Posted April 9, 2020

Rock on, Charm City: Exploring the Baltimore Music Scene


Baltimore skyline

There’s no doubt about it: Baltimore’s got the beat. Like most things done here, this city does music with charm, gusto and its own brand of flavor. Yet Baltimore often has a way of flying modestly under the radar, so we reckon it’s time to change that, proudly spotlighting the city’s homegrown talent — past and present.

Since its beginnings, Baltimore has been a gathering place for talented musicians and their dedicated fans. Opera and musical theater reigned in the early days, and by the 1860s the city had become home to a thriving African-American music scene, with popular genres ranging from ragtime to gospel. In the 20th century, legendary jazz artists like Cab Calloway, Eubie Blake and Lady Day herself, Billie Holiday, sizzled inside Baltimore’s smoky, sultry lounges.

Over the decades, an impressive lineup of stars has continued to emerge in a variety of styles. Although some folks, like Tori Amos, migrated elsewhere before actually making it big, Baltimore has nurtured the talents of such artists as David Byrne, Frank Zappa, Philip Glass, Cass Elliot, and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. Not to mention in more recent years bands like Beach House, Wye Oak, and Animal Collective, which spearheaded a movement of experimental pop acts. One thing’s for sure: Music lovers will not lack for inspiration with the Baltimore music scene.

Adam Duritz

Local boy Adam Duritz of Counting Crows plays to a crowd at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live!.

So where to hear touring megastars plus local musicians-on-the-rise? If you happen to be staying at Hotel Monaco Baltimore, you’ll happily find yourself smack in the middle of the action, just a short cab ride from a handful of theaters including the Hippodrome Theatre and Royal Farms Arena, which hosts flashy headliners like Iggy Azalea and the Eagles. The hotel’s central location also offers easy access to three of the city’s arts and entertainment districts — Station North, Highlandtown, and the new Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower.

Royal Farms Arena

R. Kelly, the Eagles and Kevin Hart all make stops at the Royal Farms Arena this year.

In the Inner Harbor, there’s Rams Head Live! for energetic indoor shows and Pier Six Pavilion, an outdoor space known for big-name acts ranging this year from Widespread Panic to Santana. For more intimate shows of the indie-rock, sub-mainstream variety, head to Ottobar, a grittier space consistently given top rankings by Baltimore’s alternative weekly, City Paper, for “Best Place to Hear Rock” and “Best All-Ages Venue.”

When summertime rolls around, there’s also Merriweather Post Pavilion, an outdoor venue on 40 acres of preserved land between Baltimore and D.C. It hosts an impressive series of acts, ranging this season from Kenny Chesney to The Decemberists.

Billie Holiday mural

April 2015 marks the Billie Holiday Centennial Celebration in Baltimore.

In the midst of Baltimore’s current-day buzz, though, Charm City still remembers to pay homage to its roots. The Billie Holiday Centennial Celebrations and National Jazz Month spice things up this April with events like a walking tour of the murals and mosaic dedicated to the singer, followed by a block party on April 12, and Jazz in Historic Lafayette Square on April 18.

Rock on, Baltimore. We can’t wait to see what’s on your playlist next.

Adam Duritz photo: It’sBeenSoLong/Creative Commons; Billie Holiday mural: Eden, Janine & Jim/Creative Commons.


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One Comment

  1. steve yasko says:

    And listen to 89.7 WTMD while you’re in Baltimore to hear all of our incredibly talented Baltimore Musicians.
    Steve Yasko
    executive director and Kimpton loyalist