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Back to Country: The 10 Best Nashville Music Venues for Fans of Classic Country

This April 16, 2020, photo shows The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

This article is part of Wide Open Country's ongoing series Back to Country, which celebrates country music venues around the U.S.

If you thought Nashville's music scene was all corporate-owned, three-story Broadway bars with a country star's name emblazoned on the front in glowing neon, you thought wrong. Sure, those towering temples of (admittedly great) cover bands and cocktails, from Blake Shelton's Ole Red to Jason Aldean's Kitchen + Rooftop Bar, are fun, but there's way more to Music City's venues.

Nashville, home of bachelorette parties, a dozen party buses and the oft-maligned Music Row, is also where you'll find venues with just as much to offer traditional country music fans as any Hill Country dance hall or Austin, Texas honky-tonk. Not convinced? Read on for 10 of our favorite Nashville music venues for fans of classic country music. (Note: mainstays such as the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry House will get their own spotlight in our Back to Country series.)

Dee's Country Cocktail Lounge

Far away from the hustle and bustle (and aforementioned gigantic party buses) of downtown Nashville is Dee's Country Cocktail Lounge, a cozy country dive bar in Madison. With live music 7 nights a week, you're guaranteed to see Nashville's best at this laidback venue-- and not just onstage. Country queen Margo Price has been known to step behind the bar and serve tequila to lucky patrons -- a perfect Music City experience if I've ever heard one.

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

3rd and Lindsley

Seeing great live country music in Nashville isn't just a weekend activity. For years, the award-winning Western Swing band The Time Jumpers have made Monday nights at 3rd and Lindsley the hottest ticket in town. The band is known to share the stage with music superstars, from Reba McEntire to Jimmy Buffett, so buy those tickets in advance and show up early.

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Acme Feed and Seed

Where else but Acme Feed and Seed can you enjoy live country music, sushi and weekly yoga? The beloved downtown music venue is located in Nashville's historic Acme building, which has housed a soda shop, a drugstore and, yes, a feed store (to name a few) since 1890. It re-opened in 2014 as a 22,000 square feet entertainment space that features all local Nashville musicians. You can also shop for Nashville-based artisan goods at the Acme Farm Store while you take in some old school country music. That's what I call Nashville hospitality.

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

American Legion Post 82

Tired of paying $20 for parking and $11 for a cocktail or craft beer only to get elbowed in the torso by an obnoxious dude who doesn't know George Strait from George JonesAmerican Legion Post 82, located off Gallatin Pike, is the place for you. Two-steppers young and old gather at this hidden gem each week for Honky Tonk Tuesdays, a weekly free concert (a $10 donation at the door is suggested) featuring the best country musicians from Nashville and beyond. Superstars such as Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris have even been known to take the stage.

Don't know how to two-step? American Legion Post 82 has got you covered. Just show up early for the dance lessons and soon you'll be shuffling around the dance floor like a pro. But even if you have two left feet like this writer, you'll still be welcomed with open arms.

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Bobby's Idle Hour

Down on Music Row, where the proverbial songwriting sausage gets made for country music's top stars, hides this quant neighborhood tavern. It's part corner bar with a cast of regulars, part meeting place where professional songwriters bounce ideas off each other and share their latest work in a way more intimate setting than the typical cog in Nashville's live music machine. If you haven't escaped the Broadway crowds by stopping at Bobby's in a while, note that it moved in 2019 to its current address, 9 Music Square S.

-- Bobby Moore

Robert's Western World

The rise in the '90s of Robert's Western World house band BR549 pointed old souls to Lower Broadway's hotbed for traditional country music. The passage of time and the emergence of pedal taverns and corporate-owned bars bearing the names of mainstream country stars makes Robert's even more of a rare bird in an area full of common cranes (of the construction equipment sort). But seriously, there's few better places to catch sets by Joshua Hedley, Sarah Gayle Meech and other country music purists while chowing down a bologna sandwich.

-- Bobby Moore

Layla's

Robert's Western World isn't the only Lower Broadway honky tonk that's relatively unchanged since the '90s. There's rusty, old license plates as decor and country, old-time and bluegrass music on stage at Layla's, performed nowadays by popular sibling band The Risches (featuring Third Man recording artist Lillie Mae) and David Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers' sons, Jesse and Noah.

Bar namesake and musician Layla Vartanian bought the venue from Robert's namesake Robert Moore in 1997, meaning there was a downtown destination owned by and named after a female artist long before Miranda Lambert entered the corporate honky tonk fray.

-- Bobby Moore

The Nashville Palace

What opened in June 1977 as Jerry Reed's Nashville Palace and later became known as the venue where pre-fame Randy Travis grilled catfish to make ends meet remains a mecca for hardcore country music fans. It's conveniently located in Music Valley across from the Grand Ole Opry House. Catch talented locals and upstarts from out of town at the bar up front and enjoy national touring acts or line dancing DJs on select nights in the back room.

-- Bobby Moore

The Station Inn

Bluegrass haven The Station Inn opened in 1974 and moved to its current location in the Gulch neighborhood in 1978. Over the years, the gathering place for bluegrass legends and hungry, young unknowns served as a hangout for Bill Monroe and a launching pad for Dierks Bentley. Like several other entries on this list, it's a surviving beacon of old Nashville and old-time music. Come for bluegrass and stay for popcorn and pizza that received glowing reviews from John Prine.

-- Bobby Moore

The Bluebird Cafe

Thanks in large part to the television series Nashville, The Bluebird Cafe might be as obvious a destination in Music City as the Ryman Auditorium. Please don't let that fool you into thinking the venue's gotten too big for its britches. Instead, the limited-seating club where young Kathy Mattea and Garth Brooks landed their first major label deals isn't all that different from when it first opened its doors in 1982, and there's no better place to catch the songwriters-in-the-round performances that set Nashville's live music scene apart from those in other music-crazed cities.

-- Bobby Moore

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Back to Country: The 10 Best Nashville Music Venues for Fans of Classic Country