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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.

Plus: Check out New York’s 5 funniest comedy clubs

Madison Square Garden, New York

Madison Square Garden, New York

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.

Amoeba music store, Hollywood

Amoeba music store, Hollywood

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.

 

Green Mill, Chicago

Green Mill, Chicago

3. Chicago
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.

Grand Ole Opry

Grand Ole Opry

4. Nashville
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.

Phantogram at SXSW, Austin. CREDIT: Diego Donamaria

Phantogram at SXSW, Austin. CREDIT: Diego Donamaria

5. Austin
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.

OutKast

OutKast

6. Atlanta
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.

The Sub Pop store at Seattle's SEA-TAC Airport

The Sub Pop store at Seattle’s SEA-TAC Airport

7. Seattle
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.

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Tagged: California, Midwest, New York, Top 10 Lists

Areif Sless-Kitain

Areif Sless-Kitain

Areif is a writer, editor and musician living in Chicago. He's toured the world and can tell you where to slurp the best ramen in Tokyo, which boulangerie in Nice serves up prize-winning pan bagnats, or where in São Paulo to get lost in a good Caipirinha.
Areif Sless-Kitain

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11 thoughts on “The 7 best music cities in the U.S.”

  1. This is an interesting list if you consider only american cities… but far away in front, just behind New York City, I would have say Montreal, Canada who is very well known for a lot of Music Festivals, in both languages, English and French, and numerous groups coming from this city like Arcade Fire, Simple Plan and many others.

    Just take a few minutes to visit the internet site of THE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL OF MONTREAL and you will understand what I mean.

  2. New Orleans is definitely missing from this list. It has the most accessible live music scene, multiple huge festivals, and music is everywhere. There’s a great jazz scene, tons of funk, plenty of blues, lots of punk/rock/metal, the folk and country you would expect in the South… it is a hip-hop hub… I’m really disappointed Orbitz missed the boat on this one.

    1. You hit the nail on the head ! Amazing town with most musical genres…..it’s embarrassing that NOLA
      Isn’t on the list …. I’d put it up there with New York and Chicago……if not ahead of them for accessibility and affordability ……. Even the street music is ridiculously good ……

  3. I totally agree about New Orleans, but I can (almost) see why they would overlook it. It’s easy to misjudge the city if you don’t manage to get yourself away from Bourbon Street’s recent cover band infestation. (Although the dueling pianos at Pat O’s never fail to please.) Hit Jazz Fest, head over to Frenchmen St, head into Preservation Hall, catch a show out at Tipitina’s, or even stop and listen to the street musicians (please tip!), and you’ll see what the city is really about.

  4. Detroit should be number 1 and not even close. Motown anyone? Plus punk was invented here (sorry NYC and London Iggy Pop and the Stooges were the first punk band) techno invented here by Derrick May. The consensus best rapper Eminem was from here, plus Aliyah, Madonna, Ted Nugent, ICP(OK not helping my case with that one). NYC loves patting itself on its back and so does LA but for a city almost 35 times larger than Detroit it doesn’t have nearly the musical history. Also crimibally

  5. Jason, totally agree Detroit’s music scene is way underrated. I think if we would’ve made this a top 10 list, we would’ve included it and probably New Orleans, too. Thanks for the great comment.

  6. Forget NYC it died after 9/11 & all the downtown venues closed because they couldn’t afford to renew their leases, greedy bastards ! The scene moved to Willyburg but was too hippster-ish for me ! I’m going to give Austin a shot ! Anyone down there please gimme a shout I would love to hear from ya’ll (Rockstarnyc@gmail)

  7. It’s a crime not to have Detroit not on this list at all! Really? I don’t have to anyone about Detroit’s music history. Past and present r&b,rap,rock,and gospel the innovators of techno are right here. Kid Rock. Right here. Emminem. Right here. Big Sean. Right here. Redo this list and put Detroit in its rightful place !

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