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:
One neighborhood kinda bleeds into the next but I’m defining downtown as between 1st and 10th Avenue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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 occasional forays into metal and hip hop.
@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.