Best Folk Music Venues In The Bay Area

August 18, 2016 5:00 AM

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 29: Guests attend the Pandora Presents Sharon Van Etten at StubHub's Next Stage event at The Chapel on July 29, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Pandora)

Sharon Van Etten At The Chapel (credit: Steve Jennings/Getty Images)

452921280 Best Folk Music Venues In The Bay AreaThe Chapel (credit: Steve Jennings/Getty Images)

Historic music halls, coffeehouses, nightclubs, the grassy lawns of Golden Gate Park, and even a converted mortuary are among the spots to catch singer-songwriters and their guitars in the folk-Americana tradition that still holds sway in the San Francisco Bay Area. Keep your eye on these schedules for upcoming artist performances.

The Chapel
777 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 551-5157

Live music in a former funeral home — there’s a unique concept. The original 1914 mortuary contained a chapel with 40-foot arched ceilings, hence the vision for a music venue with a capacity of 500. Opened in 2012, The Vestry Restaurant and Chapel Bar adjoining are lively neighborhood spots with an outdoor dining area. (Get in the mood and peek at the stage during Sinner’s Hour on Tuesday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.) Because this is the official West Coast home of the New Orleans legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band, “the music lineup leans towards the soulful and folky side,” says SFist. Check the schedule for Americana and folk artists amongst the rock and indie lineup.

102746309 Best Folk Music Venues In The Bay Area

Crystal Bowersox at Freight & Salvage (credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse
2020 Addison St.
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 644-2020

“The home of traditional music” since 1968, Freight & Salvage was deeply rooted in the Berkeley culture of those days. It was an important era, when psychedelic rock threatened to replace folk music forever. But, not here. So many great names have performed on this stage over the decades that the club has earned a reputation far and wide. With 220 seats, and a Berkeley-based Meyer Sound Labs system, this is one of the best spots in the San Francisco Bay Area to see and hear live music. The club operates as a nonprofit, hosting all genres of traditional music, including folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, world-beat, and gospel.

hardlystrictlybluegrass Best Folk Music Venues In The Bay Area

(credit: Randy Yagi)

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA

Boasting 100 musical artists on seven stages over three days — all for free — Hardly Strictly Bluegrass will again attract about a quarter million festival goers to Golden Gate Park in its fifteenth year. Mark your calendar for the 2016 dates on September 30 and October 1 and 2. No tickets needed. This year’s schedule, lineup, artist bios and map to the Swan, Banjo, Arrow and Rooster Stages, will be posted online.

great american music hall Best Folk Music Venues In The Bay Area


Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 885-0750

In 2013, the historic venue in San Francisco’s Tenderloin was named number six in “The Best Clubs in America” in a Rolling Stone Magazine poll of artists and managers. Old, grand, marbled and balconied, the GAMH’s elaborate interiors hark back to post-earthquake 1907. Today, the venue has a professional sound and lighting system, two full bars, a modern kitchen and a spacious oak dance floor. Brilliant artists such as Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Van Morrison, Grateful Dead, Arcade Fire, and Patti Smith have appeared on this stage where Robin Williams filmed his 1982 HBO television special. More recently, folksy performers have included David Crosby, Richard Thompson and Suzanne Vega.

333 11th St.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 255-0333

When Bay Area local singer, songwriter, and guitarist Boz Scaggs opened Slim’s in 1988, he was joined by Texas guitar slinger Anson Funderburgh and Huey Lewis on harmonica. The 600-seat, all-ages live music venue in San Francisco’s SOMA district began life as a rhythm and blues roadhouse and evolved to embrace lots more genres. Today, it’s a producer of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and partners with the Great American Music Hall, hosting everything from bluegrass to thrash metal, as they describe it. Slim’s has a bar menu, dinner and show packages and nightly food specials.

sweetwater music hall Best Folk Music Venues In The Bay Area

(credit: Liam Mayclem)

Sweetwater Music Hall
19 Corte Madera Ave.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
(415) 388-1700

“Woo hoo – Mill Valley finally has its playpen back! Here we go…” said local resident Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) when Sweetwater’s re-opened in the century-old Masonic Hall in 2012. Sweetwater’s musical tradition in Mill Valley goes back to 1972 when Weir was among its original investors and supporters. Today it’s a state-of-the-art live music venue with a Meyer Sound system presenting acts from Grammy Award winners to emerging Bay Area talent. A storied past includes performances by Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, Sammy Hagar, Gregg Allman, Huey Lewis, Maria Muldaur, Richie Havens, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, and many other outstanding artists. Look for folk singer-songwriters and guitarists on the busy calendar of events.

This article was written by Laurie Jo Miller Farr via for CBS Local Media


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