Let the good times roll at these iconic musical destinations.
Photo: Granamour Weems Collection
/ Alamy Stock Photo
Great music and beautiful weather: They go together like a perfect harmony. There aren’t many better ways to get the most out of the warmer months, after all, than seeing a top act in the open air. (Picnic, anyone?) It’s also, in many parts of the country, the peak of festival season. Yet another way to celebrate when the sun is shining is to roll down the windows, turn up the volume and take a road trip to a music destination. Our country is blessed with cities with immensely deep musical histories, from Chicago to Seattle to Detroit. Here, we present a few choice spots to get your imagination stirring. From the vast array of live offerings on hand to museums celebrating rich local traditions, these musical cities promise to deliver the fun for your family.
I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure all music came from New Orleans.
Zydeco, Creole, Jazz, Blues, a touch of funk – it’s all in the air as you stroll the city’s historic streets. Sometimes it wafts from a window; other times it comes courtesy of a street musician. Taken together, though, it’s an inextricable part of the magic of New Orleans.
There’s just something about the city that spurs musical talent, from Jelly Roll Morton to Lil Wayne. Although many genres flourish here, jazz still reigns. One must-visit spot is Maison Bourbon, one of the oldest jazz clubs in the French Quarter. It’s where many luminaries, including Harry Connick Jr., got their start. Another real-deal joint with rich NOLA ambience is The Spotted Cat Music Club, where jazz and blues aficionados can catch a couple of sets that last into the wee hours. And a music tour of The Big Easy wouldn’t be complete without Preservation Hall. Founded in 1961 to honor traditional New Orleans jazz, today the hall presents more than 350 concerts a year in vintage Dixieland environs.
Grab a bag of beignets and meander to Musical Legends Park, where bronze statues of local greats like Fats Domino and Louis Prima stand sentinel, and live music can be heard throughout the day. Nearby, the hip International House Hotel hosts songwriters from around the country on the last Thursday of each month.
Concerts at the New Orleans Jazz Museum (housed in the historic Old U.S. Mint, meanwhile, feature some of the art form’s most revered performers. The building was damaged by Hurricane Katrina but has rebounded, and once again displays instruments belonging to some of the world’s most influential musicians, including Bix Beiderbecke and Dizzy Gillespie.
NOLA Summer Celebrations
Keith Urban. Photo: Debby
Wong / Shutterstock
For a taste of local flavor, it’s hard to beat the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, held in Louis Armstrong Park on North Rampart Street in June. And don’t miss Satchmo SummerFest. Taking place in August in the French Quarter, the four-day fest honors native son Louis Armstrong and includes concerts, a symposium, a parade and even a jazz church mass.
You can’t help but root for Dolly Parton when she trills through “Down on Music Row,” the song that details how she, like so many other country music stars, earned her break in Music City. Also known as the “Songwriting Capital of the World,” Nashville has been making stars for more than a century.
Since I was a kid, I just wanted to be in Nashville.
Each year, 14 million visitors flock to the city to see big names such as Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift (who both made their bones here) at iconic venues like Ryman Auditorium, where untold legends have performed – and Johnny Cash met June Carter. But for many, what makes Nashville such a vibrant music town is its budding talent. You may catch the next big thing at one of the small clubs across the city, but that’s not really the point – it’s the incredible feeling of being able to walk into any given venue on any given night and see world-class musicianship. There are more venues here than you can a shake a six-string at, but a few standouts include Station Inn (bluegrass and roots), The Bluebird Café (where artists like LeAnn Rimes and John Prine can be found sitting in with up-and-comers) and Robert’s Western World (a beloved, old-school honky-tonk).
For pure fun, it’s hard to beat seeing great artists live, but Nashville’s music history also demands attention. The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum displays a mindboggling trove of memorabilia, exhibits and live programs, and could be a vacation in itself. Nearby, you can look for your favorite artist at the Music City Walk of Fame, which honors 80 of the city’s brightest stars and biggest bands. And those who have a passion for the instrument responsible for putting so much Nashville music on the map won’t want to miss the Gallery of Iconic Guitars, offering a stunning exhibit of rare and landmark instruments. There are also entire museums dedicated to individual legends, including the Johnny Cash Museum and Patsy Cline Museum.
Summer fun at the Country Music Association Music Festival. Photo: J. Carlee Adams / Alamy Stock Photo
Nashville Summer Celebrations
Willie Nelson. Photo: Sterling
Munksgard / Shutterstock
The Country Music Association Music Festival is held in June and showcases a staggering array of musicians, making it one of country music’s most popular events. The four-day Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, also held in June, is held nearby in Manchester and regularly draws some 80,000 attendees to see some of the world’s biggest rock acts.
For many, Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World.” It also happens to be the quirky capital of the Lone Star State. Its convergence of people from all walks of life brought with it a kaleidoscope of musical styles. While the city’s musical legacy goes back to its founding, its modern musical history began in the ’70s as it grew into a destination for many a country star, and, consequently, musicians from many backgrounds. The debut of beloved public television show Austin City Limits in the mid-1970s and the South by Southwest® Music Festival in 1987 helped solidify the city’s musical rep.
There’s a freedom you begin to feel the closer you get to Austin.
With hundreds of venues to choose from, where does one start? You can stumble into countless joints and hear good, live music. (Sometimes, you’ll even want to linger on the sidewalk, since street musicians can be as engaging as those onstage.) Try Antone’s, an iconic blues joint founded in 1975 that’s hosted many of the greats, including B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. Across the Colorado River, you’ll find the eclectic, throwback Continental Club. Rockin’ since 1955, it offers roots, rockabilly, country, swing and blues every night of the week. Twice annually, it also hosts a one-of-a-kind Elvis tribute. But if you like to move with your music, you won’t want to miss the Broken Spoke – founded in 1964, it’s the epitome of an old-school Texas country dancehall.
Austin Summer Celebrations
Peak festival season occurs early in the calendar year, most notably with South by Southwest in March. But summer visitors will still find plenty to take in. The Bullock Texas State History Museum hosts a free concert series in July called Music Under the Star, and, if you visit on the Fourth, the Austin Symphony’s annual celebration with fireworks over Lady Bird Lake is a can’t-miss.
Austin-based rock band White Denim performs at SXSW in 2017. Photo: Robert A Tobiansky / Getty Images