Far removed from music-industry cities like Los Angeles and Nashville, the seeds of American music were sown in Mississippi soil, where the pioneers of blues, country, and rock ‘n’ roll followed dusty roads through forests and flatlands to perform for locals.
Today, visitors from across the U.S. and abroad follow the Mississippi Blues Trail and Country Music Trail into the same communities to learn about the land that birthed Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, and Jimmie Rodgers and experience the roots of contemporary American music culture.
Before you join them on your own quest for authentic American music history, bookmark this list of the ten best venues for live music in Mississippi.
Duling Hall (Jackson)
Housed in a century-old former elementary school auditorium in Jackson’s hip Fondren neighborhood, Duling Hall has become a premier venue for national acts such as Flaming Lips, Jenny Lewis, Jason Isbell, and the 400 Unit, and lots more over the past decade. The intimate room holds just 300 spectators, making every spot a good place to watch. As a plus, gigs often end early enough to knock some pins at Highball Lanes or explore late-night spots like The Apothecary.
Hal & Mal’s (Jackson)
This Jackson institution is approaching the big 4-0, with decades of history and deep community roots to its credit. After legendary Jackson venues the Subway Lounge and 930 Blues Café closed, Hal & Mal’s kept the blues alive in the “City With Soul” through its Blue Monday showcase, where you can still hear local blues artists perform every week. The club’s main room has been a stopping point for touring acts like The Strokes, Living Colour, Drive-By Truckers, and Big K.R.I.T., to name a few.
Red’s Lounge (Clarksdale)
Proprietor Red Paden presides over this tiny juke joint in Clarksdale, a Delta city with as strong a claim to the blues as anywhere in the region. Famed blues musicians like Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Watermelon Slim, and others have performed under the signature red lights that lend the room an almost spooky aura. It’s the kind of place where if you see a guy who looks like Robert Plant hanging out, it might be the real deal.
Ground Zero Blues Club (Clarksdale and Biloxi)
Clarksdale is known as Ground Zero of the blues due to its proximity to Dockery Farms, where Charley Patton and Robert Johnson played. Co-owned by none other than Morgan Freeman, this club has an anything-goes juke vibe with a world-class stage, food, and fixins. And now, you can shake your moneymaker in coastal Mississippi—a place known more for beach and Jimmy Buffett than the blues—at the new Ground Zero in Biloxi.
The Blue Front Café (Bentonia)
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, the last in a long line of Bentonia bluesmen, still mans the counter at the Blue Front Café, the oldest known operating juke joint in Mississippi. It’s hallowed as the place where Skip James put a sinister spin on Delta blues with his hypnotic, minor-key meditations and where The Black Keys performed a surprise show to launch their 2021 Grammy-nominated album Delta Kream. In June, the Blue Front Café hosted the 50th edition of the Bentonia Blues Festival with Holmes, Bobby Rush, and more.
Blue Canoe (Tupelo)
Tupelo’s popular “five-star dive bar” hosts live local and national artists like Gary Clark Jr. and the Alabama Shakes, who draw from the same deep well of American music as native son Elvis Presley. The Blue Canoe’s appeal is more than just music, though. Inside its full kitchen, cooks prepare award-winning burgers and other tavern fare to pair with the 48 craft beers the bar keeps on tap (not to mention another 50 or so canned and bottled).
Proud Larry’s (Oxford)
Located across from Square Books and near an Insta-worthy statue of William Faulkner seated on a bench, Proud Larry’s musical history and longevity are worthy of its hometown’s artistic legacy. Oxford’s best place to hear music has hosted Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse, Mitski, and more in recent years.
Smoot’s Grocery (Natchez)
The riverboat city of Natchez perfectly combines the slower pace of Southern life with an unpredictable New Orleans flair—a fitting quality, as Natchez was founded two years ahead of the “Big Easy.” You may recognize Smoot’s Grocery, a restored juke joint built on the Mississippi River in 1939, from the James Brown biopic Get On Up, starring the late, great Chadwick Boseman. This elegantly shambolic, tin-sided corner bar is the spot to get an earful of Natchez’s best up-and-coming musicians.
Government Street Grocery (Ocean Springs)
With its beachy boho vibe, the first live-music venue to open in the vibrant downtown Ocean Springs entertainment district is still the best reflection of the town’s relaxed, casual artistic scene. A chill antidote to the glitzy casinos located across Biloxi Bay, Government Street Grocery is also atop the list of prestigious places for musicians to play, with a clientele that has a deep love for original live music.
100 Men Hall (Bay St. Louis)
Founded by an African American benevolent association in 1922, the 100 Men Hall was a community gathering place that became a stop on the chitlin’ circuit after World War II, hosting artists like Etta James, Irma Thomas, and Professor Longhair. A community effort helped save this historic venue from demolition after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the venue still books artists like Squirrel Nut Zippers today. 100 Men Hall, now listed on the Mississippi Blues Trail, marks 100 years in 2022.