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Saturday, June 11, 2011

20 Best American Cities for Live Music Buffs

A city's music scene encapsulates its unique culture. Take New Orleans, for instance, the home of jazz. The Big Easy's relaxed vibe, cool demeanor and uninhibited nature are reflective of the genre of music popularized by the city's longstanding African American population. There are also cities such as Nashville and Austin that have served as live music Meccas, attracting some of the world's most talented artists. Whether you're a live music buff or just a college kid who likes to hit the hotspots, chances are, you've spent some time in at least a couple of the following cities. These are the 20 best that America has to offer.
  1. Nashville, Tennessee: Country music is nothing without Nashville, where the world famous Grand Ole Opry has hosted legends such as Ernest Tubbs, Hank Williams, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire. The District features several honky tonks in which patrons can drink and dance while enjoying the tunes of the next artist or group trying to hit it big. Visitors also get a kick out of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
  2. New Orleans, Louisiana: With numerous festivals and the celebrations such as Mardi Gras, New Orleanians never have a mundane weekend. One of the city's biggest events is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, locally known as Jazz Fest, which celebrates the area's music and culture by featuring everything from jazz (of course) to blues to zydeco music.
  3. Austin, Texas: "The Live Music Capital of the World" has an abundance of live music venues, many of which are located on the popular 6th Street — such as Momo's. But the hippest and most happening place in Austin come March is the Austin Convention Center, location of the annual South by Southwest film, music and interactive festival. Since 1976, Austin City Limits has aired live concert music, providing the nation a taste of what Texas' state capital has to offer.
  4. Las Vegas, Nevada: Some of the most acclaimed performers in the world call Las Vegas home, garnering large audiences willing to shell out the big bucks just to be in their presence. Elton John, Gladys Knight and Celine Dion are the headliners, each of whom are reason enough for out-of-towners to flock to Sin City. What's more, currently under construction is the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a $485 million facility that'll host opera and orchestra performances.
  5. New York, New York: The flagship city of our melting pot, NYC has elite performers for just about every genre of music. Historic Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center house the best classical music in the nation and possibly the world. Rock fans can watch the best lesser known bands perform in the Bowery Ballroom or Mercury Lounge. Oh, and Broadway supposedly has a few good musicals.
  6. Chicago, Illinois: Through the years, Chicago has developed its very own brands of music, including Chicago blues, Chicago soul and Chicago jazz. It has also nurtured flourishing punk, new wave, alternative, rock and indie scenes. Little known fact about the Second City: it's the birthplace of house music and has had a strong rave culture for almost three decades.
  7. Los Angeles, California: It wouldn't be "The Entertainment Capital of the World" without a vigorous music scene. From the Beach Boys to Van Halen to Easy E, a group, band or icon who defines each decade hails from LA or nearby. Name an emerging music genre during its early stages — the city had it.
  8. Miami, Florida: A hub of Latin American culture, Miami boasts a confluence of sounds from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Brazil and the Caribbean. Residents and visitors can get a taste in Little Havana during the Viernes Culturales festival, a monthly culture fair with outdoor musical performances on Calle Ocho. Miami is a great place for dance music in general, as evidenced in the pulse-pounding clubs in South Beach.
  9. Boston, Massachusetts: One of the best cities in the nation for classical music, Boston has numerous well-established performing groups, including the Boston Pops, who notably perform along the banks of the Charles River on the Fourth of July. Several punk rock bands have made their names in Beantown over the last three decades, performing in nightclubs such as Bunnratty's and The Channel.
  10. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Many outsiders are surprised to discover that Minneapolis is more than just snow, ice and the Vikings. Second only to New York City in live theaters per capita, there's rarely a moment in which a resident's thirst for the arts isn't satiated. Immortal artists such as Bob Dylan and Prince paid their dues in the city's bar and club scenes. First Avenue, for example, was popularized by Prince and was a go-to spot for the punk scene.
  11. Cleveland, Ohio: Like Drew Carey said, "Cleveland Rocks." The term "rock and roll" was first popularized by local disc jockey Alan Freed, and today, the city is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a distinction that puts it on the cultural map of Americana. On the opposite end of the music spectrum, the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the "Big Five" in the U.S., is world-renown.
  12. San Francisco, California: Old timers wax nostalgic about The Summer of Love in 1967, when hippies from all over the country congregated in San Fran during the height of counterculture movement. The Fillmore in Western Addition ushered some of the decade's most reputable artists and bands, including Janice Joplin, the Grateful Dead and The Doors. The live music scene isn't quite plentiful as it was then, but it's still a popular stop for headlining acts.
  13. Providence, Rhode Island: Providence is a performing arts powerhouse, with the Providence Performing Arts Center, Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Providence Festival Ballet and Trinity Repertory Company, one of the country's most respected theaters. Also present in Rhode Island's capital city is a strong underground music scene.
  14. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Creatures of the '70s probably remember the smooth yet funky sounds of Philadelphia soul, which was pioneered in the City of Brotherly Love. More recently, hip-hop artists such as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (a well-known fact), The Roots and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes emerged from the city to capture music fame.
  15. Houston, Texas: Believe it or not, Houston really isn't a vast cultural wasteland. It's been recognized as one of the best cities in the nation for classical music, as one of its main attractions is its large downtown theater district. ZZ Top and Lyle Lovett have called it home, and several prominent rappers made their bones in the city's hip-hop scene, including Scarface and Z-Ro.
  16. Portland, Oregon: The Pacific Northwest has produced some of our country's most creative minds, and Portland has certainly done its part. Modest Mouse and Everclear are among the major bands that hail from the city, which also has a thriving indie rock scene.
  17. Kansas City, Missouri: Another town with a rich jazz heritage, Kansas City watched the genre evolve from the early portion of the 20th century to its height in the '40s and '50s, and to its decline in the '70s, when mob wars essentially ended its strong presence in the city. Remnants of what once were can be found in the 18th & Vine area and at the annual Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival, the city's most attended festival.
  18. Seattle, Washington: During the grunge era of the early '90s, Seattle's live music scene was in its prime, producing some of the best bands of the decade — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains defined the era. Sub Pop, a local record label, discovered many of the bands from the area that hit it big and is still active today. Currently, the Emerald City is also home of prominent jazz musicians Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell.
  19. San Antonio, Texas: Texas' large Hispanic population appreciates the offerings of live Tejano and the Mexican-folk conjunto. The festive sounds are echo along the city's main entertainment district, the River Walk.
  20. Atlanta, Georgia: The nearby college town of Athens was a little too small to make the list, but it has a legendary live music scene that's only supplemented by Atlanta's. Popular venues in Georgia's capital city include The Masquerade, the Tabernacle and Variety Playhouse, the latter of which stays true to its name, hosting every music act ranging from rock to bluegrass.

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