You’ve gotta go honky tonkin’ one night, for sure. It’s crazy touristy, but definitely worth experiencing. The music and people watching make it a lot of fun. :) Hit up Broadway downtown: pretty much any bar you go into will have good tunes, but don’t miss classics like Tootsie's and Robert's Western World. One of my favorites is Big Bang (dueling piano bar) — not for the easily offended (a.k.a. be prepared for crude humor), but the musical talent is unreal, and it’s always a fun late-night hang.
At the end of the street, where Broadway meets 1st Avenue at the riverfront, is Acme Feed & Seed — a multi-storied restaurant, cocktail bar, and live music venue that attracts locals as well as tourists. Fun live music on the first floor, hit the second floor for cocktails and nicer food, and then definitely spend time on the rooftop bar for a fantastic view of Broadway and the river.
More live music places that are off the beaten path from the typical tourist stuff (check their calendars online): The Listening Room (singer/songwriter) and Station Inn (great bluegrass!). If you’re in Nash over a Monday evening, the Time Jumpers(Vince Gill and a whole crew of unbelievably talented and award-winning studio and old-timey musicians) play most Mondays at 3rd and Lindsley. These guys will blow your mind, and are hands down the best $20 you can spend on live music in the city.
If you can make it to a show at the Ryman, it’s absolutely worth it. Every single time.
Bluebird Café can be tricky get into (thanks to the TV show, Nashville), but if you can score tickets, the talent in there is usually pretty amazing.
Musicians Corner (May/June/September in Centennial Park) and Live on the Green(August/September downtown in front of the courthouse) bring awesome free concerts. Pack some snacks, or plan to eat from the incredible food trucks that will be there. Check the schedule online to see who’s playing, but there’s usually some big names — and you may be pleasantly surprised to discover some great music even with unfamiliar names.
Spring through fall you can enjoy one of the most Nashvilliest things you could ever hope for: Full Moon Pickin’ Parties. Held at Percy Warner Park, you can bring chairs, blankets, snacks, and other goodies and enjoy some amazing bluegrass. Beer and food trucks on site. New last year is an East Nashville version: Cornelia Fort Pickin’ Party is definitely worth checking out as well.