Many communities throughout the globe are renowned for their contributions to music.
Liverpool gave the world The Beatles, Seattle gave us grunge music and Bakersfield, Calif. gave us the iconic Bakersfield sound Merle Haggard is known for.
No region is better known for its music communities and their importance than the American South. Whether you are in Austin, Texas or Asheville, N.C., music is vital to the cultural heartbeat.
Here are the 10 major music cities of the South.
The Shoals area of northern Alabama, consisting of Muscle Shoals, Florence and Sheffield, has been instrumental to fans of country, blues and Southern Rock. The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio produced albums by the Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, Bob Seger and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Nearby FAME studios recorded albums by Wilson Pickett, T. Graham Brown, Otis Redding and Alabama. Both studios are still used for producing albums.
Jacksonville is considered by many to be the home of Southern Rock music. Bands such as the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special all formed in Florida’s largest city. In recent years, more rock artists are becoming famous in the Bold New City of the South including Shinedown and Yellowcard. Tim McGraw, though born in Louisiana, attended college in Jacksonville, and it was from there he would leave to go to Nashville.
Athens is Georgia’s musical melting pot, as musicians from all genres find their origins in the Classic City. In rock music, Athens has given the world R.E.M., B-52s and the entire Elephant 6. In hip-hop, the area is known for Nappy Roots and Bubba Sparxx.
Most importantly, in country, Athens was the stomping ground for Brantley Gilbert, Colt Ford and Corey Smith. With the large number of venues in Athens, you are guaranteed to find an up-and-coming artist playing in town any given week.
Everyone knows how important Atlanta is to the hip-hop community, as it is donned the Dirty South’s capital. What isn’t as well-known is the Atlanta area has given the nation its share of Southern Rock and country artists. With songwriting hole in the walls like Eddie’s Attic and Smith’s Olde Bar, Georgia’s capital is the heartbeat of a state that continuously churns out country artists. Among the stars who got their start in the Atlanta area are: Alan Jackson, Zac Brown, Sugarland and Travis Tritt.
New Orleans isn’t much of a city for country music, but you will find it on any list of major music cities in the nation. As the blues artists follow their way down the Mississippi Delta and the jazz musicians occupy the city’s night clubs, NOLA has long been a town known for its sound.
New Orleans’ best known prodigal son is Dixieland Jazz artist Louis Armstrong, but the city has also produced Steamboat Willie and Cowboy Mouth. Musicians will often be playing in and outside of the bars in the city’s French Quarter.
Located between Birmingham, Ala. and Memphis, Tenn. lies the small city of Tupelo. This northeastern Mississippi town gave birth to the real King of Music, Elvis Presley. You can still see Presley’s birthplace where he was raised before moving to Memphis, as well as the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair ground he performed at in 1956. Continue driving on U.S. Highway 78 for Elvis history abound in Memphis.
Located in the mountains of western North Carolina, Asheville has quickly evolved from a small town to the center of Southern alternative culture. Venues such as the Orange Peel and Altamont Theatre are around for visitors to enjoy the music, and buskers roam the downtown area playing for anybody willing to listen. The town is best known for jam music and newgrass, but there is something for everyone in this mountain destination.
It can be argued that Memphis, not Nashville, was where country music really got its start. Among those who set the city on the Mississippi River ablaze include Johnny Cash, Roy Orbinson, Jerry Lee Lewis and most notably, Elvis Presley.
While in Memphis you can visit the original Sun Studios where several hit singles were produced in the 1950s and 1960s. Of course, you also can’t forget about Graceland, which for many is their sole reason for visiting. Memphis was also the location of Stax Records which produced a plethora of blues, soul and MoTown-esque artists.
Well, this city needs no introduction. Even if you hate country music, you’re aware of the ABC series set here or the infamous 1970s film by Robert Altman. Tennessee’s capital is home to the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, Music Row, Printers Alley and tons of record labels.
Many cities may have their stake as a music town by being known for one style of music or having a festival, but all pale in comparison to Nashville. The town is not just country, though. If you head to eastern Nashville, you will be able to listen to some of the nation’s best up-and-coming songwriters for all types of genres.
If there is one music city that could come close to Nashville’s status, it’s the Texas capital of Austin. Hundreds of venues line the city that serves as the heartbeat of Texas Country music. Some of the most important artists to contribute to the Austin music scene include Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Gary Clark, Jr.
There are no shortage of festivals that occur here, making Austin a destination for music lovers including Austin Psych Fest, the Austin City Limits festival and most importantly SXSW (South by Southwest). Combine the Texas capital with its downtown and University of Texas population mingling, and you’ll see that there’s certainly no shortage of creativity here.
Southern Music Cities that missed the list:
We could talk all day about which southern music cities are worth visiting because just about every southern state has at least 10 different places that are extremely important to a specific genre. Three cities that narrowly missed the list are Bristol, Tenn/Va., Fort Worth, Texas and Tulsa, Okla.