I think it’s important when embarking on new territory, or maybe when needing a change of scenery, to forge ahead with a solid understanding of the lay of the land. While I do realize that this post exists within my bubble of the city I’ve lived and worked in for around 11 years, I think it’s important for bands, songwriters, and singer/songwriters to play Nashville. Music City cliché aside, there really is a ton of music (so much so that some people specifically seek out places without music) and a ton of people that support it, fans and industry included. This inevitably means there will need to be venues to support these artists. Below is my list of Nashville music venues that are establishing the current live music scene:
- The Basement and Basement East (BEast)
The Basement (8th Ave) is a Nashville staple and located underneath Grimey’s, one of the greatest record stores ever. The venue is super intimate (about 100 cap, barely) and you can have 30 or so folks in there and the room still looks great. There’s an early and a late show, with the early slot being used frequently for industry showcases. Mike Grimes (co-owner of Grimey’s) is extremely supportive of acts that play this room and can frequently be seen walking the crowd.
- The Exit/In
Another legendary Nashville venue, as you can tell by the few hundred artist names painting subtly on the walls inside and outside the venue. Exit/In caters more towards rock and caps out at 500 folks. So, like Basement East, if you’re new to town probably best to avoid unless you have a great support slot.
- The Cannery Ballroom, Mercy Lounge and High Watt
All three of these venues are in the same complex, but the two you should probably focus on are Mercy Lounge and High Watt. If you’re playing Cannery then, hi-fives all around as capacity is 1,000. Mercy Lounge and High Watt are both fantastic and well established Nashville venues. Mercy is a little bit larger, at 500 cap, (High Watt clocks in at 225) so plan your approach accordingly. Both venues have great in-house production and pro venue staff who take great care of artists playing the room.
- Springwater Supper Club
The diveist of dives…and they are proud of it. Springwater hosts a lot of garagey, indie, lo-fi ,psych type bands. Also the Black Keys filmed their Little Black Submarines video there, if that’s something you care about. If nothing else, it will give you an idea of what the stage looks like.
- The 5 Spot
Nestled comfortably in the Five Points area of East Nashville this venue hosts some great artists that span all genres. This is another staple in the East Nashville venue world. 5 Spot has been around in its current state (praise hands) since I’ve been a Nashville resident and there doesn’t seem to be plans to change. Good sounding room with a couple hundred (maybe) capacity. Great spot to pair up with a local act for a solid Nashville play.
- The End
All things underground here…punk, metal and a few solid hip-hop showcases. 175 capacity and very divey. Great stop for a mid-size touring rock band (and all its various genres).
- The Family Wash
An East Nashville local staple that relocated last year to a more central, yet still very East location. There’s music every night of the week and no cover 99.9% of the time (people do tip though). The stage looks and sounds great and care was taken to keep the vibe from the original location. This is a great spot for a band or songwriter to perform, just know that you’re playing for tips so budget accordingly. The owners are deeply ingrained in the Nashville music scene and are super supportive, great spot all around.
- Third Man Records
More of a showcase room for Third Man (read Jack White) related projects. If you ever have the chance to play here do so, duh…
- Anything on Lower Broadway
These tend to be venues with bands made up of in-town session players, up-and-coming singers who moved here from Iowa, touring musicians who aren’t traveling that night and everything in between. If you’re an out of town band it doesn’t really make sense to approach these venues. Although after your show if you want a little adventure (and you’ve never been) head down to Layla’s Bluegrass Inn or Roberts Western World.
If you’re a songwriter, especially a country writer, there’s no shortage of writer’s rounds around Nashville. Many times Performing Rights Organizations (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) will feature writers around town, so if you have contact with a rep that would be a great place to start. Here is a brief list of bars/restaurants/venues that frequently host writer’s nights:
- Douglas Corner
Divey local hang that features some great songwriters. They have an open mic night every Tuesday that’s a great way to get in the room.
- The Bluebird Cafe
Ah yes, the ever-present, always sold out Bluebird. There’s a pretty high bar for playing your own show, but most Mondays they have an open mic. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door.
- The Sutler
Chances are you’ll be playing over someone’s dinner conversation, but a good place for a casual writer’s round.
- The Listening Room
- The Commodore Grill
Yes it’s technically a sports bar inside a Holiday Inn by Vandy, but they have some great writer’s nights, promise.
- The Country
- I know, I’ve missed something that’s super underground and great. There’s a house by The Basement that throws DIY shows and a communal art space on Trinity Lane in East Nashville and I’m sure a ton of things like this around town.
What venues have you played in Nashville?
Daren is a ReverbNation CONNECT Manager based in Nashville, TN. He began his management career in 2008 at Marathon Music Management where he handled digital marketing duties and tour management for a small roster of songwriters and mainstream rock artists. After leaving Marathon Music, Daren spent 3 years at Red Light Management’s Nashville office, handling day to day duties for 3 Doors Down and von Grey, as well as working collaboratively with Red Light’s management team on a roster that includes Lady Antebellum and Dierks Bentley.