11 Top Cities for Music That Aren't New York or L.A.
If Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that music happens in one of two cities: New York or Los Angeles. These are the places you go if you really want to make it big — if you want to pay exorbitant amounts to live in a crumbling apartment and slowly lose all creative energy.
It's true, you can find music in these cities. But they aren't the only — or even the best — places for young music lovers in America. The best music in the country typically comes from where you'd least expect it — the tight-knit, weirder scenes outside the mainstream. The following are some of the best cities in the country for young musicians — places with rich histories and bold musical futures:
Palm Desert, California
The Palm Desert scene is exactly what the name might suggest: A distinct brand of sludgy, psychedelic alternative rock churned by heavy groups like Kyuss, Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone Age. Josh Homme, frontman of the latter group, even created the Desert Sessions, a series of recordings with artists from the scene who pay tribute to the idiosyncratic movement. It's worth noting that the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of the world's largest music events, is held right next door in Indio, California, and bands from the Palm Desert Scene are often represented.
Best known as the college rock town responsible for cultural icons like REM and the B-52s, Athens maintained a consistent iconoclastic identity by becoming an indie hotspot. In the past decade, bands like Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel and the rest of the famed Elephant 6 collective gave the town major indie cred. Ever since, Local venues like the 40 Watt Club are a great spot to see these bands and similar less prominent groups on the rise.
East Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville isn't all country. On the outskirts of the country music capital of the world sits an ideal destination for groups looking to gain footing in the indie world and for fans looking to witness their ascent. The rent is cheap, the venues are diverse and plentiful, and groups like the Kopecky Family Band are almost always playing somewhere close by. The city's proximity to Nashville doesn't hurt, either.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The Research Triangle, consisting of Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, was named for the universities it houses, but the college-centric region has also become a hotbed for local talent and live shows. Its most notable exports include indie folk superstars The Avett Brothers, power pop trio Ben Folds Five and swing revivalists Squirrel Nut Zippers, among an eclectic variety of others. Come here for beautiful college town real estate, stay for basically every kind of music you can imagine.
While Boston's Berklee College of Music educates eager young musicians, the Berkeley on the other side of the country is a bit rougher around the edges. It was at the forefront of punk's repopularization in the U.S. Bands like Green Day, The Offspring and Sublime emerged from the scene, and the seminal 924 Gilman Street venue where these bands began their journeys remains a hotspot for similar bands today.
This small town in Utah has produced two of the most talked about acts of the past year: Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees. When the bands became national chart-topping success stories, the fledging Utah city was revitalized by the increased attention it received. The city began a series of downtown development projects in 2009 and ever since, venues like Velour Live Music Gallery and events like the Summer Rooftop Concert Series have been the highlights of a newly flourishing city that now boasts a thriving music scene.
Any Washington city is going to have a hard time escaping the musical shadow of Seattle, but Olympia's rich history has helped it carve its own unique identity: it was an important part of the riot grrrl scene in the '90s, which produced bands like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill. Indie rock group Modest Mouse recorded their legendary debut album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, in the city. It isn't just in the past though — to this day the avant-garde music scene brings in more than $88.3 million in revenue annually, Billboard reports.
Virginia's capital city has long been home to one of the most active punk rock scenes on the East Coast, featuring myriad venues for hardcore and metal bands to gain exposure. Notable exports that include GWAR and Lamb of God, but the city is full of harder sounding bands waiting for their chance to break. Opportunity exists for artists of a gentler persuasion too, though — singer-songwriter Aimee Mann and neo-soul singer D'Angelo have emerged from the area.
Perhaps Minnesota isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of hip-hop, but Minneapolis has a thriving underground rap scene. This is due to the presence of Rhymesayers Entertainment, Minnesota's largest hip-hop record label that has seen some of its homegrown talent — most notably Eyedea & Abilities and Atmosphere — achieve national success. But if rap isn't your thing, rock bands Soul Asylum and The Replacements also hail from Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities area hosts a variety of festivals every year.
Austin keeps it weird and its annual hosting of the hugely popular South by Southwest festival has cemented it as the musical center of Texas. But a couple 100 miles north, Denton has been emerging as the heart of Texan independent music for some time. In 2008, Paste Magazine named the city's music scene the best in the country. Denton has also come up with its own answer to SXSW: 35 Denton, a scrappy music festival that has previously featured bands like The Flaming Lips, Solange Knowles, Reggie Watts and many others. Denton is also home to iconic indie rock band, Midlake.
Omaha's musical identity began as a hub for African-American jazz and blues musicians in the '20s and '30s, but today, country-flavored indie rock, known as the "Omaha Sound," defines the area. Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records was an early proponent of the movement and its roster today includes artists like Cursive, Tokyo Police Club and Conor Oberst (most notably of Bright Eyes), whose brother, Justin, co-founded the label in 1993. The scene remains strong to this day, bolstering the careers of many young folk musicians.