In America’s whitest city, where the local music scene has no shortage of indie pop and rock shows, R&B and hip-hop don’t get as much buzz around town. Dope artists may come through without your even knowing until you see the super-lit ordeal on Snapchat. Here is a shortlist of venues where you can catch Portland’s Hip-hop, Soul, and R&B shows.
Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside
The Crystal Ballroom is one of my favorite places in Portland, despite how hot and musty it can get (pro tip: wear layers or opt for loft seating). The space is big enough to house massive crowds for acts like Anderson .Paak and Santigold, or, say, when Trail Blazers starting point guard Dame Lillard—the certified best rapper in the NBA—decided to put on his first-ever rap show. If you can swing it, get a VIP-level ticket to whatever event you’re attending; it gives you a front-row experience next to one of the ballroom’s bars, and plenty of personal space. Plus you can easily slip out to the bar in the adjacent Lola’s Room, where it’s less crowded and there is a minimal line.
Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell
This town has a thing for ballrooms. This two-level bar and venue has hosted shows for the likes of R&B legend Ginuwine, bounce music star Big Freedia, and up-and-coming soulful electronic duo AlunaGeorge. Like the Crystal, there’s an upper balcony with its own bar, and the sound quality here is better than that of the Roseland. My only advice is to arrive about 15 minutes early, because parking near the venue can be sparse.
Dope artists may come through without your even knowing until you see the super-lit ordeal on Snapchat.
Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi
The small space makes every event feel like a private concert, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. I once saw Corinne Bailey Rae—and her fleshed-out band situation—put on one of the most divine, intimate, and enjoyable sets I’ve witnessed in Portland. If you get there early enough, snag a seat or some standing room on the upper balcony, which is still remarkably close to the front and gives you a great view of the performer. The venue is also a dual space with vegetarian-friendly Bar Bar—a pub that includes a sprawling patio and makes for lovely pre- and post-game.
Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison
This uniquely designed club is a staple for local and touring artists and for regular dance nights. The venue has a spacious warehouse feel as a nightclub, offering a sunken dance floor with a DJ booth, but it’s also great for small shows because of its second performance area with a stage. If I’m not coming here for a concert, I’m here to shake my ass at one of their Beyoncé, Drake, or Rihanna tribute nights while drinking one of their consistently delicious boozy slushies. Even though it has super high ceilings, an open floor plan, and lots of places to rest, it does have a tendency to get unbearably hot and sweaty on its busy dance nights.
In addition to these venues that host live shows, be sure to follow the calendars for bars such as Century Bar, Doug Fir, Black Book, and Church for their hip-hop and R&B dance parties. If you’re into a hip-hop showcase, the Thesis and Mic Check host some great shows around town. The art collective DUG is known for curating some of the best art and dance nights, and don’t sleep on the soulful dance night put on by YGB—both DUG and YGB are hosted at different spots around town; check their social media calendars for updated listings.