Los Angeles, New York City, Nashville, Seattle, and Austin are all undoubtedly great meccas for American music, but there’s tons of incredible music destinations in between these cities that are woefully under appreciated on the national scale.
In fact, this list could be hundreds strong. When you’re on the road, booking your own shows, there’s no limit to where you can go and where you can build an audience for your music, if you bring to your booking a creative and open-minded approach. That’s why we created our free course on DIY booking, management, and marketing called Touring on a Shoestring — to empower artists with the tools to successfully break new ground on the touring circuit.
But if you’re just here to pick up a few extra anchor cities for your next tour, we got you covered.
What Philadelphia lacks in swimming pools that aren’t fashioned out of dumpsters, it more than makes up for with its incredible music scene. Venues like Union Transfer, Kung Fu Necktie, and Johnny Brenda’s make Philly a can’t-miss music destination for rising musical talents and established household names alike. The City of Brotherly Love is also home to a flourishing class of critically acclaimed indie darlings including (Sandy) Alex G, The War On Drugs, and Kurt Vile.
Sure, Saddle Creek’s heyday was a couple of decades ago, but Omaha is still a great place to hear and create music. With a tight-knit music scene led by seasoned veterans that’s perpetually energized by newcomers passing through, Omaha’s low cost of living and strong musical infrastructure makes it a solid choice for musicians who are being priced out of America’s more popular music cities, or who are just looking for a great night on the road spent with a welcoming musical community.
What makes this tiny New Mexico town so great? Well, the fact that despite having a population of literally only 6,000 people, you can still hear live music every night of the week. Music festivals and spiritual meetups like the one Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf recently threw here, which featured The Flaming Lips and Dr. Dog, is another reason. Between small but earnest venues invested in bringing great music to the city like the Taos Mesa Brewery, cheap artist-friendly rent, and some of most stunning scenery in the American West, Taos might be a great home for live music for years to come.
Memphis is not only a living museum of the American blues music tradition, but has been host to a load of great garage rock bands over the years, like the late Jay Reatard. It’s a place where you’re just as likely to see incredible musical talent up on a big stage as you are in a small, darkened bar. From Big Star to What We Do In Secret to Reigning Sound, the city is a proud home to a slew of critically acclaimed bands.
The Twin Cities
Prince’s purple ghost looms large over the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. But the Minnesota area is a great place for music even if you take the legendary musician out of the equation. Some readers will be surprised to learn that Bob Dylan spent a few formative years of his early career in the Twin Cities, and that the area is home to one of alternative hip-hop’s most thriving music communities. 7th St. Entry and First Avenue’s Mainroom help make the Twin Cities one of America’s best places for music.
Okay, we all know that New Orleans is a hugely important international destination for not only music, but also unique history, culinary culture, and art, right? Good. Phew, I was worried there for a second. The Big Easy is an insanely wonderful place to experience music. Sure, you can find other kinds of music there, but we all know you’re really just there to sip on a hurricane and listen to that big, brassy jazz music, or catch a weirdo DIY show in a basement somewhere.
You might think Boston just makes beans and tea parties, but boy are you wrong. By the way, did you know the band Boston is actually from Boston? A little on-the-nose, don’t you think? Anyway, Boston has been producing some of the world’s most important musical acts for decades, including Aerosmith, The Pixies, and The Cars. The city’s strong ties to higher education make it the perfect place for a wide range of young musicians from all over the world to meet, play, communicate, and organize all kinds of crazy stuff.
Kentucky has had a wealth of music history pass over this city like a dense fog — from early bluegrass and country music, to blues, gospel, and folk, and later in the 20th century, post-rock and new Americana indie rock. It’s been influential and unwaveringly doing things on its own terms throughout all of those movements. But Louisville still happily flies under the rest of the nation’s radar, and the city’s music scene has been developing great bands for years, including My Morning Jacket, Slint, Bonnie Prince Billy, and Mansions. Go to the Mercury Ballroom or Headliners Music Hall for the show and stay for the bourbon.
We absolutely couldn’t forget the king of the Midwest, the Windy City itself. Schuba’s, the Empty Bottle, Lincoln Hall — these incredible Chicago music venues will give LA and NYC a run for their money any day of the week. Home of the still influential and widely loved Lollapalooza music festival, as well as the globe-influencing Pitchfork Festival, Chicago has continued to play a major role in developing and launching musical talent since the early days of jazz in the 1920s. Also, did you know that like Boston, the band from Chicago is actually from Chicago? Whaddaya know!