Spring Break doesn’t always mean wet t-shirt contests and endless booze. (Though we’re sure that’s tons of fun, too.) For some, this week off is a chance to visit the music capitals of the country and hear locals serenading the streets with a sax or learn about the history of country music. We’ve picked a few of our favorite places from coast to coast—some you may know and others that might surprise you. Pack your bags and get ready to rock.
San Francisco, California
Take a quick trip to see the oldest running nightclub in the Golden Gate City—the Great American Music Hall. Groove and move on the spacious dance floor while listening to talented old favorites and artists on the rise. With two full-service bars you and your friends are sure to let loose and forget all about that exam you bombed. After you’ve danced into the wee hours of the morning, turn in at one of the city’s favorite hotels, Hotel Carlton. You don’t even have to leave the lobby to enjoy wine and live music from locals.
We’re certain that despite the name of this bar, you won’t forget the experience you had. Amnesia is a cozy, neighborhood bar with years of stories to tell. Whether it’s electric, disco or folky tunes, Amnesia always has something outrageous and electrifying going on. Mondays are for bluegrass and this place has had some greats swoop in—The Dillards and Butch Waller, to name a couple. Bring your sax and jam with some jazzy folks on Wednesdays, or just walk in any night and experience the truly unforgettable atmosphere of this little hangout.
This rambunctious college town has much more to offer than just a rowdy Saturday of Bulldog football—though we love that about Athens, don’t get us wrong. But for those who live for unique, indie sounds, this place is like heaven on earth in black skinny jeans. People here know music, and it’s clear why the B-52’s and REM call it home.
In March, the SLINGSHOT festival fills venues across five city blocks with 80+ international, national and local artists for three whole days. If you can’t make the festival, don’t fret. Check out a few (or all) of the local venues and see your favorite singer/songwriter or check out a local up-and-comer. The classy, Georgia Theatre hosts a number of well-known artists, while places like 40 Watt and Hendershot’s like to showcase Athens’ sweethearts in smaller, cozier environs.
One of the most unique music venues in Athens is The Foundry (formerly The Melting Point). This rustic music hall used to be an iron foundry, but now holds concerts and other special events deep within its brick walls. The small stage and floor area offer a close-knit environment for guests, with bars along the back walls of the first and second floors. Reserved seating is available for guests to order dinner while enjoying live entertainment, and the patio area is draped with low-hanging lights to create a romantic vibe for visitors.
Whether you want a dimly lit club atmosphere, or a comfy, rustic coffee shop vibe, Athens has a wide range of stages to choose from. Not to mention all the best bars and top-flight restaurants are just a hop and skip away from the convenient downtown venues.
This town isn’t called the Country Music Capital of the World for nothing, y’all. The Country Music Hall of Fame offers a fun-filled Saturday of exhibit-hopping and even a songwriting session, where visitors can listen to a live, intimate performance from an actual songwriter—and a ask a few questions on how to write a hit. The exhibits vary from year to year and give a little insight into the history of some of country music’s biggest stars. Currently you can meander through the lives of Alan Jackson and Kenny Rogers (until June 21 of this year.) Bring your cowboy hats and get ready for a boot-scootin’ good time.
What’s a trip to Music City without a walk through the Grand Ole Opry Make sure you schedule a backstage tour (by choosing one of three options) and walk in the footsteps of country music stars and see how the magic happens behind the scenes.
Fancy a drink while listening to some sweet southern melodies? Head over to Music City Bar and Grill and grab a few cocktails and beers out on the patio. Live music is featured nightly, and dinner is served until 2:30 a.m.
Nirvana and Pearl Jam call this place home. Seattle has a knack for putting raw talent up on its stages. The Showbox at The Market is one of the most legendary venues in the country—so it makes sense that it’s been around for over 75 years. Famous artists from the Ramones to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have graced the stage. There are two bars located right above the main floor, offering a stellar view from every angle.
Located in the downtown area, The Triple Door showcases live music entertainment from national acts while serving up wine from Wild Ginger. This place also has a truly unique Musicquarium lounge where guests can let loose during happy hour in the midst of a 1,900-gallon freshwater aquarium and live music/entertainment. The plush, intimate atmosphere of Triple Door provides a priceless experience to every guest—whether you come early or arrive fashionably late.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The birthplace of jazz is one of the most iconic places to vacation for music enthusiasts. New Orleans offers a variety of over 80 music clubs for all tastes. Nestled between Bourbon Street and Frenchman lies a hoppin’ venue called Balcony Music Club featuring blues, jazz and funk sounds of up-and-coming local artists. Go bowl a game or two at Nola’s famous Rock ‘n’ Bowl, where you can dance with locals at theme nights like Swing Wednesdays and Zydeco Thursdays.
Are you a part of the Beyhive and know all things about Queen B? Check out the location of Beyonce’s promotional video for her 2006 single Déjà Vu—Maple Leaf Bar. Grab a few drinks with your friends and dance the night away to live music featured seven nights a week. Poetry readings and other local events take place on a regular basis, so every night holds a new realm of possibilities. If you’re looking for a more family-friendly, cultural environment, head over to Preservation Hall, which operates as a music venue, touring band and nonprofit organization. Open nightly and offering three show times at 8, 9 and 10 p.m., this intimate, acoustic treasure is one you will not want to miss. It only holds about 100 people, so make sure you get your tickets early.
The Windy City is known for its superb taste in music. Whether it be dingy dives or fancy halls, Chicago has a stage for every genre and sub-genre the musical world has to offer. Music aficionados of legal drinking age can mosey into Double Door in the heart of Wicker Park neighborhood. Rock, metal, punk and hip-hop have been filling the room for more than two decades now. Crazy stuff has happened here: from a secret Rolling Stones concert in 1997, to an impromptu show from Rise Against in 2003. It’s certainly a place you want to hit while you’re in town. But come early. This site only holds 550 people, standing room only—talk about a packed house.
Feeling up for something with a sophisticated vibe? The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the most renowned symphonies in the world and performs more than one hundred shows every year at the Symphony Center and at the Ravinia Festival on Chicago’s North Shore. You can buy tickets to the hometown shows at the Symphony Center and be blown away by melodic sounds of classical composers like Bach and Tchaikovsky—but with an innovative twist that pull in newer, younger crowds. Every show is an experience that provides a beautiful new insight into symphonic culture.
It’s not all cowboy hats and southern drawls around here (but there’s that, too). You may be surprised to learn that this city is the live music capital of the world, and you won’t have to spend more than five minutes within city limits to find out why. The music is everywhere: grocery stores, airports, city council meetings and the like—just take your pick from the 250 live venues.
Hang out near the university campus and check out regional, national and international acoustic artists at Cactus Café. Mix in a little Texan cuisine and visit the famous Stubb’s Bar-B-Q where you can chow down on delicious food and catch well-known acts from the likes of Adele and Weezer. Make sure you come for Gospel Brunch on Sunday, where you can stuff yourself buffet-style and make your own Bloody Mary.
If you feel like learning more about the music biz and want to hear more of a variety, the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference has offered attendees a mix of industry chats by day and the hottest tunes by night in March for over 20 years. Basically, if you like music—country, R&B, indie, soul or whatever—Austin has the right spot for you.