Indianapolis isn’t the first place people think of when it comes to live music cities. But we have a huge advantage that a lot of people outside the midwest don’t realize: centrality. Indianapolis is mere hours away from lots of major metro hubs in the midwest and south. Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, Nashville, Detroit and Columbus are all an easy 1-4 hour drive away. Not to mention our hip younger sibling, Bloomington, just an hour south of Indy. Because of its convenient location, Indianapolis is the perfect city for bands in their weekend warrior phase. Those bands that want to play outside their hometown but aren’t quite ready to book a full tour come to Indianapolis, and we get to watch them grow from the earliest stages of their career.
When it’s finally safe to go to shows again, here are some great venues to check out if you ever find yourself in the Hoosier State.
The HiFi is the best venue in Indianapolis, period. It’s clean, welcoming, and the sound is par-none. They bring some of the best acts across all genres, from metal to country to hip hop and everything in between. They also keep things interesting with a series of non-music events, such as the annual PBR Rock Paper Scissors tournament. Directly above the HiFi is their sister venue, the LoFi. Why is the HiFi downstairs and the LoFi above? Who knows. But it gives them the ability to have even more great shows, so I ain’t complaining. I’ve seen a wide range of concerts at The HiFi, from White Reaper to Skeletonwitch, and it’s always been a great experience.
Square Cat Vinyl
Straight across the street from The HiFi is Square Cat Vinyl. Square Cat is a record store, bar, coffee shop, and music venue all in one. It’s a nice spot to hang out and sip a cup of coffee in the afternoon before catching a show in the evening. In between bands you can shop for reasonably priced records while chit-chatting with other music lovers. The sound at Square Cat is much better than what anyone would expect from a record store. Rumors were circulating that they may open a second location, although, with the uncertainty of COVID, that may or may not end up happening. Either way, we’re happy to have a spot like Square Cat in our city.
The Hoosier Dome
The Hoosier Dome has a special place in my heart because in my younger years I called this hole-in-the-wall home. It is one of the most popular spots for all-ages shows, and teens and adults alike come out to see bands like Remember Sports, Slingshot Dakota, and Prince Daddy & the Hyena, as well as local favorites like Dana Scully and the Tiger Sharks. Each May, they host the annual All Ages Punk Rock Prom, in which attendees are encouraged to “dress your best and bring yer dancin’ shoes!” In a state like Indiana that has strict liquor laws, the importance of all-ages venues cannot be understated, as they give teens a place to grow their excitement and passion for music. The Hoosier Dome has given teens a safe place to enjoy live shows for nearly a decade, and many people my age first found our love of alternative music and subculture there.
The Melody Inn
The Melody Inn, or “The Mel,” as it is known to locals, is often described as “The Indianapolis CBGB’s.” A lot of punk rockers, both old and young, hang out at this spot. The walls look as loud as the music; completely covered with broken instruments and band stickers. Every Saturday, The Mel hosts Punk Rock Night, featuring both local and regional acts. And on Fridays, The Mel is home to the Hillbilly Happy Hour; the very best country and bluegrass in town. Pro tip: go to the bathroom before you come here. It truly is the Indianapolis CBGB’s in that the restroom is terrifying.
If you’re ever visiting Indianapolis and you have the time, it is worthwhile to swing through Bloomington, the college town just an hour south of the Circle City. Bloomington is sort of like Indy’s smaller, more progressive, cooler little sibling. There’s no shortage of fun bars, clubs, and house shows in B-town. I asked several of my Bloomington friends about their favorite music venues, and the one that was mentioned the most was The Bishop. I understand why this one is a favorite: I drove down to The Bishop a few years ago to see Diarrhea Planet (R.I.P.) and I loved the atmosphere and the cheap drinks. They book outstanding artists, from local favorites like Mike Adams to touring acts like Laura Stevenson. They also host other events like DJ nights and poetry slams.
Photo credit: HI-FI Indianapolis Instagram