Not into honky-tonks? That’s no problem in Nashville. With more than 150 venues dedicated to hearing live acts, the Tennessee capital gives Austin a run for the label of Live Music Capital of the World. From punk rock to polka, Americana to Afrobeat, here are the musts for getting your groove on.
3rd and Lindsley
This is the best club in Nashville, situated south of Broadway in the appropriately named SoBro neighborhood: Tables fill up the main floor space, but even if you’re standing in the back, no one can spoil your view or your ears. The bookings always feel one notch better than other venues; Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, and Miranda Lambert have all graced the stage. But the best bang for your buck comes on Monday nights when the Time Jumpers, Nashville’s premier western swing band, plays. 3rdandlindsley.com
Added bonus: 3rd and Lindsley offers a lunch and dinner menu (think burgers and clubs), but if you’re looking for something more Southern and sophisticated, a little place called Husk is two blocks away. You may have heard of it. husknashville.com
The Basement East
The Beast—as it’s known among its East Nashville clientele—is back, following extensive damage from the 2020 tornado that tore through Nashville. The ultimate rock club, it boasts reasonably priced drinks, great sound, and space in which to move, even during sold-out shows. Bookings are all over the place, from an Allman Brothers cover band to highly touted artists like Brent Cobb. thebasementnashville.com
Added bonus: Across town, the Beast’s older but littler brother the Basement sits underneath Grimey’s, Nashville’s seminal record store.
The Bluebird Café
Most folks have heard of this historic listening room housed in a tiny space in an unassuming strip mall in Green Hills—with good reason. The “In the Round” format, featuring four songwriters, that began here in 1985 is a true Nashville original, and while the Bluebird has launched big acts such as Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift, it’s the lesser-known names behind the hits that keep fans coming back. Tickets typically go on sale around a week before showtime. bluebirdcafe.com
Added bonus: June through October you can catch Bluebird artists outside at the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory, situated on one of the tallest hills in Nashville. Space is limited so reserve your seat early. dyer.vanderbilt.edu/entertainment/concerts
Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar
It’s not all honky-tonks downtown: Just north of Broadway, Bourbon Street—evoking NOLA with beads and wrought-iron balconies—plies the best in local and national blues and R&B acts, from Johnny Rawls to Tab Benoit, along with the occasional jazz show. The atmosphere can feel a bit touristy at times, but the music provides a nice respite from the Sturm und Twang. bourbonstreetbluesandboogiebar.com
Added bonus: If you can’t make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, this spot’s epic blowout and crawfish boil is your best bet.
Brooklyn Bowl Nashville
Slated to open in Germantown in mid-March 2020, this New York transplant pivoted to paid streaming shows during the pandemic, including concerts by Jason Isbell, Margo Price, and Billy Strings. Fifteen months later, in June 2021, the bowling alley–meets–music venue finally hosted its first live performance, featuring Old Crow Medicine Show. brooklynbowl.com/nashville
Added bonus: Bowling, of course. Lanes are first come, first served. Check the website for COVID protocol.
An elegant ambience—long, pretty wooden tables and a peekaboo window featuring the barrels of house-made vino available on tap—and immaculate sound make the Nashville outpost of this nationwide minichain one of the best places to see singer-songwriter legends such as Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and Patty Griffin. citywinery.com/nashville
Added bonus: Go early and eat a bite. CW’s locally sourced menu featuring the likes of mushroom and goat cheese risotto balls and steak frites puts other dinner theaters to shame.
The East Room
This scruffy East Nashville dive draws plenty of rock-and-roll scenesters but has also become the hub of Nashville’s burgeoning stand-up comedy scene. The comedy shows are usually free, and giggles are guaranteed. theeastroomnashville.com
Added bonus: If you’re not ready to call it a night post-show, go for colorful tiki classics at nearby Chopper or an ice-cold PBR and a late-night cheeseburger at Dino’s, a longtime Eastside favorite. choppertiki.com; dinosnashville.com
This landmark on Elliston Place, Nashville’s “Rock Block,” where everyone from Billy Joel to R.E.M. to Waylon Jennings has performed, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year, but not without some drama: The historic venue’s building was purchased by real estate developers. Artists including Margo Price, along with longtime fans of the venue, jumped in to try and save the space, raising more than $200,000. Negotiations are still underway regarding Exit/In’s future. exitin.com
Added bonus: An Exit/In tattoo (a real one) gets you in the door for free—even during sold-out shows, if space allows.
Mercy anchors a live-music multiplex between the Gulch and downtown that also includes the larger Cannery Ballroom and the more intimate High Watt. Formerly a food-processing warehouse in the nineteenth century, the venues offer the most complete cross section of musical genres. Word to the wise: Go with the right-sized, mostly standing-room-only Mercy. mercylounge.com
Added bonus: Quaff a couple of pints just south at Jackalope Brewing Company, one of the few breweries in Nashville founded and run by women. jackalopebrew.com
Recommending a show at this erstwhile place of worship is cliché at this point, but they don’t call the Ryman the Mother Church of Country Music for nothing. Just about everyone you can think of, from the old guard (Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn) to newer favorites (Jason Isbell, St. Paul & the Broken Bones), have graced the stage that once hosted the Grand Ole Opry. Ease into one of the wooden pews—truth told, they’re uncomfortable—and say, “Hallelujah” to the biggest names in Americana, rock, and country. ryman.com
Added bonus: Either before or after the show, hit Robert’s Western World, the only Broadway honky-tonk that passes muster with the locals. robertswesternworld.com
The Station Inn
In this bluegrass nirvana in the Gulch neighborhood, between downtown and Music Row, it doesn’t matter who’s playing—just show up, pay the cover, and find a seat. Advance tickets usually aren’t available, so if it’s a big name, get there early and line up. Music starts at 8:00 p.m. Penny pinching? The Sunday jam is free. stationinn.com
Added bonus: If the weather’s nice, chill out on the porch at nearby Peg Leg Porker with a platter from award-winning pitmaster Carey Bringle. peglegporker.com