From Bluegrass to the Blues
Because of the broad spectrum of musical genres present in the two cities—bluegrass to the blues—music fans should not just stick to what they know and love. Take a gander on something different and you might just discover a new favorite. At the very least, you will come to see that connection that exists between even the most varied musical forms.
Beale Street is still the place to start if you want to find the birthplace of the blues. Visit the W. C. Handy Museum to see where the father of the blues lived while he was in Memphis. The Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum just off Beale Street is a good introduction to the story of the blues (and other types of music).
Watch guitars being made at the Gibson Guitar Factory, and see a performance at the historic Orpheum Theatre at the head of Beale Street.
Visit the Center for Southern Folklore for one of its regular concerts or events; enjoy some genuine blues and support the preservation of the arts.
The single best musical museum in Memphis is the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Here you will learn not only about the remarkable story of Stax, but also soul’s musical roots in gospel and country music.
Visit the Church of the Full Gospel Tabernacle, founded by Rev. Al Green in 1979. The Sunday morning service begins at 11 a.m.
No place in Memphis is more important to American musical history than Graceland, home of Elvis Presley. Here the King lived with his parents, wife, extended family, and his buddies, the Memphis Mafia. See his remarkable taste in decor and pay your respects over his grave in the meditation garden.
Sun Studio is where early blues records were made, where Elvis recorded his first hit, and where the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash laid records. It’s hallowed ground in musical history.
Not far from Sun Studio is Lauderdale Courts, the public housing project where Elvis lived with his parents when they moved to Memphis. The Overton Park Shell was one of the first places Elvis Presley performed after he was discovered. It’s getting a major overhaul.
One of Memphis best-loved juke joints Wild Bill’s is found in midtown. It gets kicking late on Friday and Saturday nights.
It was the landscape and hardship of country living that really gave birth to the blues. Drive the rural routes in Haywood County to breathe in the Delta air. Stop in Nutbush, the childhood home of Tina Turner. Then stop in Brownsville at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Museum for exhibits about the music and culture of this region. Overnight in Brownsville or drive on to Jackson.
The International Rock-a-Billy Hall of Fame has exhibits and tours, but the best deal is to come on Monday or Saturday nights for the live music and dancing lessons. Rock-a-billy never sounded so good!
No part of Nashville says country music quite like Lower Broadway. Colorful honky-tonks like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge offer live music beginning at 10 a.m. every day, and the Wildhorse Saloon is where pretty cowgirls and handsome cowboys go to have fun.
For the more serious of mind, start at the Country Music Hall of Fame for an introduction to all things country. Visit the Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium, buy your new boots at one of the half-dozen clothiers on Lower Broadway, and stock up on CDs at Ernest Tubb’s.
Now for something completely different, don your best duds and enjoy a night at the Nashville Symphony. The delightful sounds of one of the south’s best symphonies will ease the mind and clean the musical palate.
Explore wax museums, souvenir shops, and the Opryland Hotel by day. Or take a cruise along the Cumberland on the General Jackson Showboat, a superior dining and entertainment experience. Spend your evening at the Grand Ole Opry, and your late-night at Ernest Tubb’s Midnite Jamboree, still going strong.
Sandwiched between downtown and Hillsboro Village is Music Row, the business center of Nashville. While you’re unlikely to see a star, it’s still worth the gamble. Take a stroll and then grab a table at the Sunset Grill for more star-watching. At night check out the the Bluebird Cafe for the next big thing.
Go shopping for just the right outfit at Katy K’s Ranch Dressing. Bar hop in trendy South Nashville neighborhoods: check out the Station Inn (bluegrass and roots music), the Mercy Lounge (rock, country, soul, and more) and the Basement (indy rock) just for starters.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition