The following is my idiosyncratic personal opinion, often at odds with the standard guide book choices. Have lived in Nashville for 30+ years and am really enjoying the revival of honky-tonks on 2nd Ave and Broadway, an area formerly dominated by adult book stores and peep shows. First, don't bother with Tootsie's; too crowded, too famous, making it a “must see” according to guide books but I disagree. Remember, Kris Kristofferson doesn't play there anymore.
There are better, less-crowded venues. We always start our evening tour on 2nd Ave, about three blocks up from Broadway. Each club has doors open so that one can hear the music. We pick the first that sounds like fun, most have no cover (just pass the band tip jar around occasionally) and no pressure to buy drinks. If our judgment was good we probably will stay for the whole set by that performer. Or, change your mind and continue the hunt. (I suggest avoiding BB Kings and Wild Horse Saloon unless someone is playing that you particularly want to see). We turn right on Broad and keep listening. There is always an influx of new clubs and new wannabees (and some of them will make it!) Just keep your ears open and don’t worry about the name on the door.
There are some venerable clubs that seldom disappoint: Legends, Robert’s Western Wear in particular. Also try the Wheel and the Stage. There are buskers aplenty so carry some singles to throw in the instrument case of those you like.
Moving a little off the main drag, I must recommend 3rd&Lindsley for great sound and consistently good music. Every Monday night the Western Swing band, the Time Jumpers, is on stage. Now for the little known surprise bit: If Vince Gill is in town he’ll be playing with them. A can’t lose situation!
Dress Code: Wear some kind of footwear, at least a T-shirt and pants, shorts, skirt etc. Cowboy hat and boots are optional.
Everytime we passed this place the band they had was soo good. At first I thought it was a radio and was shocked to see and hear the live band. Whether day or night this bar was always crowded.
Dress Code: very casual
This is a cool place to come hear live music - rock, punk, country - the Exit/In has hosted the unknown, the up-and-coming, the current, and the has-been. Basically, a huge room with a stage at the front, a bar to the side, and a balcony in the back - this venue has been around in various incarnations since 1971. There are a half-dozen tables on the balcony, but mostly SRO, so wear your comfy shoes - it's gonna be a long night!
Check out the packed monthy calendar - there will be something to suit your musical taste!
Dress Code: Shirt and shoes required...
the cadillac ranch is a bar and resturant located on broadway in the broadway entertainment district. the cadillac ranch offers live country & western music. a fun place to eat and drink and listen to music in downtown nashville.
Dress Code: casual.
tootsie's orchid lounge is located in the broadway entertainment district downtown. tootsie's is a great place to drink and listen to live music. tootsie's is my favorite bar in nashville. see the attached web site for their entertainment schedule.
Dress Code: casual.
Tootsie's was originally called Mom's until Tootsie Bess bought the place in 1960 and had it painted an orchid color. In the early days, this bar near the Ryman Auditorium hosted such famous customers as Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis, Roger Miller, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline and others. Of course that was back when the Ryman Auditorium was still home of the Grand Ol' Opry radio show, and the singers just had to stroll a few blocks down the street for a drink.
Today Tootsie's is famous for its live country music all day every day from 10am until 3am.
Tootsie's also has locations in Panama City, Florida, and in the Nashville Airport. We stopped at the airport location where they had two performers taking turns singing old and new country hits. We relaxed for about 45 minutes while waiting for our flight and really enjoyed the music.
My video from Tootsie's airport lounge is located here.
Excellent place for live music. Smallish venue (maybe seats 150 at small tables & bar). The sound was great, and the venue is smoke-free, which works for me. Calendar list in on their website, and the music is eclectic.
BB Kings was a great place! If you are looking to make conversation don't come here as it is VERY loud. Prices are very reasonable. I had the deep fried pickles and they were yummy!! The drinks were good too!! There is a cover charge but its well worth it to watch the live band. The place was packed but yet the service was excellent. It was one of my favorite places that we went while in Nashville.
Dress Code: Casual and fun
Very small and intimate - something like 20 tables, plus seating at the bar. Performances are generally "in the round" and feature songwriters performing their own original works. Come hear the songs you'll be hearing on the radio next year! This is a "listening room" and as such there is no talking during performances. No smoking, but the outside is wired for sound, so if you must step out you won't miss any part of the show. Early performances have no cover; late performances have a minimal cover - all shows have a $7 beverage minimum.
This place is world famous, and rightly so. Some of the best songwriters in the world showcase their songs here, and some world-class and famous people frequent here - both on stage and off. Lari White performed tonight, and was kind enough to autograph my CD!
Dress Code: I am unaware of any dress code other than the standard shirt and shoes...
Nashville downtown is a crazy place to be. All I really wanted to do was set up with my camera and take pictures of all the craziness.
We are lovers of live music, which was our main reason for coming to Nashville. I quickly learned, however, that it was not going to be the great music in every bar experience I had imagined. We grabbed a Rage Magazine, which keeps a good listing of some of the music happening in town, and looked up artists on myspace to check out their sound before committing to a $10 cover charge, which is about average for acts that have a cover. Many bars have no cover charge, but they also end up very crowded and smoky. I'd recommend planning ahead and going to see music off the beaten path of the downtown Nash-Vegas crowd (now I know why they call it that!)
Dress Code: ANYTHING goes! But don't forget your cowboy (or girl) boots!
Nashville's Lower Broad area has many venues for live music of all kinds, not just country. Nashville is called Music City because of all the great musicians who have lived and recorded here in the past and present. On any given night you can wander into a bar/ nightclub on Lower Broad and hear great singer/songwriters usually with no cover charge (just remember to put a little something in the band's tip jar because they are playing for tips only in most cases). Nashville is filled with extremely talented musicians that you've never heard of...they are everywhere.
Some of the best well known and historic places to hear live music are Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Robert's Western Wear, The Station Inn, The Ryman and Bluebird Cafe (in Green Hills area). Most places are non smoking.
Dress Code: Nearly anything goes for dress code. If you want to look like a tourist wear a cowboy hat and boots. Otherwise, jeans are fine just about anywhere.
There are tons of music clubs in Nashville. Most of these are small, off the beaten path places with bars and a lively clientele. If you are at a loss for something to do at night here head downtown to Broadway and/or Second Street and pop your head in to one of these places. Not all of them feature country music and some of them are really a lot of fun. The best part is that there are so many clubs that if you start getting tired of the music in one, you can move down the street to the next one. There is even a lot of music happening down here on weeknights. It's great.
Everywhere on the main strip in Nashville you can find free music and it's not all country. The really good gigs are harder to find though, and you have to dig through the free music newspapers and ask locals.
Tootsie Bess bought this place in 1960.
She credits a painter with naming Tootsie’s. She came in one day to find that he had painted her place orchid…thus the name Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Records recorded about Tootsie’s include “The Wettest Shoulders in Town” and “What’s Tootsies Gonna Do When They Tear the Ryman Down?”
It is rumored that Roger Miller wrote “Dang Me” in Tootsies.
Famous early customers were Kris Kristofferson, Faron Young, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, Hank Cochran, Mel Tillis, Roger Miller, Webb Pierce, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline and many more.
Movies filmed at Tootsie’s include “W.W. & the Dixie Dance Kings” starring Bert Reynolds, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” about Loretta Lynn and starring Sissy Spacek, and “The Nashville Rebel” starring Tex Ritter, Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, Loretta Lynn, The Wilburn Brothers, and Waylon Jennings.
A segment of the Dean Martin summer show was filmed at Tootsie’s.
Willie Nelson got his first songwriting job after singing at Tootsie’s.
The photo and memorabilia lined walls are called the “Wall of Fame”.
Tootsie was known to slip $5’s and $10’s into the pockets of luckless writers and pickers.
It was said that she had a cigar box behind the counter full of IOU’s from where she had given drinks and food to hungry pickers and writers. Supposedly, at each years end, a bunch of Opry Performers would take all the IOU’s and pay Tootsie so she wouldn’t lose the money.
At her funeral were Tom T. Hall, Roy Acuff and Faron Young. She was buried in an orchid gown, with an orchid placed in the orchid-colored casket, so she could take her favorite flower with her to heaven. Connie Smith sang some of Tootsie’s favorite hymns at the funeral.
Dress Code: just walk in
If you have never been to Nashville aka Music City, USA this is the place for you! Featuring live music nightly and free line dance lessons, you'll have tons of fun. They also have three floors with about eight bars.
Dress Code: Casual.