Boston and nearby Cambridge are the ivy-covered havens of some of the world's great academic minds. When not curing the common cold, the intelligentsia go in search of live music. Which makes the Boston area's vibrant local scene a perfect place for music lovers, no matter their taste.

"Because we have a quarter of a million students in the area, with a ravenous appetite for music, there is a built-in element that makes anything with music work," says Mike Mullaney, assistant program director and music director for Mix 98.5.

But the students can't take all of the credit for Boston's highly eclectic scene. "Along with the students, there's a combination of working class and bohemians that makes this the coolest melting pot for musical talent anywhere," adds Mullaney.

Melting pot is befitting. Consider the national acts that have come out of the Bean Town area: hard-driving rockers Godsmack, mellifluous songstress Tracy Chapman, pseudo-music blunderkinds New Kids on the Block, and the traditional folk styling of Ellis Paul, featured last year on the soundtrack of Me, Myself & Irene.

"There is this big-city hip factor, but the local music scene is very tight," says Laurie Gail, former music director at Boston's alternative rock station WFNX 101.7 FM. "The bands are all very supportive of each other. Which makes it a very self-sufficient scene."

ARTISTS TO WATCH: Be on the lookout for local rock-and-roll faves such as Sheila Divine, Waltham, or The Gentlemen.

WHERE TO GO: For rock and roll, check out The Middle East (617-864-3278). There's also Lilli's (617-591-1661), with its retro décor and raised stage; T.T. the Bear's Place (617-492-2327); and the Paradise Rock Club (617-562-8800). For jazz, try Regattabar (617-661-5000) or the ever-popular House of Blues (617-491-2100). The intimate Lizard Lounge (617-547-0759), where the floor-level stage makes you feel as if you're in the show, offers a smorgasbord of original music, from rock to folk and all points in between.