Behind Bars: 10 Bands That Have Played Prisons

Share on

Many bands dream of playing sold-out stadiums across the world. Some scale it back and play prisons.

Some used the opportunity to protest conditions in the judicial system, and others do it to simply give a glimmer of hope.

Here are 10 performers who have played prisons:


1. The Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols paid a visit to Chelmsford Top Security Prison in 1976, with video footage being released in 1990. The band got tons of boos from the prisoners, who were probably like the rest of the world in 1976: not quite ready to accept punk.


2. Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash is the most infamous prison performer. While he never served a stint himself (counting seven misdemeanours with each stay lasting only a single night), he’s played for countless amounts of inmates, and became fascinated with Folsom Prison after watching the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison in 1953. Cash even covered the song of one of the inmates–Glen Sherley’s “Greystone Chapel.”


3. Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan paid a visit to New York’s Clinton State Prison in 1975 to play a show because boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter was wrongfully imprisoned there for murder. Dylan had written a song called “Hurricane” for Carter and wanted to play it for him live. They remained friends until Carter died in 2014.


4. Metallica

Metallica performed at San Quentin prison, the first one to feature Robert Trujillo on bass. The band used the prison for their “St. Anger” music video.


5. Mick Jones

Back in 2007, The Clash‘s Mick Jones (along with Billy Bragg) paid a visit to London’s Wormwood Scrubs Penitentiary, bringing along five extra guitars for the musicians behind bars to play. They had an open discussion afterwards.


6. Public Enemy

Public Enemy played Rikers Island prison in 1988, a facility famous for hosting Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Slick Rick, and Lil Wayne for their stints behind bars. They were there to protest the treatment of African-Americans in the judicial system.


7. Santana

Santana rocked San Quentin prison’s courtyard back in 1988.


8. Bonnie Tyler

Singer Bonnie Tyler played at Long Lartin Prison in 1987. It appears the inmates aren’t too stoked for the performance, Tyler said it was a remarkable experience.


9. B.B. King

B.B. King recorded Live in Cook County Jail in 1971.


10. Steve Earle

Steve Earle had come out of prison after serving time for drug-related charges. One of the conditions of his probation was a mandatory performance at Cold Creek Correctional Facility in Tennessee. The performance aired on MTV.


Shop prison performers in the MusicVaultz store:


More for you