Nashville has many alternatives to country–rock, pop, EDM, Americana, metal and more. They just don’t get as much publicity. Most venues survive by booking a variety of acts. Organized by location, here are some of the venues that have strong cred, are high profile or offer something a bit distinctive. (Photo credit: Will Trotman Band)
Kid Rock’s Big A– Honky Tonk Rock’n’Roll Steakhouse
Here’s your most likely joint on Lower Broadway to encounter ’70s-’90s rock as well as Kid Rock covers. The man himself occasionally shows up unannounced to perform. Not so much a honky tonk as a rock bar and restaurant.
They sometimes color outside the country lines at this pizza and sandwich shop–most notably with Metal Mondays. Call to get the lowdown on the day’s music.
I’ve only been there once but the live music–blues, r’n’b, soul, pop and classic rock–was really fun. The horn section was bringing its A-game and the catfish sandwich was dynamite. Lots of restaurant seating and a fairly snug dance floor.
Located on the 5th floor of the Cambria Hotel @ 118 8th Avenue S., you won’t find as much original music but, hey, the surroundings are nice. Music is typically leans toward mellow rock, pop and jazz.
West of downtown, Church Street becomes Elliston Place, historically known as Nashville’s Rock Block, because several clubs have decades of experience hosting, well, rock acts. (And I’ve thrown in a couple of nearby spots as well.)
Famous for hosting up-and-comers from decades past including Jackson Browne, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett, The Black Crowes, REM, Dan Fogelberg, the Allman Brothers and tons of other artists who went big-time. More recently they’ve welcomed Paramore, Maroon 5 and Cee-Lo–acts that are musically consistent with their rock and urban pop leanings with occasion forays into metal and hip hop.
@2219 Ellison Place. Across the street from the Exit In and tucked back from the street, even the somewhat-grungy building looks like it would be the right address for the bands it hosts. The White Stripes, The Flaming Lips, Diarrhea Planet and JEFF the Brotherhood are among the thousands of rock bands that have played at this self-proclaimed dive bar through the years.
Also of the dive bar variety and eight blocks beyond Rock Block, this funky little club adjacent to Centennial Park embraces a wide variety of music–from acoustic folk to post-grunge. And rockin’ country every once in a while. Fun fact: it’s a former speakeasy and Nashville’s oldest bar, dating back 100+ years. Don’t let the name mislead you; this ain’t the place for a candlelight dinner.
Most nights this is a songwriters’ haven but every Tuesday night, it hosts a jazz jam starting at 8pm. It’s tucked inside the Holiday Inn-Vanderbilt but definitely not your stereotypical hotel lounge.
SOBRO (South of Broadway)
A great-sounding room with good views of the stage from almost every seat. Highly respected in the local music community. They tend to lean toward the 30-and-over crowd with country-ish music about half the time including the legendary country/swing band The Time Jumpers. Beyond that, the club welcomes pop, rock, blues and soul; it also plays host to a variety of benefit concerts. The carefully curated calendar might include the stellar tribute band, the Eaglemaniacs; a rock writers’ night, or Tim Akers & The Smoking Section pumping out primo covers of Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Earth, Wind and Fire.
Originally conceived as a Christian-oriented teen club, Rocketown moved from Franklin to Nashville and vastly expanded both its facilities and scope. Its shows still skew toward a younger audience but not specifically teenagers. No twang here; the spotlight is on rap, hip-hop, rock and metal. The center also boasts an indoor skatepark, classes and seminars, and a coffee bar.
A somewhat upscale dining experience plus an eclectic line-up of performers set City Winery apart. You might find a blues band, well-known pop artist or an iconic performer like Steve Earle. Reservations definitely needed for popular touring acts. Prices can be a bit higher than other places for this dinner-and-music combo.
A block away from City Winery, Jack White’s joint sets itself apart as the city’s only venue/live recording studio that can create real-deal phonograph records. Lots of indie acts here as well as pop, Americana, rock and non-traditional country artists in an intimate setting. Jack’s played here solo as well as with the Raconteurs. Note: make sure you’re looking at Nashville–not Detroit–listings.
Under one roof, you’ll find three clubs with rarely a country act in sight. With the same vibe as Elliston Place Rock Block, these venues skew toward younger audiences including the occasional all-ages show. A single website delivers upcoming shows for all three.
♦Cannery Ballroom–With a capacity of 1,000 music lovers, it’s the biggest of the bunch. It books rock and Americana artists with a strong local following whether the artists are based here or just have a rabid fan base.
♦Mercy Lounge–A real kaleidoscope of talent encompassing rock, blues and R&B. You might see anything from tribute shows honoring Tom Petty, Prince and Garth Brooks to hot bands on the college-town circuit.
♦The High Watt–Lots of aspiring indie acts build their following by packing the 250-seat space.
Our pretend son Clif, a budding jazz musician, has high praise for this speakeasy-styled room/dance club which also embraces swing, r’n’b and gospel. Some of Nashville’s most notable jazz musicians call this club/restaurant their home base.
Noted as the mecca for hipsters, Americana, folk, alternative, quirky pop and rock take the spotlight on this side of the river with a number of small- and medium-sized venues.
With recurring events like Sunday Night Soul and Motown Mondays, this dance-friendly club sways from swing to rock residences. If you followed the TV show “Nashville,” you’ve seen it used as a set.
I’m not an expert but I’m told acts here are a bit edgier, more rockin’ than at its sister venue on 8th Avenue S.
Not exactly East Nashville but across the river from Germantown lies the TopGolf driving range/entertainment complex. Within it is a sleek 600-capacity music venue which tends to veer from country with retro acts like George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic and Sir Mix-a-Lot to legendary progressive bands including Los Lobos and Stone Temple Pilots, plus rising newcomers.
In addition to comedy nights, the snug little club embraces the full palette of indie: folk, pop, swing and sounds-not-easily-pigeonholed.
The Cobra doesn’t lack for entertainment options: darts, pool table, old-school video games and live music. Proud of its dive-y decor, the small stage hosts music leaning toward gritty rock along with comedy and DJ nights.
The velvet curtain and overall vibe tell you that this restaurant/dance club is a bit of a throwback to the Latin clubs of yesterday. Haven’t eaten there in a while but the food was pretty fine. And music-wise, here’s their website description: “From classic rock, southern rock, pop & top 40 hits to high-energy dance bands, we have music variety to fit any listener’s taste.”
For a club that’s been around for more than 30 years, it doesn’t show its age. Its secret? Keeping up to date with accomplished artists and rising newcomers. Noted for its great sound, music ranges from Americana to hard rock. Note: it’s on the uptown side of Broadway so technically I think it might be labelled as North Gulch.
OTHER LOCATIONS AROUND THE CITY
Convenient to four campuses, most acts connect with the college/young adult crowd with bookings of the aggressive pop and rock variety. The Basement sometimes hosts all-ages shows.
@1402 Clinton Street, a few blocks west of the Bicentennial Mall. One of your more likely candidates for edgier music including EDM, alternative, pop, rock and the just plain out-there.
It’s not open every night but it’s a great little venue–they call it The Cave–for hearing exceptional jazz. Don’t go to use music as background; go to listen. You’re welcome to bring snacks and BYOB; they only serve soft drinks, coffee and water. It’s in an industrial district next to the river in Germantown. The area is a bit desolate but it’s cool inside.
You’ve heard of those secret pop-up house parties where tweets can fill a place in about 30 minutes? That’s pretty close to the story here where most of the time, Most of the time BW Gallery engages the eye as an art gallery but on occasion it also grabs the ear. Check out its FB page or know someone who knows someone to stay in touch with what’s happening—a dance party, rock or pop album release show, who knows. 1911 Nolensville Pike, near the State Fairgrounds
Catering to the college crowd, you’ll find singer-songwriter nights, small folk and acoustic rock bands and occasional comedy nights. Nestled in a 1920s era bungalow (with additions) in Hillsboro Village, It’s an intimate environment if you’re in a mellow mood. Note: parking can sometimes be a bit challenging.
AND DON’T FORGET OUR LARGER VENUES
See who’s playing in these halls:
- Bridgestone Arena
- Ascend Amphitheatre
- Ryman Auditorium
- Municipal Auditorium
- War Memorial Auditorium
- Tennessee Performing Arts Center
- Schermerhorn Symphony Hall