For sheer size, diversity, and number of venues and acts, Los Angeles has the bona fides to stake its claim as the best music city in the U.S., perhaps even the world (if we may be so bold). Summer is an especially great time to immerse yourself in the city’s live music scene, with tons of outdoor concerts and free showcases for bands and artists of all genres. Whether you’re a seasoned festival attendee or a concert neophyte, consider this your primer to make this summer of music the best one you’ve ever had in LA (so far).
Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey
July 31, Hollywood Bowl
It’s hard to imagine a concert pairing packed with more hits than this chart-topping duo. “Dancing on The Ceiling” and “Fantasy” are basically sure-things in each respective set, but this ticket carries with it the potential for one-off collabs, too -- “Hello” or “Dreamlover,” perhaps?
August 6, 8 & 9, Staples Center
Consider this one a victory lap for King Kendrick. The Compton rapper is indisputably one of the most popular hip-hop artists out there, and his energetic, passionate sets at this year’s Coachella and last year’s FYF have cemented his rep as one of the most charismatic performers of the genre, too.
September 20, Greek Theatre
The former One Direction singer’s done the virtually-impossible: Blowing critics’ minds as a mature singer-songwriter on his solo debut and holding on to his screaming-girl fan base. His tour will either expose him as a pop-star in rock clothing or the next Justin Timberlake. Thanks to the lovelorn song “Two Ghosts,” we’re betting on the latter.
The Hi Hat
In a few short years, The Hi Hat’s become one of the definitive indie-rock venues in LA thanks to high ceilings, good sightlines, a damn fine beer list (plus great burgers), and -- most importantly -- a knack for booking great music. Expect generally loud bands to go with the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood; if you don’t like the set, you can bide time playing pool next to the stage.
The Teragram is the perfect place to catch a band on its way up. Its 600-capacity space with the best sound system in LA makes it great for funk-leaning jam bands too big for The Mint and too small for The Wiltern, as well as intimate sets from heavy hitters like Queens of the Stone Age and Patty Smith (both of whom played the room despite being far too famous for it).
This pair of bars -- one smaller upstairs, one larger downstairs -- has been a local mainstay for over a decade, with bands like Cold War Kids and Foster the People graduating from one room to the next, and onto major festivals.
It’s the best-known venue in LA for many reasons, and, truly, no summer is complete without a trip to the Bowl. Whether you’re a fan of rock, hip-hop, Latin, jazz, country, or even, say, esoteric soul music, this venue’s got something for you, with seat prices that are affordable for everyone (seriously: Tickets start at, like, $2).
Hottest Up-and-Coming Artists
There’s no local hip-hop artist who hustles as hard as Kyle Guy, aka VerBS. You’re as likely to find him (and his ubiquitous orange cap) sitting in with a band at a major venue as you are to see him hosting his regular Bananas nights in Leimert Park. His flow is fast and funny, and he’s one of the most personable dudes ever.
Steady Holiday is the nom-de-soft-rock of Andrea Babinski, an LA music-scene lifer who’s finally come into her own with this moody project. Her first recordings were so beloved by Coachella promoters that she was hand-picked to play the fest last year, and her new EP Terror meanders and ambles in the perfect way for a late-night come-down.
Mars and the Massacre
This trio of dudes was once called the best live band in the city by LA Weekly, and once you see them, you’ll understand why: They swerve their way through Tame Impala-ish psych originals and unexpected covers with totally unpredictable intensity.
Mondo Cozmo, the latest effort from singer-songwriter Joshua Ostrander (formerly of Eastern Conference Champions), seems set for a breakout year. His singalong single “Shine” has gotten slow-and-steady radio play and he’s hitting the El Rey on September 26.
August 5-6, Glen Helen Amphitheater & Regional Park
This EDM fest extends the awesome-artists-playing-their-awesome-albums trend, with Snoop Dogg performing his classic Doggystyle to close the second day. Other big draws include Justice and DJ Snake, as well as small-type, big-time names like LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang and next-big-thing Cashmere Cat.
Weekly Music Nights
Mondays at The Echo, The Satellite, Silverlake Lounge, and The Bootleg
On Monday nights, Echo Park and Silverlake become a mini SXSW, with bands playing for free once an hour at most of the big-draw/small-venue clubs in that part of town. Silversun Pickups and Local Natives are just a couple of the now-big names that got their start this way, and if you’re looking to dip your toes into LA’s live-music scene, this is definitely where to start.
Ultimate Jam Night
Tuesdays at Whiskey A Go-Go
If you’re looking to immerse yourself into the Sunset Strip’s sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll vibe, consider this your primer. The anything-goes night is led by a former Quiet Riot member and features arena rockers who have played with everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Van Halen. Bring your leather jacket.
Low End Theory
Wednesdays at Airliner
Probably the most infamous hip-hop night in town, Low End Theory became well known as the launch pad of Odd Future, Gaslamp Killer, and Flying Lotus. It’s still an anything-can-happen sweatbox of future rap stars and DJs, with recent stop-ins by Daedelus and DNTEL.
Dance Yourself Clean
Saturdays at The Satellite
Behold, a dance club for people who don’t like dance clubs. This weekly night focuses on bands like Hot Chip and Empire of the Sun -- essentially, a bunch of hipsters goofily breaking it down, no pretense in sight.
Free Concert Series
Thursdays through August 17, Santa Monica Pier
These massive parties on (and off) the pier are easier to attend now that the Metro goes literally straight there. Pack a picnic for an eclectic lineup that includes everything from Latin (Mon Laferte, August 10) to alt-rock (Warpaint, August 17).
Sound in Focus
July 29, Annenberg Space for Photography
This summer series, which draws some of the biggest names of the free-music circuit, concludes with a performance by guitar virtuoso duo Rodriguo Y Gabriela.
Summer Jazz Nights
Tuesdays through August 8, Hollywood & Highland
It's worth going into the heart of touristy Hollywood for this long-running, cross-genre jazz series. Hollywood & Highland is also a great place to leave your car and chill with some music before taking in a Tuesday show at Hollywood Bowl.