With a moniker like Music City, one should come to expect a higher than average standard when it comes to live music venues. And Nashville often exceeds expectations with its music venues. And I’m not talking about the music bars on Broadway, a stretch of road where on any given night you can hear talented musicians packing rooms by singing beloved cover songs. I’m talking about places that are music venues first, and bars second. Here’s a nice top nine for you.
It’s not a top Nashville music venue list if you don’t include “the Mother Church of Country Music,” so let’s knock her out right off the bat. I firmly believe that seeing a concert at the Ryman should be featured on every music lover’s bucket list. And though it is “the Mother Church of Country Music,” there’s still plenty of inclusion of great artists from rock, pop, hip-hop, and R&B.
It’s a 3-for-1 special! The Mercy Lounge is a fantastic venue in it’s own right, having hosted the likes of John Fogerty and the White Stripes (not on the same bill, but that would’ve been amazing), but it houses two other great venues; the Cannery Ballroom (a personal favorite) and the High Watt. All three are standing rooms, so get there early to get as close to the stage as possible. My friend Anna’s proudest life accomplishment is high fiving Dua Lipa at the Cannery.
Much more intimate than some of the other venues on this list, the Bluebird frequently hosts the best singer-songwriters in Nashville and some pretty big name acts (Taylor Swift started her career there and returns to play there on occasion). You may recognize this venue from the hit ABC (CMT) television show Get there before doors open though, as the line frequently gets long quickly.
Much like the Bluebird, the Listening Room is constantly attracting some of the best working songwriters in Nashville to its stage. However, for those who are gravitating more towards the downtown area, the Listening Room is preferable, being only a half mile walk to the heart of Broadway.
Many a great performers have played 3rd & Lindsley, a venue not far from the hustle of downtown Nashville. It feels like just another regular hometown neighborhood bar. The only difference is Ed Sheeran or Sheryl Crow are on the stage, and not your high school buddies crappy Tom Petty cover band.
When a venue books the likes of both Johnny Cash, Ghostface Killah (of the Wu-Tang Clan) and R.E.M., you can be certain it’s worth checking out. There is a steady rotation of big and local acts, so you can’t go wrong any time you go in. One of our Whiskey Neat barbers recommended moshing at a metal show here. I’ll take her word for it.
A beloved East Nashville venue, there are great local bands playing nightly. I would highly recommend Motown Mondays. Mostly because I love Motown. It’s a DJ show, but it’s nice to just dance to some great fucking music once in a while. Plus it’s within walking distance of some great dive bars for drinks before and/or after whatever show you may go see.
There are two Basement venues in Nashville. Both are great and have local and touring acts playing almost nightly. One is located downtown behind Grimey’s, a wonderful record store, the other in East Nashville. The downtown location is significantly smaller than its east side spot, so if you’re a bit more claustrophobic, stick to the east side.
The largest venue on this list, Ascend is the best place in Nashville to see the world’s biggest acts. The sound system is better than Bridgestone Arena and Nissan Stadium (two sporting arenas that double as concert venues) and has a great lawn to lay a blanket down. Pregame downtown before heading in for a phenomenal show.
Regardless of which venue you might find yourself in, you want to look your best when you go. So before you go out, get your hair cut and styled at the Whiskey Neat Barbershop. Plus there’s whiskey here and it’s important to pregame.
About Mike Wargo
Mike Wargo is a food, drink, and travel writer based out of Nashville, TN. Born and raised in South Bend, IN, he relocated to Nashville after graduating Ball State University in 2016. He likes expensive whiskey, cheap food, and the Whiskey, Ink, and Lace warehouse cat, Basil.