Best Places for Live Music in Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville's best live music venues include The Bluebird Cafe, The Exit/In, F. Scott's Restaurant and Jazz Bar, and more.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Adkins
When it comes to finding live music in Nashville, Tennessee, a.k.a. Music City, it's hard to go wrong. Legendary listening rooms, honky-tonks, clubs and bars line streets and alleys in downtown Nashville. Even further away from the hustle and bustle there are dive bars, meat-and-threes and pickin parlors serving up fresh sounds. Home to renowned music scenes such as The Bluebird Cafe, Robert’s Western World, The Station Inn, The Big Bang Nashville and F. Scott’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar, Nashville’s world-class live music offerings span a wide range of styles in settings that are unique to the city. Finding a place to listen to live music in Nashville isn't the challenge, but finding a venue that fits your musical tastes can be tricky. That's where this guide to music in Nashville comes in.
“What’s interesting about the live music venues in Nashville is that, where in other cities they might be just another club, in Nashville – since the music industry is here and many big-name musicians have appeared on these stages – the clubs themselves have become famous,” says John Cowan, vocalist, bassist and former lead singer for the influential, genre-bending group New Grass Revival. Cowan has performed at numerous Nashville venues throughout his 30-year career.
Bluegrass and Acoustic
“For instance, The Station Inn,” he says referring to the funky, no-frills bluegrass music club located in the hip dining and entertainment district known as The Gulch. “It is the destination in Nashville for bluegrass and acoustic music.”
Travelocity.com named The Station Inn an editor’s pick among its Tennessee travel recommendations.
Songwriters in the Round
“The Bluebird has become an iconic music room nationwide over the last 25 years,” Cowan continues. “It’s a place where beginning songwriters get their first chance to share their music with the general population, but it’s also a place where Nashville’s most well-known songwriters go to hone their craft. It’s a songwriter’s mecca.”
Bart Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, agrees.
“Something happens within the walls of the Bluebird that simply doesn’t happen anywhere else. It’s magic,” Herbison says.
The legendary Douglas Corner Café is another great place to hear songwriters and up-and-coming artists, says Heather Middleton, director of public relations for the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau. Douglas Corner also has hosted the likes of Jewel, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt, Garth Brooks and many others.
Rock 'n' Roll, Punk & Indie
The Exit/In – a rock club – is the most established non-country venue in the city, Middleton says. Stars that have graced the historic stage at the Exit/In include Jimmy Buffet, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Martin, Chick Corea, Doc Watson and Bill Monroe. Today, headliners range from platinum recording artist Gavin DeGraw to gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello.
Additional favorite live music venues featuring rock, indie and Americana styles include Mercy Lounge and Cannery Ballroom, 12th & Porter, The End, The Rutledge and 3rd & Lindsley Bar and Grill. In East Nashville, live music spots include The 5 Spot, fooBAR.too and Drifter's.
Another venue of note is Grimey's New & Preloved Music, an independent record store on 8th Ave. South. Downstairs, the same management operates a venue, The Basement, and often, big names on the indie scene who have booked shows at larger venues in town will schedule in-store shows. Another, newer music store in town, Third Man Records, owned by musician and Nashville local Jack White, has a similar set up and occasionally hosts special shows featuring performances by Third Man label artists.
Jazz, Blues & Piano Bars
F. Scott’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar in Green Hills serves upscale contemporary American cuisine along with world-class jazz from Nashville’s finest jazz musicians six nights a week.
For those who enjoy audience participation, The Big Bang Nashville piano bar offers a live show with dueling pianos, comedy and a rock ‘n’ roll sing along.
If you want real blues, check out Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar in historic Printers Alley downtown or B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in The District.
Favorite Spots for Karaoke
Those who prefer to sing the music themselves (or just watch and listen to other brave souls pick up a mic), two top picks for karaoke in Nashville include Lonnie's Western Room in Printer's Alley downtown and The Lipstick Lounge in East Nashville.