While the 57th Annual Grammy Awards will soon honor some of the greatest acts in the music industry (Sunday, Feb. 8, on CBS), we’re here to honor the country’s greatest music destinations. The seven best music cities in America make the grade for their abundance of talent, ample venues, worthy festivals and thriving music scenes.
1. New York
It wasn’t so long ago that Jay-Z and Alicia Keys big upped the Big Apple, and with good reason—it’s where some of the most iconic American music originated. Whether you prefer dimly lit Greenwich Village jazz clubs, Carnegie Hall elegance or the mammoth confines of Madison Square Garden, NYC has got it. And, for those looking to preview the next big thing, the annual CMJ Music Marathon fest won’t disappoint. Bonus: New York’s also got the highest density of celebrities, meaning there’s a good chance you’ll run into Billy Joel at the corner deli.
2. Los Angeles
Okay, no surprise here. Los Angeles is the business hub of the music industry—there’s a reason the Grammy Awards ceremony has been hosted at the Staples Center for the last decade—so of course it’s also great for crate diggers. Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard is a must, and for live music hit up the Troubadour or scenic outdoor venues like the Greek Theatre and Hollywood Bowl. Looking for a more intimate experience? Go to Largo, where Fiona Apple’s been known to make a surprise appearance.
For fans of blues and jazz, a trip to the Windy City is essential. Guitar hero Buddy Guy can still be found wailing in his blues club Legends every January, and former Al Capone hangout the Green Mill remains a world-class jazz destination. Around the corner from the latter are two of the city’s premier rock clubs—Aragon Ballroom and the Riviera Theatre, where you can catch a homecoming gig from Wilco or the Smashing Pumpkins. Plus, every summer brings thousands of eager teens and twenty-somethings to Lollapalooza and the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Any trip to Music City must include a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, a.k.a. “The Show That Made Country Famous,” where stars like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton got their start. Country music history buffs will also want to check out historic Music Row and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Snag a table at the Bluebird Café for a taste of what the city’s contemporary acoustic scene has to offer.
Austin calls itself the “Live Music Capital of the World”—a pretty bold statement for a city whose other slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.” Most people know the Texas capital as home to the annual South by Southwest festival, a mecca for new artists trying to break out, but the breadth and diversity of the city’s homegrown culture is on display year-round. Top venues include SXSW mainstay Stubb’s and classic haunt the Continental Club, where you can two-step to country and western. If you’re smart you’ll fill up on Franklin Barbecue then catch a live taping of Austin City Limits.
ATL. Hotlanta. Whatever you want to call it, the Georgia capital has blossomed into a nerve center for contemporary hip-hop and R&B over the last two decades, and more recently metal. See where OutKast, Janelle Monáe and Mastodon took inspiration from and take in next gen acts at some of the city’s finest venues like the Tabernacle, a former Baptist church. Or, get the lowdown on rising indie rock at the Earl.
Sure, it’s best known as the place that gave the world grunge, but it’s also where a young Jimi Hendrix first picked up the guitar. More recently the Pacific Northwest city has spit out chart-toppers like Macklemore and Death Cab for Cutie. Stop by the Showbox or the Crocodile, where Gen-Xers once moshed to Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Also, don’t forget to drop by the Sub Pop store when you’re at SeaTac Airport—records and T-shirts make great souvenirs.