Memphis, Tennessee

Photo: Leonard23 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Leonard23 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Hey, music lover! You’ve traveled to New Orleans for jazz groups, Nashville for country sounds, Austin for indie bands, and up the coasts for festivals. So what’s next on your musical tour of the US? You might want to add Memphis to your list.

Tennessee’s largest city sits on the banks of the Mississippi River in the southwestern corner of the state. Tourists come to visit the civil right’s sites—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot at the Lorraine Motel, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum. Locals love the waterfront setting and the BBQ food. Everyone loves listening to live music.

The first rock-and-roll song was produced at Sun Studio on Union Avenue in 1951. Sam Phillips went on to record music legends such as BB King, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. It’s also where Elvis Presley was discovered. Soul music flowed from nearby Stax Records in the 1960s. Booker T. and the MG’s were the house band, and Otis Redding made it big. The building is now the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where you can see instruments and clothing, plus hear old recordings, from the time period.

Photo: Madison Hotel
Photo: Madison Hotel

No trip to Memphis would be complete without a stop at Graceland, just outside of the city. The King of Rock and Roll bought the colonial mansion after becoming famous; he later died in the upstairs bathroom in 1977. During a tour of Elvis’ kitschy house, you see shag carpets and vinyl walls. His gravesite is out by the pool.

Back in the city, you have a lot of decisions to make. Bike around Mud Island, a green park that juts into the Mississippi, or browse the record shops on Beale Street. Do laps in the indoor pool at the Madison Hotel or head to the rooftop garden on the 17th floor to watch the sun set by a fire pit with a Madison Avenue cocktail. Eat ribs cooked in a tangy BBQ sauce at the Cozy Corner or sample elegant Southern cuisine by a James Beard-nominated chef at Restaurant Iris. Then go to Handy Park for a free, outdoor concert, Minglewood Hall for big-name acts, or Blues City for fusion sounds.

Like all great music cities, the River City expertly combines things that wouldn’t normally fit together. The grit and the glitz. The dark bars and the open spaces. The old favorites and the up-and-comers. Your quick stop in Memphis just turned into a much bigger trip.

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