Nashville and Beyond on A Deep South Music Road Trip

So I’m just going to come right out and say it. I love Nashville.

Not just the place, though that I do, but also the TV show.

As well as being addicted to Nashville the show I listen to the soundtrack when I’m driving and when I work. Unfortunately for my neighbour I also like to sing along.

When they went to a break half way through Season Four I was more than a little concerned that Nashville was over. I couldn’t tell if it had wrapped up for good or if they were doing their sneaky ‘break up a season into two parts’ trick.

Now that it’s back I’m not only a happy girl, I’m also inspired to recreate one of my road trips that included some pretty special music spots in America’s Deep South.

If you love your music and love a road trip, here are some of the places I’ve loved before and want to visit again…

Dollywood

One of my favourite road trips of all time started with us flying from Australia to Knoxville, Tennessee, then driving to Pigeon Forge so we could wake up in the morning and go to Dollywood.

The park is built just a few miles from the Locust Ridge cabin where Dolly grew up and first opened as a small tourist attraction called Rebel Railroad in 1961. After a stint as Silver Dollar City, Dolly became a co-owner in 1986, changed its name to Dollywood and suddenly it was calling to fans like me around the world.

 

Dolly has put more than just her name to the park, she also opened her closet and emptied her attic to create the Chasing Rainbows attraction.

My favourite part of the park, the entire Chasing Rainbows building has been filled with Dolly’s costumes, photos, gold records, and memorabilia, including the inspiration for one of her classic songs, the Coat Of Many Colours, which sits proudly in a small glass case.

But Dollywood is more than a Dolly Parton museum. There are roller coasters including the Tennessee Twister and water rides like the Smoky Mountain River Rampage and Daredevil Falls where we got ‘soaked to our bloomers’.

Fans of Dolly and of water parks can also have fun at Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Adventure Park, 35 acres of water slides and attractions, and head to Dolly’s Dixie Stampede dinner and show where  thirty two horses and their riders entertain you to a soundtrack written and recorded by Dolly for the show.

Nashville

Dolly moved to Nashville straight after her graduation in 1964 and our road trip followed her down the road to the country music capital.

The Grand Ole Opry is the most famous live music venue in Nashville, and where country music legends can be found playing alongside newcomers. The more intimate Bluebird Café has been an important venue in Nashville since the ‘80s and is now more famous than ever thanks to regularly featuring in the TV show.

As well as hearing music performed live you can step into Nashville’s history at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

For almost fifty years the museum has been collecting hundreds of thousands of pieces of country music history and is filled with everything from Elvis Presley’s ‘Solid Gold’ Cadillac to Patsy Cline’s cocktail dress.

 

From the Hall of Fame music fans can continue their historic trip down Country Music lane by hopping on one of the designated Studio B buses and travelling to the legendary studios.

Hundreds of country music songs were recorded in RCA Studio B, by artists such as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins and many more. Some of Elvis’ best known songs came to life in the famous studio, including Are You Lonesome Tonight, It’s Now Or Never, and You’re The Devil in Disguise.

Memphis

Ah, Elvis. I know people who have flown to the USA just to visit Graceland and I’ll admit I was pretty darned excited to go there myself.

One of the best-known tourist attractions in the United States, Graceland was Elvis’ home from 1957 until his death in 1977 and today the 14 acre estate includes an Elvis Presley Museum, stables, and Elvis’ final resting place in the Meditation Garden.

The white columned mansion seems almost modest from the outside, but once you cross over that Graceland threshold there’s no doubt you’ve stepped into something extraordinary.

For almost forty years Graceland has been preserved as a kind of time capsule into what life was like when Elvis was King.

 

Just as it was out of bounds for anyone who visited Elvis when he was alive, the upstairs is off limits, but the downstairs and basement are fascinating. There’s the TV room where Elvis would watch three television sets at once, his bar and billiard room and the rather unforgettable Jungle Room.

It’s said the Jungle Room was Elvis’ favourite room in the house. Legend has it that Elvis walked into a Memphis furniture store and within half an hour he had bought every piece of furniture that reminded him of Hawaii. I can only imagine Priscilla’s face when that delivery truck pulled up.

Elvis’ gold records, Grammy awards, movie posters, and memorabilia along movie costumes, sequined jumpsuits, and wedding tuxedo are on display in the Trophy Room and after paying your respects at his grave you can then continue over to the automobile museum and some of his cars and planes.

Believe me you don’t want to skip this bit, and make sure you go onboard his custom made planes the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II.

We couldn’t resist staying at The Heartbreak Hotel with its Elvis themed rooms and heart shaped swimming pool, but the next time I go back to Memphis I’d love to stay at The Peabody so I can be in the same hotel as those famous Peabody Ducks that walk the red carpet every day.

The other Absolute Must Do for anyone who loves music is a visit to Sun Studio.

Opened by Rock pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950, this is where the very first Rock and Roll song, Jackie Brenston’s Rocket 88, was laid down.

Sun Studios, Memphis

It’s also where greats such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, BB King, and many, many more, stepped up to the microphone. And of course was home to Elvis Presley’s first recordings.

U2 fans will recognise it from the movie Rattle and Hum when the band recorded Angel of Harlem, When Love Comes to Town and Love Rescue Me.

Angel of Harlem went on to become one of the biggest selling singles recorded at Sun Studios, and the console U2 used to record their Rattle and Hum tracks is still there and on display.

Muscle Shoals

About three hours drive from both Memphis and Nashville is the third piece of the studio trinity, Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Here you’ll find the FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, where artists including Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Boy Dylan, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, and more recently the Black Keys have recorded great music.

 

You can do tours of the studios, and when you go to FAME you may be lucky enough to meet Rick Hall, the man who started it all back in 1950.

Rick is now in his 80s though I found that very hard to believe when we met him. He has a real presence around him and I could have listened to him talk for days even though we still wouldn’t have scratched the surface of the tales he could tell.

Just a few minutes’ drive away you’ll find the Alabama Music Hall of Fame filled with music and memorabilia from the likes of Nat King Cole, Lionel Richie, Hank Williams, The Commodores, Emmylou Harris and many more.

Sam Phillips was born and bred in the Muscle Shoals area and there’s some of his Sun Studio recording equipment as well as the contract where Phillips sold his rights to Elvis Presley to RCA.

 

You can get a feel for what rock and roll life was like on the road by going inside Alabama’s Southern Star tour bus, and see the Golden Country Car, a 1960 Pontiac Convertible with twelve guns and 500 silver dollars mounted in and around the car, a saddle for a middle seat and a set of Texas Longhorns on the front.

Hank Williams fans who want to continue their road trip should head on down to Montgomery where they can visit the Hank Williams Museum.

The centrepiece of the museum is the Cadillac Hank died in on his way to a New Year’s Day gig in 1953.

You can also visit the country music star’s grave in the local cemetery where he and his wife Audrey have matching monuments amongst a bed of astroturf.

Apparently real grass never had a chance to grow because fans kept picking blades to take home as souvenirs.

And if you get the chance while in Alabama there’s something to be said for drinking Moonshine in a Juke Joint. Though definitely not before driving.

Tina Turner Highway

And finally, while there won’t be much when you get there except for a few houses and a general store, Tina Turner fans may also want to drive down that Highway Number 19 that they’ve been singing along to for all these years.

A stretch of State Route 19 between Brownsville and Tina Turner’s childhood home of Nutbush has been renamed the Tina Turner Highway.

While I’ve done everything else in this story, I’ve yet to drive down that road but when I do you know that’s one road sign I’ll definitely be stopping for.

With so much musical history in the area I know there are lots of other places I should add to my Music Road Trip list, so do tell – what’s your favourite spot to visit in this part of the world and why do you want to go back there too?

Heading on a deep south road trip? You may also like to check out my pieces on visiting Helen Keller’s home in Alabama and what may be the cheapest cup of coffee in America

I also have some travel tips for road trips including how to keep your personal mobile phone data safe in a rental car and a handy tip for telling what side of your car your fuel tank is on.

Looking for a hire car deal for your road trip? You can compare the different car companies through Wotif’s car hire portal. 

And fellow road trip fans may also love these road trip pencils I found on Etsy. Love!

Road Trip Pencils

This post contains some affiliate links, so if you click on a link and buy something I will get a small percentage to help pay the blogging bills. But don’t worry, it’s absolutely no extra cost to you. Thanks! 

Take a Deep South Road Trip

About the Author

As a journalist who loves to travel and is fond of a chat I'm oh so happy when I'm sharing travel tales and tips through my blog and on my weekly travel segment on Sydney Radio 2UE. When I'm not travelling or writing about it I can be found out and about with friends, curled up at home with a good book or watching an addictive tv show promising I'll stop after one more episode. Amanda on Google +

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  1. Dollywood looks so fun!

    • Oh that it is, Dollywood rocks!! I so want to go back already, and recommend getting a little Christmas tree decoration so you can relive being there every time you put up a tree 🙂

  2. Spencer says:

    Been to Memphis and Nashville. Got the tour of the Gibson Factory, Sun, Stax Records, The Civil Rights Museum, Beale Street, and Mud Island in Memphis (Mud Island was a prominent feature in the movie, “The Firm”). All great places. Noticed that even though the city is trying to get rid of the Nathan Bedford Forest monument, they still fly the Confederate Flag on Mud Island. We had a great time but it would have been better if the trolley system worked.

    Nashville was great as well. Saw all of the downtown Music Row sites and picked up a concert with Elvis Costello and Steely Dan. I have an old school buddy there so we hit a couple of real good bar-b-que joints as well.

    We ran out of time so we missed a few of the ones you mentioned.

    • Sounds like you got to see some great ones, including the Civil Rights Museum, which is one of the most powerful places I’ve ever visited. I get goosebumps when I remember being there.
      And I love that you got to catch Elvis Costello and Steely Dan in Nashville. I can’t wait to go back and spend more time there and take in a lot more music!

  3. Spencer says:

    … By the way… On Aug 21, 2017, you have to be somewhere between Oregon and Charleston, SC for “The Great Solar Eclipse”. It will be the most observed solar eclipse in human history. I’ll probably be somewhere in the state of South Carolina. Come see it!

    • Funnily enough I was just thinking about this one the other day! I’d love to be in a good position to see this one. I’ll be sure to let you know if I end up in your corner of the world for it 🙂

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