In the days before we carried entertainment centers in our pockets and went home to massive home screens with surround sound and 4K clarity, entertainment was what you made of it.
My nanny, for instance, was born in the 1920s and grew up one of eight children. I’ve mentioned that they made their own entertainment. Nanny’s escape was books. She was a voracious reader. But for most of the rest of the family, music was their entertainment, a passion passed down from my great-grandfather.
As a reedy-voiced mandolin player, my great uncle Jim, Nanny’s little brother, carried this music passion the farthest, playing bluegrass music in various bands for most of his life.
So it was in the Great Smoky Mountains as well. Music – pickin’ and singin’ – was as much a part of the mountain life as worship and hard work.
And so, when folks come to town for a vacation in the Smokies, they expect to get a little taste of live Tennessee mountain music during their getaway.
And from downtown Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge to Sevierville, the Smokies deliver.
You may not get the big-name artists you’ll find in Nashville, but you’ll find plenty of talented local musicians playing live music at venues across the county, especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
Does Gatlinburg have nightlife?
Sure. It mostly shuts down at 10 or 11 pm on weeknights, but there is no shortage of places with a dance floor and live entertainment in Gatlinburg and beyond.
Where can I hear bluegrass in Gatlinburg?
I’m tempted to paraphrase Willy Wonka and say look around and hear it. There is no shortage of bluegrass musicians in Gatlinburg. For example, pick your favorite live music venue in town and there’s a good chance they’re going to have a bluegrass night.
Walking up and down the Parkway on Saturday nights is to be met with live performances. Songwriters practically fall out of trees playing their hearts out all the way down.
What restaurants feature live music in the Smoky Mountains?
Let’s start with a caveat. Any best-of list is subjective. We may like a steak house better than a seafood place while you prefer Mexican, Italian or whatever. Add music to the equation and the subjective nature of the list doubles.
To illustrate, do you prefer authentic bluegrass or more mainstream country? What if you like rock and roll or want to go to an authentic honky tonk? Does dancing figure into the equation? What’s more important when going out for dinner and music, the dinner or the music?
So, we’re ranking these places based on the specific equation that matters to us. For you, it may be different. Being 10th or 12th on a list like this isn’t an insult. There are none of these places that don’t have their own charms, their own raison d’etre. Unless we say otherwise, we like them all.
Also, it’s important to note that things change quickly in the music business, the restaurant business and the tourism business. All three of these will affect the local live music scene.
For instance? The Crystelle Creek Restaurant is under new management and live music is temporarily postponed. Will it come back? Will the new owners want a different vibe all together? Stay tuned.
And finally, be sure to call ahead or check the website’s calendars and Facebook pages before arriving for any schedule changes.
9. Ole Smoky’s The Holler, Gatlinburg
Listen to live bluegrass music while tasting the offerings of one of the region’s best distilleries.
Try the moonshine or try the whiskey, but don’t visit on an empty stomach. No real food offerings are offered on the distillery tour and tasting.
8. Shamrock Pub, Gatlinburg
Food. Drinks. Live music and karaoke. What more could you ask for? Nothing.
I personally might ask for less, as the idea of working my way through a couple of cocktails while a stranger works his way through an off-key version of “Afternoon Delight” isn’t my idea of a good time.
However, if you like pub food, beer and a nice outdoor patio, this might be the place for you.
7. Three Jimmy’s Good Time Eatery, Gatlinburg
Three Jimmy’s is a classic American eatery with delicious food of a wide variety from burgers, wings, sandwiches and more.
Additionally, their live entertainment means tunes Tuesdays through Sundays starting at 3 pm.
6. Tom & Earl’s Back Alley Grill, Gatlinburg
A back alley grill should have a gravely voiced troubadour, right? Like Leonard Cohen singing “Hallelujah” with a throat full of glass.
Well, the music at Tom & Earl’s is a little more traditional country than that, but it’s still pretty good. Live music is typically offered on Friday and Saturday nights.
The restaurant offers the type of good food you’d find at a grill, back alley or otherwise, plus a variety of mixed drinks and beer.
5. Smoky Mountain Brewery
With locations in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, you can get what you want at Smoky Mountain Brewery. Specifically, a brewery and eatery with a thriving live music scene.
The menu is burgers, pizza and apps all of which are excellent. The Ale Steak is also quite good. Handcrafted beers include the popular Cherokee Red Ale and the Appalachian Pale Ale.
4. Puckett’s Grocery, Pigeon Forge
What started as a somewhat traditional small-town grocery store in Leiper’s Ferry in the 1950s is now a multi-location live music venue eatery.
Certainly, Puckett’s has built a name on hosting live, local musical acts and serving Southern staples.
Tennessee favorites include fried chicken, BBQ and meatloaf. Finish it off with a classic southern dessert. The music? Impeccably chosen and interesting.
In other words, it’s far from your cookie-cutter country music scene.
3. Junction 35, Pigeon Forge
A distillery, restaurant and a great live music venue, Junction 35 is a triple threat on the Sevier County live entertainment scene. It’s also the perfect place for a fun night out with friends.
The menu? Wings, BBQ, burgers, pasta and more.
In addition, Junction 35 has its own brands of bourbon, rye whiskey, moonshine, vodka, gin and rum made under the supervision of a master distiller.
And the music? It’s popular styles of country and country pop.
2. Ole Red Gatlinburg
Something of an upset here as Blake Shelton and his place are certainly the biggest names on the local music scene. Serving up heaping helpings of country music concerts every day and night, Ole Red certainly wins if volume – in both senses of the word – is taken into account.
The menu is burgers and BBQ and the bar offers a wide array of choices. You are guaranteed a certain level of professionalism at Ole Red for sure and maybe once Blake has retired from “The Voice,” he might visit a little more often as well.
1. The Listening Room Café, Pigeon Forge
The Listening Room was founded in Franklin, TN by Chris Blair, a singer-songwriter. The café features an eclectic lineup of talented performers who represent the full array of what is and has been country music and modern bluegrass.
The menu is apps and handhelds, but all are well prepared. Drinks include beer, cocktails wine and liquor. The Listening Room puts the music front and center, but you won’t go hungry or thirsty. It’s the right vibe for a night of live music performances, drinks and food.
Do you have a favorite music venue in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge? Let us know in the comments!