Brandon Lewis of Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Photo: Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
Spotlight On The Great Unsung U.S. Music Cities: Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia
When people talk about the best cities in the U.S. for music, Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Seattle and Nashville are generally at the top of list, yet there are plenty of other great cities across the country with established or burgeoning music scenes. Places like New Orleans, Memphis, Philadelphia, Chicago and others have rich musical offerings and could be your new favorite place to play, listen to or discover great music.
The musician-focused website Flypaper recently highlighted this point, publishing a list of ten of their favorite U.S. cities to play music in that aren't the big five: Philadelphia, Omaha, Neb., Taos, N.M., Memphis, Tenn., the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.), New Orleans, Asheville, N.C., Boston, Louisville, Ky. and Chicago. These are all great, largely underrated music destinations that are worth checking out on your next musical adventure or your band's tour.
Take New Orleans for example, a city with a rich musical history as the birthplace of jazz and bounce, intermeshed with equally vibrant culinary, arts and cultural history. It is hard to think of the Big Easy and not imagine a big brass band walking down a cobblestone street or a jazz singer's sultry voice enticing you to enter a dimly-lit bar. There are so many influential jazz musicians that came out of the city and cultivated the lively sound, and many who continue the tradition and add their own flair to this day. There are also other New Orleans artists making waves like GRAMMY-winning rapper Lil Wayne and bounce purveyor Big Freedia.
While Flypaper admits their list is not all inclusive of the great American places to hear or play music, which one could truly write volumes on, the cities they do highlight all have great music offerings. There is Memphis, another Southern city with rich musical roots, home to a deep tradition of blues, Americana and folk influenced sounds. The city is a soulful musical hotspot that has bred many influential musicians including GRAMMY-winning legends Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes and Al Green as well as newer generations of impactful artists such as GRAMMY winner Justin Timberlake and GRAMMY nominee Juicy J.
There are also cities that may not have as deep or long of a musical history, but are becoming established music destinations in their own right. Take Philadelphia for example, which has quite a few great venues and is home to several great established groups including GRAMMY-winning psych-rockers The War On Drugs and their former bandmate and lo-fi rock favorite Kurt Vile. The city boasts a close-knit music community, evidenced by The War On Drugs keeping the Philly vibes strong this holiday season with benefit concerts at three favorite venues and proceeds going to local schools.
When we asked the Recording Academy Philadelphia Chapter members what makes their city a special place for music, singer/songwriter and Chapter President Carol Riddick chimed in that "Philly is 'Real'"—which everyone seems to agree on. Everyone in Philly, including musicians, takes their work seriously.
"Our music creative community are serious about honing their craft. Everyone says there is something in the Schuylkill Water system—they call it Schuylkill Punch, this could be the secret to our razzmatazz," singer/songwriter/producer and Recording Academy Philadelphia Chapter Trustee Terry Jones added.
"People here are honest, and demand honesty in their music making. No BS factor in our sports, our food or in our music. Realness—you have to come in with that to collaborate here," said songwriter/producer Ivan Barias, who is also a Recording Academy Trustee for the Philadelphia Chapter.
While we don't have room here to detail every great American music city—let alone everyone on Flypaper's list—we can't let you go without mentioning the hotspot of the Midwest, Chicago. The widely popular Lollapalooza music festival began in the Windy City in 1991, and continues to draw huge crowds and diverse group of talented musicians across genres every summer. Pitchfork Music Festival has been taking over the city one weekend every summer since 2006, with its 2018 lineup bringing artists ranging from GRAMMY-winner and R&B legend Lauryn Hill to GRAMMY-nominated indie-rock heroes Tame Impala to more emerging acts like Blood Orange and Japanese Breakfast. Even when the big summer festivals have come and gone, the city is a music destination year-round and has been for quite some time, going back to the roaring '20s jazz club era.
The next time you are looking past the city you currently reside in to get your music fix, consider checking out one of these exciting destinations to perhaps discover your new favorite artist or learn more about where some of the sounds from one of your favorite styles of music originated.