10 Best Places to Experience Music
1. Grand Ole Opry, USA
This country-music phenomenon is actually a Saturday night, live radio broadcast that goes out on Nashville’s WSM station. It’s been around since 1925, making it the USA’s longest continuous radio show, and takes place at Nashville’s 4400-seat Grand Ole Opry House. Each year thousands of good-ole boys and girls from around the globe git on down to Tennessee to get a load of the legendary show that has played host to numerous country music legends – Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash – and others, like Keith Urban. Plan your trip at http://www.opry.com; tickets range from around US$70–400.
2. Berlin cabaret, Germany
For many people the words ’decadent’, ‘cabaret’ and ‘Berlin’ go together like ‘oil’, ‘terror’ and ‘war’. German cabaret began in the ’20s and was a lot darker than its sultry French equivalent – more satirical, more political, a reflection of the horrors of warfare. Today, although the scene just isn’t what it used to be, Berliner cabaret still offers something of that edge (along with leggy, high-kicking girls, of course), as well as the giddy thrill of being transported back to a time when art actually mattered. The Kit Kat Club is postmodern cabaret for sexual adventurers; open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Friday nights the best for genuine fetishists.
3. Havana, Cuba
The absorbing documentary Buena Vista Social Club (1999) implanted Cuban music (specifically, the pre-revolutionary son style) into the global consciousness, and today many pilgrims travel to Havana to experience son’s evocation of a time before Castro, before collectivisation, before poverty and isolation. They say son is connected to the hips (it’s a prototype of salsa), but that’s not all you can hear in Havana’s bars and streets: rumba, salsa (of course) and Latin jazz will also shake your hips silly. The Salon Rosada in Marianao lets you listen to unreal Saturday night tunes from a balcony overlooking a sea of dancers; entry is US$10 for non-Cubans or US$0.25 for locals.
4. Carling Weekend, Reading, England
With a few decades of music history under its belt, the Reading festival is a worthy pilgrimage for fans of alternative pop, rock, rap and hiphop. The three-day event can feel like a home away from home (if your home has 10-million-watt speakers). Once your campsite is set up, head to a stage (there are six) and lose your mind with 60,000 other people. If an act doesn’t measure up, contribute to a barrage of empty plastic bottles, a festival tradition. If you love the act, follow it to Leeds the next day, where a sister festival is held concurrently. Tickets usually go on sale in March; standard day passes cost around £70; swat the line up at www.readingfestival.com and http://www.leedsmusicfestival.com.
5. Ibiza, Spain
Mention the words ‘Ibiza’ and ‘dance music’ these days and you might get a another word: ‘dated’. But this small island off Spain’s eastern coast is pretty much where it all began. In the late ’80s British DJs would play at Ibiza’s Ecstasy-fuelled clubs before importing the hedonistic vibe back to England, where house music and techno were taking off ; the rest is history. Ibizan clubs are a lot more commercial now, and there’s a hell of a lot more lager louts to contend with, but the atmosphere is still undeniably riotous, self-indulgent and pleasure seeking. Privilege is the world’s ‘massivist’ club; it’s 4km from Ibiza Town but offers a free bus shuttle departing every 30 minutes (midnight–6am) from Ibiza harbour.
6. New Orleans Jazz Festival, USA
Also known as ‘Jazz Fest’, this 10-day gala event spread across 12 stages attracts 650,000 people per year and pretty much defines the spirit and heritage of New Orleans. It’s eclectic, featuring gospel, funk, zydeco, rock and Caribbean in addition to jazz, but the best endorsement is the stellar roster of acts it has staged, including Fats Domino, Dr John, Allen Toussaint, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Santana, Sarah Vaughan, Paul Simon, BB King, Joni Mitchell, James Brown, Willie Nelson, The Temptations, Van Morrison, LL Cool J, Gladys Knight and Youssou N’Dour. Standard one-day tickets are US$50 at the gate (US$40 if booked online), with more pricey VIP options available; check listings and options at http://www.nojazzfest.com.
7. Dakar, Senegal
They say Dakar is the Paris of French West Africa, a cultural hub with intellectuals and artists aplenty. Fittingly, it has a throbbing live-music scene, powered by mbalax, a cross-hatching of Latin and Caribbean music with African>
drumming. Beloved Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour is the most famous exponent of mbalax, but there are others who have followed his lead, including Baaba Maal and Cheikh Lo. Mbalax performances are addictive: the sight of a 10-piece band completely absorbed in the music while delirious punters stuff cash into the musicians’ mouths and pockets is one not easily forgotten. Local and international legend Seck hosts live mbalax nights at the Kilimanjaro club, next to the Soumbédioune fish market.
8. Vienna, Austria
Strauss, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schönberg and Mahler… These giants of classical music all at some stage lived or made music in Vienna, and their legacy is celebrated in the city with an annual performance season lasting from September to June, plus an additional nine festivals per year, special events and one-off performances. For lovers of classical music, what could be finer than experiencing a world-class recital by the Vienna Philharmonic in the stately Wiener Konzerthaus – in the city where it all began? The Wiener Konzerthaus is a short stroll from the U4 Stadtpark Station. Public transport is free with a valid concert ticket for two hours prior to a performance.
9. London, England
Many come to London for the music, whether they want to party hard in a superclub like Ministry or Fabric; chill to an adventurous, possibly stoned DJ in some too-cool-for-school bar; or head to one of London’s unbeatable live-music venues (anyone who’s anyone plays the capital at some stage). Think of the scenes that London has incubated, like punk, rave and drum and bass, and the many ultrafamous London musos like Bowie, the Stones, the Clash, the Pistols… Punk started here, and continues to live here; get the latest gig listings at http://www.eroding.org.uk.
10. Austin, Texas, USA
Texas dubs itself the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’, which is a bit cheeky considering the claims of other cities like London. How many famous bands from Austin can you name off the top of your head? Now how many can you think of from London? Alright, calm down – let’s not get into one of these kind of fights. Let’s just agree that live music is terribly important to Austin, and respect the fact that it has more live-music venues per capita than Nashville, Las Vegas, New York City, Memphis or Los Angeles. Get the Austin groove online at http://www.unlockaustin.com, which features news and reviews of the city’s live-music talent and venues.