The Essential Guide to Nashville's Best Live Music
Nashville isn’t known as music city for nothing. Its long history of country, jazz and blues is well known and still permeates the air today, drawing thousands of visitors to the city each year. You won’t have trouble finding a music venue, but you might have trouble finding the best. We’ve asked our local insiders to share their favorite Nashville live music spots and events to help you out.
Experience the pleasures of the great American dive bar at Losers. Order some ribs, grab a beer and watch local country acts perform at this local haunt in the Midtown lively bar and club scene. The decor and atmosphere is certainly a no-frills affair, but it’s exceedingly welcoming and you’ll catch some talented musicians here. Embrace the bar’s country leanings, don your finest cowboy boots and pass the evening tappin’ those toes. Recommended by local insider Chaney Curd
Accessibility & Audience:Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Deaf), Family Friendly
Atmosphere:Indoors, Architectural Landmark
Live on the Green is Nashville’s major music festival – and astonishingly it’s 100% free! If you’re in town when it’s on, experiencing this end-of-summer tradition is an absolute must. The festival features top acts (past performers include Cage the Elephant, Band of Horses, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Steve Earle), and gives emerging local artists a platform too. Take in some bands, browse the food trucks and the independent trader stalls and say goodbye to summer with great music, a few local beers and one hell of a party. Recommended by local insider Juliette Lefaivre
Taste local wines and go for a spot of dinner while watching live acts at the City Winery. It’s as romantic as it sounds – mood lighting, beautifully prepared dishes and music make for the perfect date night. The venue doesn’t tie itself down to one particular genre – the program is varied, and attracts some more recognizable names (KT Tunstall, Jeff Bridges and Dennis Quaid have all been lined up to play here) alongside local talent. Keep an eye out for touring acts, or see what hidden treasures you find on the spur of the moment. Recommended by local insider Cristy Wicks
Exit/In has been a favorite among music-mad locals since it opened in the 1970s. Its pedigree for up-and-coming acts is first rate – Etta James, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Talking Heads, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more all played here before they hit the big time. Come on any given day and you might catch a legend in the making. Recently, Exit/In has joined up with Hurry Back, the bar next door, to expand their space and provide a large outdoor patio that’s perfect for catching up with friends or just getting some air between sets. Recommended by local insider Juliette Lefaivre
If you learn to line-dance anywhere, it has to be in Nashville, right? And where better than Wildhorse Saloon, Nashville’s famous live music and line-dancing venue that specializes in good, old-fashioned country and all that goes with it. Line dancing is open to all (and is an excellent family activity), though be aware that later live music events are 21+. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar
No list of Nashville music must-dos would be complete without mentioning the Ryman. This hallowed venue, housed in one of the city’s most historic buildings, is a real “made it” milestone for country acts. Johnny Cash, Elvis, Louis Armstrong and others have all graced the stage, and many more legends in the making will do so as well. You can take a tour of the Ryman, but by far the best way of experiencing it is at a live show. The building is perfect for heartfelt acoustic sets with tight, resonant harmonies. As befits a city full of musicians, expect some fantastic singalongs as well. Recommended by local insider Cristy Wicks
From those new to the Nashville circuit to legendary names that have been around for decades, musicians of all genres have appeared on the stage of 3rd and Lindsley Bar and Grill. This restaurant/music venue has full lunch and dinner menus and can also be rented for private events. On most nights, you’ll find a roster of talent that reminds you of why Nashville is so competitive in the music business. Country, rock, pop and more music styles have found a friend in 3rd and Lindsley.
Nashville is a city of songwriters – many of the big country hits you hear on the radio will have been penned here first. Learn about the songwriting process from the experts themselves at this twice-weekly daytime show at 3rd and Lindsley Bar and Grill. Expect a lineup of talented songwriters who have written hits for Kris Kristofferson, Rascal Flatts, Ringo Starr, the Dixie Chicks, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton and more, who will discuss their work, play a few hits (you might even get a preview of a song before it ends up on the radio) and take questions from audience members. You won’t find anything like this outside Nashville, so this is a must-do for any visiting music nuts. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar
Just below Grimey’s New and Preloved Music store is the Basement, a small live-music venue that hosts singers, songwriters and bands from different music genres. Tuesday is New Faces Nite, which promotes unsigned and/or newly signed artists from across the country. On other nights of the week, shows by independent artists and more high-profile musicians can be enjoyed. Its sister venue Basement East was destroyed by a tornado, but the team are working hard to get things up and running while supporting neighboring community relief efforts.
The Station Inn is known for booking country, roots and bluegrass artists. Every Sunday, the venue has its Bluegrass Jam. Country singer Alison Krauss frequented the venue in the 1980s and today is one of the biggest artists in country music. On Tuesday nights, you’ll find The Doyle & Debbie Show, a satiric performance that showcases the truths about country duos, particularly ones with a man and woman.
The Bluebird Cafe, located in a small strip mall just outside Downtown Nashville, is an unassuming setting for these prestigious and well-regarded songwriters’ nights, frequented by local musicians and country music stars alike, allowing songwriters to take turns to perform their material and share the stories behind the lyrics. It’s all about listening here. Audiences aren’t allowed to speak during performances – simply relax and immerse yourself in the artistry of the performers. Recommended by local insider Cristy Wicks
For some classic, stompin’ in your boots country music, Tootsies Orchid Lounge is the place to be; in fact, Willie Nelson got his first songwriting job after performing here. Located on Broadway in the heart of Downtown, it’s one of the most frequented honky-tonks in Nashville. You won’t hear any pop, rock or contemporary music at Tootsies, but you might get to experience the talent of local budding songwriters trying to get their big break.
One of the larger live music venues in Nashville is Mercy Lounge and Cannery Ballroom, a two-story venue with a standing room capacity of 500 on the second floor, along with a back bar and booth seating. Artists such as Katy Perry, Adele, Counting Crows and the White Stripes have played at Mercy Lounge and Cannery Ballroom – testament to its influential status in Nashville. Independent artists also get the chance to perform here – the venue hosts a variety of musical acts and welcomes booking inquiries from songwriters interested in performing.
On the home page of its website, you’ll find the words “Welcome to Hillbilly Heaven.” Robert’s Western World is the place to go for a large dose of traditional country music. If you’re looking for country music with a twist, the venue’s house band, Brazilbilly, plays music with a Latin flair on Friday and Saturday nights. You’ll want to wear your dancing boots no matter what night you visit, as the crowd isn’t one to just sit and listen.