While other nations may take umbrage to this statement, when it comes to being at the forefront of music, America is the leader. Rock, country, rap, pop, even the blues—it is all here, and while some could argue the roots of music date back to Europe and Africa, it is in America where it truly blossomed to a global stage, and the rest of the world plays catch up.
So where is all this great music coming from? While many bands and artists have forsaken live performances for Pro-Tools and YouTube, live music is still the flowing blood that weaves across the country like roads and rivers. It is oxygen to the masses, and fresh air is always the best. With that in mind we asked readers and industry professionals which cities take the lead for live music. The 10 Best are listed below.
1. New Orleans – There is simply so much ambiance and abundance and flavor in the N’awlins scene. Yet it is not the atmosphere of the city which makes influences the music, but rather the music which flavors the city. It has soaked into every crack, crevice and pore of New Orleans, so much so that even Hurricane Katrina could not wash it away—fortunately for all. Whether it is blues, Zydeco, jazz, soul, gospel, sludge metal or any other genre one might love, it’s all here for one to enjoy.
2. Austin – Despite being surrounded by Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, etc… Austin is the beating heart of the music scene in Texas. Every possible form of music eminates from this unlikely of places. Each year the massive South by Southwest (SXSW) event takes place here, and more than 2000 musical artists from around the world show up to perform in some 90 venues. Beyond this massive cultural event, which also includes film and interactive media, the city plays host to a mammoth local music scene and there is simply no such thing as a night out without multiple options available for live music.
3. Nashville – Some might argue that this amazing city which bursts with incredible music should perhaps top this list. In truth, it may be deserving, but Nashville is the heart of the country music scene, where those above built their scene without the industry. Small but relevant point. That said, Nashville is an amazing city in which to find all things country, Americana, and bluegrass, and genres one might not suspect, including rap, metal, blues, and pop. There’s a reason they call it “Music City”.
4. Los Angeles – The City of Angels has long been the center of the music universe, especially back in the hair metal 80s. While the scene has suffered in recent years, it still remains a dominating force for music. There is always something happening here, and regardless of genre, a fan can find something to see and listen too on any given night of the week. Through every generation, L.A. has always been, and still continues to be the home of rock music.
5. Brooklyn – Brooklyn has a surprising, vast and eclectic mix of live music playing constantly around every corner, and ON every corner, on any given night (and most days). Yes, even more so than Manhattan. While every form of music is celebrated here, the darker side is often the most noted including, hardcore, punk, metal, and rap.
6. Chicago – The Northern home of the blues, jazz and gospel, the Windy City has long played home to some of the finest music in America. It’s importance and impact on live music is often understated much to the chagrin of its residents, but so much greater is the surprise for newcomers and visitors.
7. Portland – Probably the big surprise on this list, Portland is fast becoming the Northwest version of Austin. An indie haven for young bands and musical artists of all genres, the city boasts an eclectic mix of venues and talent while still maintaining a low-key atmosphere: Something that is very important for residents.
8. Manhattan – New York has long been a massive hub for the music industry and live music in general, but it is arguably the birth place of hip hop, Latin freestyle, disco, house music, punk rock, salsa and even rap (sorry Detrroit). Then of course there is always Broadway. If a new genre of music is about to give birth there is a real good chance that it will be delivered in the clubs, coffee houses, and venues of the Big Apple.
9. San Francisco – While it may be best noted for its psychedelic 60s flower-power heyday, or the 80s birthplace of thrash metal, the Bay Area is the true home for classical music, and it is a monumental place to experience some of the world’s best.
10. Seattle – While the Emerald City would once have been higher on this list thanks to the 90s grunge movement, the roots of Seattle’s music base run deep, especially among alternative and indie artists. One can find anything here from hip-hop, classical, rock, metal, R&B, alt/indie to massive music festivals that fill the spring and summer. It is also the northwest hub for every national act touring North America, so there is always a major event to attend as well.
Cities on the cusp: Memphis, Boston, Detroit, Denver, Las Vegas