Memphis To Nashville
“Beale To Broadway”
If you’re coming into Memphis after traveling the Delta Highway portion of the trail, this route is a natural next chapter in the coming-of-age story of American music. The city itself is a musical time capsule, and its heart was (and many argue, still is) Beale Street, where merchants and musicians traveling the Mississippi in the mid-1800s played, influenced and borrowed stylistically from one another. During its original heyday it was the center of African-American culture in the U.S. Beale was the spot to be entertained, earn a living, gamble your earnings, and engage in all manner of illegal activities. It was this cultural mix that laid the foundation for an ongoing evolution of sound and style, as blues, jazz, R&B and gospel music collided, combined and borrowed from each other to create sounds that couldn’t have happened anywhere else, or at any other time. In 1950s Memphis, after brewing for decades, that complex mix of style, sound and genre would become the fuel for America’s best-known export: rock and roll.
As the civil rights movement took hold in the American South during the 1960s, the history made on this part of the Gold Record Road changed the world forever. Memphis became the national stage for more than just music; in turn, the music of Memphis was so much more than just a soundtrack. Music dramatically transformed the social landscape, giving people access to each other, and to opposite points of view during one of the most turbulent times in the country’s history. It provided a common language that did more to integrate blacks and whites in the Southern U.S. than perhaps any other cultural force of the time, bringing people together in the studio, on the dance floor and in everyday life.
Visit the hallowed ground of Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio, considered by many to be ground zero for American rock and roll. A self-taught producer, Phillips broke all the rules of music—blending segregated genres, coaxing groundbreaking performances from his artists and creating brand new sounds with the technology of the day. Elvis Presley’s first song was recorded right here, the same place that Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and so many more got their starts. Big stars like Tom Petty and Bonnie Raitt still record here from time to time. Take the tour—it’s been voted the #1 attraction in Memphis—and don’t leave without an iconic T-shirt from the gift shop.
706 Union Ave., Memphis. 800-441-6249
Elvis Presley’s Graceland
You can’t visit Memphis without paying homage to the King of Rock and Roll at Elvis Presley’s Graceland, arguably the most important, well preserved and professionally operated music landmark in the world. Tour Elvis’ home and estate to get a taste of the star’s private life, from the “Jungle Room” to the piano where he played the last two songs of his life (Unchained Melody and Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain). You’ll also see wall after wall of gold records, original film memorabilia, famous costumes and more as you tour several other buildings on the estate. You’ll also find plenty of tourist kitsch in the souvenir shops clustered around, not to mention excellent people-watching. Bring a Sharpie to sign your name on the stone wall around the grounds—this is one for the bucket list.
3734 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis. 901-332-3322
Elvis Presley’s music, specifically what was produced in the first part of his career, made an indelible mark on music going forward. His blend of blues and country sounds have influenced every artist that even came close to rock and roll—John Lennon of the Beatles famously said, “If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.”
Legendary Beale Street is home to three blocks of retail, restaurants and plenty of chances to hear blues, jazz, rock and gospel music. In the early 1900s, this was the undisputed center of African-American entertainment and commerce in the U.S., and also the spot where Albert King, Memphis Minnie, Rufus Thomas, W.C. Handy, Rosco Gordon and other greats laid the foundation for today’s jazz and blues culture. This world-famous street has been through boom times and bust times, and is currently booming again—Beale has enjoyed a true renaissance in the past few decades as a prime visitor attraction and cultural asset, with its own blend of grit and polish that’s uniquely Memphis. The street is closed to vehicles from 2nd to 3rd Streets, so grab a cold beer, stroll down the street and join the party—and if you’re in the right place at the right time, kick off Memphis in May at the Beale Street Music Festival.
B.B. King’s original stage name was “Beale Street Blues Boy.”
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Explore this 17,000-square-foot museum on the original site of legendary studio Stax Records. Experience the story of American soul music from its humble beginnings to present-day stars through memorabilia, recordings, exhibits and videos, including artists like Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Booker T. and the MGs, James Brown, Sam Cooke, the Staple Singers and hundreds more. This is the only Soul music mseum in the world, and home to the Soulsville Foundation.
926 E McLemore Ave., Memphis. 901-942-7685
Rock N Soul Museum
Take a self-guided tour at this Smithsonian Museum project to explore the birth and rise of the “Memphis sound” through the artists and music that created it, from its sharecropping roots to its part in the African-American Civil Rights movement. This stop is a must for anyone interested in the collision of history, social issues and music.
191 Beale St. (FedEx Forum Plaza), Memphis. 901-205-2533.
Travel Tip: Take advantage of the free shuttle between Graceland, Sun Studio and the Rock N Soul Museum.
When they lost everything during the Great Depression, Johnny Cash’s parents moved to the Dyess Colony, a 1930s WPA agricultural resettlement site, to become sharecroppers. Arkansas State University has restored the historic site, including Cash’s boyhood home, in nearby Dyess, Arkansas. The extensive renovations were funded using proceeds from the annual Johnny Cash Music Festival, held every year in nearby Jonesboro. Dyess is located about 50 miles northwest of Memphis; visitors are welcome year-round and can find information at the Dyess Colony website.
While you’re exploring the early roots of the greats, cross the Mississippi River toward Dyersburg, Tennessee and continue north to Tiptonville. It’s home to Carl Perkins’ boyhood home (located at the visitors’ center) as well as one of the most unique natural attractions in the world, Reelfoot Lake. This bald cypress swamp was formed during the massive New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12, when powerful magnitude 7 quakes caused the Mississippi River to flow backward and jump its banks, forming what is now a gorgeous natural wonder and nesting ground for Bald Eagles.
W.C. Handy Home & Museum
Visit the home of the “Father of the Blues,” moved to its Beale Street address from its original location in South Memphis. See photos, memorabilia and artifacts from Handy’s life and career, including the desk where he’s said to have written “Beale Street Blues.”
352 Beale St., Memphis. 901-527-3427
American Dream Safari
Want to really see Memphis? Tad Pierson is your guy. Since 1995, Tad has been taking visitors for private tours of the city in his 1955 Cadillac, showing off everything from Sun Studio to hidden juke joints, colorful neighborhoods and other sights not included in any tourism handbook. Tours are offered daily by reservation and last about three hours, accommodating up to five people for a flat fee. Catch Tad on a weekend for juke joint tours and crawl the most authentic spots in town.
Reservation line: 901-527-8870
Hop on the bus for a guided tour and an insider’s view of Memphis—including live music and storytelling onboard. It’s a fun “backstage pass” to the city’s music heritage, with several different themed tours available.
143 Beale St., Memphis. 901-572-9415
Gibson Guitar Retail Shop and Factory Tour
Get up close and personal with the legendary Luthiers of world-famous Gibson Guitars on this 45-minute guided tour. See how these legendary instruments are made, take a walk through the brand’s 100-year history and learn about Gibson’s influence on music all over the globe—particularly in the Americana Music Triangle. Reservations recommended.
145 Lt. George W. Lee Ave., Memphis. 901-544-7998, ext. 4075 for tours.
A city the size of Memphis offers music at every turn. While we certainly can’t cover it all, we do want to make sure you catch a show at a local venue or experience a festival while you’re in town. Here are a few of our favorite sites, festivals, shops and online resources—start digging around here and you’re sure to find many, many more.
Experience the blues Memphis-style at the Blue Worm, CC’s Blues Club, Memphis Sounds Lounge or Earnestine & Hazel’s, just to name a few. This Guardian article covers some of the best authentic blues spots, or you can browse a full list of blues clubs and music venues on Memphis.com.
Visit the Saint Blues Guitar Workshop, famous for its handmade guitars and “Delta Blues Boxes,” electric guitars made from cigar boxes. You can also find signature handmade “LoweBow” cigar-box guitars at Xanadu Music and Books near Overton Park.
The Reverend Al Green’s church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle, is located in South Memphis. While the doors are open to all and visitors are always welcome, it’s not a tourist attraction—it’s a vibrant and energetic house of worship. Al Green isn’t always there to preach, but if he is, be prepared for a gospel experience you’ll never forget.
Every year the International Blues Challenge, a five-day music contest put on by the Blues Foundation, showcases winning blues acts from satellite contests all over the globe as they compete for the prestigious first place title. It’s the largest gathering of blues acts in the world, going strong for more than three decades.
If festivals are your thing, Memphis has one for the record books. Schedule your trip to Memphis around the Memphis in May International Festival kicked off each year with the Beale Street Music Festival.
The fascinating history of The Orpheum theater in downtown Memphis includes a strong vaudeville legacy, devastating fires, meticulous restoration and, today, national music acts, films and more. Catch a show here to experience the opulence of the 1920s.
The Mud Island Amphitheater is one of the best outdoor venues in the Southeast, sandwiched between breathtaking views of the Memphis skyline and the rolling Mississippi.
For a taste of the local music scene’s history and a great record store experience, make a stop at Shangri-La Records, a Memphis landmark since the late 1980s. You’ll also want to visit Goner Records—both an indie label and a one-of-a-kind record shop—for new and used vinyl and CDs. Don’t miss the coin-operated Elvis shrine out front.
Memphis is a world-famous destination, drawing visitors from all over the globe to its history, music and—of course—barbecue. Blues, rock-a-billy, rock and roll, jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues all grew from the events and cultural shifts that happened here. Once a slave trading center on the Mississippi in the mid-1800s, the city grew to become the unofficial capital of African-American life in the Mississippi Delta, and legendary Beale Street was its crown jewel. Musically, this is where the rural South met the sounds of the city and ignited a story that’s still being written. Appropriately gritty, strikingly beautiful and with an attitude all its own, it’s no wonder this river city has survived and thrived since the 1700s.
There’s so much to see and do here, we can’t even begin to cover it all. Check the Memphis CVB’s website for a complete guide to the city, no matter where your interests lie.
The National Civil Rights Museum is a groundbreaking institution housed partially in the Lorraine Motel, the site where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King last stood in 1968. Expansive and interactive exhibits, artifacts and memorabilia walk you step by step through the milestones and stories of how this social movement forever changed the world. It’s a powerful experience you won’t forget.
Visit the Center for Southern Folklore to learn about the people, music and traditions of the region.
Spend some time at the Pink Palace Museum, an award-winning facility with exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to the Civil War to…grocery stores. It’s housed in the former mansion of Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly, the first-ever supermarket.
Stop into A. Schwab General Store on Beale Street to get an authentic 1870s soda fountain experience and stock up on Memphis souvenirs, then head upstairs to 10,000 square feet devoted to music. Check out the records, artifacts books, vinyl and CDs, instruments and other cool stuff on display and for sale. Downstairs you’ll find an entire floor dedicated to African-American history, with a heavy concentration on Delta life at the turn of the century. This is the last remaining original business on Beale, housed in its oldest remaining building.
While you’re on Beale, don’t miss the Withers Collection Studio and Gallery. This incredible photography collection covers 60 years of 20th century African-American history, told through the powerful photography of renowned photojournalist Ernest Withers. His iconic prints are available for sale here, too.
See firsthand the mechanics of the Underground Railroad at Slavehaven, a former refuge and stopover for slaves traveling to freedom in secret.
Visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium for a deeper look into Old Man River, exploring its past, present and future.
Memphis is world-famous for its barbecue pork ribs and soul food, and you can’t leave town without sampling a few secret recipes. As with music clubs, many times the most unassuming spot is the most unforgettable, and fortunately you can find plenty of hidden gems in Memphis without looking too hard—many have been in business since before the civil rights era, still serving the same recipes that Martin Luther King Jr. and others enjoyed. Hit Alcenia’s for an amazing plate lunch or the Fourway Restaurant for meat-and-three heaven. The Gay Hawk is a sure bet for an authentic soul food experience that ends with its signature peach cobbler—and a time-warp vibe you’ll talk about for years to come. If it’s barbecue you’re after, start with local favorites Payne’s BBQ, Cozy Corner or Interstate Barbecue. And of course, we can’t go without mentioning Charlie Vergos Rendezvous—this popular Memphis barbecue icon is far from hidden, welcoming groups of tourists through its doors each day. Central BBQ is another well-known tourist favorite.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the Memphis CVB website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center
Get a “true sense of the authentic South” at this regional museum, in particular the West Tennessee Music Room. The “Queen of Rock and Roll,” Tina Turner, grew up in a sharecropping family in nearby Nutbush, a rural community made famous by the song “Nutbush City Limits” in 1973; see memorabilia and learn about her life and career, along with the relocated home of blues legend Sleepy John Estes, who was born in nearby Ripley, TN but considered Brownsville to be his home.
121 Sunny Hill Cove, Brownsville. 731-779-9000
Thanks to a generous contribution by Tina Turner herself, the Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School on the grounds of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center houses an impressive collection of costumes, gold records, concert videos and other memorabilia from her career, plus personal items like her high school yearbook. The exhibit centers around the actual segregated schoolhouse the “Queen of Rock and Roll” attended as a child. Authentic and preserved chalkboards, desks and benches give you a glimpse of what learning must have been like for African-American students in the 1940s and 1950s in the rural South. This is the largest collection of Tina Turner memorabilia you’ll find anywhere in the world, and a true slice of American history.
Check out these sites, festivals, shops and online resources for Brownsville:
Catch the Exit 56 Blues Fest in late spring for live music and great barbecue.
Visit in September for Tina Turner Heritage Days to celebrate Tina’s career with other fans, and maybe even get a tour of nearby Nutbush.
This historic Tennessee town is a great example of a slice of life in Cotton Country. Famous natives include bluesmen Sleepy John Estes and Peetie Wheatstraw, and superstar Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock), who lived here for a time as a child.
Brownsville is on the Hatchie River, the last unchannelized river in the lower Mississippi River Valley. The Nature Conservancy has named the Hatchie as one of the Last Great Places in urgent need of protection, with more than 11,000 acres designated as a wildlife refuge.
Grab a sandwich and a Coke at Helen’s Bar B Q, an authentic and unassuming barbecue joint just a mile from downtown Brownsville, headed by the reigning Southern Foodways Alliance “Queen of Barbecue.” Helen Turner is one of very few female pitmasters in the country, and her open-pit smoked pork barbecue not only wins awards—it keeps people coming back again and again.
Visit The Mindfield, the largest piece of art in Tennessee and the in-progress life’s work of local artist Billy Tripp. It towers 13 stories tall, built using salvaged steel and found objects, with cryptic messages throughout. He might even be at work when you get there.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but make sure to explore the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
International Rockabilly Hall of Fame and Museum
Curated by local resident Henry Harrison, this small museum in downtown Jackson is a combination of memorabilia, personal stories and decades of dedication to preserving the history of the rockabilly genre: where hillbilly meets rock and roll. Much of the museum is dedicated to Jackson native Carl Perkins, author of “Blue Suede Shoes,” member of the legendary Million Dollar Quartet and contemporary of the young Elvis Presley. It’s also home to the genre’s only official Hall of Fame, recognizing musical pioneers from Carl Perkins to Wanda Jackson, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Elvis, the Jordanaires, Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, Shelby Singleton, Brenda Lee and others. Don’t miss the hand-painted murals outside.
105 North Church St., Jackson. 731-427-6262
Sonny Boy Williamson Gravesite
Visit the final resting place of Sonny Boy Williamson I, known as the “Father of the Modern Blues Harp,” one of the most influential blues harmonica players of all time. Born John Lee Curtis, he toured with Muddy Waters, Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes and others. Over the years, visitors have left harmonicas and other tributes here, about 15 miles south of Jackson. Don’t plan on finding this spot on your own, though. Call the Jackson CVB for directions and navigation tips before you go.
Check out these sites, festivals, shops and online resources for Jackson, and make sure you catch a show at a local venue while you’re in town.
Check out the Jackson Sun’s Events Page for concerts, festivals and more.
This former cotton-depot-turned-railroad-town is known as an anchor in rockabilly culture, thanks to famous native son Carl Perkins. It has a historic downtown square, including the famous courthouse where Davy Crockett proclaimed in a public speech: “You can go to hell; I’m going to Texas!” He did, and died in the Battle of the Alamo.
Visit Casey Jones Village and experience the story of America’s most legendary railroad hero. Tour the historic 1890s home, 8,000-square-foot train station and railroad museum. Eat at legendary Brooks Shaw’s Old Country Store Restaurant, visit the 1890s Soda Shoppe and get on board—this stop is Jackson’s claim to fame and a must for railroad enthusiasts.
This list represents our personal recommendations for Jackson, but make sure to explore the Jackson Tourism website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
Along the Way:
Camden and Hurricane Mills
Visit the Patsy Cline Memorial, site of the tragic plane crash that ended Patsy Cline’s life in 1963. Patsy was one of the most influential female vocalists in American music, and one of the first “crossover” artists to bring country sounds to the pop charts. Also on the ill-fated flight were Grand Ole Opry stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. The memorial is a bit hard to find—but worth it for her fans. (I-40 exit 26, Mt. Carmel Rd., Camden.)
Loretta Lynn’s Ranch has turned the tiny town of Hurricane Mills into a thriving tourist attraction of Graceland proportions, with a massive 18,000 square-foot museum, the star’s former Plantation home, a replica of her Butcher Holler Home Place and a simulated coal mine, all open to visitors. Find exhibits and memorabilia from Loretta’s career and other country stars in the museum, and you might actually catch a glimpse of Loretta—she lives on the property and is often present for live shows and other appearances.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Start your Nashville experience by digging deep into the history of the music that put this city on the cultural map. Situated a block from the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway and the historic “Mother Church” of country music, this Nashville institution houses special exhibits as well as the museum’s impressive permanent collections: hundreds of thousands of artifacts, images, moving images, oral histories and—of course—recordings that tell the colorful story of country music in rare and precise detail. (For example, the Bob Pinson Recorded Sound Collection features nearly every country recording made before World War II, including the only remaining recording of the Grand Ole Opry’s first radio broadcast in 1939.) Pick up a piece of signature concert art at the legendary Hatch Show Print. And don’t miss the Hall of Fame Rotunda, featuring bas-relief likenesses of every inductee since 1961.
222 Fifth Ave. South, Nashville. 615-416-2001
Music City Walk of Fame in the Walk of Fame Park
Across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, take a breather in this downtown park, where you’ll find a path of platinum and granite stars honoring individuals who have made a lasting mark on Nashville’s music history. The Park is also home to the Nashville Music Garden, a 2,700-square-foot collection of roses and lilies named after such American music icons as Minnie Pearl, Amy Grant, Pam Tillis, Kitty Wells and Brenda Lee.
Demonbreun St. between Fourth and Fifth Ave., Nashville.
Worship at the “Mother Church of Country Music,” where the Grand Ole Opry made its home from 1943 to 1974. It’s also known today as the birthplace of bluegrass for one legendary pairing: on December 8, 1945, it was here that Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe played together on stage for the first time. Catch national touring musical acts of all kinds in this venue-like-no-other by evening, or take a tour during the day—you can even visit the Ryman recording studio and cut your own CD. If visiting in the winter, you may even catch the Opry here: The show returns to its old digs for a few months every winter for off-season performances.
116 Fifth Ave. North, Nashville. 615-889-3060
The first three inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame were Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Fred Rose. Williams, an Alabama native, honed his skills on the “Louisiana Hayride” before his electrifying debut performance at the Opry on June 11, 1949, with an unprecedented six encores of the song “Lovesick Blues,” a record that still stands today.
Lower Broad Entertainment District
In the heart of downtown Nashville, this buzzing district should satisfy your hunger for live music. There are more than a few honky-tonks to check out in this area, from Fifth Avenue to the Cumberland River, plus plenty of boots and hats, buskers, Music City souvenirs and neon lights. Topping the must-see list is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, where you can “have a holler and a swaller” just as Waylon Jennings and many other Nashville legends like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Webb Pierce and Patsy Cline did back in the day. Many artists used to sidle up to Tootsie’s bar after gigs at the Grand Ole Opry—the Ryman Auditorium is a stone’s throw away—and the proof is on the bar’s Wall of Fame. Three doors down, you’ll find Robert’s Western World, in a building that once housed the Sho-Bud Steel Guitar Company. Have a cold PBR and a fried bologna sandwich from the grill, and enjoy live music on stage seven days a week from early afternoon into the late evening. Other hot spots on Lower Broad include Paradise Park Trailer Resort, The Stage on Broadway, Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, Second Fiddle, Bootleggers Inn, Legends Corner and many more.
Fifth to First Ave. along Broadway, Nashville.
Grand Ole Opry
Take in a live performance of “the show that made country music famous”—and the one that sealed Nashville’s identity as the home of country music. Going strong since 1925, just five years after commercial radio became available in the U.S., it’s now the longest-running weekly radio broadcast in the world. The Opry has had several homes—including the historic Ryman Auditorium—but has never left the airways on 650 AM WSM, where you can catch live and archived broadcasts several times times a week. Everyone who’s anyone in country music has graced its stage. Each show features at least eight artists, including guest acts and Opry members: a group that includes longtime legends of country music—like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride and Little Jimmy Dickens—alongside hot contemporary names like Blake Shelton, Rascal Flats, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood and Trisha Yearwood.
2804 Opryland Dr., Nashville. 615-871-6779
At the center of the Opry House stage floor is a six-foot oak circle inset, cut from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, its previous home.
The Opry isn’t the only record-setting radio broadcast on the Gold Record Road. Find the legendary King Biscuit Time, the longest-running daily radio broadcast in history, in Helena, Arkansas, on the Delta Highway route.
Historic RCA Studio B
Tour this Music Row landmark, and stand in the spot where more than 200 Elvis Presley recordings and more than 1,000 American hits were made. Buy tickets at the Country Music Hall of Fame; tours depart daily and roundtrip transportation is provided.
1611 Roy Acuff Pl., Nashville. 800-852-6437
Opened in 1957, RCA Victor Studio B was the first purpose-built recording studio in Nashville. It was built to record superstar RCA artists Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold and many others to come. It became known as the “home of 1,000 hits”. On the strength of this success, RCA developed Studio A and its three-story “producers row” office building in 1964 and connected the complex to Studio B. In 2014, the site sparked worldwide controversy as a developer made public plans to demolish and redevelop the Studio A site. Thanks to a passionate grassroots organization known as Save Studio A, the landmark is now under new ownership, and efforts are underway to permanently protect and preserve it as working studio.
Johnny Cash Museum
Visit this downtown museum for an extensive collection of memorabilia, stories and recordings from the Man in Black himself. Learn more about the personal life and musical career of one of Sun Studio’s early stars, and one of the only musicians to be inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll and Gospel Halls of Fame.
119 3rd Ave. South, Nashville. 615-256-1777
You’ve probably seen the iconic black and white image of Johnny Cash giving the “middle finger salute” to the camera. The photo itself was shot just after Cash’s 1969 performance at San Quentin Prison, but it became a rallying cry for old-school country artists in the late 90s when legendary Beastie Boys producer Rick Rubin spent $20,000 on a full-page ad in Billboard Magazine featuring the image, with the headline “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.” At a time when traditional country artists were being ignored by country radio in favor of more pop-infused sounds, Cash turned to Rubin to revitalize his career and reach new audiences, and it proved to be a good move. Cash’s “Unchained” won Country Album of the Year at the 1997 Grammys with almost no support from the country music industry—the ad famously commemorated the achievement.
Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
Housed in Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium, this museum houses a treasure trove of instruments played by session musicians and well-known artists alike from the 1950s to the present day, plus artifacts like the very sound booth from Memphis’ American Sound studio, where Elvis recorded “Suspicious Minds.” New musicians are inducted annually.
417 4th Ave. North, Nashville.
Hatch Show Print
Visit this iconic letterpress shop that printed—and continues to print—its distinctive showbills for country music’s greats. The posters printed under the Hatch name from the 1920s through the 1960s and beyond helped make stars of Opry players, jazz musicians, blues greats and more. Smell the ink, watch the posters roll off the presses and pick up some truly historic art to take home. Call ahead to join a tour.
224 5th Ave. South/Fifth Ave. Lobby of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville. 615-577-7710
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and Gallery
Located inside the Music City Center, this interactive exhibit honors songwriters from every music genre with artifacts, memorabilia and fifty-five-inch touch screens that bring the sounds, videos and history of Nashville’s songwriting tradition to life. Names of the Hall of Fame members are also engraved in Songwriters Square a block away at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Demonbreun, directly across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Music City Center, corner of Sixth Ave. and Demonbreun St., Nashville.
Hear the next big name in Americana music do his or her thing at this intimate venue known as the place to hear top local talent long before it became a central setting on the television series “Nashville.” The club pioneered the concept of “Writers in the Round”: four songwriters sitting in the middle of the room, taking turns playing and accompanying one another.
4104 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville. 615-383-1461
The Nashville Songwriters’ Association International owns the Bluebird Cafe, anchoring the city’s unique “listening room” culture—a fertile music scene that encourages collaboration and cowriting, built around the area’s high concentration of professional songwriters. If you’re a songwriter yourself, visit the headquarters on Music Row and consider joining as a member.
Music Row District
As Madison Avenue is to advertising, Music Row is to the music industry—take a drive down 16th and 17th Avenues and the side streets in between and you’ll pass through the heart of the music business, where labels, studios, artists’ organizations and more have put down roots.
16th and 17th Ave. S. (aka Music Square East and Music Square West) between Demonbreun St. and Grand Ave., Nashville.
The National Museum of African American Music, the only museum dedicated to “all dimensions of African-American music,” is scheduled for construction in downtown Nashville in 2015.
Get up close and personal with the top talent in bluegrass and roots music at this intimate, gritty-but-friendly club, located since 1978 in a tiny cement-block building in The Gulch, a now-thriving urban neighborhood in downtown Nashville. It’s not at all unusual for big-name artists to make an appearance for a song or a set with the booked performers. Bill Monroe and Doc Watson famously showed up in that fashion, and today, countless bluegrass artists who started here, like Alison Krauss, enjoy coming home for a visit now and again. There are no advance ticket sales, so arrive early and snag a seat. In town on a Sunday? You’re in luck: There’s a free Bluegrass Jam every Sunday at 8 pm, a golden opportunity to hear top local talent.
402 12th Ave. South, Nashville. 615-255-3307
Third Man Records
Peruse the eclectic collection of 45s and LPs for sale at this combination record shop, studio, record label and event space, the brainchild of singer and musician Jack White, formerly of the rock band The White Stripes. White has made a mission out of working with or preserving the work of legendary country, blues and early rock-’n’-roll artists, and the evidence fills the bins in Third Man’s cozy shop. Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, Charley Patton and Jerry Lee Lewis are just a few of the notables whose songs White has brought into the Third Man fold.
623 7th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-891-4393
United Record Pressing
Take a tour of the factory that’s turned out “nothing but vinyl since 1949,” and has manufactured records and record packaging in this location since 1962—in fact, it’s North America’s largest-volume-producing vinyl record plant. Tour the “Motown Suite,” an apartment above the pressing plant that was kept as comfortable accommodations for African-American artists and record company executives in the segregated South. Today, the apartment still appears furnished as it was back then, down to the 1960s dinette set, around which the staff of United Record Pressing gathers for meetings. Tours are offered on Fridays at 11 am only and cost $10; no cash accepted.
453 Chestnut St., Nashville. 615-259-9396
Stroll the campus of his small urban historically black university, founded just six months after the end of the Civil War in 1865 to educate former slaves. Fisk is home to the legendary Fisk Jubilee Singers, the a cappella gospel group that toured the world in the late 1800s to raise funds for the institution and save it from bankruptcy. They popularized Negro spirituals among white audiences, introducing the rhythms and chords that would lay the foundation of gospel music and later influence rock and roll, country and R&B. The group still tours globally today.
1000 17th Ave. N., Nashville. 615-329-8500
The area surrounding Fisk is the former Jefferson Street Entertainment District, once a thriving mecca of black entertainment and anchor of African-American culture in Nashville. From Jimi Hendrix to Etta James and Ray Charles, rock, blues, soul and R&B had a major presence here; the annual Jump to Jefferson Festival celebrates its history.
Head for the rolling hills just north of Nashville, and spend an afternoon at the former home of Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame member Barbara Mandrell. The 136-acre homestead is now a unique live entertainment venue and complex with zip-lines and disc golf, a restaurant and inn, free walking trails, and an amphitheater that books local and touring acts. You can even book a tour of the 27,000-square-foot mansion.
4225 Whites Creek Pike, Nashville. 615-724-1600
A city the size of Nashville offers music at every turn. While we certainly can’t cover it all, we do want to make sure you catch a show at a local venue or experience a festival while you’re in town. Here are a few of our favorite sites, festivals, shops and online resources—start digging around here and you’re sure to find many, many more.
Check Now Playing Nashville and the Nashville Scene for shows, events and performances every night of the week at tried-and-true venues like Tin Roof, The Five Spot, Third and Lindsley, The Family Wash and many more.
Visit in June to be a part of the legendary CMA Festival, formerly known as Fan Fair, held every summer in Nashville.
Every June, acres of sprawling farmland in the nearby town of Manchester transform into one of the hottest camping, culture and live music festivals in the country: Bonnaroo.
The Americana Music Festival brings national acts together in early fall for performances all over town, and the Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival draws writers and performers from across the country every spring.
Grimey’s New and Preloved Music Store is a hot spot for the local music scene and frequently hosts in-store performances featuring up-and-coming locals, touring acts and national names like the Black Keys.
Serious music history researchers and historians should check out the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, located about 35 miles south of downtown Nashville in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Approach Nashville from any direction, and road signs will let you know not only that you’re crossing the line into Metro-Davidson County, but that you’ve reached the home of the Grand Ole Opry. That says a bit about how proud Nashville is of its country music heritage and how much the Opry broadcast, a fixture on the AM airwaves since 1925, has had to do with it. But even though its music offerings are sure to keep you moving, Nashville has more to offer than just strum and twang. You’ll find no shortage of good grub, from down-home meat-and-threes and barbecue joints to chef-driven fine dining. Every neighborhood boasts unique boutiques, and plenty of parks and gardens in which to stretch your legs and soak up some sunshine, along with the friendly vibe that Nashville has always been known for. There’s so much to see and do here, we can’t even begin to cover it all; check the Nashville CVB’s website for a complete guide to the city, no matter where your interests lie.
In addition to being the Father of the Democratic Party and the seventh U.S. President, Andrew Jackson also cofounded the city of Memphis, initiated the Trail of Tears and became a national hero for his leadership in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Shortly after the battle, he built Jackson’s Military Road, a more efficient route connecting New Orleans and Nashville, ultimately rendering the Natchez Trace obsolete for traders and travelers.
President Jackson remains one of the most fascinating figures in American history, and his actions and political moves forever changed life in the Triangle. Tour the Hermitage, his historic home and estate, to learn more about his life and legacy.
Tour the Belle Meade Plantation for a glimpse into 19th century life in Nashville. This historic Greek Revival mansion and grounds now stand as a time capsule representing Southern life, from slavery and the Civil War to, agriculture and politics. The property’s equestrian roots run deep too—bloodlines established here in the 1800s and early 1900s continue to dominate the world of thoroughbred racing today.
Amble through Cheekwood, a 55-acre botanical garden that also boasts an American art museum in its historic mansion.
Explore Nashville’s neighborhoods, from 12South shopping to East Nashville bar- hopping and several other unique local pockets. Nashville is known for its vibrant neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality. Find great local restaurants, hangouts, hot spots and more.
Fill your plate at Arnold’s Meat & 3, one of the best plate-lunch diners in the South, and a favorite of the late Southern-food expert John Egerton.
Make a stop at Loveless Café, a bastion of classic Southern cooking that’s a stone’s throw from the entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway. The restaurant opened its doors in 1951 and still uses some of the same tried-and-true recipes from its early days—you can even take home the signature biscuit mix, preserves and “piggy brittle” this icon is known for.
This list represents our personal recommendations, but be sure to explore the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation website for lodging, dining, events, additional attractions and more information on anything listed above. Conditions change, businesses open and close; the local CVB is the best source for current information.
REGIONAL & STATE TRAVEL RESOURCES
Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways: Cotton Junction Trail
Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways: Walking Tall Trail
Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways: Tennessee River Trail
Civil War Trails
- In many rural areas, restaurants and other stops are open and ready for business on the weekends only; in other areas, attractions close on Sundays and Mondays instead. Be aware that hours of operation may vary, especially in smaller communities, and lodging options can be few and far between. We encourage you to visit websites, make phone calls and prepare in advance in order to catch these sites—small businesses and small towns in particular—at their best.
- Interstate 40 is well patrolled, and speed limits are enforced. Make sure you stick to the speed limit.
- The rural South is economically diverse, with pockets of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, which can raise safety questions with travelers. Our advice is to behave as you would in any urban area—keep car doors locked, keep valuables with you and don’t flaunt jewelry or cash.
- This information was accurate when published but can change without notice.