The Nation’s Best Cities for Live Music Performances

Live music performance at Buddy Guys Legends

Live music performance at Buddy Guy’s Legends in July 2008. Photo by Filippo Diotalevi via Flickr-Creative Commons.

There’s something special about a live music performance: You feel the music, and experience the energy, passion, excitement, and emotion the artist is portraying during the performance.  Live performances are also a good opportunity to size up an artist or band, and find out if they really have the chops of a great performer.  All over this great country, local and national acts alike entertain adoring fans and music lovers with a one-of-a-kind live music experience, whether it’s a big-time concert headlined by one of today’s most popular artists, or an up-and-coming act leaving it all on the stage in a small local club.  And if you happen to catch a live music performance in one of these cities, it’s virtually guaranteed to have an unforgettable live music experience.


It’s been dubbed “The Live Music Capital of the World,” and for good reason.  For decades, Austin has hosted some of the nation’s best live performances with popular live music platforms like Austin City Limits.  It’s even attracted the likes of Southwest Airlines, who hosts the city’s annual SXSW Festival.  ACL Live at the Moody Theater is one of Austin’s premier live music venues.  This year’s calendar of events include live performances from R&B legend Lionel Richie, a live taping of Austin City Limits with Don Henley, and jazz artist Diana Krall.

Los Angeles

This may seem obvious, because, but Los Angeles is worth mentioning because it has a legit live music scene for established and up-and-coming artists.  Most of us are familiar with the large venues like the Staples Center and the Microsoft Theater (formerly the Nokia Theater), where today’s biggest acts headline some of the best live performances.  But the real heart of the city’s live music scene is in the small venues, particularly those that specialize in live music events.  Club Nokia, for example, features a variety of entertainment acts, including live music performances.  R&B songstress Tamia and saxophonist Kamasi Washington have upcoming gigs there.  The Mint, one of LA’s oldest and most legendary live music venues, has featured some of music’s best since the late 1930s.  It boasts an impressive list of performers, including Nat King Cole, Jackson Browne, Macy Gray, Stevie Wonder, Gwen Stefani, and Lady Antebellum.

New Orleans

This city’s rich musical history started with the birth of jazz.  Live music in this town is more than just “thing to do”—it’s part of an authentic NOLA experience.  New Orleans is home to one of the largest music festivals in the country, the annual Essence Festival, where big name stars like Prince, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, and Brandy have entertained crowds by the thousands.  But it’s the local music clubs that really bring you into the enchantment and grandeur of a live music performance.  The Spotted Cat is of the best places in the city to enjoy live music.  Bands like Antoine Diel & The Misfit Power and the Jazz Vipers gives you a true taste of New Orleans and demonstrate why live music is one of the many things the city does very well.


While much of its musical history is rooted in blues with the likes of Buddy Guy and Willie Dixon, it’s also a major hub of other popular genres of music, including alternative rock.  Lollapalooza, a three-day festival held every summer in Chicago, is the biggest reason why Chicago is on the map of the nation’s best cities for live music.  This year’s festival saw live performances from

A$AP Rocky, Sam Smith, Metallica, and The Weeknd.  At Buddy Guy’s Legends, patrons get the treat of a one of a kind blues experience from some of the best blues artists in the game, including the legend himself, Buddy Guy.

These are among the best in the nation, but by far doesn’t represent an exhaustive list.  One of the best things about music, and this great nation we live in, is that you can literally find great music anywhere!

—Shawanda James

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