The Best American Cities for Live Music (Besides Nashville)
Get ready to book your next trip! From coast to coast and across all genres, these are the best places to find jam sessions, jazz bars, listening rooms, and larger venues.
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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
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It may be deeply rooted in blues, bluegrass, and country music, but over the last two decades, OKC has transformed into a multi-genre city where everything from jazz to hip-hop can be found daily. Start your musical tour of Oklahoma City at The Blue Door, a 100-seat venue known as the best listening room in Oklahoma; it’s BYOB, so plan accordingly. The Jones Assembly is a restaurant serving refined regional cuisine by day and a concert venue by night set in an old Ford Model T assembly plant. Upcoming acts include the Indigo Girls, Blues Traveler, and masked Canadian country musician Orville Peck. For the safest venue-hopping, ride the OKC Streetcar, which has 22 stops throughout the city’s major districts and costs as little as $1 per ride.
New Orleans, Louisiana
If you’ve ever been to NOLA, then you know the vibrant sounds of jazz and Zydeco fill the streets of the Big Easy. Every bar and street corner, day or night, is buzzing with musicians, so feel free to go where the beat takes you. Stop by the Davenport Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton on the edge of the French Quarter to hear jazz trumpeter Jeremy Davenport headline performances at his namesake lounge Wednesday through Saturday evenings.
If you don’t want to sit down at a venue, just start walking. “On the weekends, you will often find local musicians or kids playing their instruments in the streets,” say Cory and John Booth, of the travel blog, Let’s Find Fun. “Start your walk down Chartres Street and let the sounds guide you. Frenchmen Street is another good place to start. You are almost guaranteed to catch musicians playing outside of the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square or even on the steps of the Washington Artillery Park.” Grab a beignet from the world-famous Café Du Monde French Market if you run out of energy. By the way, these are the cheapest months of the year to visit Louisiana and every other state.
Less than 200 miles southwest of Nashville lies Memphis, a city that hasn’t gone unnoticed as part of Tennessee’s rich musical heritage. Memphis’ musical pedigree was established on Beale Street, an early-1900s mecca for blues musicians including B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie, and Muddy Waters. During the ’60s and ’70s, legendary artists launched their careers in Memphis, including Otis Redding and Al Green. And today, the city is known for its hip-hop artists, including Academy Award-winning Three 6 Mafia.
Beale Street is still the epicenter of Memphis’ live music scene, and while you can find all genres here, blues and soul still rule the roost. A few favorites include B.B. King’s Blues Club (live music is available nightly, and don’t miss the barbecue) and Rum Boogie Cafe (go for the rum selection, stay for the musical acts). Finally, check out Lafayette’s Music Room in Overton Square. It offers live music seven nights a week and once hosted legends like Billy Joel, KISS, and Barry Manilow.
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If jazz is your jam, then Indy is sure to dish up all your favorite sounds. This area was home to some of the greatest names in jazz, such as Wes Montgomery, J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, and, later, Kenneth Babyface Edmonds. Today’s Indy jazz scene is still thriving, but the city also features an impressive and growing hip-hop scene—with the nationally recognized Chreece hip-hop festival and artists like rapper Mark Battles, Rhymefest, and platinum producer Fresh Duzit. Indy is also home to an eclectic indie-pop scene led by Joyful Noise Records artists like Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s.
Catch top jazz artists at the Chatterbox, a legendary jazz dive bar, located on the bustling Mass Ave. The Broad Ripple neighborhood is home to the Jazz Kitchen and the legendary Vogue Nightclub. Finally, the Fountain Square neighborhood has a cluster of venues—including the Hi-Fi, Radio Radio, and the Square Cat Vinyl record shop—that allow you to catch multiple shows any night of the week. Bonus: Indianapolis International Airport has been named the best airport in North America.
Surprise! Columbus is having a moment, and its music scene is a large reason why. From intimate listening rooms and jazz clubs to stadiums and other large venues, Cbus knows how to draw a crowd. You’ll find the underground rock scene at The Basement, which features national bands and local groups working hard to perfect their craft while waiting to hit it big. Stop by Natalie’s in Worthington for great acoustics and coal-fired pizza; and those in the know never miss Soul Sundays here, a popular brunch on the first Sunday of each month showcasing national and regional gospel artists. Rambling House Soda is a quirky little spot north of the Ohio State University’s campus, offering craft soda alongside live roots and bluegrass nightly, plus an open jam session on Sunday evenings. Ready to book a trip? Before you do, make sure you know these 13 ways air travel will change in 2020.