If you’re longing for the high, lonesome sound of bluegrass music, the pure strains of Americana and roots tunes, or some solid acoustic performances, Tennessee has it in spades.
Since East Tennessee, with its Celtic traditions, is the home of Appalachian and roots music, let’s start our travels there.
Three Sisters Music Festival, on the Chattanooga riverfront every fall, brings together top names in both contemporary and traditional bluegrass. The Chattanooga Market, an open-air farmers market on Sunday afternoons, has live music of just about every genre, but traditional and acoustic are mainstays. Add handcrafts, chef demonstrations, art and lunch, and it’s a great way to spend the day. The Market Street Tavern downtown has a variety of music, but bluegrass and acoustic are often on the menu. As you’re leaving, visit the venues along the Traditional Music Trail of Southeast Tennessee to hear the music of the area’s heritage.
In Knoxville, take in the live noon performances of an eclectic assortment of bluegrass, roots and Americana acts at the WDVX Blue Plate Special, at Downtown Visitor Center. Check to see who’s playing at the Laurel Theatre, a great intimate venue for everything from Celtic to grunge grass.
Head to Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, where musical shows are a big part of the fun. Spend the day at Dollywood, where you can hear music on every corner and in some high-energy shows as well.
Then make your way to the Tri-Cities, where the Star Barber Shop in Bristol is the scene of some old-time pickin’ and traditional string music. Be sure to stop at the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance Museum, which also honors the pioneers of traditional Appalachian music (with live music on Thursday nights). Take in Bluegrass on Broad in Kingsport, the Birthplace of Country Music.
Don’t miss the most unusual show in the state at Bluegrass Underground, a live radio show recorded 333 feet below the earth's surface in McMinnville's Cumberland Caverns. Some of the country’s greatest bluegrass bands play here in the monthly concerts.
In Nashville, the Station Inn is a must-see, where you’ll the finest bluegrass and roots musicians. The top-notch singer-songwriters at the famous Bluebird Cafe offer a treat for acoustic and traditional music fans as well. You’ll want to visit the Gibson Bluegrass Showcase Museum to get an insider’s look at the making of instruments and the Walk of Fame.
While you’re in middle Tennessee, visit Historic Downtown Sparta, also known as Bluegrass U.S.A. Home of bluegrass pioneer Lester Flatt, Sparta has embraced its roots with venues for music, a Lester Flatt memorial, and a restored Oldham Theater.
West Tennessee may be home of the blues, but there’s plenty of bluegrass, too. In Memphis, the Gibson Guitar Factory lounge features acoustic music along with tours and a store. The legendary Sun Studio may be the birthplace of rock, but it also continues to hosts some great bluegrass and roots music performers. Be sure to stop by Casey Jones Village in Jackson, where there’s usually good music goin’ on at the Brooks Shaw’s Old Country Store and surrounding venues, including Thursday night jams with the Jackson Area Plectral Society (that’s pickin’ to you newcomers), an Old-Time Music Festival in September and a Celtic Fest in November.