January 7, 2022
It might be at a small club, an auditorium or maybe even a festival, but nothing compares to the moment when the lights go down and your favorite artist comes on stage, or when you and 1,000 others sing in unison to your favorite songs.
The shared experience of live music connects us in a way that’s hard to replicate.
Music’s impact is powerful and infuses much of what takes place across our great state, whether you are seeing a show in the performance theater at Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music Museum or one of the clubs lining Beale Street in Memphis.
The city is steeped in music history, but the current scene is also on fire. Midtown is where the locals go for dining, record stores and roots music in the Memphis tradition like at Lafayette’s Music Room and SugaShack.
Nashville is known the world over for its legendary sound, with icons like the Opry, Music Row, The Bluebird Cafe and the Ryman Auditorium, as well as more than 180 live music venues that feature every genre of music, including places such as 3rd & Lindsley, City Winery and Brooklyn Bowl.
Interstate 40 will take you east to Knoxville, but let the Tennessee Music Pathways guide you on a meandering path through small towns with musical connections you’d never have guessed.
In Chattanooga, explore the classic blues music of Bessie Smith or the more contemporary sound of Kane Brown, both natives of the Scenic City. Check out Barking Legs Theater for live jazz or the industrial-chic venue The Signal for live bands.
Whether your journey takes you west to Jackson or northeast to Johnson City, every city and every town, every nightclub and every pickin’ parlor has a music-rich story to share.
Music Clubs and Venues in Tennessee
Opera, the Opry, Broadway show tunes and the blues. All the sounds are flowing from clubs and venues around the state. Duck into Bar DKDC in Memphis for some sweet soul sounds. Or check out B-Side Memphis, where the focus is on Memphis musicians. For nearly 50 years, Nashville’s Station Inn has featured a wide array of bluegrass, roots, classic country and Americana music. Known for showcasing buzz bands and national talent, Brooklyn Bowl packs in music lovers in a large venue close to downtown Nashville. In Knoxville, head to The Mill & Mine for shows ranging from award-winning guitarists to alt-rock and roots artists. Crossville’s Grinder House Coffee Shop is an intimate listening room where singer-songwriters take the stage.
Performing Arts Centers in Tennessee
Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center features first national Broadway tours, stand-up comedy and much more. The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Memphis Symphony and a broad cross section of music you might not associate with Memphis. Bristol’s Paramount Center for the Arts is a 1931 art-deco movie palace now offering Broadway shows, rock concerts and lots more. In Greeneville, catch a performance at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center or make plans to go to Crossville to see a production at Cumberland County Playhouse. And in Huntingdon, you can enjoy a variety of concerts (and art exhibitions) at the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center.
Tennessee Music Festivals
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is 20 years old and CMA Fest celebrates its 50th birthday this year. And both draw fans from around the world. In Northeast Tennessee, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion focuses on East Tennessee’s Appalachian heritage. At the other end of the state, the Beale Street Music Festival features artists paying homage to the blues and rock music birthed in Memphis, while the city’s Mempho Music Festival features past artists and bands such as Lucinda Williams and Widespread Panic. Head to Chattanooga’s riverfront for the Moon River Music Festival in September or the 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival in October, where you can hear some of your favorite artists over two days. Franklin’s Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival offers a lineup that’s hard to beat, with past artists such as Maren Morris, Dave Matthews Band and Valerie June.
Music Museums in Tennessee
At the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, dancing isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged. At Memphis’ Sun Studio, you can place your feet exactly where Elvis stood when he revolutionized music. Find out more about country superstar Johnny Cash at the Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville, and be sure to head upstairs to enjoy the Patsy Cline Museum. Some of Dolly Parton’s costumes, awards and other keepsakes are on view at Chasing Rainbows® Museum at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville pays homage to the musicians that have played on some of the greatest recordings. Don’t miss the formidable history on view at Music City’s Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum. And the city’s new National Museum of African American Music ties it all together from blues to hip-hop. Interactive exhibits allow you to sing with a gospel choir or create your own beat and rap to it.
Historic Theaters in Tennessee
Tennessee boasts several fabulously restored and refurbished entertainment palaces. Built in 1928, the Orpheum Theatre is just steps from Beale Street in Memphis. Its opulent Renaissance interiors alone are worth a visit. The Franklin Theatre on Main Street in Franklin opened in 1937 and now brings in crowds for musicals. The Historic Palace Theatre in Crossville offers up music, comedy and movies, and serves as a community center. Just a couple of blocks on Knoxville’s Gay Street separate two stunningly restored theaters, the Tennessee and Bijou. Both feature eclectic arts programming. Chattanooga’s Tivoli, which opened in 1921, was the first theater in the South with air-conditioning. Today, it presents music, theater and comedy for every taste.
Unique Venues in Tennessee
Kix Brooks, part of the famous Brooks & Dunn country music duo, opened Arrington Vineyards in the rolling hills south of Nashville in 2007. Wine and food are paired on weekends with bluegrass or jazz. There’s no guarantee that the Rev. Al Green will preach and sing at his Full Gospel Tabernacle in south Memphis, but his regular congregation will make you welcome either way. Go underground (and above ground at the amphitheater) at The Caverns in Pelham to hear music from artists such as Margo Price, Bruce Hornsby or The Mavericks. From spring until fall, Memphis’ historic Peabody Memphis hotel hosts rooftop parties. Dance, listen or just watch the sun set over the Mississippi River.
Outdoor Music Venues in Tennessee
Warm summer nights make Tennessee an ideal setting for outdoor music. The new FirstBank Amphitheater in Thompson’s Station is constructed in a spectacular limestone quarry. More than 50 free concerts are held each year at Memphis’ Levitt Shell, which was built in 1936. Between Memphis and Nashville, Jackson’s Amp at the Market hosts every style of performance – from ballet to blues. Other amphitheaters where you can catch music and the night air include Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater, The Grove at Germantown Performing Arts Center, Mud Island Amphitheater in Memphis and the amphitheater at Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros.
Experience even more Tennessee music on your vacation.