5 Best Music Cities in the U.S

It’s not just musicians who go on tour—sometimes the fans are the ones who journey across the country in search of great music. Some head to tiny jazz clubs, others to stadiums with the hottest hip-hop performers. Below are a few of our favorite destinations. 


A city where any night of the week you’re likely to encounter dancing in the streets, New Orleans is a mecca for music lovers. Start a few blocks from the Mississippi River in Jackson Square, where street performers are a local institution. There will be more musicians a block or two north on Royal Street and Bourbon Street. This is the heart of the French Quarter, where you’ll find legendary nightspots like Preservation Hall.

For something a little more contemporary, head to One Eyed Jacks. To escape the crowds, head to Frenchmen Street in the nearby neighborhood of Marigny. It’s three solid blocks of music venues, including standards like The Spotted Cat. If you can’t decide, schedule your trip for October, when New Orleans Jazz Fest takes over the city.  


Classical musicians don’t get a summer vacation, at least not those based in the Northeast. They mostly leave the big cities and head to music festivals all over region, but especially in Upstate New York. In New York City, Lincoln Center stages one of the year’s most anticipated festivals, the Mostly Mozart.

Running from early July to early August, the massive annual event has grown to include both indoor and outdoor events. Barely an hour north is Caramoor, a new music festival held from mid-June to late July. It’s set on a 90-acre estate at an Italianate mansion. 

Continuing up New York State’s famed Hudson Valley is the Bard Music Festival, held during the first weeks in August. On the campus of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hud-son, it mostly takes place in the dazzling Frank Gehry–designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.

Two hours northeast is the Glimmerglass Festival, nestled between the Adirondack and Catskill mountains in Cooperstown, New York. It presents operas and musicals. Perhaps the most beautiful venue is the outdoor amphitheater at Tanglewood, in Lenox, Massachusetts. The season runs from June to August and features the Boston Symphony.  


In March, the “live music capital of the world” of Austin, Texas, more than lives up to its name. South by Southwest fills the streets with outdoor concerts by musicians of every possible genre. (The White Stripes, Katy Perry, and Janelle Monáe didn’t build up huge following until playing at SXSW.) If you’re here any other time of year, you won’t do better than heading to Sixth Street, meaning the five blocks of East Sixth Street between Congress Avenue and Red River Street.

Locals call it Dirty Sixth because of its reputation for drunken college students stumbling down the sidewalk. There are actually some great music venues here, like the Parish, where indie rockers like Grizzly Bear and Yeasayer have performed.

Around the corner on Red River Street is the Mohawk, a no-frills music venue with a hip vibe and a motto of “All Are Welcome.” Across the Colorado River is maybe the best-known local spot, the Continental Club. When big-name groups play Austin’s bigger venues, they often unwind with a relaxed set here.  


The main draw here is the Grand Old Opry, country music’s mecca. It’s a homely building—its former home in Ryan Auditorium is an architectural gem—but what comes off the stage every weekly in heavenly. It’s a hike to get to, but there are plenty of smaller music venues downtown.

The flashiest district is the stretch of Broadway between 1st and 5th Avenues dubbed the Honky Tonk Highway. There are so many notable concert spaces that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but start with Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a Nashville landmark where Willie Nelson used to hang out when he was an up-and-coming artist.

Off the main drag are the Bluebird Café in Green Hills (Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift got their starts here) and the Station Inn in the Gulch (Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs have played this house). When the weather’s warm, Nashville heads outdoors for live music.

Multiple stages are set up downtown for June’s CMA Fest, a four-day festival featuring all things country. If you want to see Tennessee’s answer to Coachella and Lollapalooza, head to Bonnaroo, held each June. An hour from Nashville, it’s like summer camp for music lovers.  


Miami has a music scene unlike anywhere else, so it’s not surprising that it has multiple annual events. Perhaps the best known is March’s Ultra Music Festival, a celebration of electronic music featuring world-famous DJs held at Bayfront Park.

The long-running Afro Roots Fest, held in April in North Beach, celebrates the influence of African music and culture. Rolling Loud, the massive hip-hop festival that started in Miami and now has events around the world, usually returns each spring to an outdoor venue. If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, Miami has it too: try Lagniappe for jazz.

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