There’s something so exciting about the start of a new tour. Whether you’re revisiting towns in which you have an active following and fans lining up to see you, or you’re just starting to venture out and explore totally new areas, the feeling of embarking on a new musical adventure is really special.
That’s really what touring with your band is all about; the opportunity to get out there and do what you love in front of the people that love seeing it. It helps to know that when you arrive in a new city, there will already be a live music crowd ready to greet you with open arms. And some of the most vibrant, bustling music scenes — with great venues, great young bands, and audiences constantly looking for a good time out — exist in places with a few universities nearby.
So if you’re looking to hit a few college towns on your next tour, check out our top eight (in no particular order).
1. Boulder, Colorado
Did you know Boulder is home to not one, not two, but three classical music orchestras, and hosts America’s most well-known classical musical festival, the Colorado Music Festival? Even if you’re a more Rock than Philharmonic, Boulder still has a scene for you.
It’s home to the University of Colorado Boulder, and has a thriving venue scene that includes The Fox Theatre, which Rolling Stone named the fourth best place in the country to see live music. Located in The Hill, a popular destination for college students, it hosts a variety of genres of live music five to six times per week. It’s also home to tons of outdoor summer concerts throughout the week. And speaking of outdoor spots, mountain-view-graced brewery and food truck hub, Rayback Collective, also has a live music stage with bands performing during events and parties. So grab your lemonade (or beer) and guitar, because Boulder is going to be one of your top destinations.
2. Ithaca, New York
Ithaca is one of those college towns that kind of flies under the radar. Beautiful and serene, this secluded college town can often be seen as too remote, even though smart touring artists would be wise to look into the wealth of upstate New York university towns, including Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse. Anyway, Ithaca has earned its stripes well as a destination for touring bands, and for good reason. Among its many venues like The Haunt and The Dock, it’s also home to nonprofit Ithaca Underground, which helps emerging artists of all genres book shows and get their start. Plus, they’re one of the few organizations that put together multi-genre shows, so you can see punk rock, acoustic, and hip-hop all on the same bill.
If that wasn’t enough, Ithaca is also home to 73 Records, a youth-run label that releases music by kids and young adults — mainly still in high school. It’s a community that supports musicians (full stop).
3. Austin, Texas
You already know that Austin is a mecca of musical talent and endless opportunities during SXSW but it’s also a pretty incredible year-round music scene, and partly because of the large student presence. If you’re familiar with SXSW, you’re likely aware of the rows of live music venues on Sixth Street, with shows running throughout the week. In addition, it has the Pecan Street Festival, which features five stages for live music, as well as performances by the Austin Symphony Orchestra. With several college campuses throughout the city, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a venue and an audience if you play your marketing cards right!
4. Madison, Wisconsin
What makes Madison so special for touring artists is the diverse nature of its musical culture. With a bubbling scene in everything from classical music to jazz to opera to summer music festivals, and more, Madison is a must stop for touring artists. It’s also home to labels like Crustacean Records and Kind Turkey Records. When it comes to live music, you can catch a show at the High Noon Saloon —named the “Best Venue” by a different organizations including Madison Magazine, the Madison Area Music Awards, and Isthmus — or any number of homey, intimate spaces like Kiki’s House of Righteous Music (shown above).
5. Asheville, North Carolina
The sign of a thriving music city is one that the residents are excited to be a part of it. This is the case with Asheville — musicians and fans there not only feel excited and lucky to call Asheville their home, but they are genuinely thriving there
Asheville is host to the summer music fest Shindig on the Green, a weekly festival in the summer months that features primarily Bluegrass music. If that isn’t your genre, there are tons of other fests to aim for, including Moog Fest, Downtown After 5, and Mountain Dance and Folk Fest. They even have a vivid opera and experimental scene. If you still need convincing, think about the many unique things Asheville is home to, including a car dealership turned music venue (White Horse Black Mountain) or the Asheville Guitar Bar. Pretty cool, right?!
6. Olympia, Washington
It’s always fun when a city has tons of music history to back up its current status. For Olympia, this means being home to both the riot-grrrl movement, known for their feminist approach to punk, and a few indie labels like K-Records — another Olympia music scene staple. While the main university is the Evergreen State College, it’s also home to South Puget Sound Community College, and it’s only about an hour drive to Seattle, making it a great stop for a burgeoning underground scene that’s ripe with DIY punk and creative approaches to every facet of music making. Visit Olympia to get inspired.
7. Bellingham, Washington
This is one of my favorite tucked-away towns in the country. After stopping here on my way between Seattle and Vancouver, it’s easy to see why this would be a must-stop for touring musicians of all kinds. Although you might think its quaintness works against it, small-town Washington state has long harbored thriving bastions of DIY creativity since the 1970s. With a few local independent labels and a local music publication called What’s Up! Magazine, this tiny town is worth visiting, to make some great connections and play for an awesome crowd! Bonus trivia: It’s where Death Cab for Cutie originated from.
8. Morgantown, West Virginia
I don’t know what it is about this West Virginia University hub, but I have found time and time again that even bands without a huge national following can attract a packed, excited crowd in Morgantown. People just can’t get enough music here, and they’re welcoming enough to give you a shot and come to your show even if they’ve never heard your music. Plus, with West Virginia’s proximity to Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Columbus (not to mention all the other secret hot spots in Ohio), it’s an easy detour that will surely be worth the trip.
Got 10 minutes to learn something new?
Explore Soundfly’s wide array of free online courses and expand your musical skills over your lunch break! Here are just a few free courses you can choose from: How to Create a Killer Musician Website, Theory for Bedroom Producers, How to Get All the Royalties You Never Knew Existed, and of course, Touring on a Shoestring. Here’s a snippet of what to expect on Soundfly.