A Local Musician’s Guide to Asheville’s Music Scene

Songwriter and rapper Virtuous leads the way through the best places to take in live music—and feed your soul in between gigs—with this three-day itinerary.

A view from behind a band performing from onstage looking out onto an audience at Harrah's Cherokee Center, Asheville, North Carolina

Harrah’s Cherokee Center

Courtesy of Explore Asheville/David Simchock

When people say, “Asheville rocks,” they often mean it literally. The North Carolina destination boasts a music scene that Rolling Stone magazine says makes it a “Must-Visit Music City,” thanks to artists such as Virtuous (aka Kia Rice), who shared her recommendations for visiting. The likes of Zac Brown and T Bone Burnett have laid down tracks in the studio at Echo Mountain Recording. Nearly any day of the week at indoor and outdoor music venues throughout the city, you’ll find celebrated artists, from Bob Dylan to Chance the Rapper to Neko Case; touring up-and-comers; and a bountiful local crop of musicians.

Virtuous regularly graces Asheville’s microphones with upbeat, infectious grooves blending gospel, R&B, funk, pop, and hip hop. The city figures high among her musical inspirations, too, serving as the bucolic backdrop for her videos and source material for songs like Tourist in Your Own Town. She also champions Asheville festivals that place women and people of color on center stage, such as the Women To The Front, Juneteenth, LEAF Global Arts, and Lovely Asheville festivals.

More than anything, Virtuous loves extending to others what makes her such a fan of the city—the open arms, minds, and hearts. “Compared to other places I’ve been, Asheville has been the most welcoming,” she says. And that applies to music, too. “There are so many different cultures here and all bring a different style of music.” Her enthusiasm and expertise make her the ideal curator to guide you through Asheville’s hottest venues for live music and everywhere in between.

The brick exterior of the Asheville Music Hall in Asheville, North Carolina

Trip Highlight

Asheville Music Hall

In a town brimming with great live venues, Asheville Music Hall is the gold standard—and a favorite of Virtuous. Whether you’re visiting to see a national headliner or popping in for the Tuesday night local funk fest, you can’t go wrong here.
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Explore Asheville

With so much to see and do in this eclectic city and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, Explore Asheville has you covered with in-depth information for every interest and angle. Whether you’re drawn to the city’s architecture, thriving restaurant scene, lively art galleries, or serene natural beauty, this welcoming destination offers all the elements of a rewarding getaway.
A bartender serving a yellow and red craft cocktail at Imperíal in Asheville, North Carolina

Imperíal is one of many places in Asheville serving craft cocktails.

Photo by Tim Robison

Day 1:See Live Music and Dance in Downtown Asheville

To be in the thick of it, opt for one of downtown’s newest hotels, The Restoration Asheville. Facing Pritchard Park, this 60-room boutique property reflects the classic European spirit found in the city; the design nods to Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino whose tilework graces Biltmore and the Basilica of Saint Lawrence. (Another option is The Foundry Hotel, a five-minute walk from the bustling downtown scene in a historic enclave known as “The Block.”)

The Restoration offers three distinct dining options. For lunch today (or this evening’s dinner), you can choose among the glassed-in, open-air observatory on the rooftop; the ground-floor, fine-dining restaurant, The Exchange; and the basement pub, The Draftsman, which includes a bowling alley, Skee-Ball, and a small stage for live performances.

It only takes a short stroll through downtown Asheville to see how seriously the city takes its music. A drum circle takes place weekly on Friday nights in Pritchard Park, Irish and bluegrass sessions spill out from the surrounding bars, and tunes fill the streets from musicians on the corners.

The Restoration is steps away from a mainstay of the music scene, the Asheville Music Hall. If the murals of Prince, Nina Simone (who attended high school in Asheville), Bootsy Collins, and Muddy Waters gracing its exterior don’t say enough, the weekly roster of local, regional, and national acts should. Weekly events include the Tuesday night funk jam, which has a loose, inclusive vibe that Virtuous loves. “It’s a jam session. They invite other artists on stage; other people come out and sing,” she says. “I just love the diversity.”

Fuel for your dance moves is also within easy reach if you want a stellar option outside of your hotel. Two doors down is the Lobster Trap, which the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program recognizes for its sustainable sourcing of much of its fish and oysters from North Carolina’s coast. House-made cocktail sauce, farmers’ market produce, and heirloom grits from Peaceful Valley Farms (25 miles east of Asheville) enhance the Carolina flavor. From March to May, the restaurant also adds the celebrated North Carolina green gill oysters to the menu.

When you’re ready for more live tunes, head to The Orange Peel, one of the top venues in the city and one that also has a national reputation. Set inside a 1950s roller dome, the music club’s pedigree from its 20-plus years in action includes hosting the likes of Joe Cocker, Susan Tedeschi, and George Clinton, among many others.

If you prefer an intimate experience with a DJ instead, swing over to Imperiál after 9 p.m. when it kicks into high gear alongside an extensive menu of agave cocktails. “It catches a lot of people’s ears just walking by,” says Virtuous.
The stained glass and tall arched ceiling inside the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville, North Carolina

The Basilica of St. Lawrence is one of many historic sites to explore in Asheville.

Photo by Tim Robison

Day 2:Explore History and Craft Breweries

Start today off with a stroll through the Asheville Art Museum, where the permanent collection of 20th- and 21st-century art (much of it by regional artists) combines with rotating exhibitions and regular events. Be sure to linger after for lunch in the rooftop café, which looks over Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood and the mountains beyond.

This afternoon, see more of Asheville’s rich and diverse heritage with a tour by Hood Huggers, which guides visitors through historic Affrilachian (African American Appalachian) neighborhoods while sharing informative and entertaining stories of resilience. The Eagle Street tour passes by PennyCup Coffee at the YMI Cultural Center, which is dedicated to Black rights, social justice, and cultural preservation. Having just undergone renovations, the Center is expected to reopen in June 2024. “Inside they have so many paintings and things showing the Black history of the neighborhood, and I just love the environment when I walk in,” says Virtuous.

For dinner tonight, check out Pack’s Tavern, adjacent to Court House Plaza and inside one of the city’s oldest buildings. The early 20th-century warehouse aesthetic remains strong amid multiple handsome dining areas with original brick and wood walls and floors. A 1932 theme pays tribute to the end of Prohibition—and the building’s role as a moonshine distributor during those days, including a secret tunnel downstairs. Find classic American comfort food on a menu with dishes such as Prohibition pot roast, bison meatloaf, and brisket mac-n-cheese.

Afterward, have a nightcap at Ben’s Tune-Up, Asheville’s local sake brewery. “You can never go wrong with the apple sake, but they also have really good pineapple jalapeno,” says Virtuous. If beer is your preference, stop by the nearby Twin Leaf Brewery. Pouring from the nearly 20 taps are a panoply of styles, from its flagship Mexican lager and Belgian tripel to the more experimental rosemary IPA and coffee-infused brown ale.
Two people cycling along the Asheville Greenway in Asheville, North Carolina

The Asheville Greenway is near the city’s River Arts District.

Photo by Tim Robison

Day 3:Bike West Asheville and the River Arts District

West of downtown, the River Arts District (RAD) has revitalized the industrial warehouses and factories along the French Broad River. On the other side of it is West Asheville, where many of the city’s best and brightest restaurants, cafes, breweries, and record stores line the main strip of Haywood Road.

Start the day in West Asheville at one of two breakfast powerhouses. Sunny Point Café is part of a culinary complex that includes the Rabbit Hole bakery in the back and a lovingly tended garden and patio. Enjoy the herbs, produce, and edible flowers grown onsite in Southern-inspired breakfast and lunch dishes, from carrot hotcakes to shrimp and grits. For a different regional treat, Biscuit Head serves up mimosa fried chicken biscuits, pulled pork biscuits, and biscuit French toast. Don’t miss the jam bar in the back with options like peach rosemary and sweet potato chai.

After spending the rest of the morning strolling around this vibrant area for some retail therapy, stop for lunch and afternoon tea at the West Asheville branch of Dobra Tea. All offer a cozy, chill vibe along with some of the best tea available. West Asheville’s outpost excels in cuisine, with a delicious kitchari that can stand against any dish in the city.

Once you’ve refueled, get active in the great outdoors. Along the east bank runs a greenway with a lane dedicated to cyclists. That makes it a great home base for The Flying Bike, just south of the Haywood Bridge. There, you can rent standard bikes and e-bikes or sign up for guided and themed e-bike tours of downtown Asheville, the RAD, and more.

After your cycling excursion, stop by New Belgium Brewery, one of Asheville’s best-known breweries thanks to the national distribution of brews like Fat Tire Ale and Voodoo Ranger IPA. It’s also one of the city’s largest, encompassing a brewery, taproom, and expansive patio overlooking the French Broad River and the adjacent greenway filled with strollers, joggers, and bikers—often pulled by happy dogs. Spare time for the 1.5-hour brewery tour and enjoy the free beers along the way. “They do a lot for the community,” adds Virtuous. “We’ve gotten to do the Women to the Front festival there twice and it was amazing.”

End your day at Salvage Station, an indoor-outdoor venue that’s popular during the warmer parts of the year. Here, you can see touring bands of almost all genres—blues, reggae, folk, roots rock, you name it. The location along the French Broad and the salvage-chic décor add to the relaxed vibe for bands and fans alike. That’s why the local paper Mountain Xpress has named it the best live music venue in Asheville for five years running. You can also grab seasonal soul food (with vegan and gluten-free options on menus that change daily) at the Root Down Kitchen while you’re here.

Afterward, head to one of Virtuous’ favorite spots, The Double Crown, for a nightcap. Located within another West Asheville concentration of breweries, cafes, and clubs, it combines an intimate, unpretentious spirit with a robust lineup of live gospel, soul, and honkytonk, as well as dance parties. “The Double Crown does a good job of bringing in a lot of diverse styles and music,” says Virtuous. It’s a fitting place to conclude your immersion in Asheville’s music scene.

For more spirited recommendations, peruse the listings for hotels, eats, activities, and more on and download the Explore Asheville App.
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