When I say “smaller city”, I mean one that is still pretty fair-sized, not TinyCollegeTown or LittleBurg. I live in Raleigh, NC, and the idea that you are going to keep running into the same people at every arty event doesn’t comport with my experience at all. The city (and certainly the metro area) is large enough (and play in large enough venues) that unless you have really niche tastes, that isn’t going to happen. (15–20 people? I don’t know of any arts organization, no matter how small, that has an audience base that tiny.)
Is a smaller city going to have “less” variety than a large one? Well, by definition, I suppose, yes. But a metro area of any decent size is still going to have more than enough of good quality to keep any one person busy and satisfied.
If I have a hankering to take in something truly world-class that isn’t available here, with what I save in rent alone I could easily go with my wife to NYC for a day or two every month to go to whatever we wanted.
And while I can’t speak to the “average” city-dweller, certainly the in media there appears to be little understanding of what life outside large cities is like.