Nashville’s Best Music Venues, from Honky-Tonks to Converted Churches
Music City has way more to offer than celebrity bars on Lower Broadway.
When your city is nicknamed “Music City, USA,” you know the bar is set pretty high when it comes to concert venues. Nashville rises to the challenge with a wide variety of musical entertainment options ranging from dive bars with surprisingly great acoustics to high-end performance halls, arenas, and amphitheaters that attract the biggest stars of the music industry to schedule a tour stop in town. You’ll rarely hear a bad band in a Nashville bar, and even they’ll probably sound pretty good thanks to the aces working the soundboards in local clubs.
This converted church in Inglewood hosts both private events and public concerts. Details that remain from the previous incarnation like lovely chandeliers and a balcony that offers great sightlines make for an intimate environment for smaller shows, but also a fantastic place to rock out when they crank up the amplifiers.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Cafe Roze, Grillshack Fries & Burgers, The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club
The tony Hutton Hotel sacrificed a few decks of their parking garage to create this sultry music venue that feels like you’ve been invited to a private living room show whenever you attend. The acoustics are spectacular in the intimate space with fantastic sightlines from anywhere in the room. Acts are generally small to fit the space, but the experience is very immersive. The bar also serves up some proper cocktails to keep the vibe classy.
Where to eat and drink nearby: The Row Kitchen & Pub, Jasper’s, White Limozeen
This modern supper club features a wide variety of entertainment ranging from burlesque shows to gospel and bluegrass brunches. A roster of resident artists fill in the gaps between shows by touring acts, so there’s something going on most nights. The flashy decor of the venue draws locals looking to be seen on the scene and visitors seeking a hip spot to enjoy a well-made drink, internationally inspired food, and live music.
Where to eat and drink nearby: The 404 Kitchen, Biscuit Love, Thai Esane
Designed as a high-class honky tonk far enough away from the neon lights of Lower Broad to attract a more ardent crowd of music fans, Star Rover Sound really elevates the experience of going out for an evening of roots music. The stage looks like a chapel of country music and lots of wood adds warmth to the room and also to the acoustics. Start your evening with one of the best oyster happy hours in town and then nosh on a fantastic Tex-Mex menu while you discover a new favorite band. Oh, and tequila.
Where to eat and drink nearby: The Optimist, Monday Night Preservation Co., Buds & Brews
This offshoot of the popular New York-based entertainment complex has risen to the upper echelon of Nashville music venues thanks to appearances by major touring acts. In addition to an excellent live music venue with great site lines, Brooklyn Bowl features 19 bowling lanes, a full-service restaurant and bars stocked with local craft beers and cocktails, plus a whimsical carnival decor theme.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Mother’s Ruin, Von Elrod’s Beer Hall & Kitchen, Henrietta Red
What do you do with a rock quarry that’s no longer being mined? If you are smart, you convert it into a world-class amphitheater in a lovely natural setting just a short hop south of Nashville and Franklin. Patrons park in a meadow a short walk away from the venue, but it’s worth the trip along the paved path to find your spot in this unique setting for live music, surrounded by woods and green spaces. Every ticket comes with some sort of seating, so at least you don’t have to schlep a blanket or a folding chair. Just wear comfy shoes.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Circa, Benchmark Sports Pub & Eatery, 55 South
This actual working winery serves a full menu of food to accompany a long list of wines they create in-house along with wine, beer, and spirits from other producers. Headliners play in an impressive performance hall with reserved table seating for guests while smaller acts perform in the various lounges and patios of the massive facility. It’s also nice to know that if the show says it starts at 7 pm, you can show up early for dinner and a show or right on time without having to stake out your spot for hours.
Where to eat and drink nearby: The Farm House, 6th & Peabody, Peg Leg Porker
Fanatically committed to local bands, The 5 Spot is a go-to for Nashville rockers with live music almost every night of the week. Most evenings feature two sets with multiple musicians sharing the bill. Fans pack shoulder-to-shoulder to watch bands on the smallish stage in front of a spartan red curtain backdrop. Nobody cares about the ambiance, because it’s all about the music.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Margot Cafe & Bar, The Treehouse, Butcher & Bee
We begin with the first name in Nashville music, the venue that started it all. It was the Ryman—“the Mother Church of Country Music”—that first started attracting names like Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, and George Jones, securing Nashville’s status as the American center of country music. The Ryman remains a country music mecca, but as one of the city’s most dazzling concert-going experiences, has also hosted everyone from the Foo Fighters to Janelle Monae. Even if you don’t make it to a concert, it’s at least worth taking the time for a brief tour.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Robert’s Western World, Skull’s Rainbow Room, Makeready
A beloved institution, known for catering both to up-and-coming songwriters and legendary country music vets, the Bluebird navigates the nifty trick of having a ton of appeal for locals, out-of-town tourists and even A-list stars who have been known to take the stage on a whim. Whether you love country music, are looking for a uniquely Nashville experience, or just have a few hours to kill before your dinner reservation, you can’t beat the Bluebird.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Noshville Delicatessen, Firefly Grille, the Corner Pub, Greenhouse Bar, Fox’s Donut Den
The cavernous room at Marathon Music Works can pack in big crowds to listen to a wide variety of musical acts, as well as other special events like food and drink festivals. Blessed with plenty of bars to handle the thirsty hordes, enjoy a cold beverage or two during the show since the parking is pretty scarce, and you probably want to avail yourself of a ride share anyway.
Where to eat and drink nearby: M.L.Rose Craft Beer & Burgers, Chauhan Ale and Masala House, Central BBQ
Five Points is one of Nashville’s better neighborhoods, and there’s no better venue in Five Points than The Basement East, or, if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, “The Beast.” It’s a small venue, but it has hosted big acts like Metallica and Alice Cooper looking to play surprise secret shows in more intimate environs.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Attaboy, Five Points Pizza, Three Crow
Known as one of the spiritual homes of bluegrass music, a trip to the Station Inn is a necessary pilgrimage for fans of the genre. National touring bands make sure to pencil in a date, and up-and-coming bands consider it a career breakthrough to pick and grin at the Inn. Sunday night bluegrass jam sessions invite all comers to play along, and there’s no cover charge to participate or listen that night of the week.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Emmy Squared, L.A. Jackson, The Dutch
Local music fans worried that new building ownership might spell the end for this beloved venerable music hall that has hosted thousands of acts from famous to obscure over the decades. Fortunately, the new proprietors heard the gnashing of teeth and have tried to keep things as close to the same as always, except for maybe a few coats of paint to brighten up the joint. Still committed to booking both local and touring acts, the Exit/In lives on.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Midtown Cafe, Sitar Indian
One of the city’s few open-air venues and definitely the one with the best views, Ascend is situated right along the Cumberland River on the outside perimeter of downtown. It’s a short walk from the neon signs, honky-tonks, and street corner cowboys of Lower Broadway, but it feels like it’s worlds away on a nice evening.
Where to eat and drink nearby: Acme Feed and Seed, Pinewood Social, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint