Discover Tennessee’s top toe-tapping musical destinations.
What do rockabilly, gospel and blues music have in common? These three genres – along with country, bluegrass, soul and rock ‘n’ roll – have indelible ties to Tennessee. Whether you’re a music history fanatic or you’re just looking for unique things to do on your vacation, head to these destinations, which showcase Tennessee’s role in the U.S. musical landscape.
Nashville: Music City, USA
There’s a reason it’s called Music City! Nashville is home to world-renowned songwriters, producers, musicians, music venues, recording studios and music museums.
Nashville’s rich musical culture is preserved in attractions such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, one of the largest museums of its kind, and historic RCA Studio B, where legends from Elvis Presley to Dolly Parton have recorded. Include in your itinerary a performance or backstage tour at the Ryman Auditorium, a venue known as the “Mother Church of Country Music” and considered pivotal to the birth of bluegrass music. Nashville is also the home to the Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history.
No matter when you visit, Nashville’s live music scene is always hopping. Head to B.B. Kings Blues Club to enjoy blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll right off Lower Broadway downtown. Local favorites also include Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant for Southern food and free live music, songwriter performances at The Bluebird Café and a motley lineup of music halls on Nashville’s “Honky Tonk Highway” (Lower Broadway).
A live concert during a street festival on Nashville’s Lower Broadway, also known as the Honky Tonk Highway
Memphis: Home of the Blues
Memphis is practically synonymous with blues music. Your first stop will be Beale Street, hands-down the place to go for good drinks, soul food and, of course, live blues music. You’ll hear it wafting out of doorways and windows seven days a week. Learn about the city’s music history at downtown attractions including the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which recognizes the legacy of Stax Records (the label that launched Otis Redding's career); Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, a must for music history buffs; and the Blues Hall of Fame that houses fantastic memorabilia and interactive exhibits.
For live music, catch a music performance at the Levitt Shell, an open-air amphitheater in Overton Park where Elvis Presley first performed in 1954. Speaking of which, you certainly won’t want to miss a trip to his Graceland estate or Elvis Presley’s Memphis to get a glimpse into the King’s legendary personal life.
The brightly colored neon signs of Beale Street in Memphis
Musical Stops in East Tennessee
Located in Chattanooga, the Songbirds Guitar Museum houses guitars from the 1930s to the 1970s, including an extraordinarily rare assortment of Gibson, Les Paul, Fender and hollow-body Gretsch guitars.
In Bristol, visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for an in-depth look at the 1927 “Bristol Sessions,” a series of musical recordings largely credited as the beginning of the country music genre.
In Knoxville, which is known as the Cradle of Country Music, the Bijou Theatre is a 200-seat venue that offers chamber music, bluegrass and opera. Built in 1909, the Bijou is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There's also the WDVX Blue Plate Special®, a free live performance radio show held in front of a live audience inside the Knoxville Visitor Center.
Visit Dollywood in Pigeon Forge to enjoy this popular theme park branded and owned by country music icon Dolly Parton. Not only will you enjoy more than 40 rides including roller coasters, but you can also visit the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame and see the award-winning musical performances throughout the park.
A statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, just a short distance from Dollywood, her Pigeon Forge theme park
Depending on your itinerary, you can fly into Nashville International (BNA) or Memphis International (MEM). For East Tennessee destinations, book a connecting flight into Chattanooga Metropolitan (CHA), McGhee Tyson (TYS) near Knoxville or Tri-Cities Regional (TRI), which is less than 90 minutes away from Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.