Live music is a pastime unlike any other, particularly as the weather cools and Houston nights get all the more tolerable. Of course, like its fellow pastimes sporting events and the cinema, live music isn’t always cheap. These days, it’s going to cost you at least $50 to even get in the door to see any number of major, name-brand national acts, not to mention service and convenience fees. Fortunately, Houston features plenty of venues that, at least on occasion, offer up music for free. Check out some places where you can get down on some live and local music, without emptying your wallet. (This list is in alphabetical order.)
Cactus Music is pretty much whatever a music lover wants it to be. Houston’s premier record store sells vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes, and kitschy musical items like stickers and lunch boxes. Cactus has also risen to area fame for the many in-store appearances it hosts each weekend. And while more name-brand in-stores may come with a fee — typically you need to buy that artist’s latest album to gain admittance — a number of lesser-known acts are routinely featured free of charge. To top it off, Cactus typically serves up free beer during said performances. (2110 Portsmouth, cactusmusictx.com)
Jazz clubs make for nice date spots, as well as great places to kick back, maybe have a couple drinks, and just let the music take the lead for a while. Café 4212 ranks among the city’s finest jazz clubs, particularly on Monday nights, when it hosts a weekly Monday Nite Jazz Jam until midnight. Consider it a way to get over the Monday blues. (4212 Almeda, cafe4212.com)
Cottonwood boasts one of the best patios in Houston, one that also happens to feature a stage. On Tuesdays, that stage plays hosts to weekly Troubadour Tuesdays, which showcases an array of Texas music (up next is Carson McHone). Cottonwood also features live music on Fridays, including Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios this week. The weather is cooling, so enjoy it with a little live music, craft beer and one of the best burgers in Houston. (3422 N. Shepherd, cottonwoodhouston.com)
The live music scene in downtown is sneaky good, underrated one might even say. Dean’s is one of the reasons, thanks in part to the weekly Songwriter Sunday series, where live and local music is free of charge. This Thursday the bar pays tribute to funk music, as DJs Flash Gordon Parks, IV and Good Grief will spin the hits from such legendary acts as James Brown and Rick James. (316 Main, facebook.com/deansdowntown)
Speaking of downtown, Discovery Green has not only contributed to downtown’s revival by showcasing some green space, it also plays hosts to plenty of live music. Discovery Green hosted a number of free Final Four-related concerts earlier this year from the likes of Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar, and it’s a safe bet it will do the same when the Super Bowl rolls into town next year. In spring and fall, the Green also hosts the Thursday Concert Series, which has already included free shows from the likes of Alejandro Escovedo, Mingo Fishtrap and Robert Ellis. (1500 McKinney, discoverygreen.com)
LAST CONCERT CAFÉ
Not all Last Concert Café shows are free; consult the restaurant/live music venue hybrid’s website to determine which shows are free and which will cost you. But if the night is right, Last Concert ranks among the best bets in the city for quality Tex-Mex and rocking live music. Whether it’s folk, blues or punk, Last Concert doesn’t disappoint when it comes to showcasing an array of local and national acts. (1403 Nance, lastconcert.com)
MILLER OUTDOOR THEATRE
Fall evenings in Houston are about as pleasant as the Bayou City gets, and Miller Outdoor Theatre – with its rolling lawn and picturesque view — makes for a perfect night to take in a variety of performers. Even better? Visitors are allowed to bring their own food and drink, which, when coupled with free music, makes for one cost-friendly night. (6000 Hermann Park, milleroutdoortheatre.com)
Arguably the most underrated live music venue in Houston, downtown’s Nightingale Room also happens to be among its most economical. Nightingale Room offers free live music nearly every night of the week, with genres ranging from country to hip-hop to folk to instrumental. It’s an intimate room and features one of the city’s best sound systems, making Nightingale Room one of the best live music venues – free or otherwise – you’ll find in Houston. (308 Main, nightingaleroom.com)
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A sort of little brother to neighboring White Oak Music Hall, Raven Tower – like White Oak – features more than one playing space. And while the pavilion is typically reserved for paying gigs — most of which run less than $20— Raven Tower’s patio is exclusively reserved for weekly gigs. Upcoming free shows including the likes of Matt Harlan, Glenn Paulk, the Youngest, and Sleepy Dog. (310 North, raventower.net)
Fine dining meets free live music. Sambuca, with one of the best seafood menus in downtown, also happens to offer free live music every night of the week. Located beneath the Rice Lofts, the Press has previously billed Sambuca as “a modernized version of an old-school supper club,” and that’s pretty damn accurate. Dinner and dancing, along with music ranging from Latin to jazz to rock, make Sambuca one of the hottest spots in downtown. (909 Texas, sambucarestaurant.com)