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No matter what type of music you listen to, the U.S. is full of places you need to get your jam on.
One of the coolest things about the U.S. is how much every part of it differs from the next. From region to region there’s unique food, landscapes, and of course, music. No matter where you travel to in the United States, you’re bound to find some local tunes. But if you really want to center your trip around your love of music, there are some destinations you should be stopping at first. Whether you’re going to a festival or just trying to see some live local jams, these are ten of the best cities in the United States to immerse yourself in the current music scene and get educated on the history behind it.
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Sure, it’s cool to travel to a city to see a venue where an iconic band started out decades ago, or the club where your favorite singer once made their debut. But New Orleans, the home of jazz music, doesn’t just offer up a chance to live in the genre’s history, but also to immerse yourself in the current jazz scene. In NOLA, it’s easy to find yourself completely surrounded by the genre in the city that birthed it.
“Live music, played all day and night long on Bourbon St., wafts into the French Quarter air for all to enjoy,” says Christopher Falvey, the co-founder of Unique NOLA, a ghost tour company based in New Orleans. “At night on Frenchmen street you can always find multiple local bars hosting live jazz. New Orleans isn’t just the birthplace of jazz, it is a live daily museum to it.”
Not a jazz fan? That doesn’t mean you have to cancel your travel plans. The city, which was ranked the third best city for nightlife in the country by U.S. News & World Report, is also a great place to catch blues, rock, hip hop, and zydeco music.
The music made by Motown records in the late ’50s and early ’60s helped to shape a generation, and is still treasured to this day. The city that helped to shape that music? That’s Detroit, of course — the city is nicknamed Motown to this day because of the label’s influence. The city’s musical importance didn’t end in the ’60s though, it’s still a great destination for checking out live music today.
“There are a few great music venues in Detroit that are worth checking out,” says Becky Moore, the founder of travel blog Global Grasshopper. “The Fillmore Detroit is a popular spot that features a variety of musical genres. Another great option is the Masonic Temple, which is known for its grandiose architecture and incredible acoustics. For a more intimate setting, the Magic Stick is perfect.”
In addition to the city’s great and historic venues, it’s also been called home by a number of successful musicians and performers like Aretha Franklin, Bob Seger, and Eminem. Fans of any artist that has called the Motor City home can spend a day following in their favorite musicians’ footsteps and visiting their old haunts.
“The city has been home to many different genres of music over the years, from Motown to punk rock,” Moore says. “The city has a long history of producing great musicians and music, and it continues to do so today.”
Claiming the title of the Live Music Capital of the World, the Texas capital, Austin, is a can’t-miss city for music lovers of any and all genres. The city’s claim on that title isn’t just grasping for straws either, Austin is home to more than 250 music venues, ensuring that live music is an easily-attainable experience when visiting the city.
“On any given night, you can find everything from rock concerts to country music showcases to blues jams happening at different locations around town,” says Jeanelle Douglas, a web content specialist at the travel website TripShock.
The city, which was ranked as one of the best nightlife destinations in the country, is also home to dozens of annual music festivals, including Austin City Limits and South by Southwest (SXSW), which bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city every year.
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Minnesota is known for its thousands and thousands of lakes (10 thousand to be exact), but it should also be highly-regarded for the thousands of great songs that have come from musicians and artists based out of the Twin Cities.
Most visitors who take a musically-inspired trip to the Twin Cities make it a priority to stop at Paisley Park, the former home and studio of arguably Minneapolis’ most famous son, Prince. Since Prince’s 2016 death, the complex has been opened up as a museum celebrating the artist’s life and music.
“The ‘Minneapolis Sound,’ pioneered by Prince, influenced artists like The Time and Vanity 6, as well as historic producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis,” says Dayna Frank, the owner and CEO of Minneapolis concert venue First Avenue. “The diversity of genres and styles coming out of the music scene here is unmatched, from Prince to The Replacements, Soul Asylum, to Rhymesayers, and pop superstars like Lizzo, the fans here turn up and support live music like no place else.”
What list of the best cities for music lovers would be complete without Memphis? Some of the most influential artists in American music have emerged from the city, including B.B. King, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, just to name a few. Check out memorabilia from those artists at some of the city’s many museums dedicated to its impressive musical history.
“Memphis boasts such incredible music museums as the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, the Blues Hall of Fame and, of course, Elvis’s Graceland,” says travel blogger Ashley Smith.
While its musical history is impressive, it’s not a city that’s solely stuck in the past either. There’s live music to be found every night of the week at bars and venues across the city.
“Memphis’s music heritage is everywhere you turn here and it’s also a fantastic city for live music as well,” Smith says.
You can find great blues clubs all over the country, but if you want to travel to where the genre got its start, you have to head to the Deep South. Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, is also known as the City with Soul, because of its contributions to blues, gospel, and jazz music.
“Jackson is the City with Soul, not least because of its musical legacy,” says Yolanda Clay-Moore, the director of communications at Visit Jackson. “One of the nation’s biggest blues scenes took over the city and today live music is woven through Jackson’s fabric. Visitors can learn about the musical history or experience it all live with any number of performances each day.”
To help explore a bit more of the city, check out the 15 Jackson-based stops on the Mississippi Blues Trail, an initiative started by the Mississippi Blues Commission that helps point out important locations that contributed to blues music throughout the state.
“The Mississippi Blues Trail is a remarkable journey that takes hardcore blues fans and casual travelers alike through the state that gave birth to modern popular music,” says Clay-Moore. “Notable markers in downtown Jackson include information about the Edwards Hotel, Ace Records, and the Subway Lounge.”
While the southern California city is more known for its contribution to film, Los Angeles is one of the best cities in the country to visit for music lovers of nearly any genre. As the country’s second largest city, and a hub for the entertainment industry, Los Angeles is an ideal place to check out artists that are trying to get their big break. Influential musicians and groups have been popping up out of Los Angeles every decade, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Doors, and NWA.
The city has been ranked as one of the best nightlife cities in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report, and it’s home to an endless amount of storied concert venues, like the Whiskey a Go Go in West Hollywood and the Hollywood Bowl, which was named one of the 10 best concert venues in the country by Rolling Stone.
No music-lover’s trip to Los Angeles would be complete without stopping by Amoeba Records, one of the largest record stores in the world that regularly has live performances and signings by artists including Billie Eilish and Jack Harlow.
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When you think of Hawaii, beaches, palm trees and relaxation probably come to mind. But if that’s all you take away from the collection of islands, you’re surely missing out. Unlike most of the other contiguous states in the country, Hawaii has its own culture and language, developed when it was an independent kingdom, and it has continued to develop that culture since it became the country’s 50th state. Music is one major aspect of Hawaiian culture, sung sometimes in English and sometimes in the native Hawaiian language, or ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i.
“The most recognizable genre from Hawaii is what we call ‘Hawaiian Music,’ with contemporary or traditional styles with lyrics that are usually written in ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i (the Hawaiian language),” says Jaslyn Loftin, a singer and songwriter who lives in Honolulu. “Hawaiian music consists of acoustic guitar, ukulele, bass and/or percussion elements. ‘Island Reggae’ music is also a prominent genre that combines dub, reggae, and pop to form a unique and catchy sound only found here.”
Experience Hawaiian music by going to a live performance in Honolulu, which is filled with concert venues including Aloha Tower, Hawaii Theatre, and the Waikiki Shell, or stop by the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame to learn more about the greats in the genre.
A list of the best cities to visit for music lovers would never be complete without including New York City. The city, home to Broadway for you musical lovers, has produced some of the most notable musical names in the country’s history, from folk singer Joan Baez, to punk band the Ramones, and of course, East Coast rappers like Jay Z, Nas, and DMX have called the city home as well.
Stop by the Museum of the City of New York for an exhibit highlighting some of the city’s contributions to music, or stop by any of the 120 concert venues for a look at what’s happening in music currently.
Not only is the Big Apple ranked as one of the best nightlife cities in the country by U.S. News & World Report, the website also ranked it as one of the top places in the country to visit in general.
Tennessee is well-represented in this list, and that’s for good reason. While Memphis is the home of blues music, Nashville is a crucial stop for travelers who like any kind of music, especially country.
“[Nashville] was known for its fiddling back in the 1700s,” says Axel Hernborg, the CEO and founder of travel website Tripplo. “Today Nashville is one of the places musicians consider moving to if they want to make it in the music industry. Thus, it is called the ‘Songwriting Capital of the World’ and continues to grow as a music city.”
Additionally, the city is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where you can see artifacts from country music’s history like a cowgirl-inspired dress worn by Patsy Cline, or Johnny Cash’s black boots, or learn how to play a mandolin in the Taylor Swift Education Center.
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