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You might not be able to follow your favorite band across the country anymore, but any music aficionado will appreciate a road trip that comes armed with its own soundtrack. Embark on a tour (sans roadies) of American music meccas Nashville, Memphis, Clarksdale, Muscle Shoals and New Orleans, stopping at destinations like legendary recording studios where seminal songs were tracked or historic concerts halls that embrace the traditions of bygone eras. Pack up your gear, queue up a playlist and experience blues, rock, jazz and more on this musical journey through the American South.

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Nashville

There’s no better place to start your road trip than in Music City itself. Begin your visit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where you can learn about the artists who turned this Tennessee town into a central hub of the American music industry. While you’re there, visit RCA Studio B and tour the recording studio used by Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins that helped foster the “Nashville Sound.” Create a hit of your own at Third Man Records (owned by former White Stripes frontman Jack White), where you can sit down in the shop’s Record Booth and cut a 6-inch phonograph disc. Cap off the day by taking in a show at the historic Ryman Auditorium, the church-like venue that was the original home of the Grand Ole Opry concert series and still hosts performances from contemporary country, bluegrass and Americana stars.

Sun Studio | Flickr CC: James Adamson

Memphis

Move on from the capital of country to the birthplace of rock ‘n roll by heading south to Memphis. Start your visit with a tour of Sun Studio, the recording studio and record label that gave the world Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Pay tribute to Presley by making a pilgrimage to Graceland, where the artist’s Memphis estate has been converted into a museum and entertainment complex, complete with its own hotel (The Guest House at Graceland). For a meal fit for the King, head to the Arcade Restaurant, a diner that Elvis once frequented—yes, there’s a peanut butter and banana sandwich on the menu.

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Delta Blues Museum | Flickr CC: Visit Mississippi

Clarksdale

When legendary bluesman Robert Johnson sang about going down to the crossroads, there’s a good chance he was referring to the intersection of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Johnson was just one of the small town’s numerous notable residents—musicians Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke and actor Morgan Freeman have also called Clarksdale home. The area’s most popular attraction is the Delta Blues Museum, which provides a crash course in the genre through exhibits devoted to musicians like John Lee Hooker and Son House. You’ll also find several historical markers that are part of the Mississippi Blues Trail, including one in front of the Riverside Hotel—a popular place for traveling blues musicians to crash. Once you’ve soaked up enough history, end the day at the Ground Zero Blues Club, an authentic juke joint that hosts live music Wednesday through Saturday.

Fame Recording Studio | Flickr CC: Ralph Daily

Muscle Shoals

The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin are just a few of the famous musicians who have stopped through this Alabama town to record at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The studio recently opened its doors to the public after an extensive renovation, so you can stop by for a tour (first come, first served) seven days a week. Nearby, you’ll find FAME Studios, another local recording facility that attracted artists like Wilson Pickett, John Prine and Paul Simon. While you can’t take a tour of the building, you can drive by the parking lot where Duane Allman (of the Allman Brothers) once camped during his band’s recording sessions.

Preservation Hall | Flickr CC: Infrogmation of New Orleans

New Orleans

If you can avoid being distracted by the parades, Cajun cuisine and Bourbon Street antics, you’ll find the Big Easy bursting with musical destinations. Start at the New Orleans Jazz Museum (housed inside the Old U.S. Mint), where you’ll find a formidable collection of jazz memorabilia, including Louis Armstrong’s first cornet. Pick up some listening material for your journey home at Peaches Records, a family-owned shop that’s stocked with plenty of Louisiana jazz and hip-hop LPs, tapes and CDs. Venture into the French Quarter and finish the evening at the historic Preservation Hall, where at least three sets of traditional New Orleans Jazz are on the calendar every night.

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Tagged: Destinations, Events, Music, New Orleans

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