Best Cities for People Who Love Live Music

Joe Roberts
Researcher & Writer
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Published on September 16, 2019
4 min read
Best Cities for Music Lovers Map

Smartphones, streaming services, and smart home technology make it easy to listen to your favorite music wherever you are. All you need is a good sound system (or at least a pair of decent headphones) to enjoy your tunes at the office, in your car, on the train, or in bed before you go to sleep.

While this convenience is admittedly hard to beat, your smartphone still can’t give you the authentic experience of a live show. From the charming atmosphere of a dimly lit jazz lounge to the dull pounding you get in your ears after a particularly loud rock concert, there’s nothing like live music.

If you’re looking for a place with a fresh and exciting live music scene to explore, we recommend moving to one of the cities on this list.


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Top 10 cities for people who love live music

#1. Austin, TX

  • Metropolitan statistical area (MSA): Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX
  • Population (2018): 2,168,316
  • Live music venues: 1,007
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 46.4

Several musical giants—Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, and Beyonce, to name a few—have called Texas their home, so it’s no surprise that the state’s capital is at the top of our list. With over a thousand venues, a handful of legendary music festivals, and a diverse mix of local artists, Austin offers a vibrant music scene that few cities can match.

#2. San Diego, CA

  • MSA: San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA
  • Population (2018): 3,343,364
  • Live music venues: 1,438
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 43.0

Though San Diego has about 400 more venues than Austin, it also has roughly 1,000,000 more people and fewer venues per capita. However, just because San Diego is in second place doesn’t mean it’s scene is second rate. With iconic venues like the House of Blues and a year-round festival schedule, San Diego’s music culture is rich enough for any music lover to find a home.

#3. San Jose, CA

  • MSA: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Population (2018): 1,999,107
  • Live music venues: 818
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 40.9

You probably know San Jose as the capital of Silicon Valley, but what you may not know is that the city is brimming with live music venues. Along with Bay Area sister cities Oakland and San Francisco, San Jose is a hotbed of musical diversity and an excellent destination if you love live music (and can afford to live there).

#4. New Orleans, LA

  • MSA: New Orleans-Metairie, LA
  • Population (2018): 1,270,399
  • Live music venues: 497
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 39.1

New Orleans is often considered the birthplace of jazz, and the city has been home to various jazz legends—including Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, and Fats Domino—throughout the years. In fact, Louis Armstrong Park serves as one of many venues where locals and tourists alike can gather to hear jazz as it was meant to be enjoyed: live.

#5. Las Vegas, NV

  • MSA: Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV
  • Population (2018): 2,231,647
  • Live music venues: 854
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 38.3

Most musicians that tour the US make the Las Vegas strip a priority stop. So if you want to be close to where popular music is always playing, a Las Vegas suburb is an ideal place to live. In addition to a wealth of music venues in casinos, restaurants, and concert halls, Vegas also hosts frequent showings of musical events like The Beatles LOVE and the Blue Man Group.

#6. San Francisco, CA

  • MSA: San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA
  • Population (2018): 4,729,484
  • Live music venues: 1,730
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 36.6

San Francisco may not have the most concert halls per capita, but it does have some of the most beautiful bayside venues in the US. In addition to its unbeatable waterside locales, San Fran also has its share of ritzy concert halls, large stadiums, and intimate lounges. As a bonus, San Francisco’s public transportation system is often filled with local buskers who turn boring, everyday commutes into impromptu concerts.

#7. Portland, OR

  • MSA: Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
  • Population (2018): 2,478,810
  • Live music venues: 844
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 34.0

If you want to hear the next big band “before they’re cool,” we recommend moving to Portland. The city’s abundance of record stores and music venues—plus its strong ties to indie superstars like Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith, and the Decemberists—make it a hotbed for trendsetters in the underground music scene.

#8. Honolulu, HI

  • MSA: Urban Honolulu, HI
  • Population (2018): 980,080
  • Live music venues: 327
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 33.4

As a popular tourist destination for people from around the globe, the city of Honolulu offers an eclectic music scene to accommodate the different tastes of its many visitors. You can find live music in almost any genre, from EDM concerts in beachside nightclubs to smooth jazz in classy cocktail bars—and everything in between.

#9. Raleigh, NC

  • MSA: Raleigh-Cary, NC
  • Population (2018): 1,362,540
  • Live music venues: 388
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 28.5

While Raleigh is known for its bluegrass roots, the city is also home to a diverse community of musicians in almost every other genre. Raleigh leadership and nonprofits are staunch supporters of the city’s diverse music scene1, and this community support also makes Raleigh a viable option for amateur performers looking for somewhere to start their musical careers.

#10. Denver, CO

  • MSA: Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO
  • Population (2018): 2,932,415
  • Live music venues: 796
  • Music venues per 100,000 people: 27.1

Like Las Vegas, Denver is a popular stop for touring bands during their trips across the country, so it’s a great place to live if live music is important to you. Among Denver’s many music venues, the naturally beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheatre is its crown jewel. This iconic venue sits just 30 minutes outside of downtown Denver, and since many musicians consider it a career benchmark to play there, you can always find a Red Rocks show to attend.


Methodology

We ranked our top cities for live music lovers based on live music venues per 100,000 residents. We gathered this information by searching Yelp for music venues in the 70 most populated US metro areas.2,3 Other criteria, like a city’s musical diversity, number of live shows per day, or musical history were not used as ranking factors.

Since our rankings are based on relative numbers of venues instead of actual numbers of venues, cities like New York and Los Angeles (which both have thousands of venues) are ranked lower than smaller cities because of their immense populations.

Ready to get moving?

If you’re sick of the music scene where you live and want to give one of the cities we’ve listed a try, check out our favorite moving companies to get the ball rolling on your next big move.

Sources


Full data set

Ranking 
Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)
2018 population estimate
Number of live music venues
Music venues per 100,000 

1

Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX

2,168,316

1,007

46.4

2

San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA

3,343,364

1,438

43.0

3

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

1,999,107

818

40.9

4

New Orleans-Metairie, LA

1,270,399

497

39.1

5

Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

2,237,647

854

38.3

6

San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA

4,729,484

1,730

36.6

7

Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA

2,478,810

844

34.0

8

Urban Honolulu, HI

980,080

327

33.4

9

Raleigh-Cary, NC

1,362,540

388

28.5

10

Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

2,932,415

796

27.1

11

Buffalo-Cheektowaga, NY

1,130,152

304

26.9

12

New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

19,979,477

5,116

25.6

13

Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI MSA

1,576,113

402

25.5

14

Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

9,498,716

2,420

25.5

15

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

3,939,363

957

24.3

16

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL

3,142,663

719

22.9

17

Sacramento–Roseville–Folsom, CA

2,345,210

533

22.7

18

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

13,291,486

2,984

22.5

19

Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN

1,930,961

433

22.4

20

Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN

2,048,703

453

22.1

21

Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL

2,572,692

568

22.1

22

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL

6,198,782

1,242

20.0

23

San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX

2,518,036

493

19.6

24

Cleveland-Elyria, OH

2,057,009

401

19.5

25

Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

2,190,209

424

19.4

26

Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

2,569,213

491

19.1

27

Salt Lake City, UT

1,222,540

232

19.0

28

Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA

942,198

178

18.9

29

Tucson, AZ

1,039,073

190

18.3

30

Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ

4,857,962

878

18.1

31

Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA

5,949,951

1,070

18.0

32

St. Louis, MO-IL

2,805,465

504

18.0

33

Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA

850,967

152

17.9

34

Jacksonville, FL

1,534,701

269

17.5

35

Kansas City, MO-KS

2,143,651

370

17.3

36

Rochester, NY

1,071,082

182

17.0

37

Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN

1,297,310

220

17.0

38

Columbus, OH

2,106,541

356

16.9

39

Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

3,629,190

613

16.9

40

Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD

6,096,372

1,001

16.4

41

Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH

4,875,390

798

16.4

42

Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

6,997,384

1,131

16.2

43

Pittsburgh, PA

2,324,743

369

15.9

44

Albuquerque, NM

915,927

139

15.2

45

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

4,622,361

684

14.8

46

Richmond, VA

1,306,172

192

14.7

47

Memphis, TN-MS-AR

1,350,620

184

13.6

48

Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC

1,728,733

235

13.6

49

Oklahoma City, OK

1,396,445

189

13.5

50

Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT

943,823

127

13.5

51

El Paso, TX

845,553

113

13.4

52

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

6,249,950

830

13.3

53

Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI

4,326,442

567

13.1

54

Tulsa, OK

993,797

130

13.1

55

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

7,539,711

961

12.7

56

Knoxville, TN

883,309

110

12.5

57

Columbia, SC

832,666

98

11.8

58

New Haven-Milford, CT

857,620

100

11.7

59

Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD

2,802,789

325

11.6

60

Greenville-Anderson, SC

906,626

105

11.6

61

Birmingham-Hoover, AL

1,151,801

131

11.4

62

Fresno, CA

994,400

111

11.2

63

Hartford-East Hartford-Middletown, CT

1,206,300

129

10.7

64

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ

842,913

88

10.4

65

Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY

883,169

90

10.2

66

Grand Rapids-Kentwood, MI

1,069,405

107

10.0

67

Providence-Warwick, RI-MA

1,621,337

156

9.6

68

Worcester, MA-CT

947,866

85

9.0

69

Bakersfield, CA

896,764

74

8.3

70

McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX

865,939

49

5.7

Joe Roberts
Written by
Joe Roberts
Joe Roberts is a professional writer with a degree in writing studies and over four years of copywriting experience. He previously worked at Overstock.com, where he wrote about furniture, home decor, and moving. Joe has moved all over Utah, so he knows his way around a moving truck—and he spends his time (and money) expanding his personal library so it will be even heavier next time he moves.