U.S. Small Towns With Big Music Chops



Hundreds of people who were jammed into an amphitheater swayed and clapped their hands in time to music. Not far away, a much smaller crowd listened with rapt attention as a trio combined the sounds of mellow jazz with hip-hop.

Music fans gather in large cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas to treat their ears to favorite melodies and harmonies. Others around the country enjoy their preferred tunes and performers where they live, or close by.

The sounds of music are everywhere

Pop concerts, jam sessions and other offerings are everywhere. Whether you favor soul or swing, rock or rap it’s likely you won’t have to travel far to hear it. Another benefit of seeking out the sound of music in lesser-known venues is the opportunity to see rising stars before they achieve national fame.

In 2009, a series of redevelopment projects revitalized a downtown district of Provo, Utah. That nurtured a thriving music scene which contrasts with the quiet and conservative reputation often associated with Mormon-influenced towns. One local band manager has described Provo as “the new Nashville, where artists go before they get big.” (go-utah.com)

Two music towns in Texas

It may seem surprising that Denton, Texas, once was named by a popular entertainment magazine as the best music scene in the nation. It’s home to more than 100 bands and has over two dozen music venues within walking distance of the town square. That gives credence to Denton’s boast that “music is part of our DNA.” 

The same claim also holds true for another Texas town, where concert theaters, coffee shops, breweries and even the courthouse lawn serve as sound stages. San Marcos has bragging rights that it’s where George Strait, “the king of country,” played his first several hundred shows.  (traveltexas.com)

Some, but not all, of the music appeal of Lowell, Massachusetts, is based upon the fact that the 1950s “beat” writer Jack Kerouac grew up there. In his novel titled The Town and the City, he drew upon his mill-town boyhood experiences. It seems natural that the major festival which offers music, storytelling and other acts is named for that book. (visitma.com)

Heartwood Sound Stage
The Music Hall of Fame


Sidewalk markers, rather than a novel, help to celebrate the rich musical heritage of Athens, Georgia. That legacy, which dates back to the 19th century, ranges from rustic folk sounds to hip hop to what’s known as futuristic pop. Plaques along the Athens Music Walk of Fame recognize artists who have contributed to the local musical scene, including some who have gone on to achieve national, and even international, fame. (visitathensga.com)

Gainesville, Florida also was put on the music map by musicians who were born and raised in the area, or spent a lot of time there. Bo Diddley played a key role in the transition from blues to rock and roll, and influenced a number of major talents, including Elvis Presley and the Beatles.  

Tom Petty, a Gainesville native, had a number of hit records.  Murals around town are dedicated to his memory. Among places where music is performed are Bo Diddley Plaza, where the largest and longest-running free outdoor series takes place, and the Heartwood Sound Stage, which has several performing sites. (exploregainesville.org)

Concert at Bo Diddley Plaza
Sunday services at a bar


An establishment that straddles the Alabama-Florida state line has been named the best beach bar in the U.S., and the world, by a number of publications and other sources. Locals mingle with tourists at the Flora-Bama Lounge, where “you can have a millionaire sitting next to a biker.”

The establishment has been written about in countless songs, which is fitting in a place that has live music daily. The sounds are different on Sundays, when church services take place in that non-traditional setting. (floribama.com)


Ashville, North Carolina, Musicians


Places to hear music in Asheville, North Carolina range from a former car dealership, automotive repair shop and shipping container complex to a 7,600-person-capacity entertainment and arts center. The birth of the sound scene was the songs and tunes imported by early Scotch-Irish settlers in the area. While local rhythms are rooted in their old-time mountain music, performances also include many other genres. (exploreasheville.com)

The Birthplace of Country Music

The boundary separating Virginia from Tennessee runs down the main street of Bristol, part of which is in each state. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum relates the lasting impact of recording sessions that took place there in 1927, which are referred to as the “Bing Bang” of modern country music. Their lasting impact on the musical heritage still thrives in the Appalachian region and beyond. Exhibits and displays are augmented by musical performances and other events. (birthplaceofcountrymusic.org



Bristol can serve as starting point for following the aptly named Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. That 330-mile winding driving route traverses 19 counties and over 50 towns, and connects more than 60 affiliated music venues and festivals. Along the way, visitors are introduced to sounds that have been kept alive over generations in living rooms and on porches, as well as clogging and “flat footing” dance that often form part of the percussion for the local tunes. (thecrookedroadva.com)

Whatever your musical preferences, you’re likely to find places to enjoy them away from celebrated cities and equally celebrated stages. The crowds will be smaller and perhaps you’ll discover the next future star who will make it big. (thecrookedroadva.com)