New York City’s live music circuit is thriving again, with more than 100 clubs featuring local talent regularly. Unlike most American cities where cover bands abound, the majority of New York’s clubs instead specialize in showcasing lesser-known musicians playing original music. For the price of one concert by a major artist in a large venue, a music lover can enjoy discovering a dozen equally-talented local musicians up close in a small venue.
The first “Top Original Music Acts to Catch Live in NYC” list was published in The Aquarian in the late 1970s. The purpose of the annual list has always been to honor and celebrate hard-working local musicians who deserve accolades for their contributions to the live music circuit and to help advance their regional profile. The criteria for this annual list has always been that the artists must be rooted in the New York City club circuit, play mostly original compositions, and perform before live audiences locally throughout the year as opposed to just a single tour stop.
Before looking at the 2024 list, note that most of the bands named in recent years are still working the club circuit and are making outstanding live music. They are not listed in the 2024 list in order to allow more music acts to be listed. They are all very much worth catching in 2024.
Almost all of the above artists will continue to perform outstanding shows into 2024, but, in an effort to spotlight more musicians, the 2024 list highlights other locals who are deserving of greater public acclaim. “The Top Original Music Acts to Catch Live in NYC in 2024” again lists in alphabetical order some of the best music acts currently performing within the New York City live music circuit. Whether or not these musicians achieve widespread success in 2024, they merit a rousing round of applause and support simply for relentlessly playing good music live.
Breakfast Special (bluegrass)
In the 1970s, Breakfast Special was a pioneering alt-bluegrass band helping to launch the careers of Kenny Kosek on fiddle, Andy Statman on mandolin, and Tony Trischka on banjo. Vocalist/guitarist Michael Daves recently reunited the musicians and joined the ensemble to bring Breakfast Special to a new and younger audience. The band plays frequently at Rockwood Music Hall.
The Christine Santelli Trio (Americana, blues)
Christine Santelli sings and plays acoustic guitar, accompanied by a lead guitarist and bassist. The stripped-down arrangements recall various forms of Americana, yet her vocals are all blues. One of her compositions, “Step Away,” was recorded by Bettye LaVette and received a nomination in the 2016 Grammy Awards. Santelli has been part of the local music circuit for three decades and most often performs at the Ear Inn.
Kelley Swindall (country, folk)
Born in Georgia and based in New York City, Kelley Swindall brings an urban tenacity to her southern country-folk songs. She performs solo, singing her original songs and playing acoustic guitar. She even wrote a murder ballad, which perhaps seals her identity as a country performer. She performs at the 11th St. Bar, the Bowery Electric, and other local venues.
Man on Man (experimental, indie-rock)
Roddy Bottum of Faith No More and his life partner Joey Holman make angular music that is purposely left of center and not designed for mainstream outlets. Many of the songs celebrate LGBT love and culture with both advocacy and humor. The band has performed at the Bowery Ballroom, Union Pool, and Saint Vitus Bar.
Model/Actriz (post punk, noise rock)
Model/Actriz formed in 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts, and currently is based in Brooklyn. The band’s post punk and noise rock is brought to life on stage with energetic flair and drama. The band has played Mercury Lounge, the Music Hall of Williamsburg. and other local venues.
The Phil Gammage Quartet (roots rock, Americana)
Phil Gammage played in several indie rock bands in the downtown club circuit before focusing on his first love. He is a singer-songwriter with a rich voice and leans all his current music on historic roots including blues, country, folk, and even rockabilly. He plays frequently at the 11th St. Bar, Cowgirl Seahorse, the Shrine World Music Venue, and other venues.
Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. (rockabilly, western swing)
The three members of Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. (aka SIT & Die Co.) dress in matching western and cowboy-inspired suits and play old-time mostly-acoustic music. The music is low-fidelity and the performance plays like an off-Broadway show. The band has a monthly gig at Otto’s Shrunken Head.
The TarantinosNYC (surf, twang, instrumental)
Formed in 2005, the TarantinosNYC adapted its moniker from filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. The music is comprised of covers from Tarantino films plus original instrumentals that sound as if they should have been in his movies. The quartet plays surf music and twang with reverb-filled guitar licks and organ rolls at Parkside Lounge, Otto’s Shrunken Head, and Pete’s Candy Store.
Telescreens formed in late 2016 and play intense in-your-face indie-rock originals. Pop melodies are blasted with power chords and a wall of sound. Telescreens have performed at Mercury Lounge and the Bitter End, and will headline the Bowery Ballroom again in February.
Water from Your Eyes (art rock, electro-pop)
Formed in 2016 in Chicago, Water from Your Eyes is a Brooklyn-based duo (recently a trio) playing abrasive, avant-garde rock music that can be as chaotic as a hurricane. The band has served as a support act at local theaters and also headlines at various Brooklyn clubs.
Under the Radar: 40 More Must-See NYC Music Acts in 2024