As the famous opening line from Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night goes, ‘If music is the food of love, play on.’ As music is the soundtrack to our lives, we shall play on. And what better place to consume the music you love than on vacation? Here are some of the best American places to listen to music! Whatever your taste in music, music lovers have a wealth of locations to visit across the nation where you’re sure to enjoy a fantastic getaway.
Whether it’s the stories told in traditional folk or country and western songs, the autonomous, do-it-yourself twangs of an indie song, some serious hard rockin’, or the smooth sounds of a jazz trio, America has something for every musical taste.
So, the next time you book your vacation as a music lover, we want to recommend these 13 iconic destinations that’ll have you tapping your toes or dancing till the sun comes up.
1. Seattle, Washington
Seattle may boast the Seattle Opera and the century-old Seattle Symphony Orchestra, one of the world’s most recorded orchestras, but the real gem of the city in the eyes of music lovers is the fact that it is the birthplace of the grunge music scene.
Back in the early 1990s, bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Temple of the Dog, Mudhoney, and of course the hugely influential Nirvana were responsible for the emergence of the hybrid punk and metal sound that would be called “grunge.”
Embracing the legacy of grunge, the city has a permanent exhibit devoted to Nirvana based at the EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum. Sub Pop, the record label that signed the best and brightest of the grunge movement in its early days, continues to give birth to great indie rock artists, and the Sea-Tac Airport hosts a stand-alone Sub Pop Records store.
There is still a thriving live music scene in the city, and you can get your Seattle musical fix by visiting great venues like The Showbox, Café Racer, and Columbia City Theater.
2. San Francisco, California (The musical American dream)
The City by the Bay has a long and prestigious history when it comes to the music scene, as at the height of the counterculture movement in the 1960s, San Francisco was considered one of the hippest places to be. Americans from all around the country and people from all over the world gather there to enjoy the music.
The Fillmore, which still hosts great musicians today, saw pop music royalty like Janis Joplin, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, the Rolling Stones, and the Grateful Dead grace their stage. Their musical legacy doesn’t end there, as the city hosted the Beatles’ final live show ever at Candlestick Park and Led Zeppelin at Kezar Stadium.
In more modern times, the city gave birth to a wide variety of musical talents like Journey, Credence Clearwater Revival, Metallica, and Green Day.
When it comes to their musical legacy today, there are a wealth of venues across the city where you can get your groove on, but we recommend taking a visit to Amoeba Music in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Not only does it boast a kickass record store, but it is also home to some fantastic live music.
3. Nashville, Tennessee
When it comes to country music and music in general, few American places can boast a musical pedigree quite like Nashville (there’s a good reason why it is referred to as “Music City”). There are few places more famous than the Grand Ole Opry when it comes to music venues.
However, if country music isn’t your thing, then the city has got you covered as it has a vibrant music scene spanning a variety of genres with venues like The Basement, located just below Grimey’s New & Preloved Music store.
If country music is your thing, then there are plenty of places to visit, like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Belcourt Theater, and Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman Auditorium, in particular, is one of the most historic music venues in Nashville, where you can visit and watch a live recording.
If you’re looking to see which musicians are up and coming, then pay a visit to an intimate live show at the Bluebird Cafe.
4. Washington, D.C.
Our capital may be more famous (or infamous, depending on your political persuasion) for its political intrigue, but it actually has quite a buzzing music scene.
Washington, D.C., is considered a national center for the arts as it is home to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the United States Marine Band, the country’s oldest professional musical organization, located in the Marine Barracks near Capitol Hill.
If you are looking to explore the history of music, then you should visit the National Museum of American History, which houses a plethora of pop culture items.
When it comes to live music venues, there are few better places than the legendary Bohemian Caverns, which was home to Washington-native Duke Ellington as well as jazz pioneers like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. It is also an important center for indie culture and music, with venues like the Black Cat and the 9:30 Club.
5. Boston, Massachusetts
With its Irish connections, you would be forgiven for thinking that Boston’s music scene consists mostly of musicians playing Irish jigs. However, the city offers a rich, eclectic, and ever-changing music scene.
The city has given birth to musicians and bands that cover a wide spectrum of the music scene. From the Pixies, The Cars, Aerosmith, James Taylor, and of course Boston The scene may largely cater to the city’s student population, but there is something for everyone.
Boston boasts a large array of musical schools, with the Boston Conservatory for classical music, dance, and musical theater, the New England Conservatory for classical and jazz music, and the Berklee College of Music for jazz and a variety of contemporary music styles.
The city has a long cultural heritage of classical music that includes the world-renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, and the Boston Philharmonic, to name a few. In summer, you can catch an outdoor concert or festival along the Charles River at the Hatch Shell, and every two years, the city hosts the Boston Early Music Festival.
6. Detroit, Michigan
Perhaps equally known for its auto industry, which earned it the name “Motor City,” if you are a music lover, you may know Detroit by a different moniker, ‘Detroit Rock City.’
The city has a century-old, rich music scene, and although it is most famous for being the home of Motown and the Motown sound, it is also a place that saw the early development of punk rock (or proto-punk) and techno music genres.
The city relishes its rhythm and blues roots, and if you take a trip to the Motown Museum, you can listen to such greats as Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, and more. It also has a rich history of classical music, as it is home to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Opera House.
Metropolitan Detroit is also home to two of the top live music venues in the U.S.: the DTE Energy Music Theater (formerly Pine Knob) and The Palace of Auburn Hills (also known as The Palace).
7. Austin, Texas
Known as the self-titled ‘Live Music Capital of the World,’ Austin may not have the same historical pedigree as other cities like Nashville, Seattle, or Detroit. Still, it does have more live music venues per capita than any of those locations.
The Texas capital made its mark on the music scene when it first aired its musical variety show ‘Austin City Limits’ on January 3, 1976, a show that has gone on to be the longest-running concert music program on American television. The city hosts the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) and the Fun Fun Fun Fest.
The city also boasts a vibrant and lively nightclub scene centered around 6th Street. If you pay a visit to the Salt Lick Pavilion and Camp Ben McCulloch just outside the city in the spring, you can enjoy the long-running Old Settler’s Music Festival.
In the summer, Austin City Limits Radio puts on a series of free blues shows in Zilker Park entitled “Blues on the Green. Finally, places like the Broken Spoke, the Continental Club, and Antone’s are both must-see venues for any music lover.
8. Portland, Oregon
Named “America’s Indie Rock Mecca” by Slate magazine and having the “most vibrant” music scene in the United States by the British newspaper The Guardian, much like Detroit, Portland can boast of being home to the burgeoning punk scene, especially with regards to hardcore punk, in the early 1980s.
The city is home to a thriving bluegrass and old-time music scene, with the Portland Old-Time Music Gathering taking place every year in mid-January.
Portland also hosts a lot of blues and jazz festivals, with the most prominent being the Oregon Bach Festival, the Oregon Festival of American Music, the Oregon Symphony, and the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival.
However, when it comes to the blues, Portland has the second-largest blues festival in the country in the form of its Waterfront Blues Festival. This four-day event has taken place annually since its inauguration in 1988.
9. New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans has had a long and rich history with its association with American jazz music, and it is universally considered to be the birthplace of the genre. So it will come as little surprise that it has plenty of venues for you to tap your toes to.
It is home to the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the annual New World Rhythms Festival, and, of course, its world-famous Mardi Gras. If jazz is not your thing, then there are many other musical genres that have an established home in the city.
It is the hometown of one of the earliest recognized American funk bands, The Meters, and also played a huge part in shaping the rhythm and blues scene, with artists like Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino playing a prominent role in growing the popularity of the genre. A genre that would eventually contribute greatly to the growth of rock and roll.
The city is less famous for its hip-hop and heavy-metal scenes, but both have a long history in New Orleans that dates back to the late 80s and early 90s.
10. Memphis, Tennessee
When you think of the city of Memphis and music, there is only one name and one name alone that most Americans will immediately think of: the king of rock and roll himself, Elvis Presley.
However, the city has also been home to many other musical pioneers, such as Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison, to name a few. All of which got their start on the Memphis music scene in the 1950s and 1960s.
When it comes to venues, Elvis aficionados can take a visit to Graceland and Sun Studio, where the king recorded most of his iconic works.
Or if you are interested in learning about the early days of rock and roll and the influence rhythm and blues had on its growth, you can take a tour around the Stax Museum, which chronicles the history of the iconic label that was responsible for creating the classic 1960s soul music sound.
11. New York City, New York
When it comes to American iconic music locations, there are few places more famous than New York City, as its music scene is as wildly diverse as the Americans who inhabit the Big Apple.
The city is the birthplace of a whole host of music genres like hip hop, garage house, boogaloo, doo-wop, bebop, punk rock, and new wave. Due to its Cuban and Puerto Rican influences, it is also credited as the birthplace of salsa music.
The city’s influence on the music scene is undeniable, as is the Broadway musical theater, and Tin Pan Alley has played a crucial role in the development of the American music industry. However, there are many more places where you can explore the city’s musical legacy.
The Knitting Factory, Lincoln Center, Beacon Theater, Music Hall of Williamsburg, and many more are all worth a visit when you are exploring the city that never sleeps.
12. Los Angeles, California
When it comes to the entertainment industry, ‘Creative Capital of the World’ has certainly earned that name due to the fact that one in every six of its residents works in a creative industry in one form or another.
Although renowned for being the location of Hollywood and an American film-making machine that is now over a century old, the L.A. music scene in the 1960s and onwards gave the world some of the most famous and influential musicians and bands the world has ever known.
Its iconic Sunset Strip is home to clubs like Whiskey a Go Go and the Roxy, where almost every famous band has played over the decades, including influential and genre-defining acts like Led Zeppelin and The Doors.
It was also the center of 80s rock and metal, with bands like Van Halen and Guns ‘n Roses. By the 1990s, the city had become well known for the emergence of some of the biggest rappers in the world, like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre. The city hosts an almost endless number of music venues, none more famous than the Troubadour and the Hollywood Bowl.
13. Kansas City, Missouri
Apart from New Orleans, Kansas City can also be considered one of the most influential locations when it comes to the emergence and growth of American jazz. Dating back to the 1920s and ‘30s, the Kansas City jazz scene marked the transition from big bands to the bebop influence of the 1940s.
The annual Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival still attracts some of the biggest names in the genre to this day.
It also has the distinction of being the only city in the United States recognized by UNESCO as a ‘City of Music.’ The jazz scene might be its most prominent musical feature, but, over the decades, it has made a name for itself in many other genres like rock, punk, heavy metal, and country music.
Its live music venues are second to none, with places like The Beaumont Club, The Blue Room, and Plaza III, among many others.
What do you think is the most iconic American destination for those who enjoy good music?
If you want to learn more about American music and the history of it, you can start with this interesting book: America’s Musical Life: A History
You should also read: 10 Best Museums in the US REALLY Worth Visiting