When it comes to live music venues, we've got more choices than you can shake a capo at. Not all are created equal, of course, but we'll leave the places we'd rather not visit again out of this. A few of our favorites:
Choice music haunts
July 29, 2008
The Mother Church of Country Music is famous for its acoustics, as the Ryman's natural reverb makes a holy noise out of anything from performers on the Grand Ole Opry (which plays there in the winter) to rock bands such as Kings of Leon. Blend both sensibilities for trademark only-in-Nashville experiences like Emmylou Harris joining Elvis Costello and the Imposters for some otherworldly harmonies. The church pew seats aren't that comfortable, but those pews are part of the storied history that has created one of the country's finest listening rooms.
Aptly named, the club is hidden under a gem of an independent record store, Grimey's. It's the kind of place Emmylou Harris will host a tour warm-up show at, Bobby Bare will host a CD release party at, and the best of the local indie scene will populate night to night, too, from Americana act Glossary to funky local favorites The Dynamites. Grimey's namesake Mike Grimes' regular New Faces Nite tips local music aficionados to what's new and what's next (with an occasional burst of what might've been better left unheard).
Located in the heart of downtown on the Cumberland River, this has been a longtime venue for outdoor concerts and summertime festivals. History buffs can cruise through Fort Nashborough, although you may stumble across a few amorous couples making out in the old buildings. The new Ghost Ballet art sculpture is on full display from here, so visitors can debate whether it is an eyesore or a boon to the city. A great spot for a cozy picnic if it isnt too humid.
This relaxed, multi-genre-embracing nook on the east side has seen a remarkable renaissance since current owners Todd Sherwood and Travis Collinsworth took it over, overhauling both the decor (dig the light fixture fashioned out of drum shells) and the booking. Hometown favorites aplenty, from synth-pop successes How I Became The Bomb to young country lovely Caitlin Rose, fill the place with thirsty friends and fans. It might be the finest place to witness Nashville's traditions and its young urban populace collide: The club Wednesday night Old Time Jams bring fans of old-timey pickin' and your average east Nashville hipster types together for a timeless kind of fun and fellowship.
Upstairs from the Cannery Ballroom, the Mercy Lounge hosts slightly smaller crowds with big variety its Monday 8 off 8th writer's nights are a top spot to catch solid local musicians of all stylistic stripes playing quick, appetite-whetting three-song sets for free. It's a well-appointed room that sounds far better than its bigger downstairs neighbor, and its deck and back room (bonus: pool tables) offers respite from sets you're hating. It's a great room for catching stuff that's engagingly loud and engagingly tender -- local heroes The Features regularly kill there, but the gorgeously timid Cat Power sounded beautiful too.
On top of being a piece of Nashville entertainment history (Jimmy Buffett and Steve Martin sharpened their skills here in its early days), Exit/In is the place to catch hot indie-rock, pop, rock, metal and singer-songwriter successes in a mid-size venue. The club continues to show off the Nashville rock scene's succeeders when they're right on the precipice of exploding -- Paramore and Kings of Leon stomped that stage on their way up recently enough. Its sound may be inconsistent at best, but its solid sightlines and recently added comfy balcony almost (but not quite) make up for it.
If Nashville has a CBGB (New York's legendary and now-shuttered underground music club), it's The End, a loud, grimy indie-rock den wedged into a hipster-friendly corner of Elliston. Much like CBs in its later years, The End's cutting-edge standing has waned some, but it still hosts strong local bills and some solid national ones (American Music Club made a recent stop). Check the glowing scrawls on the wall outside the "green room" for an indication of the kind of indie-rock royals who've graced that filthy stage along the way, from The White Stripes to The Silver Jews.