Andrew Hetherington

In Austin, going out to see a band is not just an excuse to have drinks.

“This is a musicians’ town,” says Caleb Campaigne, the official Insider at W Austin Hotel; he’s a sort of concierge of coolness, whose job includes steering guests toward the best live music in the state capital. “Musicians know that the audience is going to be appreciative—but also prepared. Even if you’re a smaller band, folks are going to have done their research and know who you are.”

That high bar for excellence made Austin a shoo-in for the top 3 of America’s best music scenes, according to Travel+Leisure readers. In the latest America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 major metropolitan areas for the best cuisine, most interesting shopping and even the nerdiest locals. Readers also ranked the cities for their music scenes—whether that means indie rockers in crowded bars, symphonies in state-of-the-art concert halls or renowned banjo bands that still play the local Elks Lodge.

Across the top 25, one can find the birthplaces of legendary music styles and landmark venues—as well as an ever-changing landscape of live music options. We also found plenty of non-performance-based musical diversions, whether that means shopping for vintage guitars in Chicago or eating at Elvis’s favorite pizza parlor in Memphis.

After all, the best musical scenes reflect the spirit of the city behind it. “Austin is inspired in everything it does—from ice
cream to boots and botanical nurseries,” says Campaigne. Even the city’s notorious traffic can have a musical upside: “It’s just a little more time,” he says, “to rock out before arriving at your destination.”

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