What If I Don’t Like Country Music?

What If I Don’t Like Country Music?

Where to find rock, alternative, pop, jazz, EDM, and other genres

Good news! Nashville is Music City–not just Country Music City. The proof: we’re home to dozens of non-country artists including the Black Keys, Kesha, Keb Mo’, Jack White, Paramore, and Kings of Leon.

Rock, Jazz, Blues, R&B, and More

Here’s the challenge: most venues survive by booking a variety of acts so you must check their calendars to know what to expect. It could be electronica one night and blues the next. Organized by location, here are some of the venues that have strong cred, are high profile and/or offer something distinctive. (Photo credit: Black Magic Beauty Pageant)

A few tips:

  • Click on the venue name to go to its website.
  • Pick up a copy of the weekly tabloid (or check the website of)  Nashville Scene for lots of club ads and recommended shows. For indie acts playing in the area, check out Jam Base. Also check out NowPlayingNashville and Do615.
  • I’ve included links near the end of this post for genres that don’t have a high profile.
  • Remember: the legal drinking age is 21. Shows that are all-ages are typically noted.

If you want to fast-forward to a particular neighborhood, try these links:

Downtown

One neighborhood kinda bleeds into the next but I’m defining downtown as between 1st and 10th Avenue.

The Twelve Thirty Club

Not the first floor honky tonk. Above it is a retro supper club. The early set is likely to be mellow but things ratchet up a notch for the 9pm set with a full band cranking out soul, R&B, blues or whatever fits the mood of the room. Slide into a banquette for dinner and a double-shot of old-school sophistication.

Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar

The name clues you in but you should also add “jazz and R&B.” Tucked away in Printers Alley, a few blocks north of Broadway. The food leans toward New Orleans but doesn’t go much deeper than po boys, gumbo and fried alligator.

Kid Rock’s Big A– Honky Tonk Rock’n’Roll Steakhouse

You’ll hear rock hits in many honky tonks on Lower Broadway but here’s your best shot for ’70s-’90s rock as well as Kid Rock covers. The man himself shows up unannounced to perform on rare occasions. Not so much a honky tonk as a rock bar and restaurant. Based on police reports, it’s disorderly factor is higher than average for the Honky Tonk Highway.

Bowie’s

This is the answer to the question: Is there a place downtown that consistently books rock acts? Wednesday is Jam Night where you can sign up to play. You’ll find your basic bar menu of fried stuff and burgers including an Impossible burger. Current hours: Wed-Thurs, 4pm-1am; Fri-Sat, 2pm-3am; Sun, 2pm-midnight. @174 3rd Avenue, North.

National Museum of African American Music

Yes, it’s a museum but it’s also a venue with special events embracing the entire African American music experience with special performances and forums.

Acme Feed & Seed

Even though it’s on the row of honky tonks on Broadway, Acme’s musical tastes are much more eclectic. We’ve enjoyed the Soul Brunch on Saturdays, a funk band has a standing Thursday gig, and I’ve heard good things about the Grateful Dead jam band sessions on Monday nights.

SoBro (South of Broadway)

It’s a little imprecise but generally includes everything below Broadway until you reach the interstate.

Cannery Hall

Following a hiatus for a major renovation, this three-in-one concert venue is back for an encore. The largest, Mainstage, has a standing capacity of 1,275. The midsize venue, The Mil, is half that capacity, and Row One Stage can hold 300 people. Continuing its legacy, look for artists leaning toward rock, Americana, dance music, and other non-country genres.

Mellow Mushroom

Right in the middle of the Honky Tonk Highway, the Mellow Mushroom sometimes colors outside the country lines–most notably with Metal Mondays. There’s also a real-deal bluegrass band booked there frequently. Call or check their Instagram page to get the lowdown on the day’s music.

Schermerhorn Symphony Hall

Yes, it’s where our orchestra typically performs but it’s also made available to other artists. A recent glance at their schedule included concerts by the Jacksons, Beach Boys, and the amazing collaboration of Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain and Rakesh Chaurasia.

True Music Room and Bar

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. There’s a photo booth if you want to take a selfie the old way.

3rd and Lindsley

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 Texas 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 The Smoking Section pumping out primo covers of Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Rocketown

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 just about everything that might be labeled “alternative”–rap, hip-hop, rock and metal. Okay, no jazz or bossa nova. The center also boasts an indoor skatepark, classes and seminars, and a coffee bar.

City Winery

A somewhat upscale dining experience plus an eclectic line-up of performers sets 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.

Cannery Hall

Three venues in one, 2024 brings the resurrection of this much-loved destination might occasionally welcome a country artist but the calendar is heavy in rock, house, EDM, funk, soul, and…well, just check the schedule to see how eclectic things get.

The Blue Room at Third Man Records

A block away from City Winery, Jack White’s joint is 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. It’s hosted everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Margo Price. Note: make sure you’re looking at Nashville–not Detroit–listings on the website.

The Gulch

Rudy’s Jazz Room

Had a terrific time recently at this speakeasy-styled room which also embraces swing, blues, r’n’b and gospel. The vibe is intimate. The music is soul-stirring. It’s no wonder some of Nashville’s most notable jazz musicians call this club their home base. Every Thursday is Hot Club Gypsy Jazz and Rudy’s French Connection, 6pm-8:15pm. Always a sell-out is the Sunday Night Jazz Jam, 9pm-11:15pm. If you can’t find street parking, there’s a garage a few blocks west of the club’s entrance,

Sambuca

For your dining and dancing pleasure, drop in to Sambuca. The songs will likely be familiar–pop hits, light rock, maybe a little jazz and Motown. Just depends on who takes the stage that night. All in all, a feel-good evening with a touch of sophistication. No dress code but you might want to step up your wardrobe. Website links provide little artist bios.

The Electric Jane

This dining/cocktails/entertainment venue is actually a few blocks west of The Gulch that’s close enough for me. The vibe is a mix of retro and modern hip. The music is pop-rock energy with occasionally something out of those bounds.

Night We Met

At this writing, few details are available about this soon-to-open club billed as “Music City’s premier dance music destination.” Check out the website and I’ll try to circle back when more info is published.

Elliston Place/West

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.)

Exit/In

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 occasional forays into metal and hip hop.

The End

@2219 Elliston Place. Across the street from Exit/In and tucked back from the street, even the somewhat-grungy building looks like it would be the right address for the alternative 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.

Springwater Supper Club & Lounge

Springwater Supper Club and Lounge

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. No charge for songwriter nights but typically a $10 cover for bands and featured artists. Fun fact: it’s a former speakeasy and claims to be Tennessee’s oldest bar, dating back 100+ years. Don’t let the name mislead you; there’s no supper at this supper club. No food–just beverages.

Analog

Attached to the Hutton Hotel on West End, this artfully decorated intimate room feels like a plus-sized living room. Their website claims it’s a place where “storytelling is prized above all else” so think of it as more of a listening room than a lounge. Music here matches the vibe.

East Nashville

Noted as the city’s 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.

The 5 Spot

Sometimes it’s a live music venue for rock, Americana and such. At other times, it’s a dance club with recurring events like Sunday Night Soul, Motown Mondays and Strictly ’80s.  For the budget-conscious, there’s $2 Tuesday with a $2 cover and $2 Yazoo with a mix of Americana/folk/rock artists and a DJ. Check the schedule to see what’s what.

The Basement East

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. My friend and independent artist Clayton says it’s one of the best mid-sized halls in the city.

The Office

A likely spot for EDM DJs but ventures into other genres as well. Current hours are Friday and Saturday, 10pm-3am.

The Cowan

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.

The East Room

In addition to comedy nights, the snug little club embraces the full palette of indie: folk, pop, swing and sounds-not-easily-pigeonholed. Monthly goth show–check the calendar for Fascination Street.

Rosemary & Beauty Queen

@1102 Forrest Avenue. Looking for a spot in East Nashville to dance the night away? This may be your jam. The DJs keep things moving, the cocktails rate good buzz, and there’s a short menu of Mexican-leaning cuisine. CLOSED DUE TO FIRE. MAY REBUILD.

The Cobra Nashville

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. It goes goth every Thursday and the last Saturday of the month.

The Underdog

@3208 Gallatin Pike. It bills itself as a neighborhood bar with affordable drinks. Smallish space but offers live music 7 nights a week.

Eastside Bowl

Don’t let “Bowl” fool you. Yes, there are lanes but there’s also a music room as well as a ’70s-style lounge for more mellow performances. Seems they’ve added more edge to their music schedule than when they first opened–but you be the judge.

DRKMTTR

@1111 Dickerson Pike. Technically it’s on the west side of East Nashville but what do you care if you’re looking for what they describe as “underground music and arts”? Translation: indie, punk and hardcore. It’s a snug all-ages, standing-room-only, cash-only-at-the-door venue. They do serve alcohol with ID required and accept cash as well as non-cash payment options. Typically open 3-4 nights a week.

Sid Gold’s Request Room

I keep hearing what a great time people had at this kitschy piano karaoke lounge north of East Nashville proper in Inglewood. Got a Tin Pan Alley request or been wanting to belt out a Broadway tune? This is your place.

Germantown

Brooklyn Bowl

Don’t let the name throw you off (twice). It’s a Nashville outpost of a Brooklyn legend. Yes, there are lanes (and games and food) but it’s also a highly respected music hall with shows all over the board from emo to hip hop to jam bands. Swifties flock to Taylor Swift Night. Every one of its 1,200 seats has a great view of the stage, praises my independent artist friend Clayton.

Nashville Jazz Workshop

Mecca for jazz musicians and lovers, NJW has a cool, intimate vibe. Pretty much every local noteworthy jazz musician has played here at one time and many return to hear their friends play.

Star Rover Sound

I can’t promise  you’lll never find country music here but, if you do, it’s like to be spiked with rock, R&B, or soul. Nice informal setting with an acclaimed Mexican menu.

Other Locations Around Nashville

The Basement

@1604 8th Ave. S. 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.

Marathon Music Works

@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.

Flamingo Cocktail Club

@509 Houston Street in Wedgewood/Houston (sometimes called WeHo). They’re not great about keeping their schedule current but they claim to have jams on Wednesdays and live jazz on Saturdays. Check before going.

Miss Zeke’s Juke Joint

Step inside Papa Turney’s to chow down on some excellent barbecue and feast on some fine blues, soul, and blues-tinged rock. It’s a little place and doesn’t have live music every night but the musicianship is stellar

Beyond Nashville Proper

Mockingbird Theater

Franklin. Located in The Factory, this venue books all kinds of acts–songwriters to hardcore. You just have to visit the website to check who they’re hosting.

Franklin Theater

Huzzah to the folks who restored this movie theater just off its picturesque square and turned it into a venue where you’re as likely to see a family-friendly film as a nationally known recording artist.

And Don’t Forget Our Larger Venues

Click to see who’s playing:


Resources to Check Out

Nashville is the Reason–upcoming shows highlighting punk, emo, post hardcore and indie from 80s, 90s & 00s.

No Country for New Nashville–online newsletter/magazine covering the area’s rock scene including upcoming shows and reviews of past shows.

IG: NashvilleShowToGo –focused on punk and alternative

FB: Nashville Hardcore (must join group)

She’s Lost Control

PHAASER

EDM/HOUSE/RAVES

In addition to the clubs listed above, here are venues to investigate but be aware that these places bounce around genre-wise and most will host DJs, not live bands. TIP: Late-night sets are more likely to be what you’re looking for.

Promoters

Sparkle City Disco / Sacred Hive Productions  /  Full Circle  / Nashville Resistance  / DecompressDance  /  Electric Events  /