15 of the Best Venues to listen to Live Country Music!

Since country music (as we know it) started its rise in the 1920s, it's gone through more changes than there are songs about drinking beer. From early "hillbilly" music to the honky-tonk sound of Hank Williams, "Outlaw" country to "Bro" country, this working-class art form keeps evolving. There's been country-pop, country-rock, the Nashville "countrypolitan" sound, the Bakersfield sound, alt-country, country-rap...

About the only things that remain the same in Country music are the great stories put to great music and performed by great singers and players. While you can enjoy your favorite songs on the radio or iPod, Country is the kind of music best heard live. These fifteen places should be on every true fan's bucket list.

1. RYMAN AUDITORIUM, Nashville, TN

It's called "the Mother Church of Country Music" - so the pews seem appropriate. For 31 years, it was the home of the Grand Ole Opry, and still presents legends like Loretta Lynn, as well as more contemporary artists like Vince Gill and Marty Stuart. Prepare to have a spiritual experience.

2. THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ, Nashville, TN

At only 90 seats, it's a fantastic "listening room," where artists at all levels come to perform and share insights into their music. Their Open Mic night has launched some impressive careers, including that of Garth Brooks.

3. TOOTSIE'S ORCHID LOUNGE, Nashville, TN

This legendary honky-tonk is right across the alley from the Ryman - and pretty much every major artist has dropped in post-show to perform at least one song before settling down with their beer. Two floors offer multiple chances at hearing fantastic music.

4. WILLIE'S SALOON, Stillwater, OK

This local dive has been around since 1974 - and was home to Garth Brooks' first public performance (there's a marker commemorating the event). Four times a week, you'll catch some great country bands and singer/songwriters.

5. CAIN'S BALLROOM, Tulsa, OK

It served as the home of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from 1935 to 1942, and proudly honors its Western swing heritage. A variety of different artists -from rap to rock -- perform in this classic venue throughout the year, but country music is at its heart.

6. WORMY DOG SALOON, Oklahoma City, OK

It doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside, expect to hear a staggering amount of local country music talent. Naturally, there's also a dance floor in case you feel the need to do some boot-scootin'.

7. GRUENE HALL, New Braunfels, TX

Built in 1878, the state's oldest dance hall has hosted Willie Nelson, George Strait, Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett and many more. Every night you'll be treated to live music from hot new Texas acts, as well as big names passing through on tour.

8. JOHN T. FLOORE'S COUNTRY STORE, Helotes, TX

Since 1942, it's hosted everyone from Ernest Tubbs and Patsy Cline, to Willie Nelson, George Jones and Dwight Yoakam. The ceiling is lined with cowboy hats, the barbecue is legendary, and the live country music (from national and local artists) is unbeatable.

9. THE MOODY THEATRE, Austin, TX

As the home to the long-running PBS series, "Austin City Limits," you won't find a better place in the city to see a great live show. Dierks Bentley, Willie Nelson and The Mavericks are among those who've taken the stage.

10. LUCKENBACH, TX

The town made famous by the Waylon 'n Willie song is really a ghost town. Yet what's left of it serves as a popular destination for live country music. The original General Store hosts a "picker's circle" where songwriters trade licks; there are regular live shows in the dance hall, plus free outdoor concerts.

11. BILLY BOB'S, Fort Worth, TX

At 127,000 square feet, it rightly claims the title of the "World's Largest Honky Tonk." Since opening in 1981, playing here has been considered a rite of passage. Some of the stars that got their big break at the club include George Strait, Reba McEntire and Alan Jackson.

12. FIREHOUSE SALOON, Houston, TX

A bunch of firefighters opened this country bar and dance hall about 20 years ago. The owners are devoted to showcasing the best Texas musical talent; Miranda Lambert was once a regular performer.

13. TROUT'S & THE BLACKBOARD STAGES, Bakersfield, CA

It's a true honky-tonk, and a fixture in the area since 1931. The walls are lined with photos of the many legends that have passed through, and the owner is dedicated to preserving "the Bakersfield sound."

14. THE CRYSTAL PALACE, Bakersfield, CA

Legendary guitarist Buck Owens opened this enormous music hall. Expect to eat, drink and dance, and to hear plenty of fast-rising country stars perform. Many fans feel that if you can only visit one country music venue in all of California, this should be it.

15. MCCABE'S GUITAR SHOP, Santa Monica, CA

Talk about intimate. This tiny backroom space doesn't serve alcohol, and you'll have to sit on folding chairs. But it's a great place for getting up close to singer-songwriter types, who share the stories behind their songs.

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