A raspy voice harmonizes with a slide guitar, as listeners try to catch a glimpse of the songwriter’s face under his dipped cowboy hat. It’s Nashville, Tennessee, where any musician could be the next big star. Eager country musicians croon and strum in the spotlight, hoping to rise to fame like the idols who once played on the same stages.
In Music City, you can catch the sound of old rock ‘n’ roll rhythms on one corner and new-generation country beats on the next. However, you don’t need to stuff your wallet full with cash to experience the music scene in this town. There are countless things to do in Nashville, TN—especially music-related attractions—that offer free admission.
Honky Tonk Highway, Nashville
If there’s one scene that epitomizes the country music culture, it’s the honky-tonk. Quirky and noisy, honky-tonk bars are known for featuring live bands and serving cheap drinks. On the Honky Tonk Highway, the twangy sound of steel guitars and fiddles seep into the streets, drawing audiences in for a listen. This row of concert halls hosts free live music every day from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m.
On the Honky Tonk Highway, the twangy sound of steel guitars and fiddles seep into the streets, drawing audiences in for a listen. This row of concert halls hosts free live music every day from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Some of the biggest names in country music cut their teeth along this strip, including Willie Nelson and Gretchen Wilson, and many venture back for surprise gigs. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Legends Corner are among the most famous stages, but there are more than 10 honky-tonks on Lower Broadway that are well worth a visit.
The Gulch, Nashville
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The Gulch is a trendy, urban neighborhood in the southwest region of downtown. Much like the rest of the Music City, there’s no shortage of live tunes in this part of town, but it does serve up a slightly different vibe.
Viewfinder Tip: Various restaurants, bars, and venues downtown are also prime spots to hear live music.
Two Old Hippies is a particularly interesting establishment in the Gulch. Part clothing store and part music venue, the shop invites bands to play on stage, while visitors browse the clothing, guitars, and novelty items. The lifestyle store even includes a guitar room, called “The Vault,” where novice players can jam on high-end guitars and mandolins.
The Gulch further makes some noise with serenading performances at the swanky 4-star Sambuca and free bluegrass and root shows at the Station Inn every Sunday night. Party Fowl also showcases live music throughout the week, but its shows during Shakin’ the Shack Wednesdays are especially popular.
Music Row, Nashville
Some may recognize the name Music Row from the Dolly Parton1973 hit, “Down on Music Row.” Located on 16th and 17th Avenues, southwest of downtown, Music Row is home to the many recording studios, record labels, radio stations, and publishing houses that continue to play a major role in spreading the country music sound.
RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley recorded more than 200 songs, sits along Music Row. It’s free to visit the location, but for a small fee, visitors can join a guided tour of the famous spot. The Row also features a bronze statue of Owen Bradley playing piano. Pass streets named after Roy Acuff and Chet Atkins, and look for the controversial 38-foot statue, “Musica,” at the roundabout, which depicts a series of nude dancers.
On your next trip to this Tennessee town, step outside the Nashville hotels and listen to some country— it’s the soundtrack to this city.
Where else can you find free live music in Nashville?