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7 Music Cities You Might Have Overlooked

U.S. News & World Report

7 Music Cities You Might Have Overlooked

Many of us already know that The Beatles were born in Liverpool; that Stevie Wonder's career started in Detroit; and Bob Dylan earned recognition strumming around Greenwich Village. But if you visit those cities in present day, will you still be able hear any good music? And what about music festivals? Though Bonnaroo draws crowds each June, what's an audiophile to do in Manchester, Tenn., once the stages have been broken down and the Porta-Potties rolled away?

There are places across the globe that are 1) known for nurturing musical talent and 2) equally known for excellent music year-round. U.S. News has uncovered seven cities (and one metropolitan region) where you should start your next musical trip.

The origins of this truly American genre are sometimes disputed; there are music fans that would credit turn-of-the-20th-century St. Louis, Mo. with the creation of jazz, while others would emphasize Memphis' role. Still, no one denies that it was New Orleans where this distinctive sound really took hold. According to Fodor's, "No other city had the racial and cultural diversity necessary to produce the blend of American and European, high art and folk art traditions found in New Orleans at the turn of the last century." And like any great art form, jazz has spawned several subgenres from its syncopated rhythms -- so now you don't have to stay on Yankee soil to enjoy a good boogie beat. Case in point: bossa nova, a Brazilian style of jazz that originates in the 1960s and relies heavily on guitar and piano accompaniment. Guitarists Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto are often called the pioneers of bossa nova. Both musicians rose to popularity in Rio de Janeiro.

Homegrown Talent: In addition to Jobim and Gilberto, Rio has also been a pivotal city in the careers of notable bossa nova artists like Caetano Veloso, the late Sylvia Telles and Bebel Gilberto (daughter of João).

Live Venues: Stop by Rio's Rua Vinícius de Moraes, a street near Ipanema Beach, and visit the Vinícius bar for some delicious food and music. Both the street and bar were named after composer Marcus Vinícius de Moraes, another influential bossa nova forefather who is famous for writing the lyrics to "Girl from Ipanema."

From rocksteady to dancehall; from lovers rock to dub, reggae music is the definitive soundtrack of Jamaica. Some of the best-loved and best-known artists were born on the island (Bob Marley, Beenie Man, Gyptian and Sean Paul, to name a few). Still, you don't have to visit Jamaica just to enjoy a reggae beat. California's coastal region, spanning from Greater Los Angeles up to the Bay Area, is home to several ska-punk bands (some commercially known; some still playing the indie circuit). These groups play a subgenre of reggae characterized by an upbeat tempo, staccato notes and the frequent use of horn instruments. Sublime (a band from Long Beach, Calif.) was one of the first ska-punk bands to cross over from their indie roots to mainstream success, thanks to their 1996 single, "What I Got."

Homegrown Talent: Following in Sublime's footsteps, the Anaheim-based band No Doubt brought even more commercial attention to reggae and ska-punk with songs like "Spiderwebs" and "Underneath it All." No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani returned to the distinctive ska sound for her solo hit "Rich Girl." In 2009, the Bay Area's Michael Franti & Spearhead found success with the single, "Say Hey (I Love You)" set to a ska beat.

Live Venues: For a real taste of some underground ska and traditional reggae music, start in Los Angeles and head north up the coast. For your first stop, head to L.A.'s annual Skacore Invasion festival in July to hear some of today's hottest indie ska-punk talent. And for a more traditional, mellow reggae sound, visit northern Monterey Bay's three-day Reggaefest, held in late July. At any time of year, you can enjoy some live ska at the Phoenix Theater (in Petaluma) or the Akbar (in Silver Lake, Los Angeles).

Austin is undeniably the front-running city for hearing live music that spans genres. Its prodigious South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival attunes that city's downtown area for four days each March. But Portland, Ore., has also received recognition for nurturing indie and acoustic rock acts. Portland even hosts its own spin on SXSW: Its 2011 MusicfestNW will feature performances by Band of Horses, Iron & Wine and The Antlers. Portland largely owes its indie/acoustic melodic cred to the late Elliott Smith, a singer/songwriter who recorded in the city who is known for his haunting music and short, tragic career. Material from his self-titled album and his Either/Or album are considered some of the best examples of his work. 

Homegrown Talent: Smith is one of the most notable artists associated with Portland, but he's not alone. The band Sleater-Kinney relocated to Portland in their later years. Bands like The Decemberists and Tea for Julie can also trace their roots to The City of Roses.

Live Venues: Perhaps the best-known performance hall is downtown's Crystal Ballroom. The Aladdin Theater in Southeast Portland is another premier spot to catch a show. But if you want to hear some of the city's newest underground talent, head to the Holocene, also in Southeast.

Songs by The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Jackson 5 provided a soundtrack for the 1960s and early 70s. To this day, those acts' record label (Motown) and the city from where they all recorded their hits (Detroit) remain emblematic of rhythm & blues and soul music. Today, however, a sub-genre of R&B/Soul has caught fire in London, combining some of the vintage sound of Motor City's greats with the synthesized beats found in today's music. Amy Winehouse and her 2006 Billboard-buster album Back to Black are often credited with the introduction of British Soul.

Homegrown Talent: In the years following the release of Winehouse's hit single, "Rehab," her fellow chanteuses Adele, Estelle and Leona Lewis have released their own critically acclaimed albums. They all make up an esteemed list of contemporary soul singers from Londontown.

Live Venues: These singer/songwriters don't often appear in huge venues like east London's O2 Arena or the northwestern Wembley Stadium. To find them crooning, check out the show calendars at cozier clubs like the Dublin Castle and Roundhouse theater in Camden, and Notting Hill's The Tabernacle.

Soca, an abbreviation for "The SOul of CAlypso," started in 1960s Trinidad when the musician Lord Shorty began blending calypso beats with the sounds from East Indian instruments like the sitar and tabla. The genre has endured, and the distinctive sing-song beats of soca are now particularly associated with the street parades of that island's Carnival season. On the other hand, some of the biggest acts of present day hail from Barbados and not Trinidad. For example, the 1990s Bajan band Square One is often credited with garnering some crossover success for the genre, thanks to their songs, "Raggamuffin" and "DJ Ride."

Homegrown Talent: Bajan singer Alison Hinds, formerly a member of Square One, went on to success as a solo artist and is often touted as the "Queen of Soca." Her hit, "Roll It Gal" is one of the more popular anthems of Bajan soca music. The singer Rupee also had a crossover hit, "Tempted to Touch," in 2003. Even pop artist Rihanna has occasionally used a soca beat or two in her songs.

Live Venues: You have several live music options in Barbados. Every Friday, the outdoor Oistins Fish Fry on the south coast includes good barbecue and live entertainment. You could also go to The Boatyard, a beachside nightclub and restaurant in Bridgetown. And then there's Barbados' annual Crop Over Festival, or carnival season, celebrated every year in Bridgetown during the months of July and August.

In the United States, there's no other city that two-steps to honky-tonk as much as Nashville. The home of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame, this city has also welcomed the arrival and nurtured the careers of legendary artists such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris -- even Taylor Swift. But Americans aren't the only ones to enjoy a little country twang: Australians also have an affinity for the genre. Their own Country Music Association is based in the city of Tamworth, New South Wales. Though Australian country music does draw some musical themes and styles from its United States counterpart, the genre is also influenced by Celtic and English folk music, and often incorporates the themes of Australian bush life.

Homegrown Talent: Ironically, Nashville's Country Music Association bestowed the honor of Top Female Vocalist of 1974 on an Australian, Olivia Newton-John. In 2005, the CMA's honor for Male Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year went to another Australian: Keith Urban. Other popular Australian country singers include Kasey Chambers and John Williamson. And similar to the stars of Nashville, Newton-John, Urban, Chambers and Williamson aren't from Tamworth. They do pass through, however, to pay homage to their genre's hub city.

Live Venues: You're going to want to stay in Australia for more than a few nights. So how about allotting two weeks to enjoy the Outback's best sampling of country music at January's Tamworth Country Music Festival? While you're in town, you should also make time for the Big Golden Guitar Tourist Centre of south Tamworth. There you can read up on the history of country music down under. 

Most people cite New York's Bronx borough as the birthplace of hip-hop and rap music. They credit legendary acts like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five or Funky Four Plus One More as the sound's pioneers. However, more than 30 years later, Chicagoan rappers are helping revitalize the genre. By straying from the controversial subject matters and introducing socially conscious themes, they're helping give hip-hop a new name. For examples, take a listen to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy track, "Runaway" or download "The People," from Common's album Be.

Homegrown Talent: In addition to West and Common, rappers Lupe Fiasco, Twista and Jeremih all started their careers on Chi-Town's underground circuit.

Live Venues: Big names roll through the massive United Center, but you can also hear the finest flow of Chicago at smaller places like The Vic Theatre, near the Lakeview neighborhood. Another good live music option is the House of Blues in Near North Side.

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