Author: Campbell, Bruce

Musical Meccas

I know itíll be Wednesday when you read this, but as Iím writing it, itís actually Fat Tuesday Ė the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and this reminds of what? New Orleans, of course! Tonight is Mardi Gras, and having been to The Big Easy, I can tell you I would NOT want to be on Bourbon Street tonight.

I made my first trip to New Orleans last year, and I loved it. Not because of Bourbon Street, although that was a lot of fun. Fact is, any city has some area where you can drink all night, if thatís what you like. No, what made New Orleans special is the music. How many cities have a style of music named after them? (Several actually, Iíll come back around to that.) The bands on Bourbon Street were good, but they were tourist acts, so I asked around, ďWhere do I go to hear the real New Orleans music?Ē

I was directed to an area just off the French Quarter, and it looked a little scary. But once I crossed Esplanade and entered the neighborhood, it was magic. There was a strip of establishments featuring live music, and the quality of musicianship was superb. It didnít matter whether the players were young, old, or something in between Ė they were all amazing. New Orleans is one of those towns with a concentration of fine musicians. Some are born and raised there, but a lot are musicians who emigrated to be part of the scene there.

This isnít unique to New Orleans, of course. All around the country, there are places that attract great musicians. Sometimes, itís because of the areaís importance to the music business. Sometimes, thereís just a rich musical tradition to the place, and people want to tap into it and contribute to it. Sometimes, itís both. Regardless, it makes for a great experience to visit these cities and take in great music in small, intimate venues.

Chicago is a great town for music. You play the blues in Chicago, and you have something to talk about. I went to a blues club called The Kingston Mines. It consisted of two separate bars, side by side. They would have a band on one side play for an hour, then theyíd take a break, and everybody goes over to the other side to head another band for an hour, then an hour later, they switch back. This goes on from 9PM till 5 AM.

LA and Las Vegas are industry towns Ė every bar band seems to have killer musicians. In Las Vegas, you can make decent living as a bar musician, if youíre playing on the Strip. Off the Strip, I bet itís a different story. In Seattle, I was a little disappointed. There are lots of musicians, to be sure, but some of the ones I saw didnít have a whole lot on the ball.

Now Nashville, well, thatís a town of musicians. You go to pretty much any bar in Nashville, and the band is amazing. Whatís even more amazing is, chances are, the drummer of that band is a better guitar player than anyone you know. Nashville is an industry town from a long way back, and many, many musicians have come through there. Some have settled and some of the locals are 2nd or 3rd generation Nashville Cats. Itís a country music town, and itís a bluegrass town. If the drummerís a better guitarist than you, itíll break your heart to know that the drummerís 8 year old son can play better than you, too!

What the moral of this story? Thereís music everywhere. Whenever you travel, check out the local talent. Youíll see the full spectrum - from earnest hacks, to diamonds in the rough, to full fledged musical wonders. Not every music star is a great musician, and the fact is, most great musicians are not music stars.

Posted:  2/22/2012

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email