The capital of Virginia, Richmond is located on a section of the James River that crashes and tumbles over rocks and small falls. The city’s music scene seems to take a cue from the nearby waterway, featuring powerfully surging punk, metal, and hardcore acts including Lamb of God, Windhand, Avail, and a certain group of costumed heavy metal musicians from outer space (GWAR). While the city may be known for louder and aggressive music, this community has also been home to some of the more creative voices in modern music from R&B icon D’Angelo to David Lowery (of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker fame) to indie upstarts Car Seat Headrest to the late, great Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. Below are some stellar Richmond hot spots for visiting music fans.
1. Discover the Record Stores
Any self-respecting music town has at least a handful of great record stores, and Richmond is no exception. Plan 9 Records in the Carytown neighborhood has been educating music fans since 1981. Patterson Hood’s favorite record store is Deep Groove Records, a small but very well curated shop that always has something worthwhile on wax. Steady Sounds sells a good selection of indie records in a two-floor space that’s shared with a vintage clothing company. Vinyl Conflict (pictured above) is an epicenter for the city’s hardcore, punk, and metal scenes carrying records by local acts Avail, Inter Arma, and Iron Reagan, while also running a record label that puts out albums from Barge, Asylum, and Hard Stripes.
2. Hear Some Live Music
The National is Richmond’s hot seat for the big national touring acts like the Foo Fighters, Lake Street Dive, and Slayer, but consider checking out the smaller local venues that put on consistently great shows. The Camel is where Richmond acts like the No BS! Brass Band, Jackass Flats, and The Southern Belles started playing before graduating to larger rooms. Despite being an intimate venue, The Camel has had Titus Andronicus, Vetiver, and Evan Dando grace its stage (it also has a fine selection of craft beers). The Broadberry has more space to accommodate acts like Sturgill Simpson and the Swans, while Strange Matter is a classic Richmond music venue that focuses on local and national punk, metal, and indie acts.
3. Sip and Rock at Strangeways Brewing
Music fans that love craft beer should definitely head to the Strangeways Brewing (named after the Smiths’ song) where they can take turns spotting the many rock references in the brewery’s eclectic brews. There’s the Uberlin Berliner Weiss (R.E.M.), the Blitzkrieg Bock (the Ramones), Wake Me Up Before You Gose Germanic Sour (Wham!), and the Only Brewed For 4 Cuban Linx (Raekwon). They also do collaborations and special beers for local bands including the Just Say Go Black Belgian Tripel for thrash outfit Iron Reagan. Sip and sample in a tasting room decorated with curiosities and out-there art or opt for a beer in the brewery’s laboratory, which has picnic tables and video games among the brewing equipment.
4. Enjoy Extreme Food and Drink at GWARbar
One of Richmond’s most popular music exports is GWAR, the long running heavy metal rockers known for their over-the-top live shows. Last January, the act opened an intergalactic junk food and dive bar called GWARbar with local restaurateur Travis Croxton. Both the food (like the Hail Seitan Sandwich) and drinks (like the El Pustulo Shot with Sauza Hornitos Tequila, hot sauce, and pickle juice) are almost as wild as the band’s performances, while the intimate, dark space is decorated with concert posters, live photos, memorabilia, and smears of fake blood. Enjoy the ambiance under glowing eyeball chandeliers as metal blares.
5. Attend the Richmond Folk Festival
A favorite annual event for Richmonders is the Richmond Folk Festival, which brings a diverse range of performers to seven stages scattered about the city’s riverfront area. Previous performers have included DJ Grandmaster Flash, Shemekia Copeland, and the Sun Ra Arkestra. The Virginia Folklife Stage showcases the best of the state’s elder and up and coming talent along with cultural exhibitions that have previously included a moonshine making demonstration and an oyster-shucking contest. The best part is, it’s entirely free.
is a Richmond native that lives in coastal California and is the author of the Moon Coastal California Handbook, the Moon Santa Barbara & The Central Coast Handbook, Moon California Road Trip, and the recently released Moon Monterey & Carmel Handbook.