Tennessee has a tenacious claim to being the birthplace of American music. While most agree that country music originated in Bristol, Memphis' musical artists exerted a huge influence on blues, rock, and soul. Nashville's listening rooms are legendary. Come discover the venues that make America's arguably most musical state what it is.
The Tennessee Theatre is so integral to the heritage of the state that it has made it onto the National Register of Historic Places. Its 1920s gilded interior is opulent to a level that would dazzle even Gatsby, and its Mighty Wurlitzer organ has been restored to its original glory, producing sounds impossible to hear anywhere else.
A venue drenched in Tennessee history, the Orpheum Theater originally opened in 1890 under the banner of the Grand Opera House. Though that incarnation burned down in the Roaring 20s, much of the atmosphere of the original building has been transferred to the present building, which has hosted concerts, theater, and comedy for some 40 years.
Fans of the Ramones and the Marx Brothers will find a spiritual home in the Bijou Theater, which has hosted both groups. Once a venue for vaudeville theater, the present building virtually resonates with the sounds of indie, orchestra, and opera.
Make your way to Memphis's vibrant blues venue, Rum Boogie Café. Situated on famed Beale Street, it makes a musical mark with its dedication to the spirit of the blues. A host of happening performers keep the atmosphere buzzing, making it disarmingly easy to espouse the café's philosophy: "Eat. Drink. Boogie. Repeat."
Country music was born in Tennessee, perhaps in these very venues. The boots of country royalty have tapped and trodden the boards of these sacred spaces. Come wet your whistle and be drenched in pioneer optimism and balladic yearning.
Widely considered a mecca for country music fans, Ryman has stood for more than 125 years. The very walls seem to echo with the performances of such greats as Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley. Ryman Auditorium remains the beating heart of contemporary cowboy culture.
The likes of Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, and John Prine have blessed the boards of this Tennessee classic. Devoted to bluegrass and roots music, The Station Inn is one of Nashville's most revered musical venues. A necessary stop on any musical tour of the state, the Station Inn has heard some of the world's top country performers for more than 40 years.
This listening room resounds with the collective glory of more than 30 years of honky-tonk high-rollers. A focal point for Nashville's singer-songwriter culture, the Bluebird Café supplies supreme performances every night of the week.
While nothing beats a battered blues hole filled with equally battered regulars, the sheer scale of Tennessee's commitment to music is best reflected its mega-venues. Like giant ears, these amphitheaters have heard the planet's greatest musicians. Nothing beats joining in the mass hysteria of thousands of fervent fans stirred by a life-changing performance.
A sea of nearly 7,000 people makes Ascend Amphitheater one of the most exciting and largest venues in the state. Located on the Cumberland River in a former heating plant, Ascend Amphitheater has hosted Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, and a retinue of other A-list musicians.
With a capacity of 1,000, this Memphis-based gem has been in business for more than 70 years. During that time, greats from just about all musical genres have played here. Bob Dylan, Jack White, and Nirvana are some of the renowned musicians to have sprung up at the New Daisy.
Boasting greats such as B.B. King, Billy Joel, and R.E.M., the list of performers to have graced the stage at Exit/In is impressive. The venue has grown in capacity from 200 people to some 500, demonstrating that Exit/In has a solid fan base of its own. The famous rock music venue stands out visually as well, adorned with a mural that pays homage to the legendary performances that have taken place here.