Live music is a market that seems to grow, and grow… and grow. By 2021, the global market for live music will be worth nearly $29 billion. Here in the U.S., 40% of adults between 18 and 49 attended or purchased a ticket to a live music event last year — even more than the year before.
While larger markets like New York and Los Angeles continue to experience impressive year over year growth, some of the best music scenes are popping up in smaller cities across the U.S.
According to data based on the 2 to 3 million tickets Eventbrite processes every week, it’s the smaller markets that are growing the fastest — a combined 104% year over year. While changing urban dynamics and industry consolidation have contributed to the closure of some nationally iconic music venues all around the country, indie venues new and old are thriving in these smaller cities.
Clearly, there’s cultural renaissance afoot. Keep reading to find out how five of these unexpected music cities are becoming hotspots of live shows and playing an important role in the growth of the industry.
The capital of California hasn’t typically been known as a cultural center, but that’s changing. As the number one fastest-growing city for live music on Eventbrite, Sacramento is home to many talented musicians, both locals and transplants. As rents soar in neighboring San Francisco, Sactown stays affordable — and sunny year round.
This city has a rich arts community, and the music scene has a prominent indie vibe, particularly when it comes to metal and punk. In October, new all ages music venue Holy Diver (from the owners of classic Sacramento venues Ace of Spades and Goldfield) will add new energy to the scene.
This year, there’s a mix of classic and new festivals on the calendar, including HOF (Hall of Fame) Day, a festival for the indie crowd with headliners this year including Hippie Sabotage and DJ Noodles. For EDM Fans, Midnite Events’ Fright Night around Halloween sells out each year and this year is sure to be no different with Diplo and Excision performing.
Sacramento’s also known for its free music events year-round. Concerts in the Park is a 12-week music series that attracted more than 74,000 attendees in 2017. September’s Farm to Fork Festival and On The Block are other free festivities that keep local music lovers happy.
They call it Steel City, but we call it Indie City. This historically industrial Pennsylvania town shows up on the top of “most livable city” lists from The Economist and Forbes — which is no wonder, as Pittsburgh is home to world-class universities and a vibrant tech sector.
Pittsburgh’s music scene has a rich history. Benedum Center for the Performing Arts has been hosting traveling Broadway shows and opera and ballet performances since it opened as the Stanley Theater in 1926. Over the past few decades, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has been slowly developing the city’s cultural center.
As Pittsburgh’s downtown has been revitalized, outlying neighborhoods have also begun to draw an artsy young crowd. Festivals like Three Rivers Arts Festival, Deutschtown Music Festival, and FEASTival create a smorgasbord of musical opportunity for fans of any flavor.
It probably won’t surprise you that Memphis is on our list of the five music cities to keep an eye on. Memphis has always been the heart of Southern music, the place where Elvis made his home and Justin Timberlake got his start. Legendary for its progressive musical culture, Memphis’s local radio station WDIA was the very first in the country to hire non-white DJs.
Legendary for its progressive musical culture, Memphis’s local radio station WDIA was the very first in the country to hire non-white DJs.
There’s still a thriving blues scene in what’s known as the Birthplace of Rock and Roll. Memphis is making a name for itself all over again with its famed indie music scene.
While iconic venues like Raiford’s Hollywood Disco and Nocturnal have now closed, dozens of hopping indie venues have appeared in their wake. Bar after blues bar lines the famous Beale Street corridor, and music festivals like the Delta Fair & Music Festival and Memphis in May light up the summer.
This year, music fans can continue to rock out as the leaves change, too, at the first-annual MEMPHO music festival, slated to take place over two days in October at the massive 4,500 acre Shelby Farms park near the city’s downtown.
St. Louis, MO
The Gateway to the West has long been a crucial part of Blues culture. In fact, it’s one of the world’s top five indigenous blues music cities and home to the new National Blues Museum. The Big Muddy Blues Festival over Labor Day Weekend is an homage to the city’s soulful legacy.
But it’s not all blue in St. Louis anymore. Today, the diverse music scene is anchored by big venues like Hollywood Casino Amphitheater and Peabody Opera House. The famous Pageant is consistently ranked in the top 10 venues of its size worldwide.
St. Louis is known as the place for big-name artists to practice their shows before they hit the arena circuit. Musicians like Kanye West, Bob Dylan, the White Stripes, Wilco, and Outkast have graced the stage here.
The Bay Area’s “other big city” has a long and rich history of underground music. Purposefully transformed by ambitious urban planning over the last decade or so, it’s become an even more diverse and vibrant music city. Locals affectionately call it “Oaktown” to highlight the small-city vibe.
New and revamped venues have bolstered the creative atmosphere while retaining its indie edge. The Fox Theater, opened in 1928, still hosts musicians today. Big names like Alice in Chains, The Decemberists, and Green Day have headlined there since it was reopened in 2009 after a $91 million renovation.
Oakland is also home to indie festivals like the Oakland Music Festival and Eastlake Music Festival, which draw attendees from across the bridges and around the world.
These aren’t the only five music cities undergoing a cultural renaissance, but illustrate a bigger trend. For live music event organizers, this opens up a breadth of opportunity with eager audiences flung across the U.S.
For more insight into what’s driving the live music industry today, read our 2017 Music Trends report.