The music. The foot-tapping, head-bobbing, soul-saving kind. Country. Blues. Rock. And everything in between. Where it all started and never stopped. Not just heard on headphones, but on stages, porches and street corners. You can’t download it. You can only experience it. The Soundtrack of America. Made in Tennessee.
People here like to say the music is “in the water we drink.” Probably so. It flows through our state like a mighty river. The fiddles of Appalachian settlers and musical depth of African slaves set the foundation for today’s rock ‘n’ roll, soul, blues, Americana, roots, rockabilly, country and everything in between. Elvis drank it in with his freshman release, recorded at Memphis’ Sun Studio 60+ years ago. Both sides of his debut single were covers – a Delta bluesman on the A-side and the Father of Bluegrass on the flip. Elvis reinterpreted both and, in the process, invented rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis’ home Graceland, and the accompanying entertainment complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis immerses guests in the life and career of Elvis, where fans can visit the complex, including Elvis’ final resting place, and can stay in the award-winning Guest House at Graceland. Visit his home and final resting place.
Tennessee’s genres are distinct, but when the musical tributaries meet, a creative power emerges among Tennesseans to create the soundtrack of America.
Travel to Nashville to witness this creative energy. From partying at CMA Music Festival to learning about the legacy of legends at the Patsy Cline Museum, Johnny Cash Museum, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and RCA Studio B, where Elvis, Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings recorded their hits. Fans, musical icons and aspiring stars come to Music City, as this thriving community of sound and talent is the perfect place to find and enjoy lyrical inspiration. Nashville has the highest concentration of people working in the music industry per capita than anywhere else in the world. Nashville songwriters are revered. Each year Nashville hosts the largest songwriters’ festival in the world, Tin Pan South, giving the writers center stage.
Tune in to the Americana, indie roots sounds of Jason Isbell and the impassioned tunes of rocker Jack White, who produces at his Seventh Avenue South label, Third Man Records. Purists will feel at home grabbing a drink in Broadway’s honky-tonks; watching live music over a pint and pie at Family Wash. The Bluebird Café hosts songwriters and acoustic music seven nights a week. Catch big-names at The Cannery Ballroom and Mercy Lounge, or make a pilgrimage to the headwaters of country music, the Grand Ole Opry or Ryman Auditorium, known as “the Mother Church of country music”.
In West Tennessee, Sun Studio, Beale Street, Levitt Shell, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and The Memphis Blues Hall of Fame Museum are obvious reference points for experiencing Tennessee’s musical past while bearing witness to its lasting influence. You can hear the Memphis sound – blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, every night on Beale Street. Or catch famed Stax recording artist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee The Reverend Al Green on Sunday morning at Full Gospel Tabernacle. Enjoy Memphis son Justin Timberlake’s soul and blues influenced mega-hits, or follow the rising star of the city’s break out band Southern Avenue.
One visit to legendary blues crooner Sleepy John Estes’ Brownsville home might just have you singing the blues yourself. And a visit to the Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School in Brownsville showcases the Queen of Rock n Roll’s musical journey.
In East Tennessee, let music history unfold before your eyes at the Songbirds Guitar Museum in Chattanooga, featuring a timeless collection of rare vintage guitars. Stop into Knoxville’s resurrected Bijou Theatre to hear The Dirty Guv’nahs blend country, blues, soul and rock. We might be 90 years past the “big bang of country music,” but this landmark event is memorialized in Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Beyond the artifacts, the museum embraces Tennessee’s musical forbearers’ legacy by making space for original creation, such as mixing your own Bristol Sessions tunes. Hear it come full-circle on “Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited,” including original Bristol Sessions songs performed by artists including Brad Paisley, Keb’ Mo’, Sheryl Crow, Steve Martin and Ashley Monroe as well as entertainment icon and native Tennessean Dolly Parton.
Dolly’s popular theme park Dollywood in Pigeon Forge celebrates music with the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame and live shows celebrating music and entertaining guests during all four seasons of the year.
When you’re in Tennessee, it doesn’t matter whether you’re reminiscing on the past or reveling in the present — it’s easy to get swept away by the music.