Access to music has broadened beyond what anyone may have envisioned just a couple of decades ago, but there’s still no denying the relationship between artists and their environment—cities and the music pumping through their veins. From the work of individual musicians to entire movements surrounding America’s urban centers, there’s musical history running through U.S. cities that has forever left its mark. The following are some of the best cities in the U.S. to catch a live a show and experience the magic yourself.
New Orleans was one of the only places in the U.S. where slaves were allowed to gather and perform music publicly in the New World. It was from this tradition that jazz was ultimately born, and, in a stroke of poetic irony, where the jazz funeral was similarly invented. New Orleans is the hometown of jazz legends like Louis Armstrong and modern pioneers like Wynton Marsalis and Kermit Ruffins. Far from a sterile incubation, jazz is alive and well with all of its modern innovations and edgy twists in this great city, and Preservation Hall still serves as one of the major venues to catch a big-budget wild jazz performance.
The blues were born in the Deep South, but they went through their teen years in Chicago. From Bo Diddly to Muddy Waters, major artists from the Chicago music scene continued to breathe fresh life into the blues throughout the '30s and '60s. The legacy of these music giants and the spirit of the Blues continues to thrive, alive and well, throughout the music scene in Chicago. Major venues like Kingston Mines and The Green Mile host regular performances echoing the city’s long tradition of jazz and blues.
From country pioneers like Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley to rock stars like The Black Keys and Jack White, the Nashville sound is a contagious and legendary force pumping the veins of the city as much as modern music. Aside from Third Man Records, Nashville isn’t a city that revolves around getting signed or spotting celebrities. It’s a city that runs on the beating pulse of music pouring out everywhere from dive bars to major venues. But if it’s big names you’re looking for, Ryman Auditorium is the place to spot national acts.
The Emerald City is the hometown of none other than the legendary Jimi Hendrix, but it's perhaps best known as the epicenter of the '90s grunge movement. However, Seattle’s legacy doesn’t begin and end with the history of rock stars from the days of yore. From more recent acts like Death Cab for Cutie, Fleet Foxes, and Modest Mouse to a thriving hip-hop and electronic music scene, Seattle still holds a place as one of America’s thriving music cities.
With over 250 live music venues, countless festivals, and a passionate population of fans, Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World.” A few of the city’s biggest and best music festivals include Austin City Limits, SXSW, and Levitation, in between which you’re bound to catch an act from whatever genre or band your heart may desire. But if you’re not planning to gear up for an outdoor music festival, you can stop into any of the countless live venues, from dive bars to BBQ restaurants.