A lot of cities like to claim to be live music capitals of whatever state, region, or world they’re part of. We get it. Memphis is a little different. We don’t have to toot our own horn so much as just give visitors a little bit of guidance on where they might find a good spot to hear some music on, say, a Tuesday night. Truth is live music is like barbecue in this town. The challenge isn’t necessarily where to hear live music, but which joints you want to check out. Or, you can just close your eyes and stumble around for a while until you find yourself in an unassuming club sipping on a drink and hearing a funky soul band, a garage rock throwback group, a sultry singer-songwriter, or a national touring act taking a night off from recording to try out some new songs.
Here are few great neighborhood venues to check out the next time you plan a visit to Memphis.
Young Avenue Deli
Near the corner of Young Avenue and Cooper Street sits Young Avenue Deli, the beating heart of one of the most entertaining and unique neighborhoods in Memphis, the Cooper-Young district. What keeps this heart pumping, though, is not necessarily the food Young Avenue Deli serves (great-tasting pub fare) but the small, intimate stage that sits in the corner. As one of the most popular live music venues in the city, Young Avenue is a top spot to find local musicians, like Amy LaVere and Al Kapone, but also significant national touring acts like Built To Spill and The Black Keys (before they got huge.)
For years, the Hi-Tone was a great jewel-box of a dive club located next to Overton Park. It was the constant hangout for local musicians, students at Memphis College of Arts, and artists in town recording at Ardent Studios no less than a mile away. But as the city grew, so did demand for more live music space. Thankfully, the Hi-Tone obliged and set up its new digs in Midtown on Cleveland Avenue. With more space, a bigger stage and a wide range of local and regional music acts, the Hi-Tone is a can’t-miss venue.
One of the great things about live music is how it morphs with the seasons. In the fall and winter, we all pack into clubs and theaters to see our favorite musicians. In the spring and summer, we put on our flip-flops and gig out in the sun. The Levitt Shell is part of this ritual. The summer concerts (often under the stars) at the recently restored Levitt Shell are always free, featuring over 50 musical performances sharing the same stage where Elvis got his start. It’s a great place to dance, relax on a blanket, and even chase the kids around as music fills the air.
You never know what’s happening at Minglewood Hall. That’s by design, as the space’s flexibility allows it to accommodate all kinds of performances, not just musical acts. In fact, you’re just as likely to see a mixed-martial arts contest there as you will see Jack White plug in and blow your mind. A true event hall about a mile away from Overton Square, Minglewood Hall offers an expansive bar area, great food at its 1884 Lounge, and a number of live music performances from bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, local fave Lucero, and Sister Hazel.
B.B. King’s Blues Club
If Beale Street is ground zero for live music in Memphis, then B.B. King’s Blues Club is the epicenter. Located on the corner of Beale and South 2nd Street, basically the gateway to the Beale Street Entertainment district, B.B.’s is one of the best live venues in the city, as well as a full-service restaurant. With a primary focus on blues, R&B and soul music, B.B.’s literally teems with music. We highly recommend getting inside and taking in a show, even grabbing a bite to eat, but if it’s a packed house, hanging on the corner with a cold one works, too.
Germantown Performing Arts Center
To say there’s live music in every corner of the city would be an understatement. The only way to make the point any more clear would be to draw people a map (someone should get on that!). And that map would take you all the way from Downtown Memphis to the burbs. Yes, Germantown and the far-east suburbs of Memphis have their fare share of live music. In fact, they have one the best rooms in the area with the Germantown Performing Arts Center. With over 800 seats, this intimate (and elegant) venue has hosted artists as diverse as Yo Yo Ma and Jeff Tweedy. In addition to touring acts, the Germantown Performing Arts Center also hosts special themed events devoted to American music and family-friendly shows.