Few things are as deeply connected with the South as country music, so while you're in Nashville (known as "Music City") it's apropos to check out the world famous Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
With its mixture of historic video clips and recorded music, dynamic exhibits and state-of-the-art design, regular menu of live performances and public programs, the museum is filled with fascinating attractions. You don't have to be a country music fan to appreciate the museum's significance. All that is required for enjoyment is an appreciation for musical history and culture.
Known as "The Birthplace of Rock and Roll," this former studio is Memphis's own Mecca of music. Opened in 1950, the studio was the recording site of what is supposedly the first rock and roll single - Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats' Rocket 88. From there, Sun Studio took off, signing iconic rock and country artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis to its label and continuing to serve as the recording site for these superstars.
Today, take a tour of the famous studio's headquarters and see the place where legendary performers laid down their first hit singles. Among the artifacts on display includes the microphone Elvis Presley used in 1954 when he recorded his first song, "That's All Right." After a tour of the studio, enjoy refreshments or pick up a souvenir in the ‘50s-style Sun Studio Soda Shop and Record Store. Sun Studio's musical heritage and collection of one-of-a-kind memorabilia.
All music lovers as well as those just looking for a fun night out on the town will not want to pass up an opportunity to visit Beale Street. This 1.8 mi (2.9 km) stretch of restaurants, bars, and clubs is more than just a place to get a bite to eat. It is now considered "The Official Home of the Blues."
From 1920 to 1940, artists descended on Beale Street and began to collaborate with one another, creating a new music style that blended smooth jazz with hard charging rock 'n' roll. This blend eventually gave birth to the blues, a new and distinctly American genre of music that gradually made its way into the American pop culture mainstream.
A visit to Beale Street today allows you to check out the blues clubs that served as the launching sites for some of the most famous American blues musicians of all time.
The historic home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium is one of the must see sites that makes Music City famous. Built in 1892 (and initially serving as a tabernacle) it was used for the Opry broadcasts from 1943 until 1974. After the Opry moved to a larger venue, the Ryman sat largely unused until it was reopened as a performance hall and museum in 1994.
Today, the Ryman is a popular 2,362-seat live performance venue as well as a National Historic Landmark. Both country music stars and legends in other genres have graced the Ryman stage throughout its long and proud history. Among the many notable stars to have performed there include Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, and Patsy Kline.
Taking a tour of the Ryman allows you to walk in the same steps of music royalty, seeing the backstage area and dressing rooms that hosted these many stars.
Peabody Hotel has some unique permanent guests in the famous “Peabody Ducks,” who live on the hotel’s rooftop and perform a march toward the Grand Lobby twice daily. The tradition dates back to 1933, when the general manager of the time returned from a weekend hunting trip and placed several of his live duck decoys in the hotel’s fountain. The guests’ positive response prompted their stay, and now five ducks live and train in the Peabody Hotel.
The Peabody Ducks are led by their “Duckmaster” (an official position in the hotel) from their home on the roof, down in an elevator, across a red carpet, and over to the Italian travertine marble fountain. They march to the tune of John Phillip Sousa’s King Cotton March. The ducks live in the “Duck Palace” on the roof when they’re not playing in the water of the lobby’s fountain, and can be visited there in the off hours.
No trip to Memphis would be complete without learning about its music history, and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is just the place to do this. Originally a Smithsonian Institute research project, it became their first permanent exhibition outside of New York and Washington DC. Inside, you’ll find seven expansive galleries showcasing instruments, costumes, photographs, artifacts and exhibits like “Rural Music,” “Coming to Memphis,” “Sun Records & Youth Culture,” “Soul Music” and “Social Changes” that take you through a timeline and tell the story of Memphis and its music history.
The doesn’t just focus on the music itself or the artists, but the actual socio-economic and racial struggles as well as the successes of the people who overcame prejudice and put Memphis on the map as the “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
A. Schwab is a dry goods store that has become a local landmark and Memphis institution. Since being opened in 1876, the store has transformed from a men’s clothing and goods shop to a collection of seemingly every item imaginable. It is the only remaining original business on Beale Street.
With two floors of displays filled with everything from regional arts and crafts to historic books, records, and artifacts, it is only fitting that the Beale Street Museum, located on a small balcony above the first floor, is also housed here. A. Schwab even has quirky memorabilia such as love potions and corn cob pipes. The store’s creaky wooden floors, dim lighting and original architectural details keep the building’s historic feel, making a visit feel like a step back in time. Their motto is “if you can’t find it at Schwab’s, you’re better off without it.”
No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to Music Row. Along with being the spot where many big names got their start in the music business, it offers numerous choices to hear live music from possible future recording stars.
RCA Studio B is the first thing on most visitors list. The famous recording studio recorded hits from the likes of Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins. Elvis recorded more than 200 songs here. Music lovers will enjoy seeing all of the old houses converted into music companies and offices. Not far from Vanderbilt University’s campus, it’s the type of place where you can happily wander, especially on a sunny day.
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All of America’s great cities have a fantastic urban park. New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and Nashville’s Centennial Park.
The lush green landscape provides a needed escape from the towering skyscrapers and bustling city life. The most notable, and possibly most out-of-place feature of the park is the Parthenon replica, built to scale. Commissioned for Nashville’s celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday, it also commemorates Nashville’s reputation as the “Athens of the South” because of its many universities and arts scene.
Don’t just admire this architectural feat from the outside, the builders took this replica project to its fullest extent. According to Ancient Greek history, the Parthenon was built to house an ivory and gold statue built by Phidias to honor the goddess. Its size can’t be described as anything but breath-taking, and it’s mind-blowing to think about this being built during the B.C. era.
Step back into the Old South and get a feel for what it might have been like to live on a plantation in the 1800s. Located 6 miles (9.5 kilometers) west of Nashville, the Belle Meade Plantation is a historic plantation mansion whose grounds now function as a museum.
First bought in 1806, and continually expanded throughout the 19th century, the Belle Meade Plantation became world renowned as a first-rate horse breeding establishment. Buyers from around the world flocked to the plantation for its annual yearling sales, hoping to purchase one of their champion thoroughbred horses. A tour of the mansion reveals Belle Meade's rich history and offers insight into the distinct Southern culture of the Antebellum and Reconstruction eras.
Built in 1928, the Orpheum Theater is a historic theater and one of America’s few remaining “movie palaces” from the 1920s era. Before it was the Orpheum, it was the site of the Grand Opera House and home to vaudeville performances for nearly two decades. Since then it has withstood the threat of bankruptcy, demolition and being burnt to the ground to become known as the “South’s Finest Theater.”
Decorated with ornate crystal chandeliers, luxe draperies, carved moldings, and a large pipe organ, the theater was restored in 1996 to its former glory along with an expansion of the stage and backstage areas. Today, the theater hosts top Broadway shows, concerts, comedy shows, and special events year-round. Many famous faces have graced the Orpheum stage, and it continues to be a center for arts and entertainment and culture of Memphis.
A must-attend event while in "Music City," The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music stage concert that has highlighted the genre's biggest stars since 1925. Originally a radio broadcast, the Opry is the longest running radio program in history. Dedicated to honoring country music, the event showcases different artists each night to perform songs in genres including country, bluegrass, folk, comedy, and gospel.
Considered the "Show that Made Country Famous," the Opry is famous for its multi-generational approach and ability to adapt with the changing times. This approach continues today as it features both legendary performers and contemporary chart toppers. An American icon, the Opry is regularly listened to by millions of internet and radio users and visited by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.
The Johnny Cash Museum may be new to Nashville, but visitors to this Mecca devoted to the Man in Black say the place feels like it’s been around forever. Bill Miller, one of Cash’s closest friends, has gathered and cataloged the country singer superstar’s memorabilia for decades, resulting in a relatively small space that still manages to hold one of the most impressive—and exhaustive—Cash collections ever.
Visitors can wander through museum halls lined with memories and artifacts from the singer’s impressive career, including performance highlights and television cameos. But what makes the Johnny Cash Museum truly unique are the personal effects only a close friend could collect—childhood report cards, military uniforms, and handwritten love letters to Cash’s wives.
When Nashville turned 200 it decided to throw a party—and to open a park. Since June, 1996, the 19-acre Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park has given locals and visitors a calm and scenic place to rest. The park boasts numerous features, like an impressive view of the Capitol building, erupting geyser fountains, an informative Civil War exhibit and a Greek amphitheater for live concerts.
Visitors can take an easy walk along the .9-mile paved Bicentennial Mall Trail, or stop at the nearby Nashville Farmers’ Market before picnicking on the well-kept lawns. The 200-fee wide granite map on the park’s southern end gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the state and at the park’s northern end, travelers can wander the short Path of Volunteers and the flora-lined Walkway of Counties.
Nashville may be the country music capital of America, but the Schermerhorn Symphony Center brings a touch of class to a bustling downtown area that’s filled with gritty bars and live music venues.
Since 2006, the Center’s Laura Turner Concert Hall has been home to the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony. Its natural lighting, 30 soundproof windows and custom-built organ make for a unique concert experience. The smaller Mike Curb Family Music Education Hall hosts performances for children, schools and families as part of the Center’s Music Education City initiative. While the symphony is one of the hottest tickets in Nashville, visitors say even if you can’t catch a performance, it’s still worth touring the grand space and wandering through the beautiful public Martha Rivers Ingram Garden Courtyard on a trip to Nashville.
Located in Memphis’ Soulsville area in the former Stax Records -- which had also been the old Capitol Theater and closed due to bankruptcy in 1976 -- the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is a recreation of what once was. After the original studio was torn down in 1989, there was a revitalization effort for the area and the institution was rebuilt to its former glory. Today visitors can peruse over 2,000 photos, films, music clips, costumes, original instruments, artifacts, trivia games and exhibits that tell the story of Stax Records and Memphis music history. You’ll learn about Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Ike & Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and other soul legends.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is one of only a very few soul-focused museums in existence anywhere in the world. Some collection highlights include the dance floor from Soul Train, Isaac Hayes’ flashy gold and blue Cadillac El Dorado.
Handy Park is a large public park known for its wide, open fields and stage, making it a great outdoor concert and event space in Memphis. The park was named for W.C. Handy, the “Father of Blues.” A large statue of W.C. Handy stands tall in the park.
Events that take place in Handy Park are always free and open to the public, often attracting large crowds. With an outdoor amphitheater that seats 2,000, it is a favorite local spot to enjoy a cold beverage and the great outdoors. There is also a small stage that often is home to impromptu blues performances on afternoons! The park is right off of the famous Beale Street, also home to a vibrant music culture and known as the “home of the Blues.” The local Memphis music scene often comes to life in Handy Park.
Bored with eating dinner at the same restaurants every night? Want a new way to relax and enjoy Tennessee's warm weather during the day? Then the General Jackson Showboat might be just what the doctor ordered.
The General Jackson is a 300 foot (91.5 meter) paddlewheel riverboat, one of the largest showboats in the country. Harkening back to the days when showboats plied the American rivers in the 19th century, a tour on the General Jackson serves as both a historic and relaxing trip. It boasts four massive decks with a beautiful two-story Victorian Theater located in the center, which serves as the site of live musical performances. Take either a day drip down the Cumberland River or a night cruise and enjoy a dinner under the stars.
Victorian Village is a residential district of Memphis characterized by its grand, historic homes. Many of the Victorians that still stand today were first built in the 19th century by aristocrats on what were the outskirts of the city. Architectural styles range from Neoclassical to Gothic, and are for the most part named for the families who once inhabited them. The three- and four-story homes were collectively awarded a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Though only a few of the original houses are still intact, many of the homes that remain are now museums, including the Mallory-Neely House, an Italian style villa, the Magevney House and the Woodruff-Fontaine House, built in French-Victorian style. Guests can see original period furnishings and clothing, as well as learn about the history of the residents.
It’s impossible to escape music in a city like Nashville, which makes a visit to RCA Studio B—where it kind of all began—so memorable. More than 35,000 songs have been recorded here, including 200 of Elvis Presley’s rock and roll hits and some 40 million-selling singles by country and rock legends. RCA Studio B is a piece of music history in the heart of city that loves its music. Visitors can wander the halls where Dolly Parton and The Everly Brothers once recorded, and even sit at the piano Elvis played.
With seats for 20,000, The Pyramid is an arena that sits on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis. Designed to resemble the Great Pyramids of Giza, it stands tall at 321 feet high and is one of the largest pyramid structures in the world. It is slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty and has become an icon of the Memphis skyline.
The arena was first constructed as the Great American Pyramid in 1991 with an exterior of stainless steel and was originally conceived by a local artist to replicate the Great Pyramid of Memphis in Egypt. A statue of Ramesses II stood at the Pyramid’s entrance until it was moved to the University of Memphis campus in 1991. The interior has nearly half a million square feet of space and was used primarily for sporting events up until 2004.
In the late 1850s, a German immigrant named Johann Albert Lotz put the finishing touches on a house that he had built in Franklin, Tennessee. A skilled carpenter and piano maker, Lotz used his new home to showcase his work to potential clients. A few short years later, on Nov. 30, 1864, 20,000 Union soldiers fighting in the Civil War marched into Franklin, constructing barricades a mere 100 yards from Lotz's home. The Lotz family sought refuge from the battle in a neighbor's basement, and the ensuing battle raged for 17 hours, becoming the bloodiest day of the entire Civil War.
The Lotz family survived the deadly battle, but they were so scarred from the human wreckage that they relocated to California. Lotz's young daughter, Matilda, went on to become a renowned artist with works still today displayed in prominent venues across the country. The Lotz House was added to the National Historic Register in 1976, and today, the house is a converted museum.
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