The Masquerade celebrates 35 years of live music in Atlanta

The legendary venue is now adding a fourth stage

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The Masquerade celebrates 35 years of live music in Atlanta
Atlanta band Microwave plays on Masquerade’s Heaven stage in April 2023.

Photograph courtesy of the Masquerade

When Elena de Soto first arrived in Atlanta to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2011, she got off the plane and went straight to the Masquerade to see her favorite band, Balance and Composure, play. The cavernous alternative music venue had a national reputation not only for playing the best indie bands but also for welcoming anyone. “I found my hangout and my home right away,” de Soto says. As soon as she could apply for an internship, she did and never left. Now, de Soto is a talent buyer, booking the same shows that made her fall in love with the Masquerade.

The legendary venue has many stories like this with fans who come for rock, metal, punk, electronic hip-hop, country shows, and even dance parties in its hallowed, gritty halls. Now in its 35th year, the Masquerade has changed locations from the Old Fourth Ward to downtown but remains an independent venue for music of all genres. General manager Greg Green has been there since the beginning, booking big bands like Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and the Cranberries, and helping foster the careers of artists like Mitski, Hippocampus, and Bad Omens.

The Masquerade celebrates 35 years of live music in Atlanta
Chiodos plays at the Masquerade in 2013.

Photograph courtesy of the Masquerade

Green attributes the Masquerade’s success to its local, independent ownership. With three rooms of varying capacities—named Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory—the Masquerade has always been a unique venue where up-and-coming groups and more established bands can both find a stage. Now, the Masquerade is opening a fourth room, Altar, which has a 250-person capacity and food available for purchase.

Just a decade ago, the Masquerade couldn’t have hosted this many shows because they were still in the Old Fourth Ward in the DuPre Excelsior Mill. Back then, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory were a little more literal because each was at a different level of mill. After the booming real estate market pushed the music venue out of the neighborhood in 2016, the Masquerade relocated to Kenny’s Alley in Underground Atlanta, but not without one last big bash in the old digs with the Wrecking Ball, a 60-band festival that celebrated 25 years at their grungy home.

The Masquerade celebrates 35 years of live music in Atlanta
The staff of the Masquerade in 2016, as the venue prepared to leave Old Fourth Ward.

Photograph courtesy of the Masquerade

The Masquerade celebrates 35 years of live music in Atlanta
General manager Greg Green, talent buyer Elena de Soto, and owner Brian McNamara say goodbye to the Old Fourth Ward space, which closed in 2016.

Photograph courtesy of the Masquerade

The move caused some trepidation among the owners, but ultimately the proximity to Georgia State University and Five Points MARTA station have made the venue more accessible and helped to revitalize the lagging Underground area. The fans followed. “The Masquerade is a staple in Atlanta,” says Luis Sandoval, who has attended nearly 100 Masquerade shows since he moved to the city in 2006. “I’m so glad they’re able to transition to a new venue and not miss a beat because the staff there is just flawless.”

The new Masquerade may not look the same, but it sounds even better. The newer venue has allowed them to make improvements, like cutting into the food court above Heaven and adding a balcony to the largest room to accommodate even more fans after the first year. More recently, each room got new acoustic sound systems.

The Masquerade celebrates 35 years of live music in Atlanta
Foxing plays at the Masquerade in 2018.

Photograph courtesy of the Masquerade

The Masquerade may be growing, but its artistic ethos has remained the same and is part of why Green has made his entire career there. “My love of the people here, the music, constantly being exposed to new and upcoming artists, and the joy it gives me to help foster the careers of young acts and watch them become giant successes keeps me in the business,” says Green, who still goes to a few shows a week.

The Masquerade celebrates 35 years of live music in Atlanta
Knuckle Puck plays the Masquerade’s Hell stage in 2023.

Photograph courtesy of the Masquerade

De Soto is one of those success stories. After interning at the Masquerade her entire college career, she asked Green to teach her how to book shows. “I’d booked smaller DIY shows in high school, and I knew this is what I wanted to do—to book and put on experiences for people,” she says. “It’s been incredible to learn from someone like Greg and see how he’s worked with people for over 30 years.” Both de Soto and Green have stayed in the business and don’t plan to leave anytime soon because they love discovering new artists and introducing them to new fans. “We’re constantly infusing our staff with new voices, new perspectives, and new eyes and ears,” Green says.

Even as the number of music venues in Atlanta has nearly doubled, the Masquerade remains one of the most popular. “It’s one of the legendary music venues,” Sandoval says. “I’m never going to stop going to the Masquerade.”

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