college music scene

Top 10 College Music Scenes



Colleges can be breeding grounds for great live music, though some certainly stand above others. Whether you’re an aspiring musician or simply a passionate fan, going to college presents an opportunity to get involved in a thriving music scene. From the University of Georgia to Belmont University, here are some of the best college music scenes in the U.S.

 10. Athens, Ohio (Ohio University)

I may be biased, but my alma mater deserves some love. Athens, Ohio may not have much national recognition as a hub for music, but the small college town boasts a vibrant and close-knit scene. The Union and Casa Nueva serve as the town’s two major venues, hosting regional and touring acts on most weekend nights. Athens is situated comfortably in the foothills of Appalachia, so it’s not surprising that the town’s main export is bluegrass and folk. Still, a healthy variety of tastes and genres — from punk to metal to jam and all the way back again — abound in this small Ohio town. Every summer, nearby Nelsonville, Ohio also hosts the Nelsonville Music Festival, which has brought big name acts like the Flaming Lips, Courtney Barnett, Gillian Welch, Randy Newman and Mac Demarco out to the hills.

9. Olympia, Washington (Evergreen State College)

Befitting Evergreen State’s reputation for alternative education, the college and its hometown of Olympia, Washington, gained fame during the 1990s as one of the centers of Riot Grrrl, a groundbreaking feminist punk rock movement that grew out of the Pacific Northwest. Evergreen State alumni Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) and Carrie Brownstein (Excuse 17/Sleater-Kinney) went on to be some of the originators and faces of the movement. The school’s punk credibility doesn’t end there either — throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, Evergreen State hosted many of the legends of grunge, including Nirvana, visiting from nearby Seattle.

8. Minneapolis, Minnesota (University of Minnesota)

Minneapolis may not be known far and wide for its music scene, but the midwestern city has boasted one of the best in the country since the 1980s, when it produced indie pioneers like the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. The college has a thriving DIY scene to this day. House shows are common on the campus, and the city also boasts some fantastic small venues and live music bars, such as 7th St. Entry and the First Avenue Mainroom. On top of it all, the University of Minnesota’s college radio station — Radio K — is one of the best in the country.

7. Chapel Hill, North Carolina (UNC at Chapel Hill)

Another central location in the college-radio fueled indie explosion of the 1990s, Chapel Hill is home to bands like Superchunk, Flat Duo Jets and Archers of Loaf. The small, picturesque college town retains a dynamic music scene in the 21st century. Students can hear great local bands as well as touring national acts at some of Chapel Hill’s many downtown venues, such as The Cave, the Local 506 and the Nightlight.

6. Purchase, New York (SUNY Purchase)

SUNY Purchase is a small, state liberal arts school that, with under 5,000 students, may not be known to many outside New York State. Yet the school has a habit of producing great bands, a number of whom go on to have gone on to successful professional careers. Located only about an hour from New York City, students are in close proximity to the city’s countless venues and one of the largest music industry centers in the country. The school has produced a number of prominent indie artists, including LVL UP, Mitski and none other than Regina Spektor.

5. Nashville, Tennessee (Vanderbilt University/Belmont University)

If you’ve ever been to the “Music City,” you know how prominent live music is in Nashville. Vanderbilt and Belmont are located only a few blocks away from one another in the heart of Nashville. Both schools are within walking distance from Broadway, where boisterous country music blares from the multi-story honky tonks every day. Belmont students are also known for putting on some of the best house shows in the country, giving inexperienced musicians an entry point to one of the best music scenes in the country.

4. Denton, Texas (University of North Texas)

The music scene in Denton, Texas is one of those closely-kept secrets that regularly produces phenomenal musicians. A small city with a population just over 100,000, there are hundreds of acts within the city. The music scene is known for its diversity — jazz bands can be seen alongside fast-paced hardcore punk acts — and its close-knit community, which fervently embraces the DIY approach to music-making and promoting. Among those who call Denton home is the acclaimed jazz singer Norah Jones, who studied jazz at the University of North Texas from 1997 to 1999.

3. Austin, Texas (University of Texas)

UT’s home of Austin is also known as the “The Live Music Capital of the World,” and for good reason. The city was put on the map in the early 1970s by “outlaw country” artists, such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Steve Earle, many of whom had moved from Nashville to Austin out of frustrations with the country music establishment. In Austin, a new genre formed, imbibing traditional country music with the influence of the hippie counterculture. Ever since, Austin has been known for its unparalleled live music scene. At any point in time, you can step into one of the hundreds of venues throughout the city and see a phenomenal band. For aspiring musicians, the competition may seem intimidating, but there’s no better place to cut your chops.

2. New Orleans, Louisiana (Tulane University)

Tulane University sits in the heart of the birthplace of jazz, and to this day New Orleans is known globally for live music. Horn sections jam on street corners, while top-notch funk and jazz bands populate the countless live music bars lining Frenchman Street and Bourbon Street. Musicians attending Tulane have rare access to one of the most dynamic music scenes across the country. In addition, Tulane students can get discounted tickets to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a seven-day festival spanning two weekends, featuring the best local musicians alongside some of the legends of rock, pop and jazz.

1. Athens, Georgia (University of Georgia)

Athens, Georgia has a long history of producing great bands. Called by some the “Liverpool of the South” for its contribution to popular music, the town holds an important place in the history of alternative and new wave. The first Athens band to gain widespread recognition was the B-52s, who entertained crowds at the famed 40 Watt Club in the late 1970s. A who’s who of celebrated bands across various genres blossomed out of Athens, including R.E.M., Drive By Truckers, Vic Chesnutt and Widespread Panic. The town is also home to the Georgia Theatre, a nationally-recognized venue that has played host to Tom Waits, B.B. King, Phish and countless others.

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