Best Places to Live

2012 10 Best Music Cities

Most music lovers know Nashville, NYC and L.A. are great places to indulge in their passion, but for this list, we explored other cities off the beaten path where they might feel just as at home.

So, these picks go beyond the benchmark industry towns like Nashville, with its 180 recording studios, 130 music publishers, 100 live music clubs and 80 record labels. To select them, we researched other music and travel media rankings and accolades about scenes, venues and record stores. Then we asked for more direction from musicians who've toured the country extensively and gave nominations and tips.

We found there's a lot happening musically outside the big industry centers, in cities attracting music fans and musicians seeking a change of pace or scenery.

Sometimes it's even the food that helps sway them (doesn't it always?). One of our sources, accomplished Nashville musician Chris Scruggs, nominated Asheville, NC: "It's the only city I'd want to live in other than Nashville. I really can't endorse that place enough. It's a big hub for the Olde Tyme and Bluegrass world and has tons of other awesome stuff there, too. And don't forget the biscuits at Tupelo Honey ... Mmmm."

Ultimately, while Asheville was a hot contender, it gets an honorable mention this time around (while we concede no one matches those biscuits).

From our 500 best places to live, we chose these cities for their combination of noted music venues – ranging from outdoor amphitheaters to sprawling honky tonks and pristine concert halls. Our picks have some of the best independent record stores, have produced household-name artists in a variety of genres and nurture current scenes to support rising stars.

"Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once,” wrote poet Robert Browning. So here are our Top 10 lesser-known locales where the music-minded won't feel a lonely moment.

Ranking Criteria
National rankings for great venues, music scenes and/or record stores
Number and diversity of music venues
Number of independent record stores
Number of current and former residents who are noted musicians
Excluded known industry centers: Nashville, NYC, LA
  • 10

    Concord, CA

    Population: 126,268
    Photo: The City of Concord

    At first glance, choosing Concord, CA, for music lovers seems an easy pick if for nothing more than its residents are a mere 30 miles from San Francisco, which makes frequent appearances on music "best of" lists.  San Francisco has such nationally noted venues as The Fillmore and Great American Music Hall, and has yielded such varied artists as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Journey, The Pointer Sisters and Chris Isaak. Forbes named it one of America's Most Musical Cities, crediting the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra

    But what is most interesting about Concord's own scene is its Music & Market Series at Todos Santos Plaza, a one-city-block space that dates to the 1869 founding of the city. For almost 25 years, hundreds have packed the plaza weekly from May through September to enjoy that same kind of musical variety found across the bay, for free.

    "Concord is the biggest city east of Berkeley and it's the most culturally diverse, so we book very eclectically," says Jim Ocean of OceanWorks Productions, who books the annual series for the city. "It's such a good feeling, seeing all the different families blending here, enjoying all different types of music, creating a cultural melting pot, as they say."

    "It's such a beloved community event," says Leslye Asera, community relations manager for the city. "It's not just entertaining but educational for the families that come often, and they do. The younger children learn each week about a different type of music by hearing quality artists from just about every genre."

    The series was threatened in 2012 after state redevelopment funding cuts, but is growing its base of support from city leaders, residents and businesses to help sustain the concerts.

    Artists with Concord ties: Dave Brubeck; 14-time DCI World Champions, Concord Blue Devils Drum & Bugle Corps

    Noted venues: Todos Santos Plaza, Sleep Train Pavilion

    Cool record store: Rasputin Records

    Fun fact: In 2008, 2052 guitarists convened for Concordstock, joining Woodstock performer Country Joe McDonald in playing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," to break what was then a Guinness Book World Record for the largest guitar ensemble.

    Click here to learn more about Concord, CA.