The Lincoln Theatre: Raleigh’s Historic Live Music Venue

We have seen a lot of great live music in Raleigh at the bigger venues such as PNC Arena, Coastal Credit Union Music Park in Walnut Creek, Red Hat Amphitheater in downtown Raleigh and Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, and we finally, after 10+ years of living in Raleigh, made it to a show at the intimate Lincoln Theatre.

Mural of a Lincoln car on the side of a music venue called The Lincoln Theatre
Awesome mural on the side of The Lincoln Theatre

As far as homegrown concerts in Raleigh goes, it doesn’t get much more local than seeing American Aquarium, whose founder and lead vocalist, BJ Barham, grew up near Raleigh and attended NC State for a brief time!

The Lincoln Theatre is one of the most historic and established Raleigh music venues, and it features some of the best national and regional touring acts along with local artists and tribute bands.

Band performing on stage in front of a crowd
Support act for American Aquarium, Murder by Death, were fantastic!

About The Lincoln Theatre Ralaeigh

Built in 1939, the venue originally served as a movie theatre catering primarily to the African American community during the time of segregation. It was owned by Bijou Amusement Company, a movie theater business headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee and its Nashville theater was one of the premiere venues for African American audiences in the Southern United States.

Entrance to a music venue called The Lincoln Theatre
Entrance to The Lincoln Theatre

The Lincoln in Raleigh closed in 1975 and reopened in 1991 as a bar, then as an internet cafe, before assuming its original name and becoming one of Raleigh’s beloved live music venues that continues today. 

I love that seeing American Aquarium was our first experience at The Lincoln. With BJ Barham on lead vocals, it was a powerful performance to a packed theatre of loyal fans who live locally in Raleigh, and many who travel from afar. 

Lead singer of a band on stage
BJ Barham on lead vocals

From the time of their Wolves album release in 2015, American Aquarium has headlined at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre in January (this year for three consecutive nights) known as the Roadtrip to Raleigh. 

It’s a way for BJ and his band to give back to their homegrown roots and to introduce the vibrant lifestyle here in Raleigh to any visiting fans – you could even meet BJ and the band members post show at the entrance which speaks to the intimacy of this venue!

As much as we love seeing mainstream bands at big stadium concerts like when we saw The Rolling Stones at The Rose Bowl in LA, and U2 at Wembley Stadium in London, Caroline and I still seek out the small, intimate venues and have fond memories of seeing one of our favorite Aussie acts, the John Butler Trio up the road at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.

Band performing on stage in front of a crowd
American Aquarium

Knowing how popular The Lincoln Theater is in Raleigh as a small indoor venue, I had high expectations for our first concert and those expectations were at least met, maybe even exceeded. 

Couple enjoying a live concert
Greatly enjoyed our first concert

Firstly, I love the location in the heart of downtown Raleigh and that there are ample bars and restaurants within an easy walk to hit up before or after the show. And several hotels are also a short walk away if you visit Raleigh from out of town. 

One pain point about PNC Arena, and especially Walnut Creek, is the lack of eating and drinking establishments within the vicinity of those venues. You pretty much go there just for the show, whereas around The Lincoln you can make a whole night of it. 

Entrance to a live music venue called Lincoln Theatre

As an old, converted movie theater, as you enter through the front door and pass through ticket check you’ll see band merch for sale, then enter the main bar area. Past the bar is the main floor area, and upstairs is a small mezzanine/balcony section.

People lined up outside a concert venue
Lined up outside before our concert
people lined up at the red bar inside the lincoln te=heater
The bar!

Near front of stage was already full when arrived, as was the upstairs balcony section with stools and small tables (arrive early to get one of those if you can’t stand for long periods), so we grabbed a spot on the floor about two-thirds of the way back on a higher tiered section – the staggered floor levels are great for those lacking in height.

No matter where you stand (or sit upstairs) this is not a big venue and there doesn’t appear to be a bad seat in the house, almost guaranteed a good line of sight and not too far from the band.

Female singer on stage performing
Our view

I immediately jived with the vibe and size of this place and reflected upon why it had taken us 10+ years of living in Raleigh to attend – it won’t be anywhere near that long between visits!

Don’t come here expecting anything fancy, this place is all about having an intimate experience with your favorite musicians. There is no food on sale except vending machines with chips and candy so fill up at one of the downtown Raleigh restaurants before you come.

I’m no sound or lighting expert, and they probably don’t have the best acoustics in the state, but the band sounded great to me and not too loud that I couldn’t easily interact with Caroline or staff. If you’re into the tech stuff you can read about it on this page.

crowds on the floor and people sitting above in the balcony section of the lincoln theater
Upstairs wrap around balcony

The Lincoln Theatre capacity is about 750 standing on the floor, and 150+ upstairs and considering the big following American Aquarium have and that it was a sold-out concert, it didn’t feel overcrowded or overwhelming and we could move relatively easily to and from the bar and bathrooms.

People packed into a concert venue

There’s a full bar here with a number of domestic and imported beers, wines, and mixed drinks, and drink prices were reasonable considering the times, and even with a full house it didn’t take long at all to get served, in fact, the bartender remembered what drinks we’d ordered the first-time round! 

For the smokers in your group, they let you have reentry if you want to go outside for a smoke.

Parking options are aplenty close to the venue. On weekends street parking is free, and here is a list of parking decks in downtown Raleigh. There is a parking deck across the street from the Lincoln Theatre that is open to the public 7pm until 6am (this may not be the case during special city events).

Lead singer and his band on stage

As we attended in January, I can’t speak for the comfort level and HVAC system of a packed venue in the middle of a hot and humid Raleigh summer. Prepare accordingly!

I’m excited to go back and see more acts at this terrific little venue. There seems to be an eclectic group of musical performers passing through and a constant line up of acts. See the Lincoln Theatre schedule here

Lincoln Theatre FAQs

Guitarist of a band on stage
Guitarist from American Aquarium
  • This is an All Ages unless otherwise posted venue. All patrons under the age of 21 will be charged a $2 surcharge at the door. State issued ID. 
  • All shows are General Admission unless noted. Limited seating available on a first come first serve basis both down and upstairs. If a show has VIP table option, each table seats 4 people.
  • Door and show times are available on the website. The first band of the evening will go on stage at the posted show time (that can be found on our website)
  • Advance tickets can be purchased through Tickets can also be purchased in person the day of the show after doors open.
  • Unless you have a seated ticket (which is only available on a few select shows) there is limited seating at the Lincoln Theatre, so if you want a seat arrive right at posted door time (even earlier!)

Related Posts

Check out these other posts about Raleigh to make the most of your Lincoln Theatre experience:

Scroll through this list if you’re looking for a hotel near the Lincoln Theater.

Where is The Lincoln Theatre?

Drive times:

Have you been to The Lincoln Theater Raleigh? Who did you see? If you have any questions or comments, please share below!

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