Have you ever wondered where some of your favorite music artists or go-to genres come from? We all know that New Orleans has concocted quite the reputation when it comes to jazz, while Austin is known for its lively performances from genres cultivated all over the world. But there’s so much more to each city.
Haunting performances by gospel artists run through the streets of Louisiana, while New York, although known for its eclectic upbringing of many styles, has a jazz community that is often slept on. We’ve compiled a list of the top music cities in America to show why each one deserves some time in the spotlight. For your next vacation, come with us to explore the sounds that make up these top music cities.
New Orleans – For the Love of Jazz and Then Some
Jazz music runs deep in the streets and sounds that make up the cultural landscape of New Orleans. You can stumble down any street and hear the hums of saxophones and whistling flutes, a testament to New Orleans serving as the birthplace of jazz. Street musicians and funeral bands alike are comprised of key jazz band elements. The city itself offers up its best jazz performances – both unexpected and deliberate – along Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street. During a stay in late April to early May, you can take part in the vivacious, 10-day New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival – otherwise known as Jazz Fest – one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world. But just like the city, the festival is not solely a representation of jazz. The festival and the city alike call attention to a variety of music including blues, rock, gospel and indigenous Louisiana music, Zydeco. If you’re on the hunt for good music from roots to rock, check out these places in The Big Easy. The Blue Nile offers a street-facing showroom and an upstairs with artists covering blues, rock and funk acts. One Eyed Jacks – also in the French Quarter – is a swanky, haunted joint that showcases indie acts and DJ sets offering 80s night. Americana artists find themselves at the Chickie Wah Wah in mid-city, and those who get down with the punk scene can mosh around at Siberia Lounge on St. Claude Avenue. However, if you’ve come for Louisiana’s best, then you must catch a show at Preservation Hall, Rock ‘n’ Bowl (popular for swing and zydeco) and Tipitina’s – a nightclub built to give a residency to rhythm and blues pianist Professor Longhair. Some say that jazz grew from the drumming and Voodoo rituals that took place in Congo Square before the Civil War. Others claim jazz began in 1895 when Buddy Bolden started his first band. We say that no matter what story you decide to tell, we’re ready to laissez les bons temps rouler.
Seattle – For the Love of Grunge
Some of the greatest musicians took their first steps onto a stage in Seattle. Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Sir Mix-a-Lot – that’s right – are just a few of the household names you might know. And while some of these artists are stellar in their respective genres, Seattle is notoriously known for its steady relationship with grunge. In the 1990s, Seattle was placed on the map for serving up filthy (in a good way) sounds that fell under the umbrella of grunge. Since then, bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie have paved a path for rock-inspired virtuosos to follow. Bringing all the attention to the rainy city, folks – locals and visitors alike – now flock to the punk tunes that embellish the city. When you’re in Seattle, after a visit to the must-see Museum of Pop Culture, check out the venues that have housed some of your favorite performers. Neumos was once the legendary Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Café, which offered a unique menu of diner dishes with a side of grunge music. Now, it draws big names like The Shins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and MGMT. For a more encyclopedic lineup, snag tickets for a rock, hip-hop, burlesque, electronica or jazz show at Columbia City Theater. If you’re into variety, Nectar Lounge also deserves a spot on your itinerary. However, if you’ve come for the grunge, then look no further than witnessing a show at The Crocodile. This dark space, once referred to as The Croc before rebranding, hosts rock and punk shows and has an illustrious reputation as once being the gateway to all shows grunge. Whether you’re rocking out with Wolfmother at Neptune Theatre or headbanging with The Pixies at Paramount Theatre, there’s no doubt that you’ll enjoy the music scene in The Emerald City.
Chicago – For the Blues Lover
If you love to sing the blues – or cry to the woes that are belted out over smooth melodies – you’ll love the music history in Chicago. Sure, the Windy City has the classic Chicago dog and Cloud Gate, but it’s also rich in musical currency. The Chicago blues style came swiftly in the post-World War II era when African Americans moved north in search of work. With them came the musical styles of the Mississippi River Delta and other influences from the South. Notably, the music scene has evolved since the days of Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. Nowadays, Kanye West and Chance the Rapper rep Chicago hard, and every year, Lollapalooza – one of the favored festivals that take place in the city – attracts a diverse group of music lovers. However, blues is still the beating heart that keeps the city alive. If you find yourself visiting Chicago in the early days of June, make plans to get soulful with the locals at the Chicago Blues Festival. For blues venues, you have to start with Kingston Mines. This hot spot offers two stages so you can catch two different shows in the same night. Rosa’s Lounge and Buddy Guy’s Legends are must-attend venues owned by local musicians and legends. Buddy Guy’s Legends has hosted the likes of Eric Clapton and David Bowie and now grants spectators the privilege of catching national touring blues players. Blue Chicago and B.L.U.E.S over in Lincoln Park offer sets that are sprinkled with lively blues jam sessions that you also don’t want to miss. However, if you want a break from the blues, we suggest heading to Chicago Theatre, Thalia Hall, The Hideout, The Green Mill (a former gangster’s paradise) and Lincoln Hall. Whatever you do, don’t make a trip to the Midwest without experiencing the sounds of the Windy City.
Nashville – For Those Who Love a Country Tune
It’s hard to avoid the clichés here, and that’s quite all right. If you’re in search of a place to take your cowboy boots out for a (line)dance, boot, scoot and boogie to Music City USA. It’s no secret that Nashville is home to blues, rockabilly, Americana and country, a genre that has notably transformed in the last decade or so. It’s rich in its history, supporting famed country artists such as Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. However, that hasn’t stopped more modern-day country artists such as Chris Stapleton and Thomas Rhett from paving their own path down that dirt road that’s mentioned in just about every country song there ever was. With all that being said, bands such as Aerosmith and Kings of Leon have made a name for themselves in Nashville as well. But, we’re all about the country scene right now. And if you didn’t know, Nashville is home to the Grand Ole Opry, a country music and variety show that showcases famed and undiscovered artists alike. When you’re ready to savor the sounds of Tennessee’s country-music city, head to Second Avenue in The District to experience live performances and a show at Ryman Auditorium. Other venues that should be on your radar include Station Inn (hosting artists such as Alison Krauss and Dierks Bentley), Ascend Amphitheater, 3rd and Lindsley, The Basement and Exit/In. Strap on your boots, pack your pearl-snap shirt and wear your best cowboy/girl hat for a Tennessee getaway full of twangy tunes and two-stepping.
New York City – For Those with a Taste for the Eclectic
It’s unclear if David Byrne was singing about New York City when he wrote “This Must Be the Place,” but one thing we know for sure is that many a musician has made New York City the theme of a hook or chorus. New York City is known for so much that it almost seems trite to address it all. Fashion? Yeah, yeah. Broadway? Of course. Art? Tell us more about The Metropolitan Museum of Art! And of course, the nightlife is bonkers in the city that truly never sleeps. How can people sleep when most bars and clubs welcome night owls until 4 a.m.? However, there’s more to New York City beyond thumping nightclubs (see 1 OAK) and grunge-punk garages (see Saint Vitus Bar). New York City is the birthplace of hip-hop, punk and disco, but it’s also home to jazz, 80s synth and so much more. Every avenue of the metropolis offers a different style of music. You can catch classical performances at Carnegie Hall on Friday night and spend Saturday rocking out at Mercury Lounge with your favorite indie group. Radio City Musical Hall and Madison Square Garden are your destinations for catching artists such as Lenny Kravitz, Of Monsters and Men, John Mayer, Khalid and more. When it’s time to explore, cross the East River to appreciate the streets walked by Biggie Smalls – one of the greatest rappers of all time – and see why Brooklyn is home to budding rappers who go on to become Bad Boys like Sean “Diddy” Combs. If you’re looking for something more low-key, sway with the sounds that fill up The Flatiron Room, The Rum House, Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg and Elsewhere. If jazz is your jam, be sure to stop at Village Vanguard – a famous basement jazz club that has hosted John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Wynton Marsalis. No matter what tune gets you by, New York City has something for just about everyone.
Austin – For Anyone Who Loves a Good Show
You can never put your finger on a single music genre that brews in Austin, although much of the city’s roster is chock-full of brooding rock and indie musicians. It was the city of Austin that gave Janis Joplin a stage and a chance. However, you can walk up and down Red River or any street on the East Side and your ears will perk up to a variety of styles including indie-folk, hip-hop, cumbia and more. Austin is indeed the Live Music Capital of the World, so it makes sense that you’re bound to hear tunes in even the unlikeliest of places. As the Live Music Capital, Austin presents over 250 different venues ranging from vast to intimate for you to catch a set headlining your favorite artist. ACL Live at The Moody Theater, The Paramount Theatre, Antone’s Nightclub, Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlies are just a few of the hip spots. However, what attracts people to Austin each year are the two enormous festivals that take place in opposing seasons. In the fall, Austin City Limits takes over Zilker Park. People come from all over the world to witness performances from the likes of St. Vincent, The National, Lil Wayne, Paul McCartney and – we can’t stress this enough – many, many more. You can see artists take the stage while food vendors cook up their best concoctions, giving festival goers a sweet taste of the best of Austin. In the spring, people flock to the downtown streets for private screenings and performances for South by South West (SXSW). This festival is more of a challenge and often exclusive, which makes finding a performance from your favorite or a hot up-and-coming artist that much more rewarding. If you’re down to Keep Austin Weird, do as the locals do and stay plugged into this ever-growing live music city.
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