Tennessee is the perfect state for music lovers of all kinds. Most people know about Nashville and Memphis, but it is also the state where country music, bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll all originated. Here are our top places to listen to, and learn about, music of all kinds.
1.Bristol- this is where it all began. Bristol is located in the northeast corner of Tennessee, on the Virginia border. In fact, half of the town is actually located in Virginia- the border between the two is located by the aptly named State Street. In 1998, Congress officially recognized it as The Birthplace of Country Music. The history is clear: In 1927, Ralph Peer – a record executive from Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey – traveled to Bristol to find the makers of “hillbilly” music. He set up a portable recording studio in the Taylor-Christian Hat Company building on State Street, advertised for auditions, and waited for the music makers to come to him. Over the course of two weeks, Peer recorded 76 songs by 19 different acts, including Ernest V. Stoneman with various friends and family, The Carter Family, known as “The First Family of Country Music,” and “The Father of Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers. It was with these recordings that the foundation of country music was laid and its soundtrack begins. If you want to visit it, don’t miss The Birthplace of Country Museum, an affiliate of The Smithsonian. If you want to listen to music, come in September for the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. To get an idea of how famous it is, this year it is headlined by none other than Loretta Lynn.
2. Nashville- It all started in Bristol, but it finishes in Nashville. Founded on November 28, 1925, the Grand Ole Opry is the weekly stage show that “Made Country Music Famous.” The longest running radio broadcast in US history, membership in the Opry remains one of country music’s crowning achievements. Legends such as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, the Carter Family (June Carter Cash’s family) and Bill Monroe all played at the Grand Ole Opry. Nowadays, the sound has changed but it is still graced with country’s most famous stars like Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton and Rascal Flatts. If you like country music, you simply must visit the Grand Ole Opry. While you’re in Nashville, make sure to check out some of the city’s less known, but still amazing, music venues.
3. Memphis- This is the legendary birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the current home of the blues (it actually originated up the river in St. Louis). To start, we recommend visiting the famous Sun Studios, where legendary music producer Sam Phillips auditioned Elvis. Elvis performed a rendition of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right,” that sounded unlike anything he had heard before. Mr. Phillips worked his magic and rock ‘n’ roll was born. He also worked with Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash in this studio, and the world of music has never been the same. After you tour Sun Studios, we recommend heading down to Beale Street. The Beale Street website explains its history perfectly, “Beale Steet’s heyday was in the roaring 20’s, when it took on a carnival atmosphere. The booming nightclubs, theaters, restaurants, stores, pawnshops and hot music thrived alongside gambling, drinking, prostitution, murder and voodoo. In the early evenings, boxback suits and Stetson hats mingled with overalls. Young ladies sashayed down Beale Street and inside the bars, gamblers waited for an easy mark to stroll in. If the mark escaped from the dice or the cards, maybe he would fall victim to Little Ora- the best pickpocket between New Orleans and St. Louis.” Nowadays it is much more reputable, but still has some of the best live music venues in the world. For a real treat, attend the Beale Street Music Festival in May. It also has a great Mardi Gras parade!
4. Graceland- Actually located in Memphis, Graceland is really a universe of its own. Located on Elvis Presley Boulevard, it was originally part of a 500-acre farm owned by the S.E. Toof family. Even before Elvis purchased it, music was an integral part of Graceland. The land had been part of the family for generations and was named after one of the female relatives, Grace. In 1939 her niece, Ruth Brown Moore, and her husband built the mansion. The Moore’s daughter, Ruth Marie, was a great musician and became a harpist with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Classical recitals in the front formal rooms were common. In 1957, when a year after Elvis became famous, he purchased Graceland for $100,000 and the house once again became filled with music- this time gospel and rock ‘n’ roll. If you want to visit Graceland, click here for information.
5. Sparta- Located in Central Tennessee, in a beautiful valley at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains, Sparta is not only the home of the River Club, it is also the birthplace of bluegrass. It started with the bluegrass legend Lester Flatt, who was a Sparta resident that gained international fame as a bluegrass music artist and writer. He, along with Bill Monroe, was a member of the famous Bluegrass Boys. Along with other band member Earl Scruggs, the three of them created the sound that today is known as Bluegrass. Here’s a really great video of Lester and Bill playing at The Grand Ole Opry. If you like bluegrass and want to visit Sparta, we recommend coming in October and attending the Lester Flatt Celebration. While you’re there, we recommend touring The River Club- an amazing active 55+ community located nearby. If you’re seriously interested in retiring in gorgeous Tennessee, we offer a Free Trip to those who qualify.