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8 Under-the-Radar Music Destinations You Need to Know

These cities know how to turn up the sound

spinner image a girl in the crowd throwing horns at the twenty twenty two louder than life music festival in louisville kentucky
Danny Wimmer Presents / Nathan Zucker

Music festivals such as Coachella, Jazz Fest, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and big concert venues like Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl, Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Ryman Auditorium get all the attention when it comes to live music, oftentimes leaving smaller yet terrific destinations in the back seat.

Live music is found across the U.S., not only at big festivals and in giant stadiums, but also in smaller music clubs, theaters, outdoor amphitheaters and even people’s backyards. Here, we look at eight under-the-radar music destinations that deserve to shine in the spotlight. You may even find yourself adding them to your summer travel plans.

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spinner image a crowd cheering for hip hop group arrested development at the gasparilla music festival in tampa bay florida
Courtesy of Gasparilla Music Foundation / Ysanne Taylor

Tampa Bay, Florida

The Tampa Bay area is ripe with music festivals, and this month two big ones are filling the air with music: the Original Tampa Bay Blues Festival in downtown St. Petersburg, and the Gasparilla Music Festival at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa. The Blues Festival features Robert Cray, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, while Gasparilla has Run the Jewels and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead as headliners.

Aside from festivals, top concert venues in the Tampa Bay area include the Ruth Eckerd Hall and its incredible acoustics, and the intimate, 750-seat Nancy & David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre, both in Clearwater. The Sound, an outdoor, waterfront concert venue with 4,000 covered seats and 5,000 lawn seats, is scheduled to open in July in downtown Clearwater. Among the venue’s scheduled performers are Michael Franti, the Goo Goo Dolls, Kenny Loggins and Chicago. Capitol Theatre and The Sound are managed by Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Big stadium and arena shows are Tampa Bay–bound in the coming weeks and months, too. Raymond James Stadium and Amalie Arena will be filled for Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Duran Duran, the Cure, Lionel Richie with Earth, Wind & Fire, and Madonna, among others.

Travelers are drawn to the Tampa Bay area for its 35 miles of white sand beaches, some of which have been named among the best in the U.S.; a thriving art scene; outdoor activities such as kayaking, canoeing and kiteboarding; and a growing culinary scene.

spinner image concert goers at the gorge amphitheatre in quincy washington
The Gorge Amphitheatre House Photographers

Quincy, Washington

About 2½ hours from Seattle is the Gorge Amphitheatre, an open-air amphitheater and lawn space between Quincy and George that boasts spectacular and endless views of the Columbia River and landscape beyond. The Gorge opened in 1986 and holds up to 27,000 fans who come to see their favorite bands hit the stage in the remote setting.

This summer, the Gorge is hosting Joni Mitchell, Brandi Carlile, the Highwomen with Tanya Tucker, Dave Matthews Band, as well as the Watershed Festival — three days of country music with Keith Urban among the headliners.

Camping is available at the Gorge during concerts. If you want to enjoy the area’s fishing, hiking, rock climbing and off-roading, you’ll need other accommodations.

spinner image the beach boys playing at hard rock live in atlantic city new jersey
Hard Rock Atlantic City

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Known for its boardwalk, beaches and casinos, there’s more to Atlantic City, including its live music scene. One of the best spots to see your favorite bands is Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena, which opened in 1990 and seats nearly 5,200 fans.

This spring and summer, Etess Arena welcomes Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, Santana, Keith Urban and Sting, among other big names.

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Before they take the stage, stay entertained in Atlantic City by visiting the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, playing a round of golf on one of the region’s nearly 20 championship-level courses, or simply strolling along the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk.

spinner image kiss playing at the twenty twenty two louder than life music festival in louisville kentucky
Danny Wimmer Presents / Steve Thrasher

Louisville, Kentucky

Across the city you’ll find live music nearly every night of the week in downtown and neighborhood venues, like Number 15 on Whiskey Row, which opens May 18. For bigger shows, Louisville has more than 50 live concerts and festivals slated for the summer that will surely draw music fans from throughout the U.S.

In May alone, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Seal, Alice Cooper, Kansas and Bonnie Raitt are scheduled to perform. Looking deeper into the summer, there’s Ben Folds, Stevie Nicks, Tori Amos and the Chicks. 

Two big four-day music festivals are coming to Louisville over back-to-back weekends in September: Bourbon & Beyond and Louder Than Life. Bourbon & Beyond features Mavis Staples, Duran Duran, the Killers, Blondie and the Avett Brothers, while Louder Than Life has Foo Fighters, Weezer, Rancid, Tool and Pantera as headliners.

Also this fall, Bob Dylan is opening a whiskey bar, restaurant and live music space in a 144-year-old church, adding even more depth to Louisville’s music scene.

If there’s any energy left after rocking out to these shows, wander Louisville’s neighborhoods to check out the city’s architecture, take a riverboat ride down the Mississippi, or explore the city’s park system. Of course, there’s always bourbon tasting.

spinner image musicians playing at a breckenridge airstage outdoor concert in breckenridge colorado
Joe Kusumoto / Courtesy of Breck Create

Breckenridge, Colorado

Skiing, snowboarding and wintertime fun aren’t the only attractions in Breckenridge — there’s some fantastic music, too. Breckenridge’s Riverwalk Center has been the hub of the area’s music scene for 30 years. To commemorate the milestone, Breck Create, an organization with a mission to deliver inspiring creative experiences, is hosting the Riverwalk 30 Anniversary Carnival with Asleep at the Wheel. Prior to that celebration, Riverwalk Center will welcome the Wailers, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Graham Nash.

From mid-June to mid-August, Breck Create hosts AirStage outdoor concerts every Friday in the Breckenridge Arts District.

Breckenridge and the surrounding area are ripe for summertime fun to complement its music scene. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and whitewater rafting are among the available activities.

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City’s live music scene hosts thousands of touring bands every year, welcoming them to venues large and small, such as indie clubs, music halls, outdoor amphitheaters and arenas. Two highly anticipated concert series each summer are the Red Butte Garden Outdoor Concert Series at an amphitheater in a beautiful botanical garden, and the Twilight Concert Series at the Gallivan Center, which locals refer to as Salt Lake’s Living Room.

Two big festivals also are on tap this spring and summer in Salt Lake City: the three-day Kilby Block Party in May, and the two-day HIVE Music Festival at Utah State Fairpark in June. The Kilby event celebrates Kilby Court, the city’s longest-running all-ages venue, while HIVE is the state’s largest hip-hop festival, with Post Malone headlining this year.

Salt Lake City can serve as a terrific starting point to explore more than 60 national and state parks within a few hours’ drive. Visitors are drawn to the city’s art museums and galleries, as well as to seeing the Great Salt Lake and researching their ancestry at the Family History Library.

spinner image hip hop group earth gang playing at the lincoln theatre in raleigh north carolina
Garrett Poulos//VisitRaleigh.com

Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh hosts a concert every day of the year in intimate settings from dives to lakefront lawns to large-scale arenas. This spring and summer, Raleigh welcomes Lizzo at PNC Arena, Pixies and Bare Naked Ladies at Red Hat Amphitheater, and Matchbox Twenty and Foreigner at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek.

Before checking out the shows, consider a trip to neighboring Chapel Hill or Durham, or visiting the North Carolina Museum of Art and its exquisite collection of 30 Rodin sculptures, or hiking or biking along the area’s180 miles of greenway trails.

spinner image chief keef playing at the chartway arena at old dominion university norfolk virginia in twenty nineteen
Courtesy of Visit Norfolk / Jeff Moore

Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia

A variety of bands make a point of including a show at the NorVa in Norfolk when out on tour. The intimate space holds 1,450 fans and boasts fantastic acoustics. Hoodoo Gurus, Cocoa Tea & Friends, and Social Distortion, among others, are all playing at NorVa in the coming months.

As far as festivals, LAVA Presents MiniFests features a rotating lineup of local bands playing in the area throughout the year, and Virginia Beach is hosting the first Beach It! Country Music Festival in June with headliners Miranda Lambert, Thomas Rhett and Luke Bryan.

Norfolk and Virginia Beach are rich with activities for everyone to enjoy, from learning about maritime history at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum to learning to sail.

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