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Cities for Music Lovers

Every night, the sounds of America emanate from basements, bars, theaters and stages across the country.

Live performance is the purest form of musical entertainment, and hearing live, local music is one of the best ways for travelers to get to know the souls of the places they’re visiting. In some cities, finding great live music is as easy as strolling the streets of the local entertainment district and following the sounds.

Check out the live music districts the next time your group travels to one of these cities.

Nashville, Tennessee

It’s difficult to talk about live music in America without talking about Nashville, which bills itself as Music City USA. Nashville has a deep-running heritage as the capital of country music, but today its repertoire includes nearly every style of music imaginable.

“We have over 150 live music venues all over the city, and you can find any genre of music on any given night of the week,” said Laurel Bennett, vice president of group sales for the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation. “There isn’t a pocket of the city that doesn’t have a live music venue. We have a live music app for visitors and live music signage outside all the venues that offer live music three days a week or more.”

Though music pervades the city, the classic Nashville experience calls for visiting the honky-tonks on Broadway downtown. There are dozens of these clubs lining both sides of Broadway for several blocks, and they all offer free live music from about 11 in the morning until 3 at night every day of the year. The bands play for tips and usually perform a mix of classical and new country tunes, but it’s not uncommon to hear rock, pop or hip-hop songs at these venues as well.

“These musicians come from all over the place, and they’re hoping that there’s a record executive in the audience that is going to discover them,” Bennett said. “So you’re going to hear really good, quality live music. A lot of them have been paying their dues in Nashville for a decade or more. You never know if you’ll see someone there that will turn out to be the next big name in country music.”

Some of the honky-tonks are small venues and can get quite full late at night or on the weekend, so Bennett suggests that groups plan their Broadway experiences for late afternoon or early evening. In addition to the honky-tonks, there are lots of restaurants and shops in the area, making Broadway an ideal place to turn group travelers loose to pursue whatever excites them most.

For groups that want to stick together for their music experiences, venues such as Honky Tonk Central and the Whiskey Bent Saloon offer VIP private seating so everyone can enjoy the music together.

Kansas City, Missouri

If you travel with a lot of jazz lovers, sooner or later they will want to visit Kansas City, birthplace of Charlie Parker and the bebop jazz style.

“Back in the day when jazz was superpopular, Kansas City was on the map,” said Tony Alexander, communications manager at Visit KC. “Everybody who was anybody played in Kansas City. Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong and Duke Ellington spent a lot of time in Kansas City, and the list goes on and on.”

That history is in large part why the American Jazz Museum was established in Kansas City. The museum sits in the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District, where numerous venues still offer live jazz performances. The Blue Room is the house venue at the museum, but groups can also catch performances at clubs such as the Phoenix and the Majestic.

Music fans looking for an after-hours, behind-the-scenes experience can even plan to visit a jam session at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, which offers live music only on Friday nights between 1 and 6 a.m.

“It started as a black musicians union,” Alexander said. “Back in the ’20s and ’30s, they would play their gigs at normal hours; then they would go to their union and play with their friends. You never know who is going to show up there. They’re actually celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.”

Jazz is only part of the music scene in Kansas City, though. There are some 40 live music venues around town, many grouped in other neighborhoods throughout the city. The Crossroads district, located a short streetcar ride from downtown, has a number of clubs, including Crossroads KC, a popular outdoor venue. Others are the Tank Room, the Green Lady Lounge and the Folly, which hosts a recurring jazz concert series.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.