Nicknamed Music City USA in 1950, live music is synonymous with Nashville, Tennessee. Whether you’re stationed at Fort Campbell or planning a weekend getaway to Tennessee’s capital city, catching a concert in Nashville should be at the top of your to-do list—especially since most venues have been shuttered for over a year now. Each venue listed below offers a unique experience, whether it’s due to the history of the building itself, the previous artists who have played its stage, or a combination of the two.
If you can only see a show at one venue from this list, this is the place to go. Known as The Mother Church, shows at the Ryman are an otherworldly experience. The Ryman is the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, and the building itself has a history dating back to 1890. With a full capacity of 2,362 and oak pew seating, a concert at the Ryman feels small and intimate, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The Ryman served as the backdrop of the meeting of Johnny Cash and June Carter and has played host to the likes of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline. If country music isn’t your thing, don’t worry. From Coldplay to the Jonas Brothers, from the Foo Fighters to Ed Sheeran, artists of all genres have taken Nashville’s most historic stage. The Ryman is a National Historic Landmark and has been named Theater of the Year for 10 consecutive years by Pollstar, a trade publication for the concert industry.
Cannery Ballroom / Mercy Lounge
If a concert at the Ryman feels otherworldly, then a show at the Cannery Ballroom is what you might imagine when you think of a standing-room only concert in an open room. The Cannery, with a full capacity of 1,000, opened in 2005. Since its opening, artists such as Adele, Chris Stapleton, The White Stripes, and Bon Jovi have played the venue. The Chicago Tribune wrote that the Cannery Ballroom is one of the best live music bars in the city.
Mercy Lounge is located in the same building as the Cannery Ballroom, but its capacity is a bit more limited. With room for 500 at full capacity, Mercy Lounge was featured on the TV drama NASHVILLE. Artists including Panic! at the Disco, mewithoutyou, and New Found Glory all previously performed at Mercy Lounge.
Rocketown is what you get when you combine a coffee bar, an indoor skate park, and a music venue. Rocketown was founded in 1994 by Christian Musician Michael W. Smith as a faith-based youth outreach facility and operates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Rocketown can hold 1,500 audience members at its full capacity, and shows usually fall into the punk, alternative, hardcore, or indie genres. Previous performers at Rocketown include Bowling For Soup, We The Kings, Mayday Parade, and State Champs.
Exit/In has been a music venue in Nashville since 1971. The venue was featured in Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up, and Sting wore his Exit/In shirt in The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta album art. In its 50-year history, the venue has hosted thousands of acts including Billy Joel, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and Etta James. These names and more are featured in a mural on the side of the building that makes for a great photo op.
The Bluebird Cafe
The Bluebird Cafe is the place where you never know who is going to show up. It is one of the most famous listening rooms in the world and was also featured on the ABC drama Nashville. Both Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift were discovered at The Bluebird. The café seats 90, and they offer both reserved ticket and first come first served shows.
If open air venues suit your comfort level more, Ascend Amphitheater is the place for you. Located on the Cumberland River in the heart of downtown Nashville, Ascend seats up to 6,800 event attendees and has hosted the likes of Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews, Jimmy Buffett, and John Legend.
Megan Nelson is a writer, a live music lover, a proud foodstagrammer, a two-time dog mom, and an Air Force wife. Follow along with her adventures at @MegKatNelson on Instagram.