If you’re a country fan living in the continental U.S., you’re in luck. There’s bound to be a place to see live country music near you — maybe even right down the street. Everyone knows about Texas gems like Billy Bob‘s and Gruene Hall and Tennessee favorites like the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe. But beyond the heavy hitters, there are countless great venues, honky tonks and dives to see great country music. Here are nine of the best offbeat and under-the-radar country music venues.
Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar is the treasure of Bandera, Texas, a Hill Country gem in its own right. The saloon has live music every night and serves as the inspiration for Robert Earl Keen’s song “Feelin’ Good Again.” And they have a Dolly Parton pinball machine. What more could you want?
If you want a tried and true, no-frills American honky tonk, look no further than Jimmy Doyle’s Country Club. You won’t find any nationally-known headliners here. But you will find local favorites, the Arkansas River Bottom Band, playing every Saturday night to a crowd of two-steppers and hell-raisers. The Little Rock, Ark. establishment is the pride of Jimmy Doyle, a country singer who was a member of the West Coast country scene, opening for Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.
A fixture of Austin, Texas, Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon has been in operation for over 50 years and hosts nightly music from Texas favorites like Dale Watson and James Hand. But the real star of Ginny’s is of the feathered variety. Ginny’s is home to Chicken Shit Bingo, which is…just like it sounds. Ginny’s is a live music tradition in a town known for its nightlife.
Kentucky has plenty of honky tonks, but only one has the distinction of being the creepiest honky tonk in the country. Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Wilder, Ky. is said to be haunted by ghosts of patrons past. But even if you’re not ghost hunting, Bobby Mackey’s is a great place to catch live country music.
The Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette, La. is one of the best places in the Bayou State to see live Cajun and Zydeco music. The saloon opened in 2001 and quickly became one of the premier spots for roots music. Conveniently, the venue is attached to the Blue Moon Guesthouse, so you don’t have to go far to crash after dancing the night away.
Brooklyn might be the last place you’d expect to find a country honky tonk, but it just so happens to be the home of one of the best. Skinny Dennis, named after Guy Clark’s bass player, hosts live country music nightly. Founded in 2013, Skinny Dennis features some of the best names in traditional country and roots music.
Whiskey River Landing in Henderson, La. hosts live Cajun and Zydeco music every Sunday evening. Even if you’re not an experienced dancer, the staff and patrons of Whiskey River are sure to show you the ropes.
Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas is known throughout Texas and beyond as the venue where George Strait got his start with the Ace in the Hole Band. Strait is, of course, playing larger venues these days but his old stomping grounds still host the best and brightest in Texas music. Be sure to attend one of Cheatham Street’s storied Songwriters Circle performances, held each Wednesday evening.
Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tenn. hosts live country, bluegrass and roots music 333 feet below the surface. The Bluegrass Underground series, held in the Volcano Room of Cumberland Caverns, has hosted Vince Gill, Chris Stapleton, Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Jason Isbell and more. Cumberland Caverns may be “underground” in the truest sense of the word, but it’s no longer “under the radar”–at least not for Tennesseans. Tickets for the intimate shows sell out fast, so be sure to grab yours fast.