Country music is all about roots, and these cities have cultivated them for decades.
Artists and their offspring often become one with their hometown, building a history with a certain country style. Below are country’s hotbeds of influence – places where traditions were born and passed down to the artists of today.
Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee – Birthplace of Country Music
Straddling the border of Virginia and Tennessee, the city of Bristol was the site of the first country recordings. The 1927 Bristol Sessions are among the moments and artists captured at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. For live music, there’s the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, which takes over chunks of both sides of the state border every fall. For some eats, check out the Burger Bar which, according to legend, was the site of the legendary Hank Williams Sr.’s last meal.
Browsing exhibits in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Owensboro, Kentucky – Bluegrass Roots
The birthplace of bluegrass hosts the annual ROMP Festival, which features all-time greats such as Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss and new acts such as Fireside Collective. If you want to get schooled on the history, check out the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. You can also see live shows at the museum or the Owensboro Sportscenter, which has hosted numerous concerts by legendary performers, including country greats Merle Haggard, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
Exterior of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum
Nashville, Tennessee – Popular Country
This is the city where country legends are born. New stars such as Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean come together on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, home of the famed Grand Ole Opry, and you can trace the legends of yesterday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum. Broadway boasts legendary honky-tonks (Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge), traditional country clubs (Robert’s Western World) and shops selling Western apparel (Boot Barn). For six years, the city was also home to the hit TV show “Nashville.”
Country music singer Josh Turner greets fans while performing at the historic Grand Ole Opry
Bakersfield, California – Bakersfield Sound
The Bakersfield sound is a product of a tough blue-collar town. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard patented a story-based electric sound that many rock acts such as The Grateful Dead and Son Volt went on to incorporate. You can brush up on the history and take in some live shows at the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame. At Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, you’ll find live country music by future stars, a museum showcasing Buck’s guitars and suits and a restaurant with pig wings, burgers and pizza. The Rabobank Arena Theater & Convention Center is the big house where you can see acts such as Carrie Underwood.
Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a Bakersfield country music institution
Austin, Texas – Outlaw Country
The home of music festivals galore, including South by Southwest and Austin City Limits, also boasts Luck Reunion, hosted by Willie Nelson, the prototypical Austin outlaw; he’s from Abbott, about a mile north. Get some Western apparel and trinkets at Callahan’s General Store, where you might also be treated to some live music. Wild bronco and bull riding, food and music come together at Rodeo Austin.
Posing with a mural celebrating Willie Nelson in Austin
Denver, Colorado – The Rocky Mountains
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Denver was once the gateway to the Wild West. John Denver wrote “Rocky Mountain High” as an ode to the region after he moved to Aspen. There’s a rich history of cowboy western country here, along with a roster of native artists (Judy Collins) and visitors (Garth Brooks, Toby Keith) who have played the famous Grizzly Rose – a country bar with line dancing and a mechanical bull – in Denver for the past three decades. If you want to gear up for a show, visit Rockmount Ranch Wear for original snap-button shirts and other Wild West merchandise. There’s also the annual Country Jam, a four-day festival in June featuring more than 30 of country’s best acts performing in Colorado’s famous red rock panorama.
Shopping for the best in Western fashion at Rockmount Ranch Wear
St. Louis, Missouri – Alt Country
The big bang of alterative country took place a half-mile southeast of St. Louis in 1990, when Uncle Tupelo (which later spawned Wilco) released “No Depression,” a set of songs that married traditional country to indie and punk rock. To see bands that follow in the band’s footsteps, check out shows at Atomic Cowboy, which also has some tasty Mexican food served upstairs. With a food menu as impressive as its lineup of acts, Game 6 Honky Tony has become one of the city’s best-known country venues.
Branson, Missouri – Country Performances
Branson offers a larger-than-life interpretation of country with musicians, comedians and variety acts at renowned venues like the Grand Country Music Hall. The town is nestled in the Ozark Mountains, a huge stretch of diverse natural wonders – vast lakes and streams, plateaus and mountains – with ample family activities on water, in caves and above ground. C.J. Newsom, the Presley’s and Buck Trent are among performers starring in country variety shows in Branson.