Madison Indie Rock Venue Guide
We see a lot of bands and consider Madison to be one of the best cities in the Midwest for live music.
After attending South by Southwest in Austin, along with Pitchfork and Lollapalooza in Chicago earlier this year, we’ve grown to appreciate the diverse mix of indie rock acts that come through Madison on a regular basis.
We thought it would be nice to share our list of preferred Madison indie rock establishments that we like to frequent. Keep in mind there are numerous other clubs, coffee houses and restaurants in town that feature music, adding to the Madison live music mystique. Many of our preferred venues have matinee shows earlier in the evening for those of us who need our beauty sleep for that day gig or early morning class.
Our favorite indie music venues:
High Noon Saloon – We’ve probably seen more shows at this medium-sized East Washington Street establishment than any other venue in Madison. Excellent sound and sight lines with a large stage that provides incentive for musicians to put out their best effort. Go ahead and check out our YouTube link for videos we’ve recorded at the High Noon. There is seating at the bar and at tables in front of the main stage and on the second floor balcony. Wi-fi is available and the outdoor patio is a great place to join spirited discussions with like-minded indie music enthusiasts.
The Majestic Theatre - Located downtown on King Street, the Majestic was once a vaudeville theater that has been remodeled into a premier entertainment establishment. Themed dance parties with local and national DJ's complement a schedule of indie rock that keeps us coming back. The 600 person capacity theater with a large balcony provides many different vantage points to watch your favorite band whether it's Sufjan Stevens or Matt and Kim. The Majestic is also within walking distance of many great downtown Madison restaurants. Make an evening of it.
The Frequency – On Main Street, off the square in downtown Madison, The Frequency attracts a wide variety of indie acts with an emphasis on local bands. The living room-like atmosphere of the club draws patrons into a communal experience with performing musicians. The front bar is separate from the stage area, allowing you to hear the band before entering the show. Check out The Frequency to see who the next Madison break-out band will be.
The Project Lodge – The local art gallery and live music venue is an all-ages establishment that harkens to the true DIY nature of Madison. Local indie legends Zola Jesus and Julian Lynch have both played this intimate environment. Experimentation and openness to new ideas are the mantra of the Project Lodge. Experiencing an art exhibit or indie show here makes one feel like you’re contributing to the free expression of ideas that keeps the Project Lodge an irreplaceable beacon for Madison creative types. Watch for touring indie acts and local artists to populate the schedule and open your mind to new possibilities.
UW Memorial Union - The indie shows at der Rathskeller and outside on the Union Terrace have become synonymous with live music in Madison. Ask any Madisonian what they like best about the city and a show at the Union will most certainly be on the list. Let’s not forget that all shows at the Union are free, whether you’re seeing an excellent local act or upcoming indie buzz band. That leaves enough cash on the table for refreshments and support for performing musicians with a merchandise purchase.
Gates of Heaven – In the unusual places category, a historic Jewish synagogue may seem like a strange place to see an indie band. The city of Madison owns Gates of Heaven and has opened it up for small shows and weddings. The space is surprisingly warm and up-to-date with a small balcony and large basement. Many of the indie shows that play there are off the beaten path, so keep your ear to the ground and follow Rock of the Arts on twitter and facebook to make sure you’re not crashing someone’s wedding!
House Shows – Across Madison on any given evening numerous house parties, sometimes with live bands and/or DJs, permeate the indie scene. Most of these spontaneous parties are advertised by word-of-mouth through facebook and twitter, so it pays to be following your local indie blog (um, that would be us) and make sure your phone battery is fully charged!
Other Notable Venues