To hear the best music, you don’t necessarily have to wrestle the crowds in the biggest venue. Sometimes, those hidden gem musicians take the stage on smaller, lesser-hyped stages.
If you’re in Boulder looking for some live music to liven up your evening, no need to look much further than some of the local coffee shops, restaurants and bars. You can find some high-caliber performers on these smaller stages. Bonus: Many don’t even ask a cover.
While more businesses than we could list (without boring you) offer live music and there’s also a robust small-venue scene beyond Boulder city limits throughout Boulder County, here are our top small venues in the city of Boulder.
1. Bohemian Biergarten
The Bohemian Biergarten, 2017 13th St., just off the Pearl Street Mall, is one of Boulder’s most interesting, small music venues. This bar is European-influenced, from its beers to its decor to its food. It’s known for its creative vibe, and that extends to its strong entertainment scene.
The Bohemian Biergarten offers all kinds of music, from indie to metal to jazz to punk to polka (I mean, you would have to expect the latter here, right?). Live music (from local bands to international names) takes the stage every Friday and Saturday night. You can also find live music on many Thursdays starting at 9 p.m., along with $5 beers and $3 Jamesons.
If an organized band isn’t what you’re looking for and you’d rather just jam with the raw, unpolished stuff, don’t miss the uber popular Wednesday karaoke nights, hosted by Marcus Lucas and his pink guitar. Warm up your vocal courage with $2 wines all day.
Check out the biergarten’s Facebook for more info on specific shows and if there is a cover.
2. Rayback Collective
The Rayback Collective, 2775 Valmont Road, is one of our favorite destinations in Boulder for live music. It’s a popular food truck park (with rotating food trucks), with beer (more than 30 taps) and an indoor stage for live music. The large, 15,000-square-foot venue itself is indoor-outdoor, so you can grab a seat on the couch near the stage or catch the jams outside on a picnic table with mountain views.
The stage, sponsored by Avery Brewing Co., features local musicians. The line-up is free and ever changing.
The collective is family-friendly, too. Even fur babies can join you for the jams outside. It feels like a backyard party with live music, except much better than your dad’s garage band. See the full of live entertainment calendar here.
3. Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery (and Southern Sun Pub)
Mountain Sun, and its sister branch on South Broadway, Southern Sun, are favorite local hangouts. They brew their own craft beer (more than 75 different types throughout the year) and serve up guilty pub grub, which you can enjoy to live acoustic, bluegrass and folk several nights a week (typically Wednesday, Sunday and Monday).
Got a skill to share? Mountain Sun, 1535 Pearl St., has hosted a weekly, open bluegrass pick (although it’s currently off the calendar). The Sunday and Monday shows start at 10 and 9:30 p.m., respectively.
Bonus: No cover charge here. Check the calendar for upcoming shows.
Local tip: “To get the most out of the Boulder music scene, you need to get out there. The scene is so rich and prolific that the only way not to miss out is to be out there regularly. The Boulder music scene is unique because of the connections here. We’re a big enough scene to put out great bands on a regular basis, but folks still know each other and offer each other support on a regular basis.” – Paul Nashak, managing partner for Mountain Sun Pubs and Breweries
4. Caffe Sole
Caffe Sole is more than just a coffee shop in south Boulder. It’s a hub for art shows and live music. Its specialty: jazz Friday and Saturday evenings. You may also hear R&B, fun covers or originals you’ve never heard before. Most shows start at 7 p.m. The shop requests a “voluntary cover,” which is a cooler way to say “donation.”
Caffe Sole, 637 S. Broadway in the Table Mesa area of south Boulder, is another local favorite and has been for years. It’s been a Boulder staple since the mid-’90s.
Fun fact: This shop roasts its own coffee and also serves tea, wine and beer. You can also grab dinner here (reservations recommended). The menu spans Atlantic salmon, steak piccata and even a solid vegetarian selection, with the likes of eggplant parmigiano and gnocchi bianchi.
5. Laughing Goat Coffeehouse
Laughing Goat has three locations in Boulder: campus (1720 Pleasant St. in the Norlin Library), downtown (1709 Pearl St.) and East Pearl (this location, at 2907 55th St., is called the Baby Goat and it’s not open as late). The downtown Pearl Street location is the hot spot for live music and entertainment. Unlike a traditional coffeehouse, it’s open late: until 11 p.m.
You’ll find some kind of special event here every night of the week, sometimes multiple events per day. Most start at 8 p.m. and run until closing.
What makes Laughing Goat stand out is the intimacy of it, says co-owner John Jenkins.
“People come here to listen. This is feedback I often get from people who perform there, and it’s something that they really appreciate,” he says. “Also, I believe the quality and the variety of the music that we host is awesome, especially for the size of the venue.”
Jenkins says he is thrilled to be able to host so much talent, now going on 13 years.
“All of the warmth, the spirit, the magic of these nights has really brought us a lot of happiness that we are grateful to share with the community,” he says.
It helps that Dechen Hawk, the booking manager, has decades of experience as a local songwriter and musician, so his connections in the music world are extensive.
“The Goat is unique in that it is a rare listening room that caters to original singer-songwriters and musicians with a built-in audience,” Hawk says.
In addition to locally roasted coffee, the Laughing Goat serves beer and wine. Check the calendar online for a full list of events.
6. License No. 1
License No. 1, in the basement below the historic Hotel Boulderado, 2115 13th St., has a sleek speakeasy vibe, classic cocktails and live music Thursday through Saturday. On Monday, you can watch or participate in the weekly open mic. You can occasionally find events on other nights of the week, too.
License No. 1 has a more regular line-up of performers than some stages. Every Thursday evening at 9 p.m., catch the soulful George Nelson Band. Every Saturday at 9 p.m., you can hear Banshee Tree, which brings a fusion of folk-pop, swing and gypsy jazz that perfectly fits the bar’s vibe.
This small performance venue has real flavor. It was actually one of the first bars in Boulder to receive a legal license to serve hard liquor after the Prohibition. So its decor isn’t just for show; it’s historically meaningful. See License No. 1’s music calendar for more events.