A Music Lover’s Guide To The USA 
Credit: Patrick O'Brien (via Flickr)

A Music Lover’s Guide To The USA 

Chris Singh
Chris Singh


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This article is part of a series celebrating Boss Hunting’s favourite corners of the United States. Click here to see more.

From Graceland and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to Madison Square Garden and Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the USA marches to the beat of music’s most time-honoured institutions.

The entire nation is essentially one giant seat of music history; a testament to the social spark of hip-hop, the untamed brilliance of rock & roll, and everything else in between.

The USA just wouldn’t be the same without its performing arts. The ability to entertain, inspire, rebel, and empower — often all at once — makes music an integral part of any visit to the States. So why not base an entire trip around it?

Here, you’ll find a music lover’s guide to the USA — an itinerary highlighting the cities that have seeded the world’s most impactful genres and the pioneers responsible for them — sure to both energise and entice music-fueled travellers. 

The Rocker’s Route

Start with the blues by cruising on down to Memphis, Tennessee and spend a night on the iconic Beale Street. Icons like B.B. King and Muddy Waters were once regulars on this energetic strip, shaping a culture that would go on to inspire a young Elvis Presley. Speaking of The King, Graceland — Elvis’ actual home — is also in Memphis, so be sure to pop by.

Next, take a detour to Cleveland, Ohio where The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is located. The vibrant coastal city was the birthplace of rock & roll in the early 1950s.

From there, it’s less than a 3-hour drive to Detroit, Michigan and under 6 hours to Chicago, Illinois — cities that built their identity on several genres including techno, Motown, gospel, hip-hop, and jazz. When in Chicago, you can’t miss a show at The Green Mill which, in the 1920s, was a regular haunt for Al Capone.

Finish on the West Coast by heading to Los Angeles where groups like The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Red Hot Chilli Peppers were born. Check in to Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, rumoured to be the inspiration behind The Eagles’ iconic ‘Hotel California.’

While out and about, track the hard rock and glam metal scene by hanging out at the same spots formerly frequented by the likes of Guns ‘N’ Roses and Motley Crew. West Hollywood should be your pitstop with drinks at the Rainbow Room followed by a gig at The Viper Room.

Lastly, grab a car and drive to Seattle where rock & roll took a nihilistic turn into grunge in the late 1980s. The Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Pop Culture is a great place to start but you’ll want to spend most of your time in trendy Capitol Hill, an area that shaped hometown heroes Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana.

Look out for the life-sized bronze Jimi Hendrix statue by artist Daryl Smith.

The Country Music Trail

If country music is your jam, the best city for you is Nashville, Tennessee.

Head straight to the hallowed halls of The Ryman Auditorium. Known for its superlative acoustics, this stage has seen everyone from Johnny Cash to Taylor Swift fly through with career-best performances.

Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, which tracks every seminal moment in the genre’s history. The likes of Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, and Willie Nelson count as members of the club (and are largely represented across the space).

No country music pilgrimage would be complete, however, without a deep dive into the immense Rocky Mountains. Base yourself in Denver, Colorado and see a show at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre before driving on out to the Rockies.

Needless to say, John Denver’s anthemic ‘Rocky Mountain High’ should be on heavy rotation.

For Hip-Hop Heads

Hip-hop’s rudimentary start can be traced back to just about everywhere in New York City.

Link up with Hush Hip-Hop Tours if you want pioneering rappers like Grandmaster Caz to show you around The Bronx, Harlem, and Brooklyn to showcase the birth of this groundbreaking art form and culture.

You’ll also want to take some time to explore the five boroughs: from Queens (where LL Cool J, Nas, and Mobb Deep got their start) to Brooklyn (where JAY-Z was born) and Bedford (home of Biggie Smalls).

Next, make your way down to Atlanta, Georgia and visit the Trap Music Museum to get an idea of how the genre progressed from NYC’s boom bap to the south’s menacing synths and tonal shifts, told through the lens of pioneering artists like T.I., Jeezy, and OutKast.

Immortalised in songs by artists like Common, Twista, Chance the Rapper, and Kanye West, Chicago’s formative gospel and blues scene influenced a more socially conscious, brutally raw, and eccentric form of hip-hop.

Drop into world-renowned Grammaphone Records and browse local and rare selections that shaped Chi-Town’s hip-hop and house scene, then head to the Art Institute of Chicago, before exploring the hipster enclave of Bucktown. 

If the hard-edged texture of West Coast rap is more your style, cling closer to the coast and base yourself in Los Angeles. Old-school artists like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, and modern savants like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples, call this city home. You’ll recognise many streets and venues while you’re driving around LA with ‘Still D.R.E’ on repeat.

An Ode To Jazz

The wordless nature of jazz is offered to the listener as a canvas on which to apply their own meaning. This powerful style of music means jazz clubs are still such coveted cultural institutions in the USA. 

New Orleans is a must. Time your visit for the multi-day Jazz Fest in late April. This heritage festival has been an American tradition since 1970 and has hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, Thelonius Monk, and plenty more.

Soak in the city that’s birthed legends like Chet Baker by visiting the legendary Preservation Hall, one of the country’s most admired jazz clubs.

Stick to the south and head to Birmingham, Alabama where visionaries like Sun Ra deconstructed jazz to establish new sub-genres. The city, an unsung hero of the jazz scene, is home to a collection of the country’s finest live music venues.

Finish your jazz crawl with the quintessential New York sojourn. Check out the more intimate jam halls and bandrooms for a masterclass on where jazz is at right now. Smalls Jazz Club is a major lure for locals, but you’ll also find great live music at Apollo Theatre, Blue Note, as well as Nublu in East Village.

The Proliferation of EDM

While the broad scope of EDM has shifted dramatically over the years — from disco and synthpop to techno, house, and dubstep — the thing that unites them all is unbridled energy and infectious repetition. This means you’ll want to hit big party cities for your EDM-themed adventure.

Start in Las Vegas and time your visit for Electric Daisy Carnival in mid-May, which takes over the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for North America’s largest celebration of EDM. But Miami is calling just as loudly, so back that up with a trip to Florida where the clubs thump all week long.

End up in either New York City or Los Angeles for some of the world’s best nightclubs.

In New York, head straight to the breathtaking Brooklyn Mirage and punctuate the week dancing all day at Nowadays in Queens for the popular Mister Sunday.

If you find yourself on the West Coast, Los Angeles has plenty to offer EDM fans, from the theatrical Avalon and Academy (both in Hollywood) to Exchange in Downtown LA.

Live Music Musts

Not only is the USA home to some of the world’s most prized music festivals across every genre, it’s also home to some of the greatest venues.

Anyone who’s been to a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre can attest to the unrivalled experience of seeing your favourite band elevated by what is the world’s most acoustically perfect natural amphitheatre.

After you’re done enjoying the natural form of Red Rocks, follow that up with a trip to Las Vegas and catch a performance at The Sphere. This ultra-modern, one-of-a-kind venue makes use of advanced technology for the most immersive concert experience around.

Other essential spots to experience live music in the USA include the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, The Filmore in San Francisco, and Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State.

But, of course, not much can compare to venue-hopping in New York City: from the emblematic Madison Square Garden and Radio Music Hall to Terminal 5 and Brooklyn Bowl.

If you want bigger, look to the country’s most iconic festivals. SXSW in Austin, Texas and Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee are some of the most intense, transformative affairs on offer.

Then you’ve got the iconic Coachella and the equally immortalised Lollapalooza. Time your visit around the festival with your favourite line-up; no music-themed trip is complete without at least one multi-day extravaganza.

This article is sponsored by VisitTheUSA.com.au and is part of a series celebrating Boss Hunting’s favourite corners of the United States. Click here to see more, and thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.

Chris Singh
Chris is a freelance Travel, Food, and Technology writer. He has had work published by The AU Review, Junkee Media and Australian Traveller Media and holds tertiary qualifications in Psychology and Sociology.



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