Our Great American Road Trip - Tips for cruising America's Music Highway
Do you love music and travel? Always fancied a great American road trip? Well perhaps you should consider cruising the Music Highway for your honeymoon? (or any other holiday for that matter.)
Our American Road Trip
Since Chris is a musician and we are both interested in music, in 2016 we planned an amazing road trip to America with friends, to check out some of the famous music hotspots! We travelled from Nashville to Memphis, Clarksdale, and all the way down the Great River Road to New Orleans. Today I thought I'd tell you about our journey, and share some of the amazing places we discovered along the way, just in case you're planning a similar road trip for a holiday - or perhaps even your honeymoon!!
We started out in Nashville, Tennessee - Music City! The first night we didn’t venture too far from our Airbnb. We were staying about 20 mins outside of the town centre, but only a few blocks from one of Nashville’s Hottest neighbourhoods ’12 South’. We headed to ’12-South Taproom and Grill’ or ‘The Tap’ for some grub. No live music here, but they were definitely playing our 'jams'. Songs included The Smiths, David Bowie, and Kate Bush! We even spotted our first celeb here - Patrick Carney from The Black Keys!
The next day we hit the town early to The Country Music Hall of Fame. It was amazing to see how country has developed over time, some of the really old videos were fascinating to watch even for us non-country fans. I grabbed a GooGoo cluster from their gift shop (an essential chocolatey, Nashville snack!) and we walked to Broadway and The Honkey Tonk Highway. This is really where the fun begins!
The atmosphere is amazing. Neon lights shine outside every establishment, and different music drifts out of each doorway that you pass - and it was only midday! Every single bar and eatery has live music playing at all times of the day. It was fantastic! We had lunch at a place called The Valentine while watching a great soloist perform some covers with her acoustic guitar. I don’t think the musicians get paid by the venue, so it is customary to tip them. That is how they make their living! These bars are where the songwriters of the future hone their skills so you never know who you might see performing to 10 people in the middle of the day. After exploring the local area we moved on to a bar called Rippy’s. We joined a fun loving crowd and watched 3 guys who sang and played guitar, and were taking requests from the audience. I tried a Sweet Tea (a classic southern drink) and a Bushwacker, a popular Nashville cocktail kind of like a frozen white Russian. Yummy, but very filling!
We ended the night in the best place of all - Robert's Western World - where we watched the most wonderful Country band play. They were called John England and The Western Swingers, and they were great (pictured above). Their 89 year old violin player ‘Pappy’ was particularly adorable! We bought 2 or their CD’s and used them as soundtrack to our road trip for the rest of our journey. This is definitely the place to go if you're looking for the more traditional Nashville charm!
Memphis and Clarksdale
We'd heard a few unsavoury stories about Memphis on our travels, so we decided not to venture into the heart of the city. It was just as well because we didn't have much time! On our way to Clarksdale we did, however, decide to stop off at the home of the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis's house, Graceland. It was a little expensive to get in, but the rooms in the house were incredible. It's just one of those things you've GOT to do if you're travelling this way.
After Graceland we continued our journey to Clarksdale, Mississippi, where we were headed for The Shack Up Inn, one of the spookiest but coolest places to stay! The accommodation was very authentic - literally Shacks, made up of wood, and corrugated iron and we'd picked one of the biggest - 'Bill's House'. The shack was very roomy and cosy, even in November, and was filled with tonnes of nick nacks, and strange objects. There was even a sauna (that didn't work - it wasn't supposed to) in one of the bedrooms! Honestly, you'll never stay in a place like this anywhere else. It was totally unique! Definitely worth a stop over if you're in this part of the world. There is also an amazingly decorated bar area with bits of old car, road signs, and music memorabilia hanging from the ceiling. There was a stage where they have live music some days of the week. They also hold events and workshops for the budding musician where you can learn blues guitar!
Continuing our search for authentic Americana music, we paid a visit to the famous Ground Zero Blues Club. The club is owned by Morgan Freeman, and also by the town Mayor, Bill Luckett, who we met on the night and was very welcoming! We ordered some fried okra and settled in for a night watching the fantastic Heavy Suga and The Sweet Tones (pictured above). After they got off stage they came and had a chat with us which was really nice of them, we told them that our next stop was New Orleans and they gave us some travelling advice for that part of the world - 'don't eat any free chocolate' ???
Before we left Clarksdale we had to make a quick photo stop at the blues crossroads on Highway 61. This is where it is alleged that the famous blues musician, Robert Johnson, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical genius! We then headed for the Delta Blues Museum which is packed to the brim with musical history and made a lovely end to this part of the trip!
In New Orleans they have a saying - 'Let The Good Times Roll', and they certainly live up to this! It seems like there's a party every night in New Orleans! Our first day was spent exploring Mardi Gras World and learning about this absolutely bonkers annual tradition. So much work goes into the floats it is incredible. I had mixed feelings about this as it is a tradition that really seems to bring everyone together, and certainly makes up a big part of the cultural history of New Orleans. I particularly loved the tradition of baking King Cake. Each cake has a little doll hidden somewhere in it, and if you pick the slice with the doll, you have to throw the next party! On the other hand, the floats, the polystyrene, the plastic beads, cups, and trinkets thrown out every year, seemed a little wasteful!
Anyway, we had a great time there, and afterwards we headed to the 'French Quarter', the oldest area of the city. Here we grabbed some lunch at Pere Antoines. Of course we had to try the local favourites so Gumbo, Jambalaya and Creoles all round! On our walk around the French Quarter there seemed to be a new Jazz band on every corner. It really had such a lovely feel. Some streets were rammed with people dancing and singing along! We had been told we should try Beignets (basically square French doughnuts) from the famous Cafe Du Monde, but the queue was super long so we gave up on that idea. Luckily we found some at a smaller cafe with the added bonus of a guitarist playing some sweet jazz while we ate!
We heard a distillery tour was a good idea, so we booked a tour of 'The New Orleans Old Rum Distillery'. Their rum is apparently awarded as the best in the world. We highly recommend it. The rum was great and the guy taking the tour was incredibly knowledgeable and drove a bus to pick us all up and drop us off from the main part of town!
We hadn't heard any music for a couple of hours, so then it was time to hit Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter, probably the busiest street and a massive draw for tourists as it has loads of bars! We went to BB Kings Blues Club and heard one of the most amazing rhythm and blues bands while we had drinks. Loads of people were up and dancing, but being reserved Brits we abstained. Luckily we had a table front and centre so could see everything that was going on!
Afterwards we headed on to the The Spotted Cat. Another place "you must visit", but everyone else must have had the same memo as it was absolutely jam packed, so we didn't stay there for very long. There was a little art market going on just outside (yes at night!) so we wandered around and took a peek at all the local artist's work before heading home.
On our last day in New Orleans we decided that being in Louisiana, we just had to check out a swamp tour! Our tour guide was very funny and we saw loads of animals including alligators, turtles, and pelicans. The guide brought out a baby alligator for people to hold, but Chris and I weren't sure about this as he had his little mouth taped shut and he didn't look very happy. After that we found a restaurant that had loads of vegetarian options called The Green Goddess, it was pretty yummy so definitely a good place to go if you're a veggie and visiting New Orleans! Our Uber driver had told us there was a Gumbo festival being held in one of the parks, so we decided to check that out, and guess what... there was more live music! Later we stopped at a couple of bars, one playing soul/jazz, and then finally ended up at Maison that had a traditional jazz band called Smoking Time Jazz Club playing. Our friends ordered some 'gator bites', and I had a rather delicious cocktail to end the holiday!
It was an amazing trip, the only thing I would have changed was having a bit more time in each location. We only had 10 days in total, so once the driving was taken into consideration it was really a whistle stop tour! I could have easily spent a week in Nashville or New Orleans. Oh well, hopefully we'll get back there one day!
American Road Trip Top Tips
So here are my top tips for your American road trip.
- Speak to taxi drivers, waiters, tour guides on the best things to see. Ask them about all the little gems that you might miss in all that wonderful noise. There is so much to see and do.
- Relax and take it in - don't go nuts trying to get everything done. You never will when you're somewhere like New Orleans or Nashville.
- Make sure your camera works - ours broke on the first day of Nashville - booooo!
- Try and schedule stuff in, and use a site like Trip Advisor to add some must do stops.
- Check local gig listings. We missed Stevie Nicks in Nashville...
- Be brave and check out the local delicacies and drinks - gumbo, creoles, beignets were all delicious.
- Do something historical early - the country music hall of fame gave us a good insight into the world of country music which prepped us for an evening of fun and gave us things to look out for on the rest of the trip.
American Themed Bands
Americana style music seems to be growing more and more popular in the UK as well, so it is only natural that it is going to become a big trend in the wedding industry. We've gradually been adding more Americana bands to our books, inspired by our trip, so if you happen to be organising an event or party, and are looking for something a little bit different from all of the usual ‘party bands’, then this could be the twist that’s perfect for you! There is also a wealth of styles of American music, so you are likely to be spoilt for choice, and are bound to find the right act for you! If you want to see some of our best Americana acts then you can see them all here.
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The Flyaways are a highly experienced, talented, and super energetic party and wedding band. They've cut their teeth in clubs and pubs around London and really know how to get a crowd moving. Check out their folk and electric styles....