Country artists such as him, as well as musicians from other genres, regularly grace this town’s smaller venues, like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, The Bluebird Café, and 3rd and Lindsley, to get back to their roots or work out new material—giving fans who catch them a mind-melting, only–in–Music City experience. Here’s how to find that once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Price of entry: Varies from $7 food-and-beverage minimum to $35 and up for tickets.
The venue: Long before the ABC drama Nashville put this intimate songwriter’s café in the spotlight, The Bluebird had been home base for legions of hit-makers. Opened in the ’80s, the club puts on nightly in-the-round performances, welcoming well-known artists who drop in for an acoustic set, as well as up-and-coming songwriters testing out future number-one hits.
Who you might see: Amy Grant pops up here regularly, but you might also spot LeAnn Rimes, Phil Vassar and Sheryl Crow on this stage.
Insider tip: Crowds queue up for hours before a show, but you’re better off attempting an online reservation for one of 90 seats, usually available one week in advance.
Price of entry: No cover charge—but since the musicians work for tips, bring cash for the tip jar.
The venue: This club’s orchid purple façade stands out on Lower Broadway where dozens of honky tonks are open morning to night, pumping out twangy country tunes. In its early days, Tootsie’s was a stomping ground for Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson; today, it’s where artists camp out before a set at The Ryman. You can catch original acts and cover bands performing live here until 2 a.m. daily.
Who you might see: Keith Urban recently took over the club for an album release (photo above), bringing Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler on stage for a song. Kid Rock and Dierks Bentley have also been known to show up and astound the crowd.
Insider tip: The annual Birthday Bash in November has become a Nashville tradition—and a big-name draw. The city shuts down a few blocks of Broadway so the crowd can spill into the streets.
Price of entry: Ticket prices vary per show ($10 and up).
The venue: From indie rockers to string band trios, musicians from every corner appreciate this intimate, tucked-away club. With 250 seats spread out over two floors and multiple bars, it’s also a fan favorite, since it allows for either a sit-down, relaxed experience or a rollicking dance party.
Who you might see: The cast of Nashville uses this club like a green room, regularly putting on impromptu shows, as do Holly Williams and Emmylou Harris. Western swing band The Time Jumpers, fronted by Vince Gill, have a weekly set here, and Lady Antebellum recently showed up to rock out a few cover tunes.
Insider tip: Local radio outlet Lightning 100.1 FM hosts a live Sunday night show that draws acts like John Oates or Lucinda Williams; announcements are pushed out on Twitter and Facebook about a week in advance.
Erin Byers Murray is a Nashville-based writer who loves catching live shows. She’s the managing editor of Nashville Lifestyles, in which she covers the local food and music scene, and she is a cookbook author.
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6) See a Big Artist in a Small Nashville Club