Sarasota’s Best Live Music Venues According to a Longtime Local Stringsman
- Top Activities
- Florida Gulf Coast
- Zota Beach Resort
- The Resort at Longboat Key Club
- Lido Beach Resort
Matt Dendy knows a few things about the Sarasota music scene. Not only is he an acclaimed violinist – boasting a unique sound not typical for this stringed instrument – he’s also a native who has played most major venues for an up-close and personal look at the best places to take in live tunes.
When you first see Matt Dendy unlatch and open his violin case, it’s not unusual to assume that what’s to follow is likely a classical tune: maybe a little Bach, a dash of Elgar, definitely some Vivaldi. Instead, what greets your ear is a much more modern (and electric) spin on the strings. Think covers from Sublime to Michael Jackson to Taylor Swift. That’s all thanks to an electric violin, a loop station, an effects pedalboard, and a PA speaker – not to mention, a heaping helping of talent that’s been honed since the Sarasota native first picked up a violin at age 3.
“Catching people off guard is always fun,” laughs the 37-year-old who has performed multiple seasons with Gulf Coast cultural gems The Asolo Repertory Theatre and The Venice Symphony. “People are surprised by the versatility. They end up looking at the violin in a whole new way.”
Indeed. In fact, it took the management team at Lido Beach Resort hearing only one song to decide to lock Dendy into weekly Wednesday evening performances held on the resort’s secluded 300-foot beach. And the resort is just one of the regular gigs for this solo violinist.
“I play a niche type of music,” admits Dendy, who first started experimenting with modern violin in 2016 while busking in the open-air European-inspired setting of St. Armands Circle, just a stone’s throw from Opal properties The Resort at Longboat Key Club, Zota Beach Resort, and Lido Beach Resort. “But Sarasota is a great city for an artist like me. There is such a demand and love and appreciation for arts here. And many great places to get your fill of live music.”
As a longtime local, he would know best. With that in mind, he shares some of his top Sarasota live music venues, from family-friendly al-fresco favorites to beachside bars.
BEST SARASOTA FAMILY-FRIENDLY MUSIC VENUES
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
While this purple theatre with a scalloped concrete roof may be better known for its variety of orchestra, dance, theater, and comedy, when it comes to open-air music that pleases the whole brood, Dendy, his wife, and two kids also look to this landmark venue – particularly for their Friday Fest. “It’s an outdoor concert series held on the Van Wezel lawn overlooking the bay that brings in different bands – everything from funk and soul to contemporary country to reggae and rock.” There are also food trucks and swag from vendors. While the free music series only runs from June to September, if you have a family summer vacation to Sarasota planned, this series should be on your to-do list.
Big Top Brewing Company
“We live about a mile and a half from this brewpub, so we go there quite a bit,” says Dendy. “There’s live music at least five nights a week, and they’ve developed quite a following for the talent they bring in.” Named for Sarasota’s circus heritage and tucked away on the eastern side of town, the wide-open space boasts a farmhouse-brewhouse vibe with plenty of outdoor seating in the beer garden where an outdoor stage is also set. It’s also dog-friendly, so even your furry family members are welcome to take in the tunes that range from classic rock and ’90s Grunge to Grateful Dead cover bands.
The Siesta Key Drum Circle
One of the largest drum circles in the nation, this free family event takes place every Sunday year-round an hour before sunset, where dozens of people descend upon the sand, led by a plethora of percussionists, to dance the evening away. Bring your beach chair or blanket or join in on the festival-like atmosphere, which is occasionally accompanied by belly dancers.
TOP SARASOTA NIGHTCLUBS
The Gator Club
A part of downtown Sarasota since 1913, this historic brick building has lived many lives: a grocery store, cigar store, even real estate offices. But today it’s primarily known for one thing: live music and dancing on the corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue. Live music comes in the form of regional bands five days a week and a deejay that performs every Friday and Saturday night on the second floor. “It’s a cool historic nightclub,” says Dendy. “It’s a special place for my wife, too. She works at the local fire department and every time a new hire takes the fireman’s oath, this is where the after party always goes.”
Housed in the old Sarasota Times Newspaper building, this sophisticated restaurant features a swanky fourth-floor rooftop bar that Dendy knows well – he plays there monthly. “It’s more a jazzy nightclub vibe, where people come to really listen as opposed to dance,” he says. “It also has one of the best 360-degree views of the city – you really feel like you’re in the heart of it.”
The Beach Club
If you’re looking for a truly high-energy nightclub with bumping music, lasers, and strobe lights, then this Siesta Key landmark – home to Sarasota’s largest dance floor – is the place. “You’ll find a mix of both deejays and bands and the party goes late,” says Dendy. So much so, on Fridays and Saturdays, you can expect the local, regional, and national bands to stay on the stage until 2 a.m. Expect big-name acts on Saturdays and free drinks for the ladies all night on Wednesdays.
SARASOTA LIVE MUSIC BY THE WATER
There are two places to take in music at Marina Jack, set on Sarasota Bay: The Deep Six Lounge & Piano Bar and Blue Sunshine Patio. The piano bar is home to something of a local piano icon, Rock Lee, who has been tinkling the ivories in this very spot for the last 30 years, every Tuesday through Sunday starting at 6 p.m. Whereas the patio hosts a steady stream of accomplished local singers, bands, and musicians seven nights a week and on weekend days in its recently renovated open-air setting overlooking the marina’s 316 boat slips.
Lido Beach Resort
“Sometimes, when a client wants to potentially book me, I tell them to head to Lido Beach Resort to hear a sampling of my style,” says Dendy, who performs on a stage set up on the northernmost corner of the white-sand beach Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. While chairs are set up surrounding the stage for the event, most people aren’t sitting for long once they hear a sampling of his 400-song-strong repertoire, covering top 40 tunes from the ’60s to present day. “Normally, I play a few songs across the ages, then see what people respond to most,” says Dendy. “For example, if I see they are loving the ’80s hits, I’ll play to that genre a bit more.”
The Hub Baja Grill
This festive, tropical-themed eatery set on Siesta Key is where Dendy realized he could make a career playing his modern form of violin. “Another performer – a steel drummer, who I was already friends with – was on break during his gig here and asked me if I wanted to take the stage to play a few songs.” And the rest was history. Performers hand-picked from Sarasota’s live music scene can be found both day and night on the large outdoor covered patio.