Explore Washington D.C.

Toe-Tapping Into Baltimore’s Musical Roots

An editor’s guide to a few “note-worthy” local hangouts.

When people think of musical towns, Nashville ranks high on the list. As the home of South by Southwest, Austin is up there, too. But Baltimore’s melodic roots go just as deep. After all, Charm City has launched such diverse talents as blues songstress Billie Holiday and rock star Frank Zappa, both of whom were born here. And we can’t forget the city’s most famous contributor: Francis Scott Key, who famously penned the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" (the original manuscript on view at the Maryland Historical Society).

At Johns Hopkins, ’80s synth-pop musician Thomas Dolby teaches a course on film scoring for aspiring cinematic composers. And across town, concert halls, cafés and shops inspire finger snapping to classical, experimental and everything in between. Whatever the musical taste, Baltimore turns up the volume on catching some tunes. Below, a few of our favorites.

Sound Garden record store
Exterior of the Sound Garden record store in Fells Point Baltimore (©Anne Kim-Dannibale)

Morning

Weekend brunchers at Gertrude’s in the Baltimore Museum of Art dig into famous crab cakes and bop along to a lively jazz band. In Fells Point, vinyl hunters find rare new releases at The Sound Garden and groove to occasional in-store performances by national and local bands. Across town in Hampden, punk and classic rock lovers flip through stacks at Celebrated Summer Records, which also stocks some jazz and R&B.

Joe Squared pizza
Joe Squared pizza where local bands play regularly (©Amber DeGrace, Flickr)

Afternoon

Hometown rocker Frank Zappa lives on in bronze at the Southeast Branch of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Highlandtown, where it gazes out across Frank Zappa Way. In Station North and the Inner Harbor, Joe Squared draws artists and students who crave live tunes along with their unconventional pizzas. 

Pier Six Pavilion
Pier Six Pavilion (Courtesy Visit Baltimore)

Evening

Nashville finds a northern outlet at bar/restaurant Tin Roof, where country bands get the crowd going at Power Plant Live!. Big-name acts and smaller groups alike have played the stage at Pier Six Pavilion, a popular outdoor venue with views of the Inner Harbor and a lawn for relaxing.

A best-kept secret, Eubie Live! at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center revives its namesake’s spirit with live jazz, soul, gospel and even classical shows in an intimate setting. At The Get Down in Harbor East, adult music fans of all ages let down their hair and dance to deejays till 2 am.