Music Cities, USA By David Lindquist, The Indianapolis Star November 28, 2004 The day-to-day life of a touring musician has been described as the inside of a darkened arena, followed by the inside of a hotel room, followed by the inside of a dressing room, followed by the inside of darkened arena. But the stars know one city from the next--even if a Columbus, Ohio, audience occasionally hears an onstage greeting of, "Hello, Cleveland." During the past year, The Star posed the following question to a variety of artists: "What's America's best city for music?" Musicians responded with examples of inspiration, gratitude and energy they've drawn from their homes away from home. R&B vocalist Erykah Badu says Philadelphia played a major role in her career development. That's where the Dallas native met members of inventive hip-hop group the Roots in their hometown. "After hearing the albums 'Do You Want More?!!!??!' (the Roots, 1995) and 'Brown Sugar' (D'Angelo, 1995), I felt there was a place for me in music," Badu says. "I could be successful and accomplish things I wanted without compromising who I wanted to be." She says the first lyrics she ever wrote were for "Appletree," which accompanied a remix of the Roots' track "Proceed." "I said, 'This is what it is, this is what I am. I'm a mixture of hip-hop and jazz together,' " she says. "That's what really brought me out of my quiet shell." Badu and the Roots reached the Top 40 of Billboard magazine's singles chart with their 1999 collaboration, "You Got Me." Josh Groban grew up in Los Angeles, but he doesn't credit the City of Angels for nurturing his classical/pop sound. "L.A. is really kind of a 'band' city," he says. "I used to go to (famed nightclubs) the Whiskey A Go-Go and the Roxy to check out what the bands were. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I wasn't blown away by them." Groban has performed in dozens of American cities this year and cites New Orleans, where there's no separating the sound from the city, as a personal favorite. "I was fascinated," he says. "Everywhere you turned, there was an abundance of jazz and big band and a certain kind of 'hot' music." Five-time Grammy Award winner Norah Jones admits that performing in the country's biggest cities--New York and Los Angeles--makes her nervous. "It's usually too stressful," she says. "I'm too freaked out to play a good show." Jones, like Badu, a native of Dallas, makes Austin, Texas --home to the annual South By Southwest music conference, the University of Texas and long-running television series "Austin City Limits"-- her pick. She says she recently considered leaving her current home in New York to live in Austin. Jones also singles out Little Rock, Ark., as a place where music is valued. "We went to Little Rock, and it was the loudest roar from a crowd I've ever heard," she says. "Yet they were also respectful. We play a lot of quiet music. If people are yelling during ballads, some of the older people in the audience get really annoyed. But they were so appreciative of everything. It's probably because they don't get as much stuff going through there--at least not on par with New York or Los Angeles." Greg Dulli, onetime member of the Afghan Whigs and current leader of the Twilight Singers, agrees with Groban's praise of New Orleans while differing from Jones on the influence of New York City. Basically, he says, he thrives on the action. "New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and there's music going on 24/7 down there," he says. "New York is the capital of the world, and everybody goes there. On any given night, you can see one of the greatest acts in the world." Dulli, who grew up in Cincinnatil, says he loves to visit the Big Easy and the Big Apple. "The oven's a little hotter in both of those cities," he says. "The glare is a little brighter in New Orleans and New York." Blake Shelton makes an unapologetically predictable choice of Nashville, Tenn. "I'm a hardcore country music fan, and that's the heart of it all," he says. Raised in Oklahoma, Shelton issued his third album, "Blake Shelton's Barn & Grill," in October. He says life in "Music City USA" is different before and after an artist breaks through with hits such as his "Austin" and "The Baby." "I think it's more of a struggle to stay once you have those couple of hits," he says. "The hardest thing is to keep the success. Before it happens, you have no baggage. You're somebody who has all the potential in the world. Once you start having some success, then you have to find some way to build on it." Oklahoma native Vince Gill applauds Nashville's recent upturn in weekend nightlife, but he also says the city is playing catch-up with Memphis. "I enjoy some of those joints on Beale Street," Gill says. "It has a really great soul about it. There's a rich blues tradition, a rich R&B tradition and a rich church tradition." But in all of his visits to Memphis, Gill says he's never visited Graceland. Tom DeLonge, guitarist/vocalist in San Diego-based pop-punk band Blink-182, has kind words for Southern California's musical heritage. "With the amount of bands and the lifestyle by the beach, it feels like people are always pumping something out," he says. But he departs from the "America's Best City for Music" parameters when he speaks up for London, England. "They have a great sense of pride about their rock 'n' roll history--all the clubs that are there and the artistry that goes into their bands. American rock 'n' roll and English rock 'n' roll have shaped the world. But Americans are so bombarded with information that I think it becomes difficult for kids to focus." Kristin Hersh, onetime member of college-rock darlings Throwing Muses and current leader of punk trio 50 Foot Wave, says egos and fashion aren't key elements of a great "scene." It's music that matters, she says. In that respect, Seattle may be better off in the 21st century than it was during the grunge explosion of the early 1990s. "I remember in Boston, when I was a teenager, there was no competition among the bands," Hersh says. "We would all play together. No one would headline. We were trying to make a big pile of music that was good to compete with a big pile of music that was bad. That seems to be what Seattle is like--particularly now that it's not hip anymore. It means they try harder to be good."