Virginia’s music venues are full of rich history. Places that now host live music once started out as old movie houses or stores or farmhouses and changed over time. Here are 12 of Virginia’s historic music venues.
Note: Due to COVID-19, many venues may be closed or have delayed events; check with individual businesses for the latest details and COVID-19 safety measures.
Tally Ho Theatre – Leesburg, Va.
A landmark in historic downtown Leesburg, the Tally Ho Theatre was created in 1932 as one room movie house. As time went on, new multiplex movie theaters began springing up around the area and forced the duplex movie theater out of business. It operated as a movie theater until the theatre was sold and renovated in 2012, and started hosting live bands in a wide range of genres.
Floyd Country Store – Floyd, Va.
The Floyd Country Store opened in 1909 as a general store and over the course of its history was a hardware and general store that served old-fashioned candy, hand-dipped ice cream, homemade country food and a great collection of hard-to-find old-time and bluegrass music accessories. In the late 1990’s, the industry needed to change to stay in business, and at that time the store was open one night a week for what is now famously known as the Friday Night Jamboree. The Jamboree brings people each week to dance, enjoy and play gospel, old-time, and bluegrass music. The crowd usually spills out into the street as it’s one of the most popular events in the area.
Beacon Theatre – Hopewell, Va.
The Beacon Theatre is in the center of downtown Hopewell, Virginia, and was designed by Fred Bishop and constructed in 1928 as a silent movie & vaudeville show palace. During the 1930s and 1940s, the famous burlesque dancer, Sally Rand, and cowboy performer Lash LaRue performed at the Beacon. During the 1950s – 1970s, it was the local movie house. After a $4.1 million restoration, the Beacon Theatre has been returned to its original splendor and regularly offering all kinds of music from Motown to country to bluegrass to rock.
The Birchmere – Alexandria, Va.
Celebrating 50 years in 2016, the Birchmere opened on April 4, 1966 and has hosted top acts including Johnny Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patti Loveless, Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris and Ray Charles. The Birchmere has also played an important role in the discovery of new artists, the Dixie Chicks and Vince Gillamong them. In 1997, the Birchmere opened its current Alexandria location just down the road, where it sets an intimate tone by keeping the audience close, just two feet away from the stage, in a 500-seat music hall that has launched many artists into world-renown.
Carter Family Fold – Hiltons, Va.
The Carter Family Fold was founded in 1979 by Janette Carter, daughter of A.P. and Sara, who with Sara’s sister Maybelle, are considered the “First Family of Country Music.” Janette’s daughter Rita is carrying on the musical and performing legacy the family established. The original Carter Family lived on this hallowed ground at the foot of Clinch Mountain. The 1,000-seat music center, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, hosts old time, bluegrass and country music every Saturday night and there’s a dance floor that’s usually packed at every show with people of every age clogging and flat-footing.
The Paramount Theater and the Jefferson Theater – Charlottesville, Va.
Located on Charlottesville’s historic Downtown Mall, both the Paramount Theater and the Jefferson Theater are historic venues that host a variety of music shows ranging from rock, bluegrass, reggae, country, metal and hip-hop. The Paramount Theater opened in 1931 and became a landmark overnight. The venue thrived as a movie palace for 40 years and brought in patrons by the thousands before closing in 1974. In 1992, a $16.2 million restoration project restored the Paramount to its former glory and the venue opened its doors to the public once more in 2004. The Jefferson Theater was established in 1912 as a live performance theater that played host to silent movies, vaudeville acts and a historic list of musicians. The Jefferson Theater closed in 2006 for restoration and renovations and reopened in 2009 highlighting the theater’s vintage architecture while modernizing its facilities.
Garth Newel Music Center – Hot Springs, Va.
William Sergeant Kendall, a well-known painter in the 1920s, built Garth Newel Music Center in 1924 where he and his wife trained and rode fine Arabian horses, painted, and enjoyed musical evenings in their home. After Kendall died in 1938, his wife Christine Herter Kendall began a chamber music study program, and the Rowe String Quartet began giving concerts on the property in 1973. Christine died in 1981, bequeathing the property to the Garth Newel Music Center Foundation, who devoted themselves to the continued development of the Music Center and it grew from a season of a half-dozen concerts in the mid-70s to more than 50 today.
Lime Kiln Theater – Lexington, Va.
The Lime Kiln Theater is rooted in and inspired by the magic of a natural, outdoor theater. In 1967, two Washington and Lee University students, Tommy Spencer and Don Baker, produced “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in an abandoned, turn of the century, lime quarry and kiln. 15 years later, Spencer convinced the owner of the site containing the quarry to donate the use of the land for the establishment of an arts organization. After thousands of volunteer hours to clear the brambles, thickets, rubble, and build the stage, the first season was presented in 1984. Lime Kiln Theater hosts numerous live music shows and plays throughout the season.
The National – Richmond, Va.
The historic National Theater was built in 1923 and designed by architect Claude K. Howell, who also created many Monument Avenue residences. It became a part of the then-thriving downtown theater scene along Broad Street once known as Theatre Row. The venue originally staged both live entertainment, such as vaudeville shows, as well as motion pictures. In 1968, it was converted into a dedicated cinema, which closed in 1983. Restored and reopened in 2008, the theater, now known as The National, is used as a performing arts and music venue hosting numerous mainstream acts.
Harrison Opera House – Norfolk, Va.
Once a theater in the 1940s, the Virginia Opera Center Theater hosted entertainment for USO troops during World War II. The house was renovated and re-christened Edythe C. and Stanley L. Harrison Opera House in 1993 and is now the official home of the Virginia Opera. With more than 1,600 seats, the Harrison Opera House retains an intimate ambience adorned with glittering chandeliers and sweeping staircases reminiscent of the old time glamour.
Wolf Trap – Vienna, Va.
When concert goers attend the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, they are standing on what used to be a working farm. Catherine Filene Shouse acquired the land as a refuge from Washington, DC city life in 1930. The farm served as a gathering place for her family, friends and social and political leaders where they enjoyed dinners, parties, and nature walks. Shouse founded Wolf Trap in 1966 when she donated the land to the US government as well as funds to build a large outdoor amphitheater.