Tennessee is home to seven genres of music - rock n' roll, country, blues, soul, gospel, rockabilly and bluegrass. You can hear these and more at venues, theaters and performing arts centers around the state. Plan to experience a concert, Broadway show or songwriting in-the-round the next time you're in Tennessee.
A coffee shop, a restaurant serving craft beers and made-from-scratch meals, and – once a week – a music venue. Grinder House Coffee Shop in Crossville has become an Upper Cumberland fixture since its launch in 2017. Every Friday night, the room is transformed into an intimate concert venue, featuring an eclectic mix of local performers and singer-songwriters.
Making Music Come Alive
Chet Atkins, Roy Acuff, Kenny Chesney and Carl Smith are all from Union County – and there are many more who love to pick and play. That rich heritage played through bluegrass, country and gospel music is celebrated at the Union County Opry with shows scheduled April through December in Maynardville just north of Knoxville.
Songs From Down Under
McMinnville’s Cumberland Caverns are open daily for walking tours, but there are only a few music events every year in the Volcano Room located 330 feet below ground. The music is carefully curated, and the venue alone is worth the price of admission. Near-perfect acoustics are enhanced by the backdrop of spectacular rock formations.
A Place for Performers
Named for one of Huntingdon’s most renowned citizens, actress Dixie Carter, The Dixie Carter Performing Arts And Academic Enrichment Center or “The Dixie” (as it’s known locally) houses a theater named for her husband, Hal Holbrook. Holbrook even performed as Mark Twain in the theater named for him. The complex’s gala opening in 2005 featured gospel music from the Chuck Wagon Gang, classical music from the Nashville Symphony and a puppet theater. Every season since then has been just as varied.
The Beat Goes On
Situated near the fast-growing East Tennessee State University campus in Johnson City, The Down Home has been a Northeast Tennessee fixture since 1976. The food is Tex-Mex, and the music is a wide-ranging mix of roots artists, leaning toward bluegrass. “We’re not trying to be cool; we’re trying to be real,” says co-founder Ed Snodderly, a local music legend since the ’70s. “We’re not a bar that has music,” he adds. “We’re a music place that has beer.”
A Knoxville Institution
Opened in 1909, the Bijou Theatre hosted artists as diverse as Houdini, the Marx Brothers and John Philip Sousa’s band during its first few decades. Threatened with demolition in the 1970s, it was saved and subsequently restored. As downtown Knoxville thrived, the Bijou became one of East Tennessee’s foremost performance venues with a full, year-round schedule that covers jazz and blues, rock and country, as well as spoken word and classical compositions.
A Dose of Daily Music
Located in Memphis’ bustling, revitalized Overton Square district, Lafayette’s Music Room was a local legend in the 1970s and then silent for 38 years before its rebirth in 2014 as an everyday dining and live music venue. The cuisine is described as “Southern with attitude” and that could describe the music, too. There are a couple of acts most nights: the first a little quieter for dining; the second more boisterous to keep the party going.
Designed in the Beaux-Arts style, Chattanooga’s Tivoli Theatre has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Almost since its opening in 1921 as one of the first air-conditioned public buildings in the country, it has been known as the Jewel of the South. Tastefully and appropriately renovated in the late 1980s, it is now one of Tennessee’s premier performance venues. The schedule features current Broadway shows, classic R&B, rock and country, as well as newer artists and seasonal shows.
Schooled in Music
Opened in 2005 with a gala performance by Gladys Knight, the Niswonger Performing Arts Center was born of Greeneville High School’s expansion plans. Local businessmen led by Scott Niswonger saw the potential of creating a performing arts center within the school auditorium. Music has always been the main focus, and all genres are represented from R&B to orchestral.
Jammin’ on the Corner
A Nashville institution since 1987, Douglas Corner Cafe hosted shows by Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Blake Shelton before they became famous. Visit today and you might hear the next big artist, a future hit song or perhaps an impromptu jam session. The modest, red-brick building opens to a welcoming atmosphere with open-mic nights on Tuesdays and music every day except Sunday.
They say it all begins with a song, and the first Tennessee Songwriters Week, passed by the Tennessee legislature in 2018 and held in February 2019, was a chance for singer-songwriters in all genres living anywhere in the nation to be heard. Now, more than 30 events are held across the state in small towns and big cities. Local winners compete at Showcase events in major cities like Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Johnson City among others. Showcase winners then get a chance to perform at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.
It’s almost guaranteed that music publishing professionals will be on the lookout at The Bluebird. That’s where Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and many others were discovered. It’s also where countless No. 1 hits were first heard. Even before the television series “Nashville” made The Bluebird Café into a must-go destination, it had a reputation as the city’s preeminent songwriters’ space where musicians are in the center of the room, telling the stories behind the hits and performing together. You’ll hardly believe that your GPS is directing you to a 90-seat venue in a strip mall some distance from downtown, but its location and atmosphere are part of its charm.