10 great gig venues the world over: readers’ travel tips

Winning tip: Cumberland Caverns, Tennessee, US

Three hundred feet underground is the last place on earth I would expect to experience my most memorable gig. Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville Tennessee is a cave experience with quite a difference. Bands perform in a huge cave called the Volcano Room, where you are seated with the most amazing rock formations all around you. A colossal chandelier hangs from the ceiling and the acoustics are the most natural and crystal-clear I have ever heard. I saw Aaron Lee Tasjan perform there and his voice sounded just incredible. I was also glad of the delicious cave chilli.
jordan bailey

Rocky Top, Tokyo

Rocky Top club, Tokyo, Japan.

Photograph: Dave

I love Rocky Top in Ginza. It is a tiny bluegrass club up three flights of stairs between Ginza and Shimbashi stations. The acts are mostly local but the standard of playing is quite high (although the singing in English can be a bit ropy). The club has been there forever, and the walls are covered with an incredible who’s who of photos and tributes from musicians passing through, with everybody from Bill Monroe on. There is usually a 2,000 yen (£14) cover for the music, but the food and drink are cheap by Tokyo standards.
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Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print, and the best entry each week (as chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet) wins a £200 voucher from To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

Freak Show, Essen, Germany

Freak SHOW, Essen, Germany.

Freak Show is a scuzzy, underground bar, which can hold about 200 at a push. The bands play inside the mouth of a shark. They sell a lot of different beers and have regular beer tasting evenings. It costs between nothing and €20 depending on the band. Music is usually metal and punk, but can also include ska and even country. The audience are about 10cm from the band and it can get ferociously loud. Just as rock music should be. Bands like Powersolo and the Morlocks were particularly good.
Jess Phillips

Going Om, Singapore

Going Om, Singapore

I love Going Om, on Haji Lane, in Singapore – it’s so small inside that the acts play on the street outside. It’s on a tiny street that feels like you’ve stepped back in time in the heart of such a modern city. In a place that has so many rules and regulations, Goin Om stays authentically soulful. It’s free to get in most nights, the drinks are fairly cheap for Singapore, and you’ll inevitably end up dancing in the street. They also serve amazing cakes and juices and the bar staff are some of the friendliest I’ve met.
Lauren Bouttel

Le Sirius, Lyon

Le Sirius, Lyon.

A set of boat bars – péniches – line the banks of the Rhone in Lyon. Throughout the year locals flock there to catch up with friends, relax on the river banks, drink and people watch. Le Sirius is one of these bars, but it’s also a free, floating gig venue. It’s the perfect place to catch a local band, have a drink, dance to live rock, swing or jazz and soak up the atmosphere of France’s second city. Visit in the summer and recover post-gig by chilling out on the picturesque river banks.
Entry from about €5,
Maddy Miller

Bovine Sex Club, Toronto

Bovine Sex Club, Toronto, Canada.

The implausibly named Bovine Sex Club features neither cows nor explicit acts of sex. What this Toronto club does offer is a gritty, industrially ornamented room that holds 200 people and some of the top up-and-coming rock, punk and alternative bands. You’ll also encounter weekly burlesque shows, an upstairs tiki bar and the occasional big-name rock star enjoying a drink after their concert at one of the city’s larger venues. The metal junk-festooned exterior often draws comments from those shopping on trendy Queen Street West – such as one concerned-looking father declaring to his pram pushing wife after spying the events poster, “Oh, it’s music.”
Entry from about C$7 (£4), On Facebook
KK Mauronik

Teatro del Charango, La Paz, Bolivia

Teatro del Charango, La Paz, Bolivia.

For an unusual, very intimate night out in La Paz, head out to the Museo de Instrumentos Musicales. Up some steps is the little Teatro del Charango, where Franz Valverde (and friends) will entertain you with his brilliant traditional muyu muyu acoustic guitar playing. You’ll be warmly greeted by an audience of about 25 Bolivian muyu muyu aficionados. Keep your eyes on Franz – he’ll suddenly flip over the guitar without missing a note, revealing a second, differently stringed guitar on the other side. A wonderful experience – but check in advance what’s on and when – and don’t be surprised if you find yourself having a chat to the Great Man himself if you’re a few minutes early.
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Chris Marshall

Charity Cafe, Rome

Sitting in the back row you could almost reach out and touch the lead singer on the stage, a stage so small the band members have to sit on their amps and mikes aren’t always needed. But what it lacks in size the Charity Cafe in Via Panisperna more than makes up for in style and ambience. We didn’t know the name of the blues band last Saturday night but it hinged on a virtuoso guitarist and Greta, whose frail but vocally assured performance felt very Amy Winehouse-ish in her early years. Add to that the wonderful staff and “at seat” service – “welcome back!” she said on our second visit – and you’ll remember it for some time.
Alan Francis

La Porte Noire, Brussels

La Porte Noire, Brussels

The Black Door is a small pub inside 16th-century vaulted cellars. It has a great medieval atmosphere and, being in Belgium, has many excellent beers on tap. One of the most lively gigs I’ve seen there was Brighton pirate band The Captain’s Beard. The music suited the surroundings particularly well, seemingly transporting the audience to a pirate’s hideout. There was dancing on the tables, downing drinks, and a filled treasure chest for the band at the end.
Live music on Thursdays and DJ sets on Saturdays,
Sarah Geijsels

The Moorings, Portmagee, County Kerry

Moorings hotel in Portmagee, County Kerry.

After a boat trip to Skellig Michael, an island eight miles off the coast of County Kerry, I wandered into the main hostelry in the tiny village of Portmagee, The Moorings. It was a random Tuesday night in late summer, but the place was buzzing. It seemed the entire village (including local schoolkids who were still busking the Star Wars theme tune as midnight approached) had come out to entertain visitors with traditional dance, well-known singalongs, and trad music. The atmosphere was electric and welcoming, and felt like we were sharing a spontaneous celebration of culture and music in this far-flung corner of a magical country.
Dean Coughlan


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