Your Country Music Holiday in the USA – The Ultimate Guide
Discovering America through a country music holiday will give you an experience of the states that’s both unique and insightful, as well as being somewhat celebratory. After the Second World War, country music developed greatly in Nashville, Tennessee to the point where the city has become the capital of country music, thanks to Johnny Cash.
Today, many artists make the trip to perform here in the open-mic nights or in some 250 recording studios in the city. Memphis on the other hand, with the King Elvis Presley, has a blues and rock vibe, but we should never forget that Elvis was also a country singer at first and some of his country hits are right from Memphis.
Below is all you need to know about country music holidays in Nashville and Memphis, with a look at the sights and the sounds of both cities – as well as a few non-musical attractions to check out whilst you’re there. So persuade that non-music loving travel buddy to spend some time with you celebrating country music in the USA.
It’s always a pleasure to explore the symbolic city of country music. Nashville holidays impress visitors annually with the many attractions on offer including the famous Music Row neighbourhood. It represents the heart and soul of the music industry across the country.
Apart from all the museums, the shops and the monuments, all related to the same form of music, visitors will also have the opportunity to visit places like The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in this glorious district.
There is only one rule here; music. Nashville hosts hundreds of concerts day and night and proudly maintains its musical heritage. A role model of a city for musicians all around the world, it acts as a magnet and has seen its population explode for the last half-dozen years. In fact, housing and public amenities are flourishing everywhere.
Music is a permanent activity here that only strengthens the energy of the city and has a lot to offer visitors.
Things to do in Nashville
The advantage of Nashville is that you can easily walk around the city centre, where most of the attractions are concentrated. Around Broadway Avenue, between the railway line and the Cumberland River, the musical heart of the city is revealed with people walking around, carrying guitars on their backs, in search of a bar to show off their talent.
With more than 300 concerts per day, it is not uncommon to experience the day fly by at full speed if you take the time to listen to as many of the artists as you can.
Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame
But to get a taste of Nashville’s musical history, start your stroll south of 5th Avenue, home to the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame. Behind these walls, the whole story of this kind. Gold and platinum discs adorn the walls, and fans will even discover the Elvis Presley Cadillac or Kenny Rogers hat collection.
This wonderful museum, located in a magnificent building in the heart of the city, is intended to solemnize the great music with exhibitions of artifacts and instruments. Once on site, the first thing that captivates visitors is the height of the windows adorning the sides of the building. In the shape of piano keys, they set the tone for the theme of the rest of the attraction.
The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum presents a multimedia display of historical performances, instruments, costumes, and memories of the greats of the genre. Other remarkable exhibitions here include a 40-foot guitar to go along with the giant piano-key windows!
Walk of Fame
In front of the museum, the Walk of Fame pays homage to the biggest American music stars. One of the most famous, Johnny Cash, has a separate museum dedicated to him just two minutes away on 3rd Avenue.
RCA Studio B
Another important sight to see is the historic RCA Studio B, revealing the history of recordings of the famous RCA label and the flair of the producer Chet Atkins. It was in this studio that Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers, Jim Reeves and Charley Pride recorded many of their songs.
Nashville’s reputation has been partly built through concerts at the Ryman Auditorium. Built in 1892 and endowed with a unique acoustics, the auditorium, nicknamed ‘Mother Church of Country Music’, hosts country concerts every Saturday evening since 1943, including Roy Acuff, nicknamed ‘The King of Country Music’ or Bill Monroe. It is possible to have lunch next door, at the 5th & Taylor (1411 5th Ave. N.) to enjoy regional specialties, before continuing your discovery of the city.
Between two interesting museums or fun country concerts, the food trucks of Nashville are among the best in the country. Dixie Belle’s, King Tut’s, Confeastador or Smoke & Al will not let you down. It is understandable that many have the mistaken belief that Nashville is reserved for country music fans. In reality, it’s a town with something for everyone. Eat one of the world’s largest burgers, drink copious amounts of ice tea and experience one of the legendary truisms about the American South: the hospitality of a friendly people.
Other Sights and Activities
Although it deserves its nickname the ‘Music City’, there are really a thousand things to do for all tastes and wallets in Nashville, and if you’re planning to travel with a non-country music fan this next section might be a useful one. Here are five things to do that are not related to country music here. So, can leave your cowboy boots at the entrance and try these five sights.
- Although music takes up a lot of space in Nashville, the city also cultivates its history. The Tennessee State Capitol District, with the elegant Victory Park and the Nashville Public Library, is the true business centre of the city. Try a city walk from the Capitol to Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge. There are several tours to choose from here too: from the history of the city to the music and the state.
- A walk on the banks of the Mississippi can help anyone regather their emotions and discover the Riverboats of the city, the famous steampowered wheel boats which stop over in the area on Saturdays. The American Queen Steamboat Company still has its seat here, offering trips to local passengers from time to time.
- Another step back in time is the next one on the list, and this time it’s the Victorian Village Historic District on the agenda. Here, visitors can relive the founding years of the city of Memphis, before the music makes it one of its favourite playgrounds.
- GooGoo! This wonderful candy, created in 1912, has become something of an emblem of Nashville and is a delight of pure chocolate, peanuts, and nougat. The employees at the local factory are friendly, they have fun at work and an engaging way to present their gourmet products to visitor, a tour here is definitely worth time out of the music exploration.
- And for many who are taking a trip to America, catching one of the local sports teams is a cultural experience not to be missed – whatever your reason for visiting the area. The professional ice hockey team, the Nashville Predators, plays in the Bridgestone Arena, which adjoins the Tennessee Sports History Museum. For fans of American football, just cross the Shelby Bridge spanning the Cumberland River to reach the LP Field, home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
Great tip: The Millennium Maxwell House in Nashville is a great hotel for a stay right in the centre of the sites, ideal for your visit in this music city.
Like Nashville, Memphis is an urban area with many attractive facets that aren’t necessarily associated with the town’s musical public image. Tourists and travellers love it because they will always find something for them here, but music lovers will see it as an especially attractive place.
Memphis is above all a place of rich exploration for those wishing to visit the cradle of blues, soul and rock. Do not miss its many museums, parks and hotels as well as its huge churches and art galleries. This is a town with so many attractions to offer that it’s almost hard to factor in a single minute of respite.
It is also a city with two faces. Sedate and relaxing in the daytime, the town really reveals itself at night when the first guitar notes begin to come out of Beale Street’s bars and restaurants. But it also has a strong history, marked by the American Civil Rights movement. That makes it a place where music and culture are at every step, and where better to start that journey than with Tennessee’s greatest son – the King himself.
Although deemed the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley also reigned in the world of country music. He fused country with rhythm and blues to create many of his masterpieces, such as “That’s All Right” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” His distinctive style of music led to his popularity and eventually to his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Today, fans can tour Presley’s mansion and 14-acre estate. Graceland, as it is called, exhibits his life with his personal videos, his personal memorabilia and some of his performance costumes. Although visitors must venture outside of the city to visit the site, the home of the star has become a place of pilgrimage for fans and tourists to the area alike. The kitsch interior design is definitely quirky, but it captures the spirit of the King.
For those who don’t want to have to make the trek from Memphis to see Graceland in all its glory, the Graceland Guest House is located just four minutes’ walk from the gates to the site and provides an experience in itself with two restaurants, a cocktail bar and its own in-house theatre for live performances and films.
The city centre of Memphis is not very extensive and as such any tour of the main attractions can easily be done on foot. To walk in the footsteps of Elvis Presley or B.B. King, a stroll down South Main Street should be the first activity – this leads to the Blues Hall of Fame, to find the faces and music of those who shaped this style. Music lovers in general, and Blues in particular, will definitely find happiness here.
Memphis city offers its musical culture through many dedicated museums and in January there is the International Blues Challenge with 250 bands from around the world competing against each other. Do not miss famous Beale Street, which brings together a vast array of music clubs. And if you have the opportunity, every year, the city vibrates to the rhythm of a great festival of street music. Over 300 metres of road, bars and restaurants pile up one after the other and compete against each other nightly by offering the best blues groups in the country.
Away from music, however, this is also a city of culture and historical significance. It is the cradle of many museums and cultural hotspots. The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the National Civil Rights Museum offer exhibitions and windows into history. While the Peabody Place Museum and the Art Museum at the University of Memphis are delights with regional art collections on public view.
It was in Memphis, in 1968, that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. And another museum in town traces the struggle of the oppressed, starting with the civil rights movement. Built in the extension of the Lorraine Hotel, meanwhile, on the balcony upon which MLK lost his life, the MLK Museum offers visitors a perspective on African American history.
The cultural heritage of Memphis is considerable, too, and Memphis in May is the most-anticipated cultural event of all in this city. Offering various instructive attractions for both children and adults, a trip timed to coincide with the festival is a smart move.
Other highlights include the Beale Street Music Festival, the World BBQ Cooking Championship and the Saint Jude Golf Tournament to name a few, while the Orpheum Theatre on Main Street welcomes some of the biggest musical acts in the world – not just the country stars.
Also in the city centre – near Beale Street – is the FedEx Arena. Home to the NBA basketball team, the Memphis Grizzlies, the only professional team in the city and the pride and joy of Memphis’ inhabitants. This ensures that the atmosphere at matches is always lively.
You can easily combine Memphis and Nashville country music holidays with other great American music locations, like New Orleans. With so much unique charm in Southern USA, discover more with a guided tour or a self drive itinerary that will help you celebrate your love for country music.
Whether you’re a keen country music fan, a museum lover, or just a party person, both Nashville and Memphis are amazing cities to discover with a variety of Nashville hotels on offer. With busy days and lively evenings on the cards, there’s something for everyone in these two towns, but for music lovers this is simply a paradise packaged up with a good dollop of southern charm.