It seems like a fairly safe bet that most decently-populated destinations in the U.S. have something in the way of live music, if you look hard enough. But certain cities have built their whole identity around their music scenes, which makes them the perfect places to visit if you’re an enthusiast.
But let’s be real — who doesn’t like to see live music every once in a while? That’s like saying you don’t like to have a good time. These are some of the best destinations for live music in the country.
1. New Orleans, LA
Also known as the birthplace of jazz, NOLA is famous for its festivals. There’s Mardi Gras, but then there’s also the Jazz & Heritage Festival, the French Quarter Festival, the Voodoo Music & Arts Experience, and a long list of others. The city is also well-known for an eclectic group of famous performers and musicians, including Louie Armstrong, Amanda Shaw, and Lil Wayne.
Nothing fosters the flow of live shows like the lack of a last call. Bars in NOLA stay open all night, which means you should plan to take an Uber, pace yourself, and make sure you bring that tube of lipstick. You’re in it for the long haul.
For music destinations and lengthy reviews, check out TripAdvisor’s NOLA page.
2. Austin, TX
Things take a turn for the country when you head over to southern Texas. Known as the “Live Music Capitol of the World” due to the sheer volume of the acts happening around town on any given night, Austin’s particular flavor of country has a progressive, counterculture twist.
But as the host for big-name festivals like SXSW and Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin is far more than just a country, blues, and rock music destination. It’s branched out to all different genres, and also exists as a hub for beginning artists looking for somewhere other than Nashville to get noticed.
3. Fayetteville, AR
The first time someone mentioned this to me, I was like, “Say what?” It seemed pretty random. But apparently, Fayetteville, with a population of around 80,000 — a figure that is up nearly 40% since 2000 — is a small, Southern community that loves its arts and culture with a fiery passion.
For instance, this spring, they’re hosting Buddy Guy at the Walton Arts Center. And their most popular venue, George’s Majestic Lounge, is the oldest venue in Arkansas and the host of a long list of popular musicians over the years, including Leon Russell, Eddie Money, Pat Green, and Sam Bush.
Check out this Fayetteville itinerary for some suggestions, and make sure to tweet some personal reviews if you make it down.
4. Asheville, NC
The “Land of the Sky” is known for being a standout, free-spirited hub in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Another Southern arts town (like Fayetteville, just bigger), Asheville keeps it lively with a constant stream of musical acts and festivals year-round.
Blues is the name of the game in Asheville. When you look at the history behind some of Asheville’s iconic venues, you’ll see musicians like the Black Keys, Madeski Martin & Wood, Bob Dylan, and Sharon Jones — but it’s a progressive environment with a place for R&B, rock, soul, pop, and electronic music, as well.
Check out ExploreAsheville.com, the city’s website, for a great rundown of the local scene.
5. Brooklyn, NY
With its rise to hipster fame in recent years, this seems like a no-brainer for great music. In fact, if you try to look online, the variety of options seems overwhelming. But Brooklyn faces a different challenge than smaller towns like Fayetteville do when it comes to sustaining growth: gentrification. With some long-standing venues shutting down due to increased rent, the Brooklyn live music scene is changing.
If you’re planning a trip and looking for a starting block, Vogue has a pretty good live music guide that will show you where to go dancing and where to chill out. For a slightly more local opinion, check out Brooklyn Mag.
6. Denver, CO
Finally, we arrive at jam band central — or, maybe, what used to be jam band central. Nowadays, what you hear about Denver’s music scene is actually regarding its diversity of genres, which includes punk, electronic, rap, and the like. Another thing you hear about Denver’s music scene is that there’s opportunity for growth, and it seems an influx of transplants are taking advantage.
Regardless of the country roots and jam band undertones, Denver now has a little bit of everything, from large stadiums to warehouses to small, gritty bars. Check out what the Guardian has to say about where to party in Denver before you travel.