The South is to music what the Pope is to Rome. With deep roots in jazz, rock, gospel, country, rhythm and blues and soul, the South has laid claim to uber-iconics Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, The Allman Brothers — to just skim the surface. Played against this historic background, all types of new music have emerged in the South, with famous and soon-to-be-so artists and bands covering all genres of music in cities all over the region.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is a sleeper hit when it comes to live music. Venues run the gamut from smaller stages like The Grey Eagle, The Mothlight, and The Odditorium, to the nationally renowned Orange Peel, which has hosted performances by everyone from Bob Dylan to Skrillex. Speaking of Skrillex, Asheville’s also the home of Moogfest: a biennial celebration of the inventor of the Moog synthesizer and patron saint of electronic music, Bob Moog, who lived right here in town.
In addition to the long list of rappers who hail from the ATL (T.I., Ludacris, Nelly, etc.), this Southern capital also boasts an eclectic mix of genre-spanning musical acts that include the decidedly country Zac Brown Band, the metal-as-f**k Mastodon, the virtuoso guitar god Kaki King, Mötley Crüe, Fleetwood Mac, Lady Gaga and the Grammy-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In the immortal words of hip hop mogul Jermaine Dupri, “Welcome to Atlanta where the playa’s play …”
If all you know about the home of the blues is Elvis Presley, consider this your crash course in “What Makes Memphis Musically Relevant 101.” Yes, the King is Memphis’ favorite son, but this town has also produced such notable acts as Justin “Derrrty Pop” Timberlake, the former lead singer of Saliva, Josey “Oh, that dude?” Scott, and Aretha Franklin, who needs no nickname.
Music City is synonymous with the “Nashville sound” developed by musical luminaries like Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley, and while much of it’s obviously still dominated by artists like Blake Shelton and institutions like the Grand Ole Opry, there’s more to Nashville’s music scene than strictly country. This town’s home to acts like The Black Keys, Paramore, Kings of Leon, and Jack White. You can get a taste of the city’s music scene as soon as you arrive: Nashville International Airport has hosted a live music series since 1981, and sees between 80 and 100 local bands perform on four stages in the terminal every year.
New Orleans, Louisiana
If there’s something to be said for a city dominated by one or two styles of music, NOLA is that city. Modern jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis and Kermit Ruffins hail from the Crescent City. In fact, the germ of Dixieland jazz that eventually spread to other major US metros first incubated here, and jazz and the blues are inextricably interwoven throughout the life of the city. How interwoven? Well, the idea of the “jazz funeral” was born here, where procession members celebrate the life of the departed through song and dance, and the brass band tradition born in neighborhoods like Tremé is still very much alive.
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