8. Madison, WI
Rock music fans in Madison, WI, get the most bang for their buck according to a report by Songkick in 2010. The service, which helps fans stay up-to-the-minute on when and where their favorite bands are playing, analyzed data on its more than 1.8 million concerts for 2010. It found that Madison placed second only to Austin, TX, by the rock shows-to-residents ratio, and it was also the fourth least expensive place for average ticket prices.
For musicians here, there's a greater concentration of music labels, distributors, recording studios and music publishers than most other cities, according to The Martin Prosperity Institute, which lists Madison as the only U.S. city behind Nashville, L.A., NYC and Oxnard/Thousand Oaks/Ventura, CA, in that regard.
And then there are the appealing factors that simply go beyond data, says Jason Brown, bassist for Unity the Band, Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Reggae/World/Ska Band of the Year for 2011 and 2010.
"Madison is a progressive hub of the Midwest, melding the old country feel of rural Wisconsin with an ultra hipster savvy you might expect in a city like Amsterdam," Brown says. "It is the capitol of state government and has The University of Wisconsin-Madison. It has great food and a vibrant nightlife, and it even draws talent from Chicago and Milwaukee, which are both within a few hours' drive. Madison is guaranteed to stimulate the senses."
Brown lists Regent Street Retreat as a favorite venue to play shows here, but has a special place in his heart for The Barrymore Theatre, where he met his to-be wife several years ago when touring with Hank III.
The most widely-known name to come out of Madison's music scene to date is the alt-rock band Garbage, formed in 1994, and its drummer, Butch Vig. Vig, a producer as well as a musician, has produced Nirvana's Nevermind, The Smashing Pumpkins' Gish and Saimese Dream, and Green Day's Grammy Award-winning 21st Century Breakdown.
Artists with Madison, WI ties: Butch Vig, Garbage, Tar Babies, Nick Hexum of 311, Richard Davis, Ben Sidran, Clyde Stubblefield, Roscoe Mitchell, Paul Kowert
Fun fact: Fans of roots, bluegrass, folk and other time honored genres shouldn't miss the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival, a two-day outdoor music festival held in early August.