Summer Music Scene in Berkeley

The summer music scene in Berkeley is wonderfully diverse, mirroring the city’s artistically rich personality.

Music gives a place a sense of identity, and the music scene in Berkeley is representative of its long-standing appreciation of culture. From cozy music venues to an amphitheater seating 8,500 people, here are the music venues to know about when visiting Berkeley!

Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse

A Berkeley institution since opening its doors in 1968, Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse is one of the oldest music venues on the west coast. Now in 2021, it serves as a nonprofit community arts organization, promoting traditional music (music that expresses the different regional, ethnic and social cultures around the world) across the entire Bay Area. The founding ideologies of freedom, justice, acceptance, collaboration and innovation resonate through this venue, which beautifully embraces the cultural diversity and rich history of the city.

The Freight’s 440-seat performance space is a top choice for live music. When visiting the city, book your tickets early to hear some of the best folk music the city has to offer. They also hold free open-mic nights biweekly. Come sing along with your friends for an entertaining and inexpensive night out!

Hearst Greek Theater

On the high side of the UC Berkeley campus, the “Greek” is an exquisite outdoor amphitheater and go-to stop for many touring artists. UC Berkeley is one of the best universities in the world, and the city’s culture and history are intricately intertwined with that of the university. This 8,500-seat amphitheater can attest to that fact.

The Greek’s musical concerts, which range from well-known touring artists to smaller-scale university events, are an exquisite expression of the city’s uniqueness and beauty. From Joey Bada$$, a popular American rapper, to Ringo Starr, the drummer for the iconic band The Beatles, the Greek Theater hosts some of the biggest events the year. Book your tickets as soon as you can, because they will sell out quickly!

California Jazz Conservatory

The summer music scene isn't only about grand and epic venues. California Jazz Conservatory has a special character of its own, operating as both a jazz school and a personal music venue for their students and other artists. With the year-round jazz classes and various workshops offered, CJC attracts visitors from all across the country.

If you want to rent studios to jam out in without having to worry about noise complaints, CJC is your go-to venue. To find fellow musicians to jam with, make sure to visit CJC; these instruments are not going to play themselves!

The UC Theatre

The UC Theatre grew up alongside the city of Berkeley. Established as a first run movie theater in 1917, it had many iterations over the years and eventually reopened in 2016 as a state-of-the-art live music venue. However, it still retains many of the features of its earlier days, and Berkeley’s own history are embedded in its walls.

Watch some of the UC Theater’s amazing performances and take in the magnificence of Berkeley’s core character!

The Back Room

The Back Room reminds us of the music we used to play at home while growing up. It fits fewer than 100 people, its name coming from the fact that it is the back room of a larger building. It provides an intimate place for music—a place where the audience and performers can develop a genuine connection during the shows.

If you want to feel nostalgic listening to amazing sounds from some acoustically-based artists, visit The Back Room. They have events throughout the year, including jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass, Americana and more. They offer music lessons as well!

UC Berkeley Sproul Plaza

For a taste of the authentic music scene, step onto Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley. Here you can see the street musicians, who provide the musical backdrop to students’ days, and you can also glimpse the beautifully painted piano in front of the MLK Student Union. This piano represents our community; it was placed there by UC Berkeley students who wanted to bring joy to passing people. When it was stolen, the community raised money to bring it back. When the piano was vandalized, the community once again raised funds, this time to replace it.

As you walk through Sproul Plaza, you will almost always see a student or resident of Berkeley sitting at the piano, most likely playing beautiful music. The beauty of the piano and the music it produces is symbolic of the beautiful, creative spirit of the city of Berkeley.

Although a relatively small city compared to some others in California, Berkeley has had a disproportionate historic and cultural influence. Each music venue mentioned above is unique in its own way, but all the venues celebrate diversity in all its forms. If you are a music aficionado, it will be well worth your time to check out the summer music scene in Berkeley. We guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

large group gathered around Sproul plaza fountain in Berkeley CA
About the Author

Christina Kim

UC Berkeley
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