8pm: Start off mellow with a trip to the Evening Muse in NoDa, which oftens offer both an early show and a late show. Singer/songwriters are the club's stock-in-trade, although bands perform at this great room, too. National acts stop in to play every so often (Michael Penn performed a few weeks ago), but local musicians get to shine here frequently. Be sure to say hello to Charlotte music scene fixtures Don and Laurie Koster, who will most likely be there. What's more, the whole joint is non-smoking, for those of us who don't want to succumb to second-hand smoke.
9pm: Walking across the street to the Neighborhood Theatre may cost you a bit more dough at the door, but you get a broad range of shows — everything from folky jams on the main stage to slightly more raucous indie acts and other up-and-comers on the side stage. What kind of music you'll see depends on what night you go. Upcoming performances include an acoustic show by the Indigo Girls (sold out) and a night of Frank Zappa music with The Grande Mothers Re:invented.
10pm: If you're keyed into the roots/jam band scene or want to partake in some hippie noodle dancing, slide on over to the Visulite Theatre in Elizabeth. The former movie theater's three-tiered floor is often filled with folks undulating to the music of such acts as Galactic, Particle and the Derek Trucks Band. Non-jammers will find a little less undulating on nights when singer/songwriters and roots rockers such as Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Southern Culture on the Skids are playing. A good place for those who like to visit the dance floor, as well as those who prefer to experience music while seated or standing.
11pm: It's been here for what seems like forever, and for good reason. The Double Door Inn bills itself as Charlotte's home of the blues, and I don't know anyone who's going to argue with that. Too bad it's not Monday, when Les Moore's Monday Night All-Stars rule the stage until 2am with music so moving it's almost a religious experience. Weekend nights see a good range of local and touring acts coming through, so you won't be disappointed whenever you inhabit these hallowed, smoke-saturated wooden walls. Did I mention that Eric Clapton has played there? Just ask the bartenders about it; they'll be glad to fill you in on the details.
12midnight: Ready to rock? Three venues offer different opportunities. The Room has captured local rock fans with its crappy albeit comforting décor and great shows. It's not too expensive, and although it books indie bands whose names you may recognize, it's also been awesome about offering homegrown indie-rock acts and underground rappers a chance to strut their stuff. Tremont Music Hall has long given Charlotteans a place to rock out, but the price tag to get in is higher and the audience is bigger (it fits more than 1,000 bodies). If a national punk or hard rock band is coming to Charlotte, there's a good chance you'll catch it at Tremont. Then there's Amos' Southend. The sound system sucks, but you get a wide range of music you won't find elsewhere, from cheesy cover bands to veteran rappers and rockers to contemporary neo- and retro-soul singers.
1am: Those who like country music love Coyote Joe's. It's long been referenced as Charlotte's ideal place to catch a good country show. Between the occasional touring country artist stopping by, house band Out of the Blue keeps patrons happy. If you've made it this far and visited all of these clubs in one evening, you are a well-rounded, true live music aficionado (as well as a fast driver). And you're cool — not to mention exhausted, broke and ready for bed.
After a Saturday of recuperation on the couch following your live music excursion, you're now ready to dance. This city has an expanding variety of places to shake it all night long, so pull that new club wear out of the closet — you're hitting the town.
9pm: Are you serious? It's too early to dance. Fire and Ice, a relatively new addition to the Charlotte scene, specializes in "hot music and cool drinks," with an emphasis on spinning old-school funk and hip-hop served up with a variety of specialty martinis — great for any subsequent dancing. The pace at this venue picks up as the night moves on, but we don't have time for that on this whirlwind tour of clubs.
10pm: Coyote Joe's shows up on this list again as a place to dance. People in town go nuts over their 1-2-3 nights, which is pretty much guaranteed to get you drunk enough to two-step. You might even get drunk enough for a ride on the mechanic bull.
11pm: To really feel like you've gone from one extreme to another, go experience a totally different side of Charlotte at Scorpio's. This club has garnered numerous "Best Of" awards as a jewel on the local gay scene. Its web site bills itself as "The South's premier party place for gays, straights and gender benders from 18-80," and it's backed up that claim by giving the demographic spectrum a great time on the dance floor every week.
12am: Looking for the local grownup frat guys and their adoring female fans? Grand Central Deli and Spirits in Center City caters to that crowd, which has been known to throw down here after growing tired of other, less danceable uptown bars. It's a deli during the day, dancing spot at night. Doesn't make sense to me, either.
1am: To finish off the night, hit Liquid Lounge, a hotspot for house- and hip-hop-spinning DJs. The industrial interior and pulsing music cater to those looking to really get down, plus a lounge-ish bar area provides a little bit of (relative) quiet for getting to know whoever you just met on the dance floor. Or screw talking and just enjoy your last minutes of intense Charlotte nightlife before the city shuts down.
Just The Facts:
EVENING MUSE - 3227 N. Davidson St., 704-376-3737, www.theeveningmuse.com.
NEIGHBORHOOD THEATRE - 511 E. 36th St., 704-358-9298, www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.
VISULITE THEATRE - 1615 Elizabeth Ave., 704-358-9200, www.visulite.com.
DOUBLE DOOR INN - 218 E. Independence Blvd., 704-376-1446, www.doubledoorinn.com.
THE ROOM - 1812 Montford Dr., 704-527-4511, www.theroom.tv.
TREMONT MUSIC HALL - 400 W. Tremont Ave., 704-343-9494, www.tremontmusichall.com.
COYOTE JOE'S - 4621 Wilkinson Blvd., 704-399-4946, www.350m.com/coyotejoes.
FIRE AND ICE - 1228 Gordon St., 704-333-5694, www.fireandicelounge.com.
SCORPIO'S - 2301 Freedom Dr., 704-373-9124, www.scorpios.com.
GRAND CENTRAL DELI AND SPIRITS - 101 N. Tryon St., 704-348-7032, www.grandcentraldeliandspirits.com.
LIQUID LOUNGE - 127 W. Trade St., 704-374-0111, www.liquidlounge.com.