Best Places for Live Music in Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville's best live music venues include The Bluebird Cafe, Exit/In, City Winery, and more.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Adkins
Everybody knows Nashville is the capital of country music, but honky tonks and story songs aren’t the only reason this southern river town is known as Music City. Nashville’s legendary Music Row is still dominated by country music labels, and the publishing houses where top songwriters crank out hits for country radio, but Nashville is also home to rockers like Kings of Leon and Jack White, who’s Third Man Records is based here. The Americana Music Association was born in Nashville, and the genre is re-engergizing of American roots music recently earned Americana its own Billboard chart. World class jazz musicians add to the soundtrack of Nashville’s nightlife, and the city’s Schermerhorn Symphony hall has been called one of the best in the world. Whether you want to tap your toe, scoot your boots, expand your mind or just bang your head, Nashville has the talent and the venues you’re looking for.
For some contemporary country music is too new school. These hardcore types like their music stripped down to acoustic instruments and traditional songs, and there is no better venue in the world for bluegrass music than Nashville’s Station Inn. Visitors from around the world make pilgrimages to this banjo and fiddle mecca where local acts and touring bands tell tall tales, shred strings and remind the kids on country radio where their music came from. Special guest appearances by country stars are the norm around here, but there’s never a bad act on this stage.
The Bluebird Café has been made legendary by films like The Thing Called Love and the hit ABC television show Nashville. The café hosts hit songwriters as well as up-and-comers, but it’s not the only game in town for talented tunesmiths. Newer venues like The Country and classic honky tonks like Bobby’s Idle Hour host regular songwriter nights that attract great writers and listeners alike. Venues like The Basement East, and The 5 Spot are practically clubhouses for Nashville’s song-centric Americana music scene, and both host regular monthly residencies that spotlight some of the city’s best songwriters.
If you prefer Les Pauls to steel guitars, and you associate high volume levels with high quality music, Nashville’s rock scene can help you turn your evening out up to eleven. The legendary Exit/In still rules Nashville’s rock scene – its storied history is literally spelled out on its walls which list an outrageous cast of legendary acts that have graced its stage. Closer to downtown Cannery Ballroom, Mercy Lounge and The High Watt share a complex that hosts a variety of local and touring rock acts, offering several simultaneous shows every night of the week. In East Nashville, FooBar is the place to catch a band and grab a beer, but if you’re hoping to see Jack White while you’re in town be sure to catch one of the many shows hosted at the Blue Room at Third Man Records – the only venue in the world where bands can record their live shows directly to acetate before pressing them into vinyl records.
Nashville’s not known for jazz, but you can find some of the best chanteuses and horn men in world in Music City. The Music City Jazz Festival is a three-day, outdoor music celebration that invites jazz artists from around the world to the capital of country every spring, but if you’re looking for that New York nightlife experience in Nashville you’ll need to catch one of the shows at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. The workshop’s Jazz Cave venue makes up for its lack of food and drink with its stellar, regularly sold out programming. Visitors are absolutely encouraged to bring their own food and drink, and an indoor picnic at this fantastic music spot makes for one of the city’s best date nights. Nashville jazz lovers can also catch local stars and touring acts at the Sunday Night Jazz shows at the City Winery.
Punk and Experimental
If you prefer your music with more aggression or more cerebral challenges Nashville’s got you covered. Dive bar venues like Springwater Supper Club and Betty’s Grill regularly host experimental rock bands, punk acts, and noise projects. The East Room is the eclectic East Nashville neighborhood’s home for everything from standup comedy shows to freak folk to psychedelic rock to glitch and chiptune projects that make music using hacked electronic games and gear. Special events like the Circuitbenders’ Ball are also a great way to take in the bleeding edges of Nashville’s music scene.
Nashville is home to world class mandolin pickers and some of the funkiest piano plunkers in the country. But it’s also the home to the GRAMMY Award-winning Nashville Symphony which plays 140 performances annually, offering a diverse mix of classical, pops, jazz and family programs. The symphony’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center is considered one of the world’s best, but if you like your Mozart in a more intimate setting check out the calendar of performances at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University.
And of Course: Country Music
Ok, ok, ok, people travel from around the globe to celebrate country music in Music City, and any summing-up of Nashville’s live music scene has to include the best places to kick up your boot heels or cry in your beer. When you’re in a country mood in Nashville you’ll get all the catchy choruses, fast fiddles and halter tops you can handle at authentic country music venues like Robert’s Western World, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, and the Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium.