Many of the nation’s top musical genres were created in the following cities. From traditional brass band numbers, to line dancing wild west style, to the latest beats, many college towns are hubs of musical tradition and development. Check out the top 25 college music scenes below.
- (.25) Number of College Students, as detailed in the American Institute of Economic Research’s college destination index.
- (.25) Number of large college-hosted music festivals.
- (.25) Number of large non-college-hosted music festivals.
- (.25) Number of top-ranked conservatories.
25. Asheville, NC
Asheville is home to Warren Wilson College as well as the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and is known for wide ranging musical offerings including traditional folk music, bluegrass, and rock. If you’re into a communal jam, check out the drum circle where locals and tourists create their own music on Fridays. Top venues include the Orange Peel, the Grey Eagle, and the Asheville Music Hall.
24. Athens, GA
Athens, Georgia is home to the University of Georgia as well as the likes of R.E.M., the B52’s, and Widespread Panic. Though a smaller entry on our list, there are hundreds of active bands and ten recording studios in town. Athfest is a festival that draws hundreds of bands and is one of the larger music events in the region. There are a wide variety of venues where you can see music year around, most notable the Georgia Theater, the Foundry, and the 40 Watt Club.
23. Atlanta, GA
Atlanta is home to a number of universities including Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, amongst others. Atlanta has one of the widest offerings of music venues in the South, with strong offerings for jazz and indie music. For jazz, check out Cafe 920 or Apache Cafe. For up-and-coming acts, check out the hip Dark Horse Tavern and 10 High Club.
22. Omaha, NE
Omaha is ranked as the 19th top college destination city according to the American Institute of Economic Research, and is home to the University of Nebraska Omaha, Creighton University, College of Saint Mary, Clarkson College, amongst others. Known for a strong indie music scene that proved to be fertile ground for bands such as Bright Eyes and their Saddle Creek Record label, Omaha is a national tour destination as well as beloved by artists for the low cost of living. Check out Slowdown for a wide variety of indie acts, the Waiting Room Lounge for national acts, or Barley Street Tavern for music any night of the week.
21. Portland, OR
Portland keeps it weird, and is ranked as the 15th ranked college destination city by the American Institute of Economic Research, with schools including Portland State University, the University of Portland, Lewis and Clark College, Reed College, Concordia University, amongst a number of others. Known for a thriving indie scene that produced the likes of the Decemberists, the Shins, and Elliot Smith, there are tons of great indie shows on a regular basis. Check out Mississippi Studies and Bar for a show in an old Baptist Church, or McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom for a dance floor that “floats.”
20. Miami, FL
Miami is home to the University of Miami, Miami Dade College, Florida International University, Barry University, and a number of other universities and is known for two distinct musical scenes: electronic dance music, and Latin. Ultra Music Festival is regarded as one of the best EDM music festivals in the nation. For more regular haunts, check out E11even for 24-hour EDM, or Little Havana for Latin music.
19. Las Vegas, NV
The entertainment capital of the world is home to tons of musical acts, venues, as well as universities such as the University of Las Vegas or the College of Southern Nevada. Many of Rock music’s biggest names have played in the dive bars and saloons in town, while some of the nation’s top talent call a number of casinos home. Check out the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel for the locations of a number of historic sets. Other must-see venues include the Beauty Bar, Pearl Concert Theater, and the Cosmopolitan.
18. Memphis, TN
Home to Elvis and jumping off place for B.B. King, Memphis has a storied history with southern music that lives on today. Currently ranked 20th for college destination city of those surveyed by the American Institute of Economic Research, Memphis is home to the University of Memphis, Rhodes College, Christian Brothers University, and a number of other schools. The Beale Street Music Festival is one of the largest music festivals in the Mid-South. Over the last few years a local indie music scene has been on the rise, particularly centered around the Hi-Tone. A number of other music venues are also present on Beale Street.
17. Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh is the 13th ranked college destination city of those surveyed, according to the American Institute of Economic Research, and is home to the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, and a number of other schools. Pittsburgh is known as being quirky, a fact that extends to their music venues such as Mr. Small’s Theater, a Catholic Church turned venue, recording studio, and skate park. Other notable venues include Stage AE, Brillobox, and the Thunderbird Cafe.
16. Madison, WI
Madison is the 18th ranked college destination city of cities surveyed by the American Institute of Economic Research and home to the University of Wisconsin Madison, Edgewood College, and Drew University. The Revelry Music and Arts festival, put on by the University of Wisconsin Madison is regarded as one of the top student-run music festivals in the nation. Throughout the rest of the year both local and national acts can be found at the High Noon Saloon, the Frequency, and Majestic Theater.
15. Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia ranks as the 10th top college destination city of cities surveyed, and is home to the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Temple University, Philadelphia University, Saint Joseph’s University, and a number of other schools. A wide variety of musical offerings grace the city of brotherly love, including Chris’ Jazz Cafe or World Cafe Live. The Curtis Institute of Music also calls Philadelphia home, and is one of the top music conservatories in the nation.
14. Denver, CO
Denver is ranked as the 8th college destination city of cities surveyed, and home to the University of Denver, the University of Colorado Denver, Metro State University, Regis University, and a number of other universities. Historically known as a center for Jazz, Denver still hosts Jazzfest Denver and the Five Points Jazz Festival. Check out the Bluebird Theater for indie, metal, or singer songwriters. Or if you’re in the mood for the old west, check out the Grizzley Rose for line dances and mechanical bulls.
13. Houston, TX
Houston is ranked as the 9th college destination city of cities surveyed by the American Institute of Economic Research, and is home to the University of Houston, Rice University, Texas Southern University and a number of other schools. There are a wide variety of musical offerings in Houston, from the Houston Grand Opera, to punk hangout Mango’s, to the Goode’s Armadillo Palace dance hall.
12. Nashville, TN
Known as Music City, Nashville has long been the hub of country music, it’s also the 14th ranked college destination city as home to Vanderbilt, Belmont, Tennessee State University, Fisk University, Lipscomb University, and a number of other schools. Rites of Spring, a music festival put on by Vanderbilt University is one of the most well regarded college music festivals in the nation, and Bonnaroo, a yearly festival attracting close to 100,000 visitors is within an hours drive. For local music check out the Grand Ole Opry, Robert’s Western Barn, the Mercy Lounge, and 5 Spot.
11. Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis is the 6th ranked college destination city of locations surveyed and often known as the smartest city in the US. The University of Minnesota, Walden University, Augsburg College, and a number of other schools call Minneapolis home. Local music spots include First Avenue and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.
10. Seattle, WA
Seattle is the fifth ranked college destination city of locations surveyed, and home to the University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle Central College, and a number of other schools. Home to storied outfits like Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, Seattle today has bustling indie and beats scenes. For local music check out Columbia City Theater, Crocodile, or the Tractor Tavern.
9. Providence, RI
Providence is home to Brown University, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, and a number of other universities and is the 17th ranked college destination city of cities surveyed. Brown’s Spring Weekend is regarded as one of the top college music festivals in the nation, and the nearby Newport Folk Festival has been a nationally popular musical event for some time. Homegrown indie bands such as Deer Tick and The Low Anthem have been mainstays of the local music scene in recent years. Top venues include Columbus Theater as well as Fete.
8. New Orleans, LA
The city that brought the world jazz has one of the busiest musical calendars of any US city, regardless of its relatively smaller size for a large US metro. New Orleans is listed as the 16th ranked college destination town of locations surveyed, and is home to Tulane University, Loyola University, the University of New Orleans, Xavier University, and a number of other schools. Crawfest, put on by Tulane, is regarded as one of the top college music festivals in the nation, as well as other large music festivals including Jazz Fest and the Voodoo Music Experience. On any given night venues and bars across the city provide some of the widest range of jazz offerings in the nation.
7. San Francisco, CA
San Francisco is the third largest college destination city in the US according to the American Institute of Economic Research, and is home to San Francisco State University, the University of San Francisco, University of California – San Francisco, City College of San Francisco, and a number of other schools. If you’re into the Grateful Dead or the history of rock and roll in general, San Francisco has a lot to offer, from the Fillmore Theater to the Haight-Ashbury House. The Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church offers services every Sunday in which visitors can bring their own instruments and play along for the more musically inclined music fans.
6. Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. is the second largest college destination city in the US according to the American Institute of Economic Research, and is home to Georgetown, George Washington University, American University, Howard University and a number of other schools. Washington is known as the home of Moombahton–a fusion of reggeaton and house music–EDM, predominantly found at Club Glow, U Street Music Hall, and Eighteenth Street Lounge, and indie music.
5. Chicago, IL
Chicago is home to top ranked University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul University, Illinois Institute of Technology, and a number of other schools. Dillo Day, put on by Northwestern, is one of the top college music festivals in the US, with Lollapalooza and Riot Fest providing additional massive festival opportunities. Currently Chicago is ranked as the 11th college destination city in the US and has one of the top conservatories in the US nearby at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
4. Austin, TX
Home to the University of Texas at Austin, St. Edwards University, and Concordia University Texas, Austin is the 12th ranked college destination city of those surveyed by our ranking. Austin is known for keeping it weird, as well as a party town, and boasts some of the biggest music festivals in the US: SXSW, the Austin City Limits Festival, and the Fun Fun Fun Fest. The University of Texas at Austin also throws the Round Up Weekend festival, one of the most highly regarded music fests thrown by a school. The University of Texas at Austin is also home to a perennially top-ranked music conservatory, making sure some of the musical talent is homegrown.
3. New York City, NY
Yet another mega city, New York has been the go to city for every genre imaginable for a long time. Ranked fourth by the American Institute of Economic Research’s “college destinations index,” New York is home to tons of students at NYU, Columbia, Fordham, St. John’s and the New School. It’s also home to some of the best conservatories in the world through the Julliard School as well as the Manhattan School of Music. As you would expect from a city the size of New York, a number of highly regarded festivals call the city home, including Governor’s Ball, Electric Daisy, and the CMJ Music Marathon. And if a band is going on a tour to anywhere of note, chances are they’ll make a stop in New York.
2. Los Angeles, CA
There’s something for everyone in a city the size of LA, and that goes for music as much as anything else. Ranked 7th by the American Institute of Economic Research’s “college destinations index,” the city is definitely filled with college kids attending UCLA, USC, Cal State Los Angeles, Occidental College, Loyola Marymount University, and a number of other local schools. Long home to hip hop, jazz, and Latin music greats, there are tons of great acts that call LA home. Couple that with top college music festivals like USC’s Spring Fest and UCLA’s Jazz and Reggae Fest and you’ve got the makings of a thriving college music scene. And don’t forget one of the nation’s top conservatories at USC.
1. Boston, MA
Boston has one of the strongest contingents of college students of any major US metro, and was ranked 1st for large metros by the American Institute of Economic Research’s “college destinations index.” Home to Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern University, Tufts University, Emerson College, Suffolk University, and a number of other schools, there’s definitely a scene for young folks. It’s also consistently ranked as one of the top cities to see music in the US, as a mainstay of acts touring the northeast. MODStock a festival put on by Boston College is regularly placed on lists of the top college music festivals in the nation. And local talent from two of the nation’s top conservatories (Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of music) puts house parties and local bar acts on a whole new level.