The Top 7 Spots to Hear Soul Music in Oakland
Oakland’s got soul. Period. No debate necessary. Just facts on facts on facts. While there are some who still want to believe that Oakland is nothing more than the ugly step-sister to San Francisco’s glittery Cinderella, those in the know recognize Oakland for the jewel it truly is—a complex, many-splendored city with deep roots in innovation, social and civic activism, arts, music, and culture. The sun, after all, rises in the east.
One need look no further than Oakland’s clubs, cafés, and live music venues for proof of its enduring, undeniable soulfulness. As the birthplace and home base of some of the most influential soul, funk, and R&B artists and bands of all time (Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone, En Vogue, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Goapele, Sheila E., and so many others), Oakland continues to reign as one of the country’s—and the world’s—top producers of soul music. Grammy-nominated Oakland R&B singer Kehlani and NPR Tiny Desk Concert winner Fantastic Negrito are among the latest additions to the list of soul-filled artists making a major impact both on the local and global music scene, along with a slew of DJs spinning soul, R&B, and funk at some of the hottest spots in the East Bay. Check out our list of the top spots in Oakland for soul music—local and international, and live and spun.
The world-famous Yoshi’s in Jack London Square is an East Bay landmark and certainly one of the premier venues for local and touring artists across multiple genres. The cozy cabaret-style seating keeps performances intimate while still allowing for the artists and guests alike to get caught up in the rapture of the music. Upcoming performances by R&B veteran Gerald Albright and hip-hop icon Talib Kweli are completely sold out, but you can catch the likes of Booker T. Jones, Kenny Lattimore, Pete Escovedo, and Oleta Adams throughout the month of February.
The Fox Theatre
Another of downtown Oakland’s most popular performance halls, the Fox Theatre regularly offers music lovers an opportunity to get their entire lives with everything from rock to hip-hop to world music. For soul satisfaction, the options are as deep and varied as they come. On Feb. 4, students from Oakland School of the Arts will take the stage at the Fox for their highly-anticipated showcase, and the following night, UK pop/soul crooner Seal performs. Catch the legendary CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers on Feb. 20.
The New Parish
Located in downtown Oakland, just a stone’s throw from The Fox Theatre, The New Parish has long been a fixture for local artists and national and international touring acts. With an especially supportive vibe for purveyors of soul, R&B, and funk, the venue has played host to a broad variety of Oakland-based artists like Mara Hruby and Kev Choice, as well as out-of-towners like Bilal and The Foreign Exchange. Catch soul songstress Emily King (with Mara Hruby opening) on Feb. 4, and the dazzling LA trio KING on Feb. 16.
Geoffrey’s Inner Circle
For 20 years, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle has remained a beloved venue for live music and casual conversation. It’s also a popular event space among community groups, non-profit organizations, and individuals looking for the ideal place to host a meeting or social gathering. On Sundays, head over for Yancie Taylor’s Jazz Concert and Jam Session, which features live music and a dynamic roster of guest vocalists and musicians each week.
You may not expect live soul and R&B at a spot serving some of the most delicious Jamaican dishes in the area, but Kingston 11 delivers a healthy serving of soul not only in its food but also in its live music offerings. Wednesday and Thursday nights feature live music from an array of local artists, and of course it’s a go-to for the best reggae and world music as well.
Kingston 11’s next door neighbor, Legionnaire Saloon, is dark dive bar/Irish pub excellence. Despite appearances, it’s also a spot that’s hosted local soul heroes Myron and E and the can’t miss weekly Motown on Mondays (MOM) dance party with DJ Malachi and DJ Platurn. The first Saturday of each month is the Where It’s At! Northern Soul & Funk Party, hosted by MissT and Fernando, which promises to give you ample opportunity to shake that booty.
Era Art Bar
Era Art Bar and Lounge, just before the intersection of Grand and Broadway, is an absolute must for soulful sounds in the East Bay. Oakadelic Wednesdays feature rotating live soul/funk/R&B bands sure to groove you while you sip on hand-crafted cocktails and admire current art installations. During basketball season, you can also catch a Warriors game in the bar.