Missouri has such diverse cultural traditions, and such a multitude of vibrant art scenes in its big cities and small towns, that choosing just 8 of the best music venues is nearly impossible. That number could easily be 100 or even 1,000 and it would still leave out some great places. We chose these particular 8 venues because they represent different types of music (country, rock, blues, jazz, and classical), different types of spaces (clubs, outdoor, and major tour destinations), and different areas of the state (east, southwest, central, and west). And above all, provide the ideal music experience you are seeking.
The Blue Note in Columbia is unusual in that it wasn’t originally located downtown or in the University of Missouri campus district. The owners started it in a separate location with the idea that a well-stocked bar and superior live music would bring people in anyway—and boy, were they right! The club grew so fast in popularity that it did eventually have to move to a much larger venue downtown, and many well-known bands have stopped in central Missouri to play the Blue Note. It provides a welcome mid-state venue for those who can’t always get to St. Louis or Kansas City. The current owners also run the Rose Music Hall, a more intimate venue for small acts that is also committed to keeping Columbia on Missouri’s musical map.
Kansas City is one of the premiere jazz towns in the country, and the site of some of the best jazz clubs—including The Blue Room, which is attached to the American Jazz Museum in the city’s Jazz District (centered around the famous 18th and Vine, where The Blue Room is located). The club has operated in one form or another since the 1930s, and is considered the location where “Kansas City Jazz” was truly born. The Blue Room still honors that tradition with local and national performers, while cultivating the development of jazz through concerts, jam sessions, Big Band nights, and the expansion of the tradition into Latin jazz and other unique expressions. Its connection to the American Jazz Museum makes for an interesting day of learning about jazz first, and then experiencing it at its best. Most performances are free, but check the website if you’re going to be there on a specific day.
Located in the Ozarks foothills near Lake of the Ozarks, this outdoor amphitheater nestles into wooded hills that give it an airy, natural feeling. It holds 10,000 seats, plus an indefinite number of lawn seats, for patrons attending concerts of A-list performers. It’s a great venue to visit as part of a long weekend at the Lake—patrons can spend the day tubing and fishing, and the evening seeing their favorite band in the mild Ozarks evening. They even sponsor tailgate parties before every concert!
Starlight Theatre rises like a castle out of Kansas City’s sprawling Swope Park. It was built for the city’s 100-year celebration in 1950 and has enjoyed performers and audience members of considerable notoriety, including royalty, presidents, and Broadway, television, and movie stars. The outdoor venue was once subject to the whims of the weather, but renovations in 2000 included the addition of an enclosed, climate controlled space, making Starlight Theatre the most significant historical year-round performance space in the region. Tickets have remained relatively affordable, allowing people of many different backgrounds to enjoy its multiple offerings every season.
Branson is known as the live music capital of the world, with more live musical performances in more venues than any other city. Much of that is due to Andy Williams, who built the first non-country-music theatre in Branson in 1991 and changed the face of this family-friendly tourist town forever. The Andy Williams Moon River Theatre is one of the largest venues in Branson, and attracts both old school acts such as the Lettermen and America, and more contemporary names such as Bill Engvall and 5th Dimension.
With its sweeping curves and glass walls all along the exterior, the multi-level Hammons Hall is one of the largest venues in Southwest Missouri, and the venue most likely to host A-list concerts, Broadway musicals, and headliners. Though it draws performers from all over the world, it is also available to local events. It has a unique seating plan, with 40 to 60 seats stretched across each row of the multiple levels with no aisles dividing them, and plenty of legroom to allow people to pass through. Not only is it one of the most significant modern venues in the region, with its roomy seats, extensive dressing rooms, and backstage facilities, it’s one of the most comfortable for both patrons and performers.
Powell Hall in St. Louis has been a top-of-the-line music venue since it was built in 1925, but back then the music was a little different than it is today. At first it was the home of vaudeville shows that traveled through the region, and soon after that it housed movies, complete with the elaborate in-house organ that early movies required. The last movie shown there was “The Sound of Music” in 1966, and after that, the space was bought by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (now just the St. Louis Symphony) and given an extensive renovation. Today it offers the best of both worlds—the old-world style and beauty, plus contemporary adjustments to maximize sound and enhance the listening experience of the audience. And, like any self-respecting theater, it even has a ghost, an old vaudevillian named George, who occasionally plays with the lights or runs the elevators. Apparently he doesn’t disturb concerts, though, so ticket-holders can be confident in seeing and hearing an amazing performance.
Kansas City has some beautiful old buildings in its art district. The Kauffman Center is not one of them...and that’s part of its appeal. Built in 2011, the architecture is modern and unique, described as a series of shells nesting within each other, making it possible for the enormous building to house multiple theatres and remain the home of the Kansas City Symphony, the Lyric Opera, and the Kansas City Ballet, as well as guest performers, concerts, and touring productions. The unique building is easy to see in its location on the top of the hill in the Power & Light district, and is an awe-inspiring experience from inside as well, with a stunning view over the city from almost anywhere you stand. Inside the theatres, seat-back translation devices make it easy to understand every opera, and the many easily-accessed bars and concession stands add enjoyment to every visit.