Music City Tennessee: The Best Live Music in Nashville

By: Margaret Littman

July 3, 2013

Third Man Records | Nashville

Everyone is a musician in Nashville. Your banker, your co-worker and definitely your barista, or so it seems. Real estate listings feature “music studios” as often as “home offices” or “dens.” But not all live music venues are created equal. Where native musicians go to play live music in Nashville (and hear their friends play) may be different from the venues where tourists flock. And a small listening room is perfect for a quiet weekday night, but not where you want to catch a big show. So here’s our round up of the best musicians’ music venues in the city, and don’t forget to drop some cash when the hat (yes, usually a cowboy hat) is passed around. That’s the Nashville way, and how local musicians earn their keep.

More than a record label or a record store, Third Man Records is Jack White’s centre for all things music in Music City. Relocated from Detroit in 2009, this shop is also a live music venue where some of the most cutting edge artists in the city play, for free.

Since 1974 the unassuming cinder box edifice that comprises the Station Inn has been the go-to place for bluegrass music, not just in Nashville, but also across the country. The surrounding Gulch neighbourhood has changed, but the Station Inn has stood its ground as a no-frills listening room. This is the kind of place where you’re sure to see a famous local jump on stage to jam with the band. No frilly costumes, no fancy seats and you’ll have to get up to get your own beer, none of which you’ll mind as you listen to the best of the best do what they do.

Station Inn | Nashville

The Biscuit Burners at the Station Inn, Nashville © Berlyjen

Lower Broad has a reputation for being a bit of a tourist hangout. It’s true that some days Broadway feels like Bourbon Street in New Orleans. But both sides of the street are lined with honky tonks – little (and not-so-little) live music venues where bands play for free from early morning to, well, early the next morning. Locals’ favourites include Robert’s Western World, where you can also buy a pair of boots, and the more intimate Layla’s Bluegrass Inn.

Robert's Western World | Nashville

Robert’s Western World, Nashville © Steve Winton

An East Nashville bar and restaurant housed in a former Laundromat (hence the name), The Family Wash features a tiny stage with a big reputation. The music in this small venue changes nightly, ranging from Americana to Jazz, often played by those who live in the “˜hood.

Laylas's Bluegrass Inn | Nashville

Laylas’s Bluegrass Inn, Nashville © Kathleen Tyler Conklin

Housed in a 1900’s car factory, Marathon Music Works is a larger live music venue that attracts offbeat acts from all genres. The 14,000 sq. ft. space accommodates dancing and drinking (with sleek bars inside) and a VIP space with a great vantage point. Unlike other local favourites, this is a venue where advance tickets are typically required.

Header photo © Third Man Records, Nashville © pcutler

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Have you done the Nashville music tour? Where are your favourite local venues to see some live music?


Margaret Littman

Margaret Littman [] is a Nashville-based journalist who covers small businesses, travel and all manner of other topics. She is the author of many travel guidebooks, including Moon Tennessee and the Moon Nashville, which will be updated for 2016. Since moving to Music City she has acquired a 1967 Ford pickup and a lot of pairs of boots, but still not the ability to carry a tune.

Categories: Our Places