10 Best Music Cities



Chapel Hill, NC

Haw River Ballroom near Chapel Hill, NC

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo: LUCK Photography

College towns are almost always great places for music, says seasoned artist John Cowan, and by that measure, Chapel Hill, NC has plenty going for it.

Home to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and within a brief drive of both North Carolina State University and Duke University, there is no shortage of young, tuned-in music fans keeping venues and promoters on their toes to book the hottest acts for relatively low-cost tickets.

Cowan, now a member of The Doobie Brothers, has performed in the Chapel Hill area many times since he began touring extensively in the 1970s as lead singer and bassist for New Grass Revival. We asked for his insight on this small town of about 57,000 people, which he described as "wide open for all types of music, including old-time, bluegrass, art rock, college rock and jazz." 

"It's in such a beautiful part of the state. Because North Carolina is an older state, there is more history there than when you go west. You've got beautiful old homes, sidewalks and tree-lined streets. It's got a colonial vibe to it," Cowan says.

Blend the quaint setting with those things that keep college kids happy – cool record stores, hip clothing shops and late-night dining options – and you have a setting that appeals to students and musicians alike. Proximity to Raleigh and Durham also draws older fans who don't mind the drive for good shows, he adds.

Artists with Chapel Hill ties: James Taylor, The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Archers of Loaf, Southern Culture on the Skids, Superchunk, Ben Folds Five

Noted venues: Cat's Cradle, Local 506, The ArtsCenter, Haw River Ballroom

Cool record store: CD Alley

Fun fact: Three respected record labels have Chapel Hill area roots: Mammoth Records (founded in Carrboro but now defunct); Merge Records (now in Durham) and Yep Roc Records in Haw River.

Click here to see more photos of Chapel Hill and read more about its arts, food and schools.

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