While Tennessee has many claims to fame, our music scene soars to the top of the list. With our truly regal musical history, it’s no surprise we have seemingly endless options when it comes to choosing a spot to catch our favorite acts. However, there are a few places that deserve special mention for their history, beauty, or outstanding acoustics.
The following article will serve as your guide to the PARKS-certified Best Music Venues in Middle Tennessee. We’ve expanded our scope beyond Nashville to encompass several of the surrounding communities, so no matter where in Middle Tennessee you live, we’ve got you covered.
This year, we encourage you to help strengthen your local community and support the arts by getting out to at least one concert or show at any of the following phenomenal venues. Whether you’re looking for a picnic spot or a smoky, sultry bar, we’ll point you toward the best version of everything musical here in Middle Tennessee.
310 1st Ave S | Nashville
One of the newer venues on our list, Ascend Amphitheater opened to widespread acclaim in 2015. Located in the heart of downtown Nashville and already world-famous for its beautiful views of the city skyline, this outdoor space offers perfect acoustics and excellent stage visibility from nearly everywhere.
Cool breezes drift through the amphitheater from the water on warm summer and fall evenings, and food trucks offer pizza, burgers, and beer.
Parking at this popular venue can be a challenge, so if you don’t want to fight for an expensive spot blocks away, you might want to page your favorite ride-share service instead.
The installed seats near the stage are wide and comfortable, perfect for those who may have trouble sitting on blankets or low lawn chairs. Ascend prohibits high seating on the lawn, ensuring that all patrons will be able to see the act easily.
For an additional fee (we were quoted $25 per person) you can score seating on the Party Deck, granting you access to a private bar a stone’s throw from the concession counters, food trucks, and restroom facilities. Offering the Ascend Amphitheater’s best seating with respect to convenience and views of the city, this option is perfect for special occasions or serious music lovers.
When you’re choosing your ticket tier, remember to budget for extras. Reviewers say you’ll pay $15 for a large premium beer, $5 for water, $15 if you rent a lawn chair, and $20 for event parking.
2208 Elliston Pl | Nashville
This little Nashville gem is an intimate venue, hosting only 500 patrons. You’ll be close to the stage from anywhere on the main floor, though this level offers only standing room. If you’d rather sit, you can choose balcony seating, but you will most likely be sacrificing the otherwise very good view.
The acoustics and sound engineering at the Exit/In are outstanding, even for bands and genres that present challenging soundscapes. Choose your tickets with confidence; the performing artist will sound good here.
The bar staff at Exit/In is friendly and skilled, whipping up reasonably-priced drinks at a pace that keeps the line short. The restrooms are clean and bright, though small. If you’re looking for a smaller venue where you can be near the stage while your idol belts it out, this is your spot.
Gray’s on Main
332 Main St | Franklin
This historic restored Franklin drugstore is well-known for its eclectic yet traditional southern cuisine, but delicious eats isn’t the only thing this swanky space has going. Every Thursday at 7:30, you can put on your dancing shoes and head up the sweeping staircase to the second level for live music. There’s no cover charge, and you’ll be right by the bar in case you’d like to try one of Gray’s famous handcrafted cocktails.
Parking tends to be competitive, so if you want to avoid circling looking for a good spot in a garage or lot, consider calling a ride-share service to shuttle you right to the door.
116 5th Ave N | Nashville
Inside and out, the historic Ryman Auditorium is one of the most beautiful feats of architecture in Nashville. Known as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” it’s said that any decent singer sounds like a legend when they play on her hallowed stage. Of course, it’s the science of perfect acoustics that creates this effect, but the results are somehow still magical for those who love country music.
As you no doubt know, this was the stage on which bluegrass was born, on which Johnny Cash first laid eyes on June Carter, and off which career-making contracts were hastily signed on napkins and scraps of paper. Though you could visit just for the history, you’re encouraged to catch a tour, enjoy the outstanding cuisine, and of course, you’ll have the opportunity to see incredible musical performances at the Ryman throughout the year.
If you need a cushy seat, you’ll want to bring your own cushion. These church chairs are the old-fashioned kind.
110 W Main St | Lebanon
This renovated Lebanon theater offers budget-friendly family fun to the surrounding community. Whether you want to see a musical, a concert, or a movie, the historic Capitol Theatre has what you’re looking for.
The theater’s staff is helpful and friendly, ensuring that children and adults alike feel comfortable and safe during events. After being closed for 30 years, the Capitol Theatre is accurately refurbished and has once again become a much-loved community cornerstone in Lebanon.
Grand Ole Opry House
2804 Opryland Drive | Nashville
Calling the Grand Ole Opry a “venue” seems almost disrespectful to the legacy it boasts. Despite its history, this legendary hall remains comforting and homey – never imposing. No matter where you sit, you’ll have a great view and enjoy perfect acoustics.
Of course, artists like Johnny Cash, June Carter, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, and Carrie Underwood have all performed on the Opry’s stage, whether as regular members or honored guests. Today, membership in the Opry is still considered to be a country singer’s ultimate achievement. That’s why no matter when you choose to drop by, you’ll see a phenomenal show.
If you can, park at the Opry Mills. You’ll just be a short walk away from the Grand Ole Opry, and you’ll be able to park for free.
The Bluebird Café
4104 Hillsboro Pike | Nashville
The Bluebird Café is world famous for providing a stage for singer/songwriters, with both established artists and budding talents being given equal opportunity to connect with their audiences. Patrons can expect to hear the stories behind the music as well as the hits themselves with an intimacy that is hard to find elsewhere.
The cuisine is simple and delicious, with a small menu featuring mainly American dishes with a handful of Mexican and Mediterranean influences. Although one does not choose The Bluebird Café for the food, you’re sure to enjoy your meal.
Reservations for The Bluebird Café can be hard to come by, especially since the venue was featured prominently on ABC’s hit drama “Nashville” back in 2012. Even if you’re unable to get a table ahead of time, it might be worth hanging out before the doors open to see if you can snag an available spot.
Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor
214 S Margin St | Franklin
Seeing a band at Kimbro’s feels like attending a rocking house party during college, but the crowd here is usually no younger than 35—and the music is spot-on for this demographic. If you miss Nashville’s casual music scene and you want to get close to the stage with people who take music seriously, Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor is the first place you should check out.
If you want to socialize during the show, you’re welcome to do so in one of the hangout rooms, but don’t chit-chat near the stage unless you want to make waves.
Kimbro’s is going to be your new favorite dive bar venue. If you want good music, good drinks, good bar food, and plentiful street parking, you’ve just found nirvana.
Marathon Music Works
1402 Clinton St | Nashville
Marathon Music Works is dedicated to delivering a memorable, enjoyable concert, and you’ll feel the difference when you attend a show here. If you want good drinks and short bar lines, you’ll be pleased to see multiple bars and swift-moving bartenders. Do you hate concert bathrooms? Marathon has bathroom attendants keeping things tidy and fresh for the duration of the show. Hate being at the back of the room? You’ll be close to the stage anywhere you stand. Is the concert too loud? Visit the coat check for earplugs. There’s even a small pub-style menu, and no one can smoke inside. The staff here is dependably friendly, and they are excellent at streamlining your concert experience.
If Marathon Music Works has any downside, it might be that parking is limited. However, there is some street parking and there are pay-to-park lots nearby. For the best experience, ride-sharing services are your best bet here.
The Basement East
917 Woodland St | Nashville
This cozy spot is where you want to head to if you’re an audiophile looking for a great sound experience in a no-frills environment. Proudly all about the music, The Basement East offers free water, good prices on beer, and a great staff who knows what the audience wants.
The Basement East doesn’t serve food, and parking is tough, so make dinner plans and consider booking a ride-share.