10 Best Live Music Venues in America - Rolling Stone
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10 Best Live Music Venues in America

From big rooms to intimate spaces, here’s a selection of some of the country’s best live music spots

A Place to Bury Strangers performs at Brooklyn Steel.

A Place to Bury Strangers performs at Brooklyn Steel.

Sacha Lecca

With hundreds of incredible locations — including small clubs, big rooms and epic amphitheaters and arenas — it’s a formidable task to narrow down the best live music venues in the United States to just 10. Everyone has their own favorite based on past experiences, but the ones here are some of the most discussed and visited and memorable spots to hear bands perform, stretching from coast to coast.

Pedestrians pass by the Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville, Tenn. The facility, known as the "mother church of country music," has a new entrance on the opposite end thanks to a $14 million expansionRyman Expansion, Nashville, USA

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Ryman Auditorium, Nashville

Known as the Mother Church of Country Music, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry (and a onetime actual place of worship) is Nashville’s most hallowed stage. Hank Williams raised a ruckus there, Johnny Cash hosted his TV variety show behind its footlights and Emmylou Harris recorded the stunning Live at the Ryman album on its stage, highlight the importance and history of the once endangered venue. These days, it stands as the winter home of the Grand Ole Opry and regularly hosts a diverse array of musicians, entertainers and productions. The Foo Fighters staged a memorably ghoulish Halloween show there in 2014, Margo Price cemented her status as a country queen with a string of sold-out headlining gigs last spring, and Jason Isbell has turned his annual residency into a Nashville tradition, even nodding to Harris’s 1991 concert album with his latest effort: a Live From the Ryman of his own. —JOSEPH HUDAK

Suzanne CordeiroRachael Ray's Feedback Party at Stubb's during the South by Southwest Music Festival, in Austin, USA - 17 Mar 2018

Suzanne Cordeiro/REX/Shutterstock

Stubbs, Austin

There are tons of great venues in Austin, whose tourism-board designation as “Music Capital of the World” only sounds like an exaggeration until you spend an evening on Sixth Street. But no trip to Texas’ capital is complete without a stop at Stubb’s, a solid barbecue joint on Red River Street with an excellent stage out back. The 2,200-capacity outdoor space is formally known as the Waller Creek Amphitheater, but it’s a laid-back kind of place, so you can feel like you’re hanging out in someone’s backyard as you crack open a local beer and enjoy a set by one of the world’s best bands. Some memorable SXSW performances here have made national headlines, like Metallica’s secret gig in 2009 — but you’re just as likely to see a great show at Stubb’s on any random night. —SIMON VOZICK-LEVINSON

best venues ottobar

Shane K Gardner/Rock N Roll Socialite

Ottobar, Baltimore

In the same way it would be hard to forget U2 playing a set in your living room, it’s hard to forget a night at Ottobar. For over 20 years, this dingy-yet-beloved rock club has hosted all kinds of bands — including improbably massive ones like the White Stripes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Because its small stage is elevated, anywhere you stand feels like the front row. In more recent years, hometown heroes such as Future Islands, Animal Collective and Beach House have taken breaks from headlining theaters, arenas and festivals to blow the roof off of the place their careers started — and more often than not local legend John Waters is in the back, presiding over the party pit.

Ottobar opened in 1997, making it one of Baltimore’s longest-operating venues. It relocated in 2001 to a dubious block on North Howard Street that’s off-the-beaten-path but only a $5 cab from lots of areas of the sprawling city. Plus, free-and-plentiful parking beats any venue close to the Inner Harbor. For a prolific arts city that’s teeming with talent yet constantly recovering from DIY space crackdowns, transient student populations, and the like, Ottobar offers much more than consistent live music. It’s become an important community pillar, a home base and an undeniable hidden gem of the I-95 tour circuit. Plus, its official logo is a cat pawing a martini glass. What could top that? —SARAH GRANT

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