that offer live music in diverse settings. The city’s rich musical history and tradition continue to influence the live music scene, making Milwaukee a must-visit destination for music lovers.

Milwaukee Live Music Events You Can’t Miss

Milwaukee has something for every music lover, ranging from indie rock bands playing in small venues to big name artists performing at the Fiserv Forum. Here are some live music events in Milwaukee that you don’t want to miss.


Summerfest is one of the biggest music festivals in the United States and is held annually in Milwaukee. With 11 stages and over 800 acts performing over 11 days, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Here are some reasons why Summerfest is a must-see event:

  • World-renowned headliners: Over the years, Summerfest has hosted major headliners like Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, and Bruno Mars. This year’s lineup features acts such as the Jonas Brothers, Khalid, and Luke Bryan.
  • Diverse music genres: Summerfest has a wide variety of music genres represented, including pop, hip-hop, country, rock, and more.
  • Food and drink: Summerfest has over 45 food vendors serving up everything from fried cheese curds to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. The festival also offers a selection of craft beers and other beverages.
  • Location: Summerfest is held on the shores of Lake Michigan, making it a beautiful setting to enjoy the music and the scenery.

Pros and Cons of Attending Summerfest

Pros Cons
World-renowned headliners Can be crowded and overwhelming
Diverse music genres represented Can be expensive, especially if you go multiple days
Food and drink options Outdoor festival, so weather can be unpredictable
Beautiful lakefront location Some stages can be far apart and require walking

Overall, Summerfest is a great event for music lovers who don’t mind crowds and want to experience a wide variety of music in a beautiful setting.

Pabst Theater

The Pabst Theater is a historic theater in downtown Milwaukee that has hosted some of the biggest names in music over the years. Here’s why seeing a show at the Pabst is a unique experience:

  • Intimate setting: The theater only seats 1,339 people, making it a great place to see a smaller, more intimate show.
  • Historic ambiance: The theater was built in 1895 and features ornate architecture and a beautiful interior.
  • Wide variety of music: The Pabst hosts everything from local indie bands to national acts like Bon Iver, Ray LaMontagne, and Joan Baez.

Case Study: Bon Iver at the Pabst Theater

Bon Iver, a Grammy Award-winning indie folk band, played a sold-out show at the Pabst Theater in February 2020. Fans raved about the performance, and the intimate setting of the Pabst made it a particularly special experience. The acoustics in the theater are also top-notch, adding to the overall quality of the show.

BMO Harris Pavilion

BMO Harris Pavilion is a unique outdoor venue located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Here’s why it’s worth checking out:

  • Lakefront setting: The pavilion is located right on the shore of Lake Michigan, offering stunning views of the water.
  • Outdoor seating: The venue has both covered and open-air seating options, making it a great place to enjoy the summer weather.
  • Big-name acts: Over the years, BMO Harris Pavilion has hosted major artists like Willie Nelson, Jason Mraz, and The Avett Brothers.

Comparison: BMO Harris Pavilion vs. American Family Insurance Amphitheater

BMO Harris Pavilion American Family Insurance Amphitheater
Outdoor venue Indoor venue
Lakefront setting No scenic views
Covered and open-air seating options Only covered seating
Smaller capacity (5,000 seats) Larger capacity (23,000 seats)

While the American Family Insurance Amphitheater is a bigger venue with more seating capacity, the BMO Harris Pavilion offers a unique outdoor experience with beautiful views of Lake Michigan.

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

For classical music lovers, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is a must-see. Here’s why:

  • World-class musicians: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is made up of top-tier musicians from around the world.
  • Varied repertoire: The orchestra performs a wide variety of classical and contemporary music, from Beethoven and Mozart to the music of John Williams and Broadway shows.
  • Beautiful venues: The orchestra performs at several venues around Milwaukee, including the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and the Basilica of St. Josaphat.

Interesting Fact: The History of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1959 and has since become a beloved institution in the city. The orchestra has performed with world-renowned conductors and soloists and has received critical acclaim for its performances and recordings.

In conclusion, Milwaukee offers a wide variety of live music events for music lovers of all genres. From major festivals like Summerfest to intimate shows at the historic Pabst Theater, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

How to Support Local Musicians in Milwaukee

Milwaukee has a thriving live music scene that offers a diverse range of musical genres and performances. The city prides itself on its local talent, and there are many ways to show your support for the musicians and venues that make Milwaukee’s music scene a must-visit destination. In this article, we’ll explore some of the ways you can support the live music scene in Milwaukee.

1. Attend Live Music Events

The most obvious way to show your support for local musicians in Milwaukee is to attend live music events whenever possible. From small bars and clubs to large concert halls and outdoor festivals, there’s a live music venue to cater to every taste.

Attending live music events helps local musicians get exposure, income and confidence. It also encourages venues to book more local musicians if people come out for their shows. Often times, local musicians do not have an extensive fan base and have a hard time drawing a crowd. So, every little bit of support goes a long way.

Here are some ways to make the most out of attending live music events:

  • Plan ahead and purchase tickets in advance to avoid long lines or sold-out events
  • Arrive early to get a good spot or table
  • Bring friends along to share the experience and spread the word about local talent
  • Follow the venues or musicians on social media for updates on upcoming shows

2. Buy Music and Merchandise

If you enjoy the music of a particular artist or band with local roots, show your support by purchasing their music or merchandise. This provides a direct source of income, which goes a long way for music artists. You can find merchandise tables set up at live music events or online.

Keep in mind that purchasing merchandise supports musicians in ways attending events alone cannot. A band’s income from physical merchandise sales can cover expenses like gas, van rentals and equipment repairs.

There’s also another way to support musicians via Bandcamp, which is a digital platform for independent music. This service allows musicians to sell and stream their music in whichever way works best for them. You can find many local Milwaukee musicians on Bandcamp, selling digital albums, singles and merch.

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3. Stream Music on Digital Platforms

Streaming music platforms like Spotify and Apple Music are major sources of income for musicians. While streaming may not be as lucrative for individual musicians as merchandise sales, it is still a reliable stream of income. Furthermore, whenever you stream music from Milwaukee-based artists, it contributes to the city’s overall music scene and helps artists get discovered.

Also, consider following musicians’ social media accounts as well. It helps you stay updated on new releases and live shows.

4. Support Local Venues

Local music venues are the backbone of Milwaukee’s live music scene. They provide an opportunity for local artists to perform and establish a platform for them to reach a wider audience. In turn, by supporting local venues, you are also supporting local musicians.

Here are some ways to support local music venues:

  • Attend shows and events
  • Buy drinks and food from the venue
  • Spread the word about shows and events
  • Write reviews online to help promote the venue

5. Volunteer Your Time and Skills

Another way to support local musicians in Milwaukee is by volunteering your time and skills. Local venues and organizations that support music rely on volunteers to help run events, sell merchandise and manage social media.

Volunteering is also an excellent opportunity to learn more about the local music scene and may even introduce you to new artists and venues that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

Here are some organizations in Milwaukee that you can volunteer your time and skills to help promote local music:

Organization Website
88Nine Radio Milwaukee
Musician’s Resource Center
Wisconsin Music Ventures

In conclusion, supporting local musicians and venues in Milwaukee is easier than ever with the numerous options available. By attending live music events, buying music and merchandise, streaming music on digital platforms, supporting local venues, and volunteering your time and skills, you can help Milwaukee’s local music scene thrive. The vibrancy of the city’s music culture is truly a reflection of our collective love and efforts to support music artists, which helps make Milwaukee a place to be for music lovers.

FAQs: Milwaukee Live Music

What are some popular music venues in Milwaukee?

Some popular music venues in Milwaukee are The Rave/Eagles Club, The Pabst Theater, The Riverside Theater, Shank Hall, and Turner Hall Ballroom. These venues host a variety of music events and concerts throughout the year.

Where can I find information about upcoming live music events in Milwaukee?

You can find information about upcoming live music events in Milwaukee on websites such as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, OnMilwaukee, and Milwaukee365. These websites list events happening in the city and also provide information about ticket sales and pricing.

What type of music can I expect to hear in Milwaukee?

You can expect to hear a variety of music in Milwaukee, ranging from rock and pop to jazz and blues. The city has a vibrant music scene, with talented local artists as well as popular national and international acts performing regularly.

How much do tickets to live music events in Milwaukee typically cost?

The cost of tickets to live music events in Milwaukee can vary depending on the venue, the artist, and the popularity of the event. Generally, tickets can range anywhere from $20 to $100 or more.

What are some tips for attending live music events in Milwaukee?

Some tips for attending live music events in Milwaukee are to arrive early to secure a good spot, bring earplugs if you have sensitive hearing, and be prepared for crowds and noisy environments. It’s also recommended to check for any parking or transportation options beforehand.

Can I find free live music events in Milwaukee?

Yes, there are many free live music events in Milwaukee, especially during the summer months. Some popular free music events include Jazz in the Park, River Rhythms, and Chill on the Hill.

What are some bars or restaurants in Milwaukee with live music?

Some bars and restaurants in Milwaukee with live music are The Jazz Estate, The Nomad World Pub, The Iron Horse Hotel, and Company Brewing. These places often have a relaxed and intimate atmosphere, making for an enjoyable night out.

What is the Milwaukee music festival scene like?

The Milwaukee music festival scene is thriving, with several large festivals held annually. Some popular festivals include Summerfest, which is the world’s largest music festival, and the Ethnic Festival at Henry Maier Festival Park, which features music and cultural events from around the world.

What is the history of live music in Milwaukee?

The history of live music in Milwaukee can be traced back to the late 1800s, with the opening of the Pabst Theater in 1895. Since then, the city has been a hub for music and entertainment, with many memorable performances and iconic venues.

Are there any famous musicians from Milwaukee?

Yes, there are several famous musicians from Milwaukee including Al Jarreau, Violent Femmes, Steve Miller, and Gene Wilder. The city has a rich musical history and has produced many talented artists over the years.


Milwaukee is a vibrant city with a thriving live music scene. There are many venues to choose from, and several large festivals held annually. Whether you’re a fan of rock, jazz, or anything in between, there’s sure to be something for you in Milwaukee. After reading this article, be sure to check out some of the upcoming music events listed on the recommended websites, or explore some of the popular bars and restaurants with live music. Say goodbye to a night of boredom and welcome to the world of Milwaukee live music!