The Best Music Venues in Nashville
Listen like a local.
Nashville doesn’t rest on its Music City Laurels by only featuring live music at the many celebrity-affiliated honky tonks of Lower Broad. For an authentic listening experience, you need to get out of the neon river and make your way to the venues locals frequent. While you won’t be able to bop from bar to bar with no cover charge like downtown, you’ll hear great music being performed by committed artists, and you’ll probably hear “Free Bird” 99% fewer times. That alone should be worth seeking out some of these clubs and performance halls.
This offshoot of the popular New York-based entertainment complex was just about ready to open their lanes when that dirty COVID stopped them in their tracks right before opening night. After a year+ of waiting, they’ve finally turned on the stage lights on a modern performance venue and started to book nationally-known bands. In addition to ticketed shows, some nights offer free admission for DJ shows, bowling, food, drink, and fun.
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. Patron 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.
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.
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 immersive. The bar also serves up some proper cocktails to keep the vibe classy.
Fanatically committed to local bands, The 5 Spot is a go-to for Nashville rockers. Most nights 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 red curtain backdrop. At The 5 Spot, it’s not about the decor. It’s all about the music.
The Bluebird is the undisputed center of singer/songwriter in-the-round performances in Nashville, but not everybody wants to travel to the ‘burbs on a visit to Music City. The Listening room downtown also features similar shows with troubadours singing their own songs, but in a much larger space with a first-class sound system and more extensive food and drink offerings. Between the Nashville location and a new outlet in Pigeon Forge, this establishment showcases a host of musical talent aimed at introducing tourists and locals alike to who might be the next big thing. Weekend brunch shows are especially popular.
Calling the Springwater a ‘supper club” is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek stretch. It is simply a cash-only dive bar serving cold beer and featuring an eclectic range of musical acts in a dark cinderblock room. What else would you expect from the oldest continuously operating bar in the entire state. So pull out your wallet and pull out a fiver instead of your AMEX for a change, buy a frosty brew and prepare to get your face melted by a cranking band or your heart broken by a talented singer/songwriter.
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.
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.
A venue that needs no introduction, the Opry is actually a bit of a haul from downtown Nashville, but it’s worth the trip if only to see what all the fuss is about. It’s a country music fan’s dream and also attracts plenty of non-country artists who are nevertheless drawn by the sheer allure of the place. Once you’re inside, you really can’t deny that there’s something magical about the place.
Want to hear some music in Nashville but looking for something a little different from the whole Nashville thing? Head down to Marathon Music Works, located in the old Marathon Motor Works Factory, which is big, weird, and consistently awesome. They recently finished a big remodel, and the effort shows, with a snazzy new entrance and a few extra bars. The complex also plays host to a huge variety of little stores, coffee shops, and even an improv comedy club, so give yourself plenty of time to explore.
If you want a great audio experience, you can’t ask for better than a room designed by Jack White, one of the most obsessive audiophiles of his generation. The Blue Room is a venue in White’s Third Man Records, and just like all things Jack White, it pays close attention to the little details. From an interior perfectly calibrated for beautiful sonics (an experience harder to find in Nashville than you might think) to aesthetics that rigorously adhere to Third Man’s unique color palette, the Blue Room is a small venue well worth snagging a ticket to.
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 catches surprisingly big acts and features a bar with all sorts of interesting specials and a lot of charms—like a living room-themed VIP section unlike any other in town.
When people think of Nashville music, what they’re probably thinking of is the Station Inn, a musty old hounddog of a truly historic spot that’s impossible to hate. Everyone who’s anyone (and a good many nobodies) have delivered iconic sets here, and don’t miss the Sunday night bluegrass jam, which brings together seasoned pros and aspiring amateurs of all shapes and sizes for a weekly tribute to Nashville’s oldest, most cherished tunes.
Few Nashville venues have embraced rock and roll like Exit/In, which has more of a punk rock vibe in its women’s room than the rest of Music City combined. Take a gander at Exit/In’s meticulous list of all the acts that have played there over the years and your head will start spinning at how many legacies have taken the stage. There’s not a bad seat in the house, but don’t miss the balcony, which is definitely the best seat in the house.
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.
3rd and Lindsley is an interesting spot, located close enough to Nashville’s downtown scene to feel like it’s part of the action, but far enough away to be its own unique location. It’s got an intimate feel and is still small enough that it can pull off its own idiosyncratic shows, mixing a genre that runs the gamut from daisy-fresh local acts to Top 40 names even your mom has heard of. And as an added bonus, few spots are in such close proximity to some of Nashville’s best food options. If you’re looking to eat or drink before you hit a show at 3rd and Lindsley, you’ve truly got an embarrassment of riches to meet your needs.