Touring Music City: 7 of the Best Venues in Nashville
Music City may be most famous for its country scene, but the city has something to offer everyone in terms of live music. A recent influx of talented musicians from a variety of genres in the past few years has created an incredibly diverse music scene. Some important things to know before hitting up the bars and honky-tonks of Nashville: The bands work for tips, so ditch the extra cocktail in favor of showing some love to the musicians; bands playing on Broadway encourage requests, so brush up on your favorite country tunes old and new; and many bars in the city allow smoking, so if that’s going to bum you out you might want to check with the venue beforehand.
If you want to snag a seat at Nashville’s legendary songwriters mecca, the Bluebird Cafe, you better get your tickets for the 90-seat venue early, as they sell out even when unknowns are playing. That’s because the club has cultivated a reputation of being the place to catch whoever is set to become the next big singer-songwriter. In order to get a seat, you must either use the venue’s online reservation system or just arrive early and cross your fingers. The Bluebird is also known for featuring surprise star performers. There is a quiet policy at the venue, as it typically features a small group of songwriters playing acoustic instruments. The focus here is the music. If you’re looking for someplace loud and rowdy, don’t go to the Bluebird expecting to find a honky-tonk.
The 5 Spot
Venture over to the hipster side of town, known affectionately as ‘East Nasty,’ to see local bands and touring acts alike at the 5 Spot. For a small cover and cheap drinks, you can check out some of Nashville’s best unknown local bands and smaller out-of-town acts trying to make a name for themselves in Music City. Located in East Nashville’s main Five Points area, there’s plenty of plenty of great restaurants and cool boutiques to explore before the show, should you get there early.
This historic venue off the main Broadway drag is most famous for being home to the legendary Grand Ole Opry between 1943 and 1974. Known as the Mother Church of Country Music, the theater was first built as church in 1892 and the building’s original wooden pews are still intact. The venue’s wood interior has created a space with some of the best acoustics in the world. Back in the Opry days, legends like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash graced the wooden stage. Now you can see a variety of acts at the Ryman as well as take a guided historical tour during the day.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
Perhaps the most famous of the Broadway honky-tonks, Tootsie’s is the place that Opry legends drank at before and after their performances on the iconic radio show. The bar still has a raucous atmosphere, with bands performing both upstairs and down. It’s small, but packed with liquored-up crowds even on weeknights in the winter when the Broadway strip is curiously vacant of tourists.
Robert’s Western World
If you’re looking for a honky-tonk on Broadway but want a more laid-back atmosphere than Tootsie’s, you won’t sacrifice the quality of the music by ducking into Robert’s just a few doors down. Boot shop by day, honky-tonk by night, at any given time you can duck into Robert’s, see some incredibly country music, and even request that the band play your favorite song.
Marathon Music Works
Marathon Music Works is a new standing-room only venue located in Nashville’s hip Marathon Village district. Marathon Village consists of several buildings that formerly housed the Marathon Motor Works automobile plant, where the short-lived Marathon brand automobile was manufactured. Now the buildings have kept their industrial feel while being converted into spaces targeted toward encouraging the arts. The buildings house art studios, commercial art spaces, and places designed to house performances. It’s recommended that you show up to shows here early, especially if the musician or band you’re planning to see is popular. The venue is standing-room only, so the earlier you arrive the better chance you have at snagging a good spot.
Located near Vanderbilt’s campus, the Exit/In caters to a younger crowd. Some of the impressive list of acts that have graced the venue’s stage include R.E.M., The Ramones, The Talking Heads, and Etta James. Both local and nationally touring acts from a variety of genres hit the stage at the Exit/In. Describing what kinds of acts the venue likes to book, its site says “everything from Comedy to country, punk to funk, jam to jazz, and of course rock.”
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