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#AmericanMusicTrail: Road-Tripping From Memphis to Nashville

Buckle up for blues and honkytonk, pilgrimages to legendary recording studios and museums

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Nirmika Singh Sep 26, 2019
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If you think a visit to New Orleans is enough music for one vacation, you’ve got to hit the road to Memphis. As part of our #AmericanMusicTrail series, we followed up our jazz pilgrimage to NOLA with a road trip to the blues land. The 400-mile drive to Memphis on the Interstate highway 55 takes a good six hours but it’s enjoyable if you have some great blues playlists for company. A quick stopover at the small town of Grenada in Mississippi for lunch (we picked the Applebee just off the highway) will keep you in good stead for a long day of sightseeing.

Graceland’s timeless charm

Graceland is the second most visited home in America after the White House

It’s hard not to show visible signs of excitement as you turn towards Elvis Presley Boulevard into Graceland, the former home of the legendary singer, and a major tourist attraction in the state of Tennessee. Spread over 13 acres, the Graceland Mansion is expansive, opulent and a complete world unto itself. It is declared as a National Historic Landmark by the American government and holds the record for being the most visited house in the US after the White House. From its grand entrance to the tiniest detail inside, everything at Graceland — which was turned into a museum for public in 1982 — screams of a rock&roll era gone by. The tour of Presley’s lavish living room and a few bedrooms is enough indication of how big and famous the King was, if there was any doubt at all. His mind-boggling car collection at the in-house motor museum is a sight to see — do not miss a photo op at the famous Pink Cadillac, Dino Ferrari, Stutz Blackhawk and more. The Graceland Mansion’s Meditation Garden has a burial site housing the graves of “Jailhouse Rock” singer, his parents Gladys and Vernon and grandmother Minnie Mae. Although it is believed that these headstones aren’t where the bodies are actually buried, it hasn’t stopped visitors from thronging to the garden and spending a few minutes in silence.

Beale Street blues

Beale Street is a bustling hub of blues bars, record stores and souvenir shops

Beale Street is a bustling hub of blues bars, record stores and souvenir shops

The vibrant Beale Street in Downtown Memphis gives a whole new meaning to a walk down memory lane. Just off the Mississippi river, the almost three-km street is a living conservatory of region’s rich culture. You only have to walk into the first blues bar in sight – the iconic BB King’s – to experience a full impact of Memphis blues in music and pop culture. If there is one place in the world that serves pure, unadulterated delta blues, soul, R&B and jazz, it is Beale Street. If you aren’t a big fan of the blues, there are a ton of souvenir shops and interesting stores on the street to keep you hooked. Not to mention the excellent photo-ops that this stretch offered to brighten our Instagram.

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Sun Studio – where the first rock&roll song was recorded

Memphis gave us blues all right, but it also gave us the first-ever rock&roll song. The Sun Studio in Memphis was started by the enterprising (and often eccentric) radio presenter Sam Phillips in 1950 in a bid to help budding artists record song for a small fee. It was here in 1951 that “Rocket 88,” a track featuring singer Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, a band led by Ike Turner, was recorded which came to be widely acknowledged by music historians around the world as the first rock&roll song owing to its new sound. The Sun Studio was the discovery place for many legendary names before they hit it big – from Johnny Cash, B.B.King, Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley. “Blue Suede Shoes” was originally recorded by singer Carl Perkins in this very studio as were the now-timeless classics by the then-unemployed Cash. In one of its famous recording rooms, the place still houses the original mic used by Presley. Pose with it for an ultimate Memphis souvenir.

Stax Museum’s unparalleled legacy

Stax Museum preserves the rich history of soul, blues and gospel

Stax Museum preserves the rich history of soul, blues and gospel

While in Memphis, do not miss heading to the Stax Museum to soak in the glorious legacy of Stax Records and its fleet of soul, R&B and gospel artists like Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Ike Turner and more. Stax is also one of the few places in the world that chronicles the history of soul music – which was born of the blues and gospel. Back in the Sixties, Stax Records also played an important role I’m mobilizing people during the Civil Rights movement.

Memphis blues to Nashville honkytonk

For all the thrill they bring, music trails can also offer a unique sensory overload. While the constant genre-hopping sharpens your mind to pick up musical nuances you never noticed before, the overwhelming variety can throw off the uninitiated. Our advise to everyone is to take mini breaks between the immersive experiences. Which is the reason why we kept our scenic drive from Memphis to Nashville pleasantly music-free. Also, we knew there would be no downtime the minute we hit Nashville, which is by the most amazing music meccas we’ve set foot on.

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Broadway all the way

If you’re a live music buff, no amount of strolling on this iconic street is ever going to satisfy your urges to walk into yet another honkytonk, yet another bar. At Broadway, we found ourselves totally living it up – swaying our hips to the hypnotic glides of the slide guitar at the famous old–school country music bar Robert’s Western World to getting down and dirty with some new-age country rock at another honkytonk. In Nashville, there’s some kind of country music for every kind of listener. Aptly called America’s Music City, Nashville is where legends like Dolly Parton chiseled their skills and where every year, thousands of musicians choose to spend time, write and record. These include everybody from Bob Dylan and Robert Plant to Beyonce and Black Eyes Peas.

The Grand Ole Opry is where it’s at

The Grand Ole Opry showcases the diverse legacy of country music

The Grand Ole Opry showcases the diverse legacy of country music

The Grand Ole Opry, founded in 1925, is the oldest and longest-running weekly country music concert which is broadcast live on the radio. Bagging an Opry membership is considered one of the biggest honors for a country music artist and its star-studded list of inductees include Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and more recently, Blake Shelton and Keith Urban. The Grand Ole Opry is a perfect window to the diverse legacy of country music with each concert guaranteeing everything from blue grass to acoustic country pop and the famed ballads.

THINGS TO DO BEYOND MUSIC

In Memphis

  • Grab a classic American breakfast at Edge Alley on Monroe Avenue
  • Spend an afternoon at the Civil Rights Museum to learn more about America’s fight against the racial divide
  • Attend the evening ‘show’ of the marching ducks at the iconic Peabody Hotel, which also makes a perfect stay option

In Nashville

  • Visit the Parthenon, an exact-size replica of the original structure in Athens
  • Check out the impressive letterpress poster collection at Hatch Show Print
  • Spend a morning at the beautiful Belle Meade Plantation, a historic mansion across 30 acres
  • Visit the Frist Art Museum for their ongoing art displays. We were lucky to catch a photo exhibition by Frida Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera
  • Grab dinner at the cosy American restaurant Geist on Jefferson Street
  • Test your spice tolerance at Hattie B’s in West Nashville, which claims to serve the hottest chicken in town
  • Soak in music history at The Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B

 

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