For a music geek like me, a trip down to Memphis and Nashville was definitely one for the ol’ bucket list. My friend Meryl, who lives in Chicago, drove down through the very flat and very monotonous states of Illinois and Kentucky, and I flew from LaGuardia Airport in NYC to meet her in Memphis. Though we did some non-music stuff too (like eat, go to the Civil Rights museum, and then eat some more) most of what we checked out was music related.
On our first day, we beelined straight to Graceland. Though the property itself is quite sprawling, the house itself is surprisingly small, especially in comparison to modern day celebrity homes. The decor was really something else though. It looked more ‘70s than John Travolta on a light-up dance floor. From the stained glass peacock window in the living room to the countless chandeliers and olive colored shag carpeting on the floor, walls, and ceiling of a one of the downstairs rooms, it really was everything you’d expect and more. (We even had peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch.)
Here’s me in one of the 17 different gift shops at Graceland.
(This sweatshirt was $50 and I did not buy it.)
Another great stop in Memphis was Sun Studios. Known for being the location where the later-dubbed “Million Dollar Quartet” (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash) recorded music one night, the small building now features a museum right above the studio. Aside from the Quartet, so many other legendary artists recorded there including Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, U2, and Bonnie Raitt, among many others. A wonderful piece of music history to take a tour of!
Though Meryl and I squeezed a hell of a lot into our three days spent in Nashville, we very well could have used another few days there; there was just SO much to do. We toured Ryman Auditorium (original home of the Grand Ole Opry) and checked out the Johnny Cash Museum — a small, but fantastically-curated exhibition that was chock-full of some of Cash’s highly personal belongings including his and June’s wedding day outfits, many music awards, and even a stone wall that was once part of his home.
We also spent several evenings listening to a lot of great live music at the bars downtown, all along Broadway. I was honestly kind blown away by the talent. There was just one quality band or singer after another, playing largely cover songs from lunchtime until after midnight every day.
And look! I even got to meet Alan Jackson.
One of my favorite things we did in Nashville was tour the factory where Fender guitars are all handmade. I can’t recommend this place enough. With each of us donning a sexy pair of safety glasses, our tour group was led past a series of about 15 different stations where we saw the guitar necks and bodies being whittled and fused together, then hung and spray painted, varnished and perfected. The men and women hand making each of these guitars are truly artists in their own right.
And of course, I couldn’t leave Nashville without visiting some record stores. Jack White’s Third Man Records was a must-see for me going on this trip, and it didn’t disappoint! The record store part of the place (the other half is a recording studio, which we couldn’t go in), really was a very cool thing to see. It had, of course, vinyl records of all of Third Man’s signed musicians for sale, as well as lots of t-shirts and pins and record players (Meryl bought her first!) and all kinds of other unique goodies. The store also had a tiny recording booth where singers could step in and make an audio recording of themselves singing (a girl sang some pretty impressive opera while we were there), which would then be printed right then and there on a 45. There was also a listening booth with two record players so you could listen to any of the records for sale first before buying them. After leaving here, we checked out another great record and book shop in town called Grimey’s. They had a fun selection of new and used music and books. I definitely could have gotten lost in this place for an afternoon, but after a little bit we had to move on and start heading home.
The last stop on our drive back to New York was Dollywood. Though it doesn’t really compare in any way to Six Flags or Cedar Point in terms of size, it is certainly a super fun, unique place.
Dolly was even there, in the lobby of our hotel, taking pictures with all her fans!
If you’re a music fan at all (not even necessarily a country music fan specifically — though I did certainly get my fill of banjo music at Dollywood…), definitely take a trip sometime to Tennessee. Bring some stretchy pants (the food down there is delicious!) and open up your ears and mind — you’ll have a fantastic time.