A Music Lover's Guide to the USA

Many believe that the stripped-down Grunge aesthetic was cultivated by Seattle’s grey skies, drizzle and cold weather.

The Blues came from the slave fields of the Deep South in the late 19th century. The darkness of the Great Depression prompted the upbeat tempos of Jazz and Swing.

Folk told the story of the 1960’s protests: “No War”, “Equality” and “Feminism”! While Indie Rock expressed the ‘damn-the-man’ attitude of the disgruntled youth of the 1990s.

America’s preeminent history of music has been defined by the culture of several noteworthy cities. Join with us as we highlight some of these cities. 

New York City | New York

Home to a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures that have crossbred sounds from different shores, New York City is the world’s premier music hotspot. Jazz came of age in the city in the 1920s, in speakeasies during Prohibition and in cabaret clubs during the Harlem Renaissance. 

The 1940s saw left political activism hotbed Greenwich Village become the centre of a Roots revival of Folk music. The economic depression of the 1970s birthed Hip Hop at Bronx neighbourhood block parties, and incubated Punk Rock in downtown Manhattan. Disco also found its groove in the 1970s, at discotheques like Paradise Garage and Studio 54.

In more recent years New York has been a leading centre of the Indie Rock movement, fostering the Garage Rock Revival of the early 2000s and nurturing countless Indie Electronica artists over the past decade.

New York City Music Landmarks

Apollo Theatre: A famous Harlem club associated with African-American performers, celebrated for launching the careers Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, The Jackson 5 and many more.

The Village Vanguard: New York’s longest enduring Jazz club, where Jazz giants like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Hank and Mobley have all played.

Radio City Music Hall: Leading venue for top pop and rock artist tours, and events like the Grammy Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards.

The Chelsea Hotel: A historic hotel where musicians like Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan all resided, and where Sex Pistols Sid Vicious’ girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead.

Nashville and Memphis | Tennessee

When it comes to American music all roads lead to the Deep South, in particular Tennessee. Home to Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee has played a critical role in the development of American popular music and is a must-visit destination for all music aficionados.

Nashville claims fame as the birthplace of Country musicso much so that the city's name is actually a metonym for the Country music industry. Renowned for its ‘rhinestone’ country sound, Nashville hosts the world-famous CMA Music Festival and “Country Music’s Biggest Night” the CMA Awards.

Celebrated as the hometown of Elvis Presley, Memphis is considered the spiritual home of Rock ’n’ Roll and the Blues. Other notable musicians like Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Isaac Hayes and B.B. King also got their start in Memphis in the 1950s-60s.

Nashville Music Landmarks

Grand Ole Opry: The world’s most famous Country music gig venue that has helped establish Nashville as the centre of the Country Music recording industry.

The District: Numerous music clubs and Honky-tonk bars can be found in downtown Nashville, especially around Lower Broadway, Second Avenue and Printer's Alleyan area referred to as The District.

Memphis Music Landmarks

Sun Studios: The studio (pictured) where musicians like Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison began their recording careers. 

Graceland: Elvis Presley's most famous residence and tomb.

Austin | Texas

Home to more than one hundred live music venues, Austin carries the moniker of “Live Music Capital of the World”, and has held a reputation as a musician launch-pad since mid-1970s.

In the 1980s and 1990s local independent record store, Waterloo Records was voted the best in the country, and hosted legendary live in-store shows. Throughout the late-90s and into the mid-2000s, Austin was home to the Austin Music Network (AMN), a rare local independent music television channel that played music videos and recorded live sessions.

Today, in March/April of every year, the city’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival turns Texas into the centre of the musical universe, with a six day showcase of more than 2,200 artistsranging from very famous to up-and-coming.

Austin Music Landmarks

Victory Grill: A historic music venue, which was once on the famous Chitlin' Circuit and hosted legendary acts like B. B. King.

The Broken Spoke: A favourite haunt of a young Willie Nelson; famous for its rowdy live showcases of Honky-tonk, Blues, Western Swing and Rockabilly.

Armadillo World Headquarters: A now-defunct live music venue that in its heyday was an important stop on every tour for Punk/New Wave acts such as the Police, Joe Jackson, Blondie and Talking Heads.

The Continental Club: The ‘granddaddy’ of all local music venues, which has enjoyed a reputation as the premiere club for live music in Austin since 1957.

Seattle | Washington

While many cities are known for their distinct musical tastes, not many have a genre named after them. Seattle is a rare and celebrated exception. The Seattle Sound (otherwise known as Grunge), an offshoot of Alternative Rock, emerged in the Seattle area in the mid-1980s, spurred by local bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.

Characterised by distorted electric guitars, contrasting song dynamics, and angst-filled lyrics, many believe that the stripped-down Grunge aesthetic was cultivated by Seattle’s grey skies, drizzle and cold weather.

There’s no escaping the city’s association with the apathetic sounds of Grunge, however the Seattle is also famous for yielding acclaimed musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones and Alice in Chains.

Seattle Music Landmarks

Sub Pop Records: A famous record label, responsible for bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, and credited for popularising Grunge music.

The Crocodile Cafe (The Crocodile): A fixture on the local 90s music scene, and a favourite haunt for bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Indigo Girls, Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M.

Showbox: Seattle’s most famous gig venue, which has been in operation since the Jazz age, through the Grunge era, and still draws big names and crowds today.

Experience Music Project Museum: A museum dedicated to the history and exploration of popular music, science fiction and pop cultureof which the Northwest Passage is dedicated to the history of Seattle music, including Jimi Hendrix and the Grunge genre.

Words by Alice Nash - Published 8 April 2013
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 8.3 million
Time Zone UTC -5
Languages English (official), Spanish, Native American
Currency American Dollar ($USD)
Electricity 110v - 60Hz
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