Free (or super cheap) Live Music Every Night in San Francisco by Lisa Nelson!!

Free Live Jazz at Yoshi's in San Francisco on Thursday Nights!

Free Live Jazz at Yoshi's in SF on Thursday Nights! Photo by Laurie Halsey Brown.

I love live music! So first thing after moving to San Francisco on a limited budget, I needed to know where to go on any given night to find good FREE live music. Whether you are a tourist or local, here’s my picks for free (or almost free) live music every night of the week in San Francisco!! Please let me know of any other places you would recommend.

Sunday: Swig is a swanky little venue that offers a free open blues jam and Blues Dancing every Sunday night. I had never heard of “Blues Dancing” before coming to this place…but wholly…the talented musicians, dancers, and onlookers appeared to be having a heck of a time. Also, I was struck by the impressive cross section of people in attendance. Everyone will feel very welcome – regardless of your ethnicity, cultural background, social economic background, or gender preference. This place offered a beautiful example of people who seriously enjoy music coming together for a night of fun – tourist and locals alike.

Monday: Amnesia at 853 Valencia hosts a free live Blue Grass Night on Mondays. Both an open jam and a great band (The Earl Brothers the night I was there) perform. In between band sets, a variety of musicians jam out blue grass melodies in front of the raised stage, while a friendly all ages crowd (20s-60s) chatted and danced around. Super low red lights added to the cool vibe of this venue.

Tuesday: You can get your live music fix starting early on Tuesdays at The Madrone Art Bar–a funky artsy little place at 500 Divisidero St. A live band, The Crow Eaters, began playing “twisted folk-blues psyco-grass acoustic mayhem” at 7p.m. $2 Tecates and $5 Jameson until 8 p.m. The next soul-jazz-boogaloo band, Steppin, began at 9:30. By then the place was packed with a 20-40s relaxed friendly crowd –jeans & t-shirt attire. A golden deer head with machine gun antlers watched as the crowd boogied down. The walls and ceiling were covered in art. A disco ball in the shape of a bomb added sparkle to the whole affair.

Wednesday:  REVISION!!  I found a wonderful Wednesday night option for free live music in SF!  Le Colonial at 20 Cosmo Place in the heart of SF is like walking back in time and into a scene out of Casablanca.  Stroll the elegant promenade into the restaurant and then up the stairs to enjoy the free live swing/jazz band.  The decor includes dark hardwood floors…and ceilings!  Cool wicker tables and chairs with comfy cushions, ceiling fans, candles and tropical plants made me feel like I was in Cuba again.  A stylish 20-50s crowd filled the dance floor and enjoyed the very entertaining Cosmo Alley Cats.  The specialty drinks were delicious and beautiful (my Mojito had a flower in it) and served up by a very friendly bar tender.  Food is served upstairs too and looked good, but I didn’t try it…next time!

Thursday – Oh My…Thursday is a good night for free live music in SF!! I experienced three great and very different places in one night!

Café Royale is a little funky neighborhood bar/café at 800 Post St. with a friendly eclectic crowd. I sipped Sangia as I sat on a red plush velvet couch and mingled. The first band (The Sweet Trade -the only group I’ve seen with a lead singer playing a ukulele–and not performing Hawaiian music. Excellent!) began at 7:30 and Westerville followed performing to a packed house. Be sure to check their calendar as the entertainment varies from week to week.

If Jazz is your thing, then the renowned Yoshi’s at 1330 Filmore St. offers free jazz every Thursday in its large upscale, shiny, silver café. A sophisticated button-down shirt type crowd enjoyed snazzy drinks and nibbles from a full-menu at little tables directly in front of the stage. Excellent local jazz musicians, the Audrey Moira Shimkas Quartet, played and sang from 6:30-11p.m. to a very enthusiastic 30-60s crowd.

Just around the corner from Yoshi’s…you’ll find The Boom Boom Room at 1601 Fillmore St. Gotta love the name! Low lights and candles adorned the tables in front of the benches that line the peripheral of the club. A disco ball spun sparkles above the big open dance floor. A surprisingly small crowd enjoyed an amazing show by the George Lacson Project (whoever the lead singer was blew me away!). One of my new favorite bands!

Friday – Okay this one is not free…but it’s a heck of a deal & something you should experience at least once. The Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel at 950 Mason St. This exotic Polynesian themed restaurant and bar arguably sports the best happy hour in town (think deluxe tiki bar!). Discount drinks and $9.50 for an all-you-can eat Pacific Rim cuisine buffet from 5-7 p.m. An island band strikes up on a floating stage (seriously!) at 8 p.m. with a $7 cover. I’m not kidding…if you have not been in this place, you really need to check it out.

Saturday – Ah The Riptide at 3636 Taraval St. One of the few live music places in the Sunset district also happens to be very cool. On Saturday nights, a free live band cranks up around 9:30 (after Bingo) in front of a roaring fireplace. Mostly a local (lots of surfers) 20s-40s, jeans and t-shirt crowd enjoyed cheap drinks and engaged in impromptu dancing wherever possible in the very intimate space. Easy to find parking and close proximity to Ocean Beach (2 blocks) are a bonus. Your only challenge might actually be getting a drink…it was understaffed the night I went…but no worries, you’ll find a liquor store across the street if you get desperate!

I hope this was helpful to your SF live music adventure. Please give me your feedback and other suggestions! Thanks!

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