America is a diverse country with a thriving music scene in some areas. Are you looking to spend some time in a fun city with great music? Join me on a trip to the ten best music destination cities in America.
Starting with coolest city in America right here at home, music lives in Portland, Oregon. Portland is home to great artists like The Decembrists, Portugal. The Man, and recent Grammy Winner Esperanza Spalding, not to mention countless good local bands you an catch live.
Live music is where it’s at in Portland, at places like the Crystal Ballroom, the Doug Fir Lounge, Berbati’s Pan, and Dante’s, just to name a few. Stay at the Hotel Deluxe for a unique experience.
Best time to visit? During Music Fest NW, running from September 8-11.
Think Seattle music means grunge bands gone by? The Seattle music scene is alive and thriving. With clubs like the Showbox, the Fenix Underground, Doc Maynard’s, and Tractor Tavern in Ballard, there’s always good live music going on somewhere.
The best time to hit Seattle for music is over Labor Day Weekend, when one of the best festivals anywhere is happening, Bumbershoot. I lived in Seattle for the first half of the 90s and have good memories of every Bumbershoot.
While in Seattle, don’t miss the Experience Music Project. And next door, the Science Fiction Museum.
The Gorge at George, Washington
While not a place you will find music when there isn’t anything booked at the Gorge Amphitheater, there isn’t a better outdoor place for big live events in America, except perhaps Red Rocks near Denver. Like variety? Just look at the lineup for the Sasquatch Festival this year, which runs over Memorial Day Weekend.
Where to stay? In a word, camp. There are campsites on site, but if you look around you can find a place not nearly as crowded a few miles away from the party.
Probably the only good reason to spend time in Texas is Austin and its thriving music scene. The South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) happens every March, and is widely regarded as one of the best modern rock festivals around, right up there with Coachella, Sasquatch, and Bonnaroo.
If you can’t make it in March for SXSW, Austin probably has the most live acts going on any given night of almost any city in America. You won’t starve if you feed on music in Austin.
Kingston Mines is the best blues bar I’ve been in. It’s worth a trip to Chicago by itself. Of course, there are all kinds of reasons to take a trip to the Windy City, but no excuse to not hit Kingston Mines when you are there. Of course there is The Underground Wonder Bar, Buddy Guy’s Legends, and B.L.U.E.S., to name a few.
I’ve stayed at Le Meridien and a dive I won’t name on Cicero. In other words, there’s a place for every budget.
New Orleans, Louisiana
No sane person would mention American music without a nod to New Orleans. Flush out your inner Cajun and catch some zydeco, then chase it with jazz and top that with some good blues. Bourbon Street is world renowned, and for good reason.
When is a good time to visit? Oh, what’s that thing called? Oh yes, Mardi Gras!
Los Angeles, California
Back in the late 80s I was a part-time roadie of sorts for a band my cousin was in. They played all the famous spots on and around the Sunset Strip. Names like Whiskey a Go-Go, Troubadour, Roxy – I got in free and scored a beer or two. Needless to say, they are still going strong.
The best time to go is in August, for the Sunset Strip Music Festival. As for where to stay, when I go to L.A. I usually get a room near the airport. If you rent a car, you can get to the various places you need to go, and be close when it’s time to leave.
The Denver area has an up and coming music scene, with clubs downtown as well as out in Boulder, and even some good music in the mountains at festivals. Of course, there’s also Red Rocks, right up there with the Gorge when it comes to amazing outdoor venues.
The Mile High Music Festival in August is coming on as one of America’s good summer music events. As for where to stay, Denver is a stay with the relatives place for me, so I can’t offer advice.
Las Vegas, Nevada
From camp covers of Elvis and other stars of yesteryear to big-name music stars of today, Las Vegas may surprise you with the variety and volume of live music available at any given time. Just be sure to check well in advance if you want to see some of the bigger names appearing.Here is a great link for Vegas music shows.
When to go? When it’s snowing at your house and 85 degrees in Las Vegas. Thank you, thank you very much.
I’ve never had the chance to check out the music scene in Nashville, but to not mention it would be foolhardy. I’m not a big country music fan, but I do recognize that the place Nashville holds in the American psyche is uniquely amazing. I would love to go there someday, then hit Memphis.
See the Grand Ole Opry and Graceland. all in one trip.