5 Best Cities in Pennsylvania for Music Lovers
Whether you're looking for live music venues, a vibrant musical community or top-notch instrument makers, Pennsylvania has something for every taste.
While places like Nashville, Memphis and Austin immediately come to mind when thinking of cities with lively music scenes, several cities across Pennsylvania have unique musical offerings of their own. Philadelphia and Nazareth have a rich musical history; Pittsburgh and Harrisburg are full of live music venues; and Lititz draws some of the world’s top contemporary acts to its live event production campus.
Whether you’re looking to listen, learn or create, Pennsylvania has much to offer. Here are five cities in Pennsylvania for music lovers, where you can march to the beat of your own drum.
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This Lehigh Valley borough has only about 6,000 residents but is home to one of the premier guitar makers in the world. Martin Guitars has been hand-making the six-stringed instruments in the same factory since 1833. Martin guitars have been played by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, Ed Sheeran and many other renowned musicians.
Even if you don’t play guitar, the factory is worth a visit. Tours run Monday through Friday and last about an hour. Visitors have the chance to play several Martin guitars, see the album covers of countless records where their guitars were used, and get an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at how the guitars are crafted. Don’t skip the Martin Guitar Museum, which documents the guitar’s history and influence on pop culture and has nearly 200 guitars on display.
Not far from Nazareth is Bethlehem, another Lehigh Valley borough that is home to Musikfest, the nation’s largest free music festival. Now in its 40th year, the annual 10-day long music festival features over 300 performances and draws over a million visitors. It is held at the SteelStacks, the former site of Bethlehem Steel that has since been repurposed and redeveloped by a local nonprofit called ArtsQuest to provide art, culture, and educational programs to residents.
After the American Revolution, Philadelphia was also the cradle of American music, home to Alexander Reinagle, one of the era’s most influential musical figures. The city’s vibrant music heritage includes the jazz era, as it was the home of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Stan Getz, among others. Over the decades, the city has been home to innovative performers in R&B, soul and rock that have earned the city international accolades.
Today, its diverse and thriving music scene offers a wide range of venues and opportunities to listen to live music, including arenas, amphitheaters and everything in between. Chris’ Jazz Cafe is the city’s longest running jazz club and hosts live jazz every night. Union Transfer is a fixture for punk, indie and hip-hop, seating 1,200 in a former railroad facility that’s been in operation since the 1800s. In Fishtown, divey Johnny Bradley’s features live music and craft beer. Franklin Music Hall, which seats 2,500, has hosted performers like Placebo and The Pet Shop Boys. And these venues are just the tip of the iceberg — Philly’s list of venues is as long as its history.
Lancaster County is better known for Amish-owned farms than it is for rock music, but all of that is changing, thanks to Rock Lititz, a 96-acre campus that opened in 2018 that specializes in live event production. Created as a partnership between Tait Towers, a stage building and design company, and Clair, a sound production company created by the Clair brothers in the 1950s, the studio specializes in creating the sound and stage systems for bands on tour. Today, the facility builds stages, lighting and sound systems for performers like BTS, Beyonce and David Byrne. It also has rehearsal space, over two dozen businesses supporting the live event industry and a rock and roll-inspired hotel where everyone from roadies to superstars can stay.
As the biggest city between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Hershey/Harrisburg offers an eclectic range of musical acts, from national headliners to local bands. Classical music lovers will want to visit the Forum Auditorium, home of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, while jazz lovers will want to go to the Iberian Lounge.
Hersheypark Stadium is a huge outdoor venue where you’ll find country, classic rock and pop performances — and is often the first tour stop for major artists after they wrap up rehearsals at Rock Lititz. Nearby Giant Center holds up to 10,500 fans gathering to see stars from The Judds to Kidz Bop, among other performances and sporting events. Other venues, like the Sunoco Performance Theater at the Whitaker Center for Science & The Arts, the H Lounge, or Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course feature year-round entertainment.
During the warmer months, it’s especially nice to enjoy music outdoors. Harrisburg University hosts pop-up concerts at Riverfront Park in downtown Harrisburg, while local wineries like The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey, Cassel Vineyards and Spring Gate Vineyard each offer live tunes to accompany their vino.
Pittsburgh is known for its steel industry and its sports teams, but it also has a thriving music scene. It’s a city that offers both local and national acts from diverse genres.
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has developed an initiative to bring live music into restaurants, bars and other venues in the city based on the idea that live music plays a role in improving an area’s quality of life. Urban neighborhoods especially thrive when cultural expression, cultural identity and a positive sense of community are encouraged (not to mention a boon to the local economy).
The initiative includes Wednesday lunch concerts, Thursday farmers’ market performances, Friday happy hour concerts and Saturday night market concerts. In 2021, the city was even ranked No. 7 on a list of the 10 best cities for musicians to live in America (higher than Nashville!), by Rent.com. The list used census figures on music-related businesses per population density (think concert venues, nightclubs, music stores and music schools) and the proportion of music-related occupations like design, entertainment and media.
This article was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.