Play it again, Sam – the best US cities for music lovers
No country on earth can claim to be the birthplace of more musical genres than the USA. Jazz, blues, gospel, country, rock ‘n roll, hip hop and grunge all started here. Cities are infused with musical history, and the streets thrum with their own unique sound. It’s also the best place in the world to see live music, from huge international acts performing in multimillion dollar extravaganzas, to acoustic guitar sets in basement bars, and classically trained buskers on street corners.
Here are six of the best cities in the USA to catch a live gig, whatever style you are into.
With a nickname like Music City, Nashville has to be top of the list. It’s best known for its country music scene, and is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the annual Country Music Awards. But in recent years, many performers of different kinds have come to the city to write and record, or have even moved there permanently – stadium rockers (and Tennessee natives) Kings of Leon live downtown. You can hit the big name venues, like the Grand Ole Opry or the Bluebird Café (where songwriters from around the world come to perform their work in an intimate “in the round” setting), but if you want to see some real life honky tonk dancing and cowboy boots, head to the always popular Robert’s Western World. There are also plenty of free live music events on all over the city, and there’s even a local app to guide you through them.
Remember if you buy tickets to protect yourself for unexpected cancelations – as these do unfortunately occur…
New Orleans, Louisiana
Music is the lifeblood of this grand southern belle; from buskers in the street, to smoky blues bars, and right up to the acclaimed Louisiana Philharmonic – the city pulses to its own ‘second line’ rhythm. New Orleans is regarded as the birthplace of jazz, which developed around the turn of the century and was heavily influenced by the drumming styles of African slaves. While Bourbon Street is the city’s most famous thoroughfare, Frenchmen Street is emerging as the hottest strip for jazz clubs – try The Spotted Cat Music Club for new talent (and potential celeb spotting), or Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro for the granddaddies of the game. Some clubs have a cover charge, but it’s usually less than US$10 – and once you’re inside, the drinks are cheap.
The Texan capital has a history of live music going back to Willie Nelson and his hippie hangers-on in the 1970s, but in recent years it’s emerged as the home of indie rock and alternative country music. There are more than 75 live music venues in the downtown area, so if you don’t know where to start, head to the Continental Club. Over its six decade history, it’s evolved from a burlesque house to a rock room to a rockabilly joint – but whatever the theme, you’re assured a great night with the finest country and swing bands in the city. Dn’t miss the South by Southwest festival held in March each year. The city is transformed with music, film and interactive performances, and the biggest musicians in the world take centre stage – think Jay Z, Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Soundgarden.
New York City, New York
You won’t find variety like this anywhere else in the States (or possibly the world). In the Big Apple, you can see Hollywood stars singing on Broadway six nights a week, the New York Symphony Orchestra playing at Carnegie Hall, iconic DJs on the decks at downtown clubs, or spot the next big thing performing an acapella set at a tiny speakeasy. For the best small bars and dive joints you’ll need to get out of Manhattan; Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn have been the starting point for bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or you can hear some bachata or merengue at a corner restaurant in the Bronx. And if none of that is your style, there’s always the Rockettes. Check out the Village Voice online for the latest listings – it will show you a huge range of the gigs on in the city that night, and you can also purchase tickets.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Where else in the world can you eat a 3.5 kilogram steak and then watch Celine Dion belt out her greatest hits just next door? Nowhere. All the big names have held residencies at casinos here, like Bette Midler, Cher, Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, Prince, Rod Stewart, and Britney Spears – who is in the middle of a three year stint at Planet Hollywood. Rumours are currently afoot that Jennifer Lopez is about to sign her own multimillion dollar deal. You’ll need to book well in advance for the big name shows, and expect to pay at least US$100 for a decent seat – or up to US$500 if you want to sit in the front row.
Travel Insurance For the USA
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