Ultimate southern adventure: Hear the music
Visit places rooted in sound, where legends were born and their music plays on in the American South.
The Shoals are alive with the sounds of homegrown Alabama music. Located in the northwestern part of the state, the Shoals—including Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield, and Florence—boast numerous music pilgrimage sites. Record your own single at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia. Handwritten music and a trumpet belonging to the “Father of the Blues” are part of the collection at the W.C. Handy Home, Museum & Library in Florence. In Muscle Shoals, tour FAME Studios where the artist list includes Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, and other legends, as well as up-and-comers like Jason Isbell and Dylan LeBlanc. The Rolling Stones recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield in 1969. The Sound Studio is closed for restoration, but you can pose for a selfie outside.
Best Bet: In Birmingham’s Civil Rights District, tour the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (closed Sundays and Mondays), located inside the historic Carver Theatre.
Insider Tip: Fort Payne in northeast Alabama is home to the band Alabama and its Fan Club Museum and gift shop.
Don’t Miss: See the Mobile Symphony Orchestra or another live performance at Mobile’s historic Saenger Theatre, lauded as “Alabama’s Greatest Showplace” when it opened in 1927.
The roots of hip-hop, rock, gospel, country, and soul run deep in Georgia. Use the July-to-December ExploreGeorgia.org Songwriter Series as a launching pad for your personal Peach State music tour. In Atlanta, check the Atlanta Music Guide to see who’s performing at popular venues such as the Music Room at Smith’s Olde Bar, Center Stage, and the historic Buckhead and Fox theaters. During the warmer months, attend an outdoor concert at Lakewood Amphitheater and Chastain Park. In Macon, visit The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House or “rock, roll, and stroll” through Macon music history on a guided walk with Rock Candy Tours.
Best Bet: Include a stop in Athens, home of the Morton Theatre, one of the oldest surviving African-American built, owned, and operated vaudeville theaters.
Insider Tip: Head to the Augusta Museum of History where “The Godfather of Soul” exhibit celebrates the life of Augusta native James Brown. At night, groove on at legendary locations such as The Soul Bar and Sky City.
Don’t Miss: The free Appalachian Jam sessions on Dahlonega’s Public Square happen on Saturdays from late April to early October.
It’s no wonder that bluegrass is the signature sound of the Bluegrass State. The International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro is open during construction of its new $15.4-million facility, scheduled for completion in 2018. The museum sponsors the ROMP Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival in June. Travel south to Rosine and visit the Monroe Homeplace (boyhood home of “the father of bluegrass music” Bill Monroe). Listen to live bluegrass Friday nights from March to December at the Rosine Barn Jamboree. Farther east in Lexington, attend a Monday night taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre and catch a performance at the historic (built in 1886) Lexington Opera House.
Best Bet: Follow the Wendell H. Ford Western Kentucky Parkway east to My Old Kentucky Home State Park in historic Bardstown. June to August at the park, see Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Musical, The Stephen Foster Story, celebrating the life and music of the composer of “Oh! Susanna” and other American classics.
Insider Tip: Drive the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway to see landmarks such as Loretta Lynn’s birthplace.
Don’t Miss: Front Porch Pickin’ every Thursday night at the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum in Paintsville.
Discover the roots of the Delta blues by rambling the back roads and byways of the Mississippi Blues Trail. Designed to inspire exploration rather than dictate a specific route, the trail is a collection of hundreds of blues landmarks—such as the Hopson Plantation Commissary and the Blue Front Café, the legendary juke joint owned by veteran bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. One of the greatest concentrations of purple Blues Trail markers is found near the Clarksdale-to-Vicksburg stretch of U.S. 61, known as the Blues Highway. In Clarksdale—widely considered the epicenter of the blues—visit the Delta Blues Museum. Next door at Ground Zero Blues Club (co-owned by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman) listen to live music Wednesday to Saturday nights.
Best Bet: Learn dance moves from R&B artist Ne-Yo and write, record, and produce an original song with blues musician Keb’ Mo’ at the Grammy Museum in Cleveland.
Insider Tips: Continue to Jackson, where one of the coolest live music venues is Duling Hall, housed in a 1928 elementary school. Follow I-55 south to the Hazlehurst Train Depot, home of the compact, yet surprisingly comprehensive, Mississippi Music Museum.
Don’t Miss: Stop at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola.
Make the new (opened April 2016) National Blues Museum in St. Louis the starting point for a made-in-Missouri music road trip. St. Louis native Chuck Berry is featured prominently at the interactive museum (where you can record and mix your own blues riff) and on the walls of the Blueberry Hill restaurant and music club in University City’s Delmar Loop. From 1996 to 2014, Berry played more than 200 shows in Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room. Other Loop live music venues include Cicero’s, The Pageant, and the Halo Bar. Also in St. Louis, browse the massive record collection at Vintage Vinyl. Farther west in Kansas City, listen to jazz four nights a week in The Blue Room, a 1930s-style nightclub built inside the American Jazz Museum.
Best Bet: In Kansas City, save room for a slab of pork spare ribs served with a side of live blues at B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ (closed Mondays).
Insider Tip: Head to Columbia, where The Blue Note (housed in a restored vaudeville theater) and Rose Music Hall host an eclectic music mix, from indie-rock to jazz-organ.
Don’t Miss: Stop at Branson in the Southwest Missouri Ozarks, home to the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center and more than a hundred live shows.
Coastal South Carolina glides to the beat of beach music, an R&B and rock ‘n’ roll hybrid with the state's signature dance—the Shag. Marvel at the smooth moves of expert shaggers at North Myrtle Beach clubs such as Duck’s, Fat Harold’s, and OD Arcade and Lounge. In Charleston (namesake of the late-1920s dance craze), choose from more than 300 live-music venues. The Jazz Artists of Charleston events page lists upcoming jazz sessions at such places as the Charleston Music Hall and cozier confines like How Art Thou Jazz Lounge. In the northwest mountains region, catch local, regional, and national acts at the Peace Center in downtown Greenville. Groove to jazz and blues at Blues Boulevard, and kick it at The Blind Horse Saloon, Greenville’s old-school country music club. Travel I-26 to catch live performances several nights a week in the Midlands at places such as the Music Farm in Columbia and New Brookland Tavern in West Columbia.
Best Bet: Awendaw Green hosts outdoor Barn Jams Wednesday nights at Sewee Outpost, 15 miles northeast of Charleston.
Insider Tip: Built in 1881, the Newberry Opera House in the Midlands is worth a visit for the September-to-June performances and the French Gothic-inspired architecture.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Don’t Miss: Enjoy the Hagood Mill Music in the Mountains Series, every third Saturday of the month.
Follow the Tennessee Music Highway (I-40 between Memphis and Nashville) to some of the nation’s most iconic music sites. In Memphis in West Tennessee, ride the Sun Studio Shuttle to Elvis Presley’s Graceland; the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum; and Sun Studio. Groove to live Delta blues, gospel, jazz, soul, and more in Beale Street clubs such as the Band Box and B.B. King’s Blues Club. Late-night Saturdays, the historic New Daisy Theatre hosts the Daisyland electronic music dance party. Learn about Nashville’s Music City heritage at the world-class Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Middle Tennessee. Nearby, stroll Broadway’s Honky Tonk Row, and take a tour or attend a performance at the historic Ryman Auditorium, celebrating 125 years in 2017. Continue east to Knoxville in East Tennessee where the new (opened April 2016) Mill & Mine and historic Tennessee Theatre regularly showcase regional acts. Attend jam sessions at Boyd’s Jig & Reel and the WDVX Blue Plate Special live-music radio show.
Best Bet: Download the free Nashville Live Music Guide app to see who’s playing at more than 150 venues.
Insider Tip: Between Memphis and Nashville on I-40, stop at exit 56 to visit the Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School.
Don’t Miss: Check out the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in the Tennessee-Virginia border city of Bristol.
The toe-tapping sounds of Appalachian folk and bluegrass music fill the air across the mountains and valleys of West Virginia. In Shepherdstown, join a Thursday night acoustic jam session at O’Hurley’s General Store or attend a folk music concert or dance sponsored by Shepherdstown Music and Dance. Register for one of the Upper Potomac Music Weekends to hone your fiddling, piping, hammered dulcimer, or strumming skills. In Charleston, the popular Mountain Stage With Larry Groce public radio show is recorded live most Sunday nights at the Culture Center Theater or, on occasion, the Charleston Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences.
Best Bet: Travel on I-81 to discover other live-music venues—such as the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton—where fiddle and banjo players regularly take the stage.
Insider Tips: Carnegie Hall (one of only four Carnegie Halls in continuous use) in Lewisburg hosts live, evening music sessions on the lawn on the second and fourth Thursdays from June to August.
Don’t Miss: Listen to live, Appalachian-based acoustic music seven nights (and a couple of afternoons) a week at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas.