They call it “Music City” for a reason: Nashville’s music scene is legendary. From live venues to indie studios, rowdy honky-tonks to intimate folk shows, this is where America goes to make music. Sure, there are plenty of country shows—this is the home of country music, after all—but dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that Nashville has even more to offer than its quintessential twang. Once you’ve checked off must-visits like the Grand Ole Opry and Bluebird Café, check out some of these indie alternatives. They may be missing from some of the tourist listicles, but the spirit of Music City is alive and well in these lesser-known venues.
The name of The Basement (917 Woodland Ave., 615/645-9174) alone should tip patrons off to the vibe here: dark, divey, and a little rough around the edges. But that’s what makes the venue so wonderfully intimate, and draws music aficionados to its performances showcasing local singer-songwriters, rockers, and more. They host ticketed events, but there are also plenty of free shows with seats on a first come, first serve basis. Added bonus: they serve food!
Locally popular club Mercy Lounge (One Cannery Row., 615/251-3020) has been showcasing up-and-coming Nashville bands and nationally known artists since 2003. It’s far enough away from the bustling downtown scene to feel like a well-kept secret, but busy enough that you know you’re onto something good. Performers have included Alabama Shakes, HAIM, The Black Keys, and Snoop Dogg—just to name a few. You’ll also get a little taste of old Nashville here: the venue is located in the city’s historic Cannery building, built in 1883. The structure has housed multiple venues—in a past life, you might have caught an Iggy Pop or Greg Allman show here!
While not technically an indie venue by most standards, this spot on Elliston Place (colloquially know as “Rock Block”) is the stuff of Nashville legend. With past performers that have included The Ramones, Death Cab for Cutie, Talking Heads, Etta James, and oh-so-many more, Exit/In (2208 Elliston Pl., 615/321-3340) has built a name for itself as one of the most historic rock venues in town. Drinks are fairly priced, bookings vary to suit just about every taste, and the crowd is welcoming. In short, you’re guaranteed a good time here.
If the raucous energy is still calling your name, head across the street from Exit/In to The End (2219 Elliston Pl., 615/321-4457): a long-running dive that has hosted the likes of Fugazi, The Kills, The Flaming Lips, REM, and more. Whether you catch a household name, a local punk band, or an up-and-coming rapper, the infectious fun at The End will keep you dancing long after the end of the show.
Third Man Records Blue Room
Third Man Records (623 7th Avenue South, 615/891-4393) is an independent record label founded by Jack White (one half of the Detroit rock duo The White Stripes) that has become as synonymous with Nashville as hot chicken (okay, nearly). Intentionally built in a less-than-prosperous neighborhood, the label made full Nashville assimilation its raison d’être. From country and blues to old-fashioned rock n’ roll, TMR’s artists include Margo Price, Wolf Eyes, Wanda Jackson, White’s own The Dead Weather, and of course, White himself. You can listen for yourself at the label’s Blue Room—the only live venue in the world where artists can record their performances direct-to-acetate. Check out TMR’s website for upcoming shows.
Sitting just outside Nashville proper in Whites Creek, this 136-acre former estate of country music icon Barbara Mandrell has been drawing locals and tourists alike since 2010. There’s plenty to do at The Fontanel (4125 Whites Creek Pike, Whites Creek, TN. 615/724-1600), from strolling the trails to touring the mansion, but the live music is the real charmer. Head to the Café Fontanella to hear local artists and dine on delicious Southern and Italian cuisine. In the summer, check out the Fontanel’s Back Porch Concert Series: an outdoor live show every Thursday evening from May to September. Admission is free, and attendees are invited to bring a picnic blanket or lawn chair, relax by the fire pit, and enjoy the melodies wafting in the summer breeze.