Nashville might as well be the fabled Valhalla for country music, bluegrass, and folk acolytes the world over.
From the early twentieth century, Nashville became a satellite of high (and low) culture; a wily, vital, animated mecca of sounds and microcultures.
To this day, the legacy of Nashville’s glittering past endures, with all the charisma and self-assurance one would expect from a city used to hearing its praises sung, and keen to sing some praises of its own.
Nowhere is this legacy better felt than in the array of live music venues where newcomers mingle with established acts to negotiate the terms of what music, poetry, and creative expansion mean in the twenty-first century.
And worry not, all those who are alternatively inclined – there is a vital, audacious indie and garage rock (and jazz) scene thriving in the shadows of Big Country.
Some of these find their expression at some of the best live music bars in the city – boots and spurs need not apply.
Enjoy our list of the 15 best Nashville music venues!
1. The Bluebird Cafe
Ground zero for the country set, The Bluebird is a heavy hitter that retains its homespun, earnest, kitschy charm.
It is located in an unassuming strip mall, for heaven’s sake.
Bluebird is fierce in its patronage of local songwriters and unsigned performers and they champion them via two nightly shows.
From round-up performances from some of the city’s most promising new acts to open mic nights, Bluebird is the place to go for an experience heavy on community, creativity, craftsmanship, and light on pretension.
2. The Station Inn
Long lauded and revered for being Nashville’s eminent bluegrass bar, The Station Inn is also the best place on the map to find the riotous, rousing, and uncompromising country.
The Station Inn is more Nashville than Nashville, with a down-home cinder block aesthetic and a warm and inviting space that hits hard on the Southern hospitality front.
If you’re in Nashville for a weekend (or a lifetime) you simply cannot miss their Sunday bluegrass jam session, where you might just rub shoulders with the legends of the genre (or their ghosts)!
Located in the trendy Gulch neighborhood it has been delighting the senses and fostering monumentally good times for forty years.
3. Acme Feed & Seed
An expansive, grand venue with an unlikely name, Acme is the heart of the ever-buzzy and hectic Lower Broadway.
They have nightly live shows and a stunning rooftop for those moments when you need a dose of solitude and space from the restless, high-energy crowds.
The late 19th-century building is bathed in warm historical charm while the dance floor is right out of our chaotic postmodern age.
With consistently positive critical acclaim and popular reviews, the Acme space has a rich legacy that spans over one hundred years.
It has been a grocer, a feed store, and a hatchery during its existence, and that old-time appeal resonates in exposed beams and varnished wooden furniture.
You can feel the currents of Nashville’s vibrant and enigmatic history in the decor, ambiance, and quietly sophisticated architecture of Acme.
4. Grand Ole Opry
We couldn’t leave out the giant of live country music and be able to sleep at night, so here it is, one of the most acclaimed, glittering venues in the U.S. of A.
Renowned for having no subpar seats, it brings the grandeur of an amphitheater and marries it flawlessly with the amicable, generous-hearted acts that grace its stage.
The result is a venue that is spacious without being intimidating, grand without being ponderous, and culture-making without being pretentious.
Welcoming headline acts and no-namers alike, The Grand Ole Opry celebrates the communal, grassroots, starry-eyed verve and hopeful optimism that courses like a vein throughout the spirit and ethos of country music.
A relic, an artifact, and a forward-thinking mainstay all at once, at Grand Ole Opry any contradictions between nostalgia and forward-thinking dissolve.
5. Bobby’s Idle Hour Tavern
Whiling away an idle hour on Music Row never sounded as darn enticing as it does in the century-old mecca of Bobby’s.
Bobby’s is the stuff of legends, with a swaggering reputation and interiors that can best be described as a campy collage of mid-century Americana.
Plywood framed walls and light-up beer label ephemera help foster a down-home, kitschy-cool environment that pays homage to the spiritual home of country music.
The New York Times sang Bobby’s praises, waxing lyrical about its preternatural charms: “[Bobby’s] is the kind of place that makes you pack up and move to a new city to start your life all over again.”
Ready to make your own moves?
6. Ryman Auditorium
The opulent, saturated nostalgia of Ryman will have many a retro acolyte eating their heart out.
Ryman welcomes musicians from all walks of life, and all genres, with open arms, from Dave Grohl to Chris Stapleton to Elvis Presley.
The space itself is possessed of a preternatural cool and an understudied glamour, and it serves as a quiet, but authoritative, supporting act in every single set that graces its stage.
Ryman has lost none of its integrity or its unflinching obsession with the art, poetry, and science of sound and it remains a pre-eminent destination on America’s varied, expansive musical map.
7. Rudy’s Jazz Room
While country music’s ever-ascending star can often eclipse the other genres that provide Nashville with its hearty and versatile backbone, that oversight never occurs at Rudy’s.
Rudy’s is decked out like a sophisticated, alluring Prohibition-era jazz club with a speakeasy ambiance and a frolicking, lively atmosphere.
There are live jazz sets every night and you can indulge in elegantly served cocktails and cuisine that can best be described as an upscale reimagining of Southern cuisine.
This is the place to rest your legs and take in the luminous craftsmanship of Nashville’s best jazz performers, and it also serves as a thoughtfully appointed space to soak in the grandeur of America’s pre-eminent music city.
8. Listening Room Cafe
Although it only launched in 2006, with its pedigree, unwavering philosophy, and critical buzz, you wouldn’t be faulted for assuming it had a decades-long legacy behind it.
Listening Room is pared down, stripped of the excess, the glitter, and the splendor of some of its peers.
The effect is a singular focus on the musicians and songwriters behind the songs, and a celebration of their talent, without distracting production effects and theatrical novelty.
If you are passionate about the poetry, craft, and literary verve that animates country music, The Listening Room is your place.
It is like a library community reading hour with flair, and beer.
9. Robert’s Western World
All Western, all the time – that’s the order of the day at Robert’s Western World, a kitschy, unfussy, genuine joint where the focus is on real music and real people.
Although Lower Broadway has a lot to recommend in the way of true-blue honky tonks, none feel quite so organic and unruffled at Robert’s.
It is fearlessly campy, daresay cornily, and it encompasses the hedonistic tendencies that dwell in any country’s heart.
If you want an experience that is singularly Nashville, and unapologetically Southern, this ought to be your first stop.
10. 3rd & Lindsley Bar & Grill
Rocking seven nights a week with nary a bachelor/ette party in sight, 3rd & Lindsley is the kind of laidback, down-to-earth venue where visitors and regulars alike feel like family.
Their scope is wide-ranging, with many of their acts producing music at the nexus between country, roots rock, and bluegrass.
The intimate, warm, ambient environment allows for a meaningful encounter with both your companions and the performers on the stage, some of which have been known to rouse their audiences to Dionysian dance.
11. The Basement East
Known lovingly as the “Beast” due to its much larger size than its sister venue, Basement, this live venue can hold a rollicking 400 patrons.
Their ethos is one of playful and mischievous mystery – you don’t always know who will be gracing the stage, whether it is an indie band, a country great, a tribute band, or a secret pop-up production.
The space welcomes the wild side and allows for some inspired, spontaneous dancing and singalongs.
If you want to experience the thrill, electricity, and animation of a crowd totally besotted by live music, this is where you’ll find it.
12. Cannery Ballroom
Cannery Row’s largest live music venue, it shares the historic magic and elegant ease with its neighbors, The High Watt and Mercy Lounge
If country music is making your head spin and you need a well-timed break, this is your place to see the other side of Nashville’s music scene.
We are talking rap, hip hop, pop, and radio darlings, but we’re also talking up n’ coming indie acts who don’t quite belong with the boot-stomping, horse-wrangling set.
The venue is standing-room only so expect a buzzy, chaotic atmosphere and an untamed, footloose energy.
13. Brooklyn Bowl
Nashville is no one-trick pony when it comes to the variety and novelty of its live music venues, and Brooklyn Bowl, with its bowling alley and trendy eatery, makes the case.
Located in the hipster-haven Germantown, this is the place to go when you feel like rocking distressed denim and foregoing a hair wash – it is casual, inviting, and quirky.
The offerings are eclectic and ever-changing, with arena rock acts titillating the effortlessly cool audiences one night, and folk and country acts charming and serenading the next.
If you want not only a live music venue but a full-blown, no-holds-barred destination, Brooklyn Bowl will see that you are well-occupied well past midnight.
14. Skull’s Rainbow Room
One of the most storied listings we have for you, Skull’s has been the place for musicians since 1948 and its tiny basement setting just off Printers Alley adds to its luxe allure and intriguing cadence.
They delight the senses with supple nightly jazz shows and an elevated, upscale cocktail and food menu.
The likes of Elton John, Etta James, and Johnny Cash have performed on their tiny, intimate stage, and with any luck you may just witness tomorrow’s stars during your own visit.
15. Jane’s Hideaway
With live bluegrass, roots, and Americana country gracing the stage every night at eight, Jane’s Hideaway is a notable East Nashville sleeper venue with aesthetic charm galore.
At the Hideaway, eclectic culinary offerings, a charming ambiance, and a passionate audience coalesce to create a buzzy, charismatic space where foodies and music lovers mingle and meet.
If you want to steer clear of the more commercialized and glitzy side of Nashville and get better acquainted with a relaxed neighborhood staple, this is your place.
Best Nashville Music Venues – Final Thoughts
We’ve given you the best live music venues in Nashville – now you need to go put in the groundwork.
Get yourself on the next red eye and hit the streets, alleys, and basement bars of America’s premier music city.
Bring your boots, bring your Sunday best, or, heck, just bring yourself.
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