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North America's Best Cities for Live Music

SATW Makes a List - Check It Twice

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The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) came up with a list of the best US cities for live music in August, 2009, and we mostly agree... these are indeed some of the top cities in which to see some sweet musical scenes; for the most part, these are also great places to sample some food and do some serious sightseeing: in short, you should visit! Investigate the SATW ideas here or see a synopsis below, and do let us all know what other cities (like Seattle!) should be seen for music madness and general urban magic, too.

1. New Orleans

New Orleans is the queen of the night and when it's time to get serious about magical musical travel, New Orleans is the nightime, all-thew-time, any time best musical city in North America.

2. New York City

Musical bites in the Big Apple's boroughs are more than a mouthful: some of the world's finest bar music can be found around this town. And your basic street musician here may be one of the best horn players you've ever heard...

3. Austin, Texas

Aside from Austin's awesome annual South by Southwest festival, you'll find free shows and bar shows most days of the year in this not-too-country Texas town that's actually very un-Texas in some ways.

4. Nashville

Yeah, Nashville really is all about country music... but there's more musical magic than merely crooning cowboys and girls to be seen and heard here.

5. Chicago

How do love Chicago for live music? Let us count the nine kazillion clubs and ways we can see music in this Northern US blues birthplace.

6. Memphis

Beyond the barbecue and even beyond Beale Street, there is a whole world of way bad blues to be sampled in this city on the Arkansas River bluffs.... but yeah, the barbecue can't be beat.

7. Montreal

Montreal's Canadian winters are perfect for cool clubs -- get in out of the cold and see some hot bands from around North America, and do do the fabulous free festivals when the weather warms up. Don't forget -- you now need a passport to cross the Canadian border (unless you're from a few bordering states) -- learn more about passports and Canada prior to planning.

8. Las Vegas

What happens in Vegas musically usually happens elsewhere, too -- this unfriendly-to-minors desert city hosts lotsa acts on their way up (and down) the musical success ladder, though it's not exactly a hotbed of creativity and nothing was born here in the way that New Orleans and Chicago birthed genres distinctly US. However, you're guaranteed good clubbing in Vegas if you're over 21.

9. Branson

So if Dolly Parton leaps to your mind when when Branson comes up, your mind is on the right track: Branson is all about a certain kind of country music, and hokey as heck to boot. Possibly worth stopping if you're passing through Missouri anyway, though. We would have slotted Seattle into this list before Branson or Denver (below) -- but this is, after all, the SATW's list, and some travel writers do cater to your parents and country cousins.

10. Denver

Denver's not a bad spot to see some new blood in the musical world, though we suspect it's made the North American best cities for live music list from the SATW because of Red Rocks, a fabulous outdoor music venue that indeed must be done in your lifetime.

Your Favorite North American Cities for Live Music?

What about you? What's your favorite North American city for live music and a generally sweet music scene? Tell all!

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