Nashville may be known as “Music City,” due to its county music industry, but the fact is, Tennessee has four “music cities.” The world knows Memphis as the town that fostered blues, soul, and early rock ‘n’ roll, and Bristol is known for the 1927 recording sessions that resulted in its moniker the “Birthplace of Country Music.” Knoxville, though, has become known as the friendliest town for artists to get their starts. It’s notable that internationally beloved music greats Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, the Everly Brothers, Kenny Chesney, Kelsea Ballerini, Morgan Wallen, Roy Acuff, and many others, were born in or launched their careers in Knoxville, but it’s still a hotbed for up-and-coming talent. 

One of the things that sets Knoxville apart is an appreciation for original music. Other similar sized cities have plenty of successful cover bands, and Knoxville has its share, too, but few cities have as many venues where artists are expected to perform original material. The Pilot Light, Preservation Pub, Scruffy City Hall, Open Chord, Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria, Albright Brewing, Ale Rae’s, Geezer’s, Boyd’s Jig & Reel, The Concourse, Brickyard Bar and Grill, and Bistro by the Bijou are just a few of the venues that regularly host local talent. Many clubs have regular nights to present young and aspiring songwriters. 

In addition, the city has radio stations, including WUTK, WDVX and the Internet station, that play local artists’ music in their regular rotation – a thing that’s particularly rare in modern radio. WDVX’s live over-the-air show the “Blue Plate Special” is a popular attraction that often pairs nationally known touring acts with local greats. The combination of these factors has created a snowball effect of inspiring more artists to create music, because they know there’s a place where they can get their music heard. The free show takes place Monday-Thursday and again on Saturday at noon at the Visit Knoxville Visitors Center and Fridays at Barley’s. 

Added to all that, is the fact that Knoxville has some amazing large performance halls, including the Tennessee Theatre, the acoustically amazing Bijou Theatre, Thompson-Boling Arena, the Knoxville Civic Coliseum and Auditorium, and the Mill and Mine, where touring acts make regular stops. The internationally acclaimed music festival Big Ears (acclaimed by the New York Times, Rolling Stone and other publications as one of the best music events in the country) utilizes all of these venues and more when it brings legendary and cutting-edge artists to town. 

Also unlike other cities, Knoxville has always been known for its eclecticism, rather than a specific type of music. You might expect to find country and bluegrass artists popular in the area, and the history for those genres runs deep, but you might not expect Knoxville to be the starting place for the popular metal act Whitechapel, hard rock act 10 Years, college rock legends Superdrag, The JudyBats, and the V-Roys, or to be a place where local jazz thrives, due in part to the University of Tennessee’s influential jazz program. The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, which hosts a regularly sold-out yearly concert series has both graduates and teachers from the program in its ranks. Music fans might also be surprised that cult experimental music artist Yves Tumor grew up and gained a foothold in Knoxville. And, Adeem the Artist, one of 2022’s most celebrated rising singer-songwriters is also based in Knoxville and regularly performs in Knoxville venues. 

Music City? There’s not a single night in the week when you can’t go out and hear great local or touring performers in Knoxville. It’s one of America’s best cities to keep your ears open.