Home Music Music Lists

The Best Music Venues in America: Readers’ Choice

Your picks for the most rocking rooms in the country

Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN

25 Jul 2006, Nashville, Tennessee, USA --- Located in downtown Nashville, Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of country music. Nashville is also known as Music City and the home of the Grand Ole Opry. --- Image by © Jason Moore/ZUMA/Corbis

© Jason Moore/ZUMA/Corbis

This March and April, our expert panel of artists and insiders picked the best clubs, big rooms and ampitheaters in America. Then, in May, we asked you to choose from the list of 40 finalists and submit your favorite. Read on to see if your favorite venue made the list, then visit our Venues That Rock page for an interactive map and much more.

Landmarks

25 Jul 2006, Nashville, Tennessee, USA --- Located in downtown Nashville, Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of country music. Nashville is also known as Music City and the home of the Grand Ole Opry. --- Image by © Jason Moore/ZUMA/Corbis

Jason Moore/Corbis

4

Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN

At first, the Ryman was for fancy types – the Metropolitan Opera, John Philip Sousa, Charlie Chaplin,  Harry Houdini and President Theodore Roosevelt appeared on stage in the decades after steamboat captain Thomas G. Ryman built it for $100,000 in 1892. But in 1943, the Grand Ole Opry radio show needed a new stage to accommodate roaring and occasionally misbehaving country-western crowds, so it moved to the Ryman. It's gone on to welcome just about every country star you can think of over the years, from Hank Williams and Johnny Cash to Taylor Swift. Chicago promoter Andy Cirzan calls it "the legendary mother church."

Capacity: 2,362
Website:
http://www.ryman.com
Fun Fact:
The Ryman's first-ever sellout was a lecture by Hellen Keller in 1913.

9:30 Club - Washington, D.C.

Mike Danko

3

9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

After opening in 1980 in an out-of-the-way part of town, the 9:30 became ground zero for D.C.'s Reagan-era hardcore scene – local teenager Dave Grohl saw hundreds of bands there. The club snagged every name in new wave, punk and alt-rock, including R.E.M., Nirvana and Green Day, before moving on to more mainstream stuff like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. Since moving to a larger location in 1996, playing the 1,200-capacity club has remained a rite of passage for indie acts on the rise. Says Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump, "It's got so much character, you wonder if the locals know how lucky they are." More importantly for artists, adds Britt Daniel of Spoon and Divine Fits: "I can't think of any other club that gives its bands bunk beds, laundry, and a private balcony."

Capacity: 1,200
Website:
http://www.930.com
Fun Fact:
Early on, owners almost named the club Chair Dancing Nightly, Tuba Dancing, Aerosol or Cool Whip.

Courtesy First Avenue

2

First Avenue in Minneapolis, MN

This downtown Minneapolis club opened in 1937 as a Greyhound depot, but the history of First Avenue as we know it begins with Prince. Throughout the Eighties, he and the Revolution were sort of the house band here – you can see it in all the famous concert scenes in Purple Rain. The club was also a key staging ground for the city's punk-and-hardcore scene, starring the Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum. Today's fans still love the no-frills vibe and killer acoustics, even if waiting in line during a Minnesota winter can be a bummer. "Plus," says hip-hop star Talib Kweli, a regular headliner, "I saw [famous rapper's name redacted] deck an undercover cop and hop in a cab and get away at the club."

Capacity: 1,600
Website:
http://first-avenue.com
Fun Fact:
Prince reunited with his classic band, the Revolution, including Wendy and Lisa, at First Avenue early last year. Questlove DJed the post-show party.

CC Image courtesy of Fire At Will [Photography] on Flickr

1

Norva in Norfolk, VA

The club with the hot tub, not to mention a sauna and game room on the premises, opened in 2000 after owner A. William Reid saw gold in Norfolk's rising downtown area. He sunk $6 million into the project, a Roaring Twenties movie hall that had evolved over the decades into an athletic club (thus the hot tub). The first show was James Brown in 2000, but over time, the Norva developed a reputation, drawing headliners from Prince to Dylan to Justin Timberlake. Reid later told the Virginian-Pilot that his only regret was not asking the Godfather of Soul to join him in the tub, thus reprising Eddie Murphy's famous Saturday Night Live skit. "Because he was so gracious," Reid said of the headliner who established his club, "I never quite had the nerve to ask him."

Capacity: 1,450
Website:
http://www.thenorva.com
Fun Fact:
Prince opened his 2001 show here with "Purple Rain," then played, among others, "Cream," "Kiss" and "I Wanna Be Your Lover."