Virtually everyone knows about the big U.S. music capitals: New York City, Los Angeles, and Nashville, with Austin, Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, and New Orleans trailing right behind. Those are the largest cities that produce some of the nation’s biggest acts in popular music. However, there are several lesser-known “flyover” cities that are becoming burgeoning music scenes in their own right. We’re betting on these five, but let us know if we missed any good ones in the comments below!
1. Art-Pop in Fairfield, Iowa
Despite its small population of under 10,000, Fairfield, Iowa, boasts more restaurants per capita than San Francisco and a music scene bursting at the seams. Much like other midwestern towns and cities, Fairfield has a low cost of living. However, its economy and local culture is boosted by the Maharishi University of Management, transforming the town into an international center for meditation.
Every month, Fairfield hosts a First Friday Artwalk. However, the crown jewel of the town’s music scene is its annual three-day Fairfest music festival, held in downtown Fairfield every summer. The town has fostered and hosted Iowan art-pop musicians such as Gloom Balloon, Christopher the Conquered, Mr. Nasti, and Little Ruckus.
2. Indie Rock and Folk in Columbia & Kirksville, Missouri
Only an hour and a half apart, these Missouri cities’ music scenes are inextricably tied together. Columbia is the bigger of the two cities, hosting the University of Missouri, or as most know it, Mizzou. Its downtown is always buzzing with venues like The Blue Note and The Dome, and it’s hosted big-name acts such as The Hold Steady, as well as lesser-known acts like St. Louis natives The Hobosexuals.
Columbia’s little sister of 17,000 people, Kirksville also hosts a burgeoning music scene, thanks to students from the local liberal arts college, Truman State University, and a determined populace. In 2000, a group of DIY enthusiasts and Truman’s Campus Music Collective started The Aquadome, a music venue invested in everything local and artsy. Though it closed in 2004, a student with entrepreneurial spirit reopened it on a whim in 2011. It has flourished to this day, playing host to the local Kirksville art and music festival, Tom Thumb, and countless concerts featuring local and touring bands. Notable acts hailing from these cities include Rae Fitzgerald, Tom Sauk, Glass Fields, and Dubb Nubb.
3. Indie and Experimental in Norman, Oklahoma
A college town sitting 20 miles away from Oklahoma City, Norman’s thriving music scene and downtown is fueled by the student population of 30,000 at Oklahoma University. and a low cost of living. This town of 100,000 has the annual Norman Music Festival, which draws on indie rock favorites such as Of Montreal and The Flaming Lips. Everything from indie rock to folk to blues is offered nightly at The Deli and Opolis. Local favorites include Kyle Reid, Samantha Crain, Young Readers, and John Calvin Abney.
4. Rap and Indie Rock in Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha burst on the scene in 2000 with the help of Conor Oberst’s band, Bright Eyes, and his record label, Saddle Creek Records. Since then, this low-cost-of-living city with a booming economy has found itself home to a big local music industry, producing rappers such as Conchance, who lauds the city as an incubator for musical development where people can afford to pursue music as a full-time profession. In fact, The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn moved there from Washington, D.C., because the scene is thriving and the rent is cheap. And she’s not the only one: Rick Carson is setting up Make Believe Studios smack dab in downtown Omaha.
5. Appalachian Americana & Freak Folk in Asheville, North Carolina
Yet another college town with a booming economy, Asheville’s River Arts District is home to a music scene bursting with creativity. Paying homage to Appalachians roots and Americana, Asheville’s earliest music festival was the 1928 Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, which is still held today. It also hosts the Brown Bag Songwriting Competition. Notable musicians include Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers and Dave Schools of Widespread Panic. A more recent act in Asheville’s DIY scene is the freak-folk duo Brief Awakening.