A tourist’s theme park paradise, Orlando is home to Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, and Sea World. While Miami tends to steal the musical spotlight from the rest of Florida, Orlando fights to improve its music scene. Locals often criticize Orlando for being overrun by college kids and tourists, but the city’s venues work to maintain a loyal following by promoting homegrown bands. » Read More
Orlando Music Scene
Lauren Wells | February 19, 2014
A tourist’s theme park paradise, Orlando is home to Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, and Sea World. While Miami tends to steal the musical spotlight from the rest of Florida, Orlando fights to improve its music scene. Locals often criticize Orlando for being overrun by college kids and tourists, but the city’s venues work to maintain a loyal following by promoting homegrown bands. Churning out mainstream bands like Matchbox Twenty, N’Sync, and the Backstreet Boys, Orlando also has a particular knack for producing EDM, rock, punk, and hip-hop acts. Hard rock band Alter Bridge hails from O-Town as well as the former nu metal band Skrape. Orlando may not have the most iconic music scene in the States, but it has its own local charm that appeals to tourists, students, and locals alike. Forget the roller coasters and waiting in line to get an autograph from Mickey—check out one of Orlando’s music venues and see what the city really has to offer!
One of Orlando’s oldest venues, the Plaza Live Theatre is known in the community for hosting local and nationally touring acts such as Art Garfunkel, Dark Star Orchestra, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and the Zombies. Built in 1963, the Plaza Theatre was the city’s first two-screen movie theater, but it’s now Central Florida’s third largest seated concert venue. The venue is split into two areas: the large Main Hall space and the Small Room. The Main Hall has brought in acts like the Civil Wars, Childish Gambino, Rick Springfield, Blue Oyster Cult, Gordon Lightfoot, and Styx, among others. Rusted Root, Joshua Radin, Boyce Avenue, and the Lee Boys have played gigs in the Small Room since its renovation in 2010. The Plaza hosts comedians, concerts, festivals, and cultural events throughout the year, attracting a loyal fan base.
If you’re looking for a large, air-conditioned venue, look no further than the Beacham. Located in downtown Orlando, the Beacham brings in some great names in music such as M83, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, We the Kings, 2 Chainz, Bayside, Conor Oberst, Dawes, and Ingrid Michaelson. Be sure to get there on time, as the shows often start as scheduled, much to the dismay of the fashionably late concertgoer. After the show, stick around to see the Beacham become a nightclub. A former vaudeville house and cinema, this vintage theater has become one of the most popular nightclubs in Orlando, hosting the likes of Benny Benassi, Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto, David Guetta, Wale, Juvenile, Rick Ross, and French Montana, among others. Leave your flip-flops, hats, and plain white tees at home, as the club enforces a strict dress code. The Social, also owned by the Beacham, is located in the same building but is a smaller venue. While more casual and intimate than its sister venue, The Social has two levels and is still comfortable and fun during a sold-out show. The Black Lips, Yo La Tengo, Torche, Isis, Pelican, Saul Williams, and Boris have booked gigs here. For those of you looking to find the next great band before their big break, head over to the Social. Hint: sign up for their email list for awesome discounts (think 2 for 1 tickets and free shows!).
If you find yourself down by Disney, chances are good that you’ll stop by the House of Blues to get your music fix. Let’s be honest, we all know what we’re getting with chain restaurant/music venues like this, so if tourists and pre-prepared salads aren’t your thing, remember that you’re there for the music. Bands like Flogging Molly, Fifth Harmony, Taking Back Sunday, The Used, Bastille, and Dropkick Murphys sign up to play at the HOB Orlando. With quirky musical memorabilia and rustic décor lining the walls, the HOB has that corporate-owned feel typical of chains like the Hard Rock, but the musicians who perform on the main stage are undeniably talented.
If you’re more of a Universal Studios person, the Hard Rock Live may be more up your alley. Like the House of Blues, you know what typical American fare you’re getting at the restaurant, but the live venue portion of the chain restaurant offers up some of the best names in music. Located at Universal Studio’s touristy City Walk, the venue is impressive in every sense of the word. Its interior is covered in rock and roll memorabilia (think KISS concert outfits, a replica of Elvis’ pink Cadillac hanging over the bar, Madonna’s iconic cone shaped bra, and Eric Clapton’s guitar). The food and drinks are on the high end of standard, but the overall ambiance of the place paired with its mock Rome Colosseum exterior make for a jaw-dropping case of visual ADD. Bring your icy-hot patch because your neck will probably be sore from all the gawking you’ll be doing in this music history lover’s paradise. There’s so much going on at the Hard Rock, and to top it all off, the 3,000 capacity venue next door brings in acts like Pat Benatar, Austin Mahone, Jennifer Nettles, the Moody Blues, Rob Thomas, Boz Scaggs, and Il Divo. Get ready to rock!
Maybe you’re not into the whole mainstream, chain restaurant thing—and that’s ok! Orlando has you covered with venues like Will’s Pub. This 200 capacity rock venue was established in 1995 and hasn’t slowed down since. A local favorite, Will’s Pub has a neighborhood bar/indie venue feel, featuring acts like the Decemberists, the Mountain Goats, Butch Walker, Iron & Wine, the Ataris, and Motion City Soundtrack. With great music, two pool tables, a photo booth, and a wide beer selection, Will’s Pub is a cool, friendly dive bar in Orlando’s Colonialtown North neighborhood.
Want to get even more of a dive bar feel? Head to the Haven Lounge in Winter Park—it’s a smoker-friendly hipster heaven. Featuring primarily metal and hard rock acts, the Haven is nothing fancy, but it promotes local and up-and-coming touring musicians like Atrocity, Sons of Ragnar, Lovacaine, Reckless Living, and Wage War. The Haven produces metal showcases, karaoke, and theme nights such as Vengeance Fridays that feature alternative Goth music. Put on your darkest clothes and your most weathered pair of Chucks and get down to the Haven to sweat and smoke the night away.
Want to go even more underground? Check out Tanqueray’s. It’s literally located in a basement. For a downtown Orlando venue, this has to be one of the most laid-back, unpretentious spots the city has to offer. With a friendly staff and good music, this small, casual venue features reggae, funk, and local musicians for those of you looking to get away from the mainstream pop rock hits churning out of most Orlando venues. Asthmatics beware: this is a smoker-friendly venue.
A non-smoking venue, the Peacock Room boasts unique artwork by artists looking to sell their artwork and promotes local musicians. Jazz, blues, and good ol’ rock and roll are the musical staples at the divey Peacock Room. They book the kind of bands you know and are probably friends with, so go support the locals!
Firestone Live features well known talent like Girl Talk, Gym Class Heroes, New Pornographers, Young Jeezy, Minus the Bear, MSTRKRFT, the Bravery, and Gucci Mane. Firestone is a notable Orlando club/concert venue with world-class programming, 1,550 capacity, and state of the art sound and lighting technology. So bring your friends, your dancing shoes, and your love for music.
Maxine’s on Shine in Colonialtown South is primarily an Italian restaurant but if you like a side of entertainment with your charcuterie plate, Maxine’s is perfect for you. Their music programming varies on a weekly basis, featuring local classical, rock and roll, and indie artists. They even have a “Meet the Artist” event on the second Thursday of every month. You can meet their featured artist, talk about their work, enjoy some wine and food from various local venues, and tour the Colonialtown South neighborhood. Maxine’s works to promote the local arts scene and provides a quaint venue to enjoy some food and a friendly neighborhood vibe.
The West End Trading Company gets many kudos for supporting local artists, and although the venue doesn’t have the greatest acoustics, the bar is cheap, the talent is skilled, and they serve the kind of bar food you’ll likely be craving (grilled cheese, chicken wings, and fries). Its small corner stage hosts local, edgier rock bands that you can listen to while playing a few rounds of beer pong or participating in trivia night.
Looking for a classier venue? Named after former Orlando’s former mayor, the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre was constructed in 1926. The historical venue is home to the Orlando Ballet, Orlando Opera, and the Orlando Philharmonic and hosts Broadway and theatrical touring productions. Another popular venue, the Amway Center, seats 20,000 people and is home to the Orlando Magic, the Orlando Predators, and the Orlando Solar Bears. Iconic names like Paul Simon, Sting, Miley Cyrus, and Cher are all slated to play at this modernly designed stadium.
If you’re one for the large stadium atmosphere, the CFE Arena hosts the biggest names in comedy (like Amy Schumer) and music (the Avett Brothers, Lady Gaga, and Duran Duran). The largest live entertainment and sports facility in East Orlando, the CFE Arena is home to UCF men’s and women’s basketball if sports are your thing.
Much to Orlando’s dismay, Miami tends to hog the music festival scene. Two hours south of Orlando at JetBlue Park in Ft. Myers, the Fort Rock music festival features the biggest names in rock: Rob Zombie, Korn, Five Finger Death Punch, Seether, Theory of a Deadman, and Black Stone Cherry.
You don’t have to drive two hours for some quality music—Orlando offers the Florida Music Festival and Conference. With 200 bands and over 25,000 music lovers, FMF has an array of corporate sponsors such as JetBlue, Gibson Guitars, and Miller Light that help make the festival possible. An outlet for discovering new artists, FMF has launched careers for top-producing recording artists and features keynote speakers with experience in the music industry.
Winter Garden, 14 miles west of Orlando, hosts the Winter Garden Blues and BBQ festival. A casual neighborhood affair, the mini-festival invites you to bring your lawn chairs and leave your wallets at home – this free event features the best in BBQ, beer, and Blues. The Daniel Heitz Band, the Selwyn Birchwood Band, and Albert Castiglia are some of the homegrown acts you’ll tap your foot along to while gnawing on a saucy rib. Best of all: the event’s proceeds go to the City of Winter Garden Relay for Life team and the American Cancer Society.
Vegetarians beware: SeaWorld produces a similar event called Bands, Brew, and BBQ. By partnering with local BBQ restaurants, SeaWorld is able to put on this delicious music fest that features classic rock, country, and comedic icons such as Sister Hazel, Gretchen Wilson, Bill Engvall, and Larry the Cable Guy.