There are many places to hear live music in Sarasota FL, on any night of the week. The area attracts many talented musicians, and the venues are plentiful and diverse. From beach bar cafes on Siesta Key to outdoor dining and dancing downtown, to farmers markets, to theaters, you’re sure to find favorite haunts to return to every year or every week.
One pleasant aspect of the Sarasota nightlife scene is that it attracts people of all ages, and is very casual and laid back, so it’s comfortable to go out with a group, with a friend, or by yourself. Many places are smoke-free, too. Here are some to try the next time you’d rather spend the evening enjoying live music instead of yet another DVD!
Mattison’s City Grille is the epicenter of downtown Sarasota nightlife. It’s located on the corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue and is a covered outdoor restaurant with a spacious bar area and a small dance floor. There’s a different live band every night, and the quality is outstanding. If you like to dance, try Saturday nights, when T.C. and The Troublemakers rock the place with Southern Rock, romantic slow songs, and rock ‘n roll standards. Thursday nights are fun with The Venturas, whose diverse repertoire includes jazz, blues, soul, country and swing, with soulful lead singer Ally Couch wowing the crowd with her alternately soulful, rockin’ and bluesy vocalizing. Since Mattison’s City Grille is open-air, the smoking is not much of a problem if you prefer smoke-free.
A popular destination for the late-night dessert and wine crowd is Sarasota Vineyards, a wine-tasting bar and cafe on Main Street just east of Lemon Avenue, which features live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Take note of when Al Fuller and Gary Davis harmonize there. It’s guaranteed to be a friendly crowd, and the duo plays a lot of favorite songs from the 70s as well as originals. Music at Sarasota Vineyards is usually 8PM to 11PM. Non-smoking.
A relatively new spot for the younger crowd is The Box Social, whose decor is reminiscent of cafes in Greenwich Village in the 60s. With artful graffiti illustrations on the walls, comfy sofas, tables and chairs, and a bar, The Box Social offers up live music by young and older musicians several nights a week. On Wednesday nights, check out the invitational jam emceed by guitar virtuoso Jimi Gee. You never know who you’ll see, and the chemistry is interesting when musicians who’ve never met get together to play at this comfortable cafe. The Box Social is on Main Street, just east of Lemon Avenue. On Saturday nights, there’s a small cover charge of $5 to hear the band. Non-smoking.
Marina Jack is an expansive restaurant that hugs the edge of the yacht basin at Sarasota’s Bayfront Park, at the far west end of Main Street, in downtown Sarasota. On the lower level, open to the expansive view of boats and sunsets, is a bar with lots of tables and a roomy dance floor. Lots of live music at Marina Jack. For example, Sunday afternoons need never be boring again, once you’ve danced to Democracy, an energetic and popular Reggae band that plays there on Sunday afternoons from 4 – 8PM. No need for a dance partner. Everyone gets onto the floor and has a good time.
Sarasota‘s Bayfront Park is anchored at one end by Marina Jack and at the other by O’Leary’s Tiki Bar. Nestled along the edge of the shore, with rowboats and lapping waves as background, O’Leary’s presents live music in its outdoor seating area every afternoon and evening. Look for John Howard there, sometimes solo, sometimes with the John Howard Band. His songlist is full of favorite rock, folk-rock, and blues tunes, as well as some fine originals.
HILLVIEW STREET, SOUTHSIDE VILLAGE
Located across the street from the Sarasota Memorial Hospital parking garage, between Tamiami Trail and Osprey Avenue, Hillview Street is lined with restaurants and nightspots. The 5 O’Clock Club offers music that’s loud and danceable, and smoking is permitted. On Monday nights from 8:30P – 12 Midnight, Al Fuller’s Blues Jam at the 5 O’Clock Club is a dynamic melange of local pros and almost-pro musicians who share the stage to get the place rocking with blues and rock ‘n roll tunes. The dance floor serves up the dressy to the casual, the high-steppers to the gentle swayers. Dance alone or say yes if you want to spin around with a partner. There’s less smoke to plough through if you get there earlier in the evening.
New York, New York is a piano bar/restaurant that opened on HIllview Street last year. It’s got live entertainment at the piano five nights a week, from 6 to 9PM.
Opening soon on Hillview Street will be a new branch of Gecko’s, a family-friendly pub. Not clear at this point if there will be live music at Gecko’s. Libby’s Restaurant, on S. Osprey Avenue, just south of Hillview Street, is very popular for indoor and outdoor dining, as is Sam Snead’s Restaurant, on the corner of Hillview Street and S. Osprey Avenue.
SIESTA KEY VILLAGE
This is Sarasota‘s fun and funky beach village, and it’s lined with bars and restaurants, family-friendly and music-filled. Just walking down Ocean Blvd in Siesta Key Village, you’ll see and hear a different musician playing live music at each one. S.K.O.B. (Siesta Key Oyster Bar), Gilligan’s, The Hub Baja Grille, The Beach Club, Blu Smoke, and Blase Cafe all offer live music. Kettle of Fish is a favorite local band with an extensive songlist and great harmonies. There’s Reggae at Gilligan’s on Sunday afternoons.
GULF GATE VILLAGE
Just southeast of the intersection of Tamiami Trail (Hwy 41) and Stickney Point Road is an older shopping district behind the Sarasota Pavilion, which is a destination for Sarasota nightlife. The two roads hosting most of the action are Gateway Avenue and Superior Avenue, both perpendicular to Gulf Gate Drive.
On Gateway Avenue, The Irish Rover offers up music seven nights a week, along with hearty pub fare. Along with a lot of solid traditional Irish music (and stellar performances on multiple instruments by Irish Rover owner Paul Duffy), there are some interesting shows on other nights. For instance, Thursday nights feature The Instigators, a Reggae/World Music reunion band that was popular in Sarasota in the 1980s and recently came back together. On Tuesdays, make a point of hearing the Michael Kach Group, composed of musicians with stellar talents on keyboard, guitar and drums, and resumes that include touring with Dickey Betts and the Allman Brothers Band. On Sunday nights be prepared to be amazed at the talents of Juvenocracy, a jazz band made up of middle school students. Seasoned adult professionals can’t hold a candle to some of these kids.
Other live music destinations worth exploring include J.R.’s Old Packinghouse Cafe (just east of Cattlemen Road, on Old Packinghouse Road), where you can enjoy a warming meal along with blues and rock bands six nights a week. The show begins at 7PM, but get there earlier if you want a table and faster service. The Old Packinghouse Cafe is Old Florida, for sure.