From Wild Rose to A Star is Born, there have been a flurry of movies released recently about country music, not to mention the country-style twang of various major music artists more recent work. From Lady Gaga’s Joanne, Beyonce’s Daddy Lessons and who could forget the global smash hit that was Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road, it’s safe to say country music is having a bit of a moment. If you too have been caught up in the Yeehaw Agenda, and feel like donning a Stetson in the US south, here are some grooving destinations for you.
Known as the country music capital of the world, Nashville is a true pilgrimage place for anyone that loves country, and even those who just love live music in general. With the Country Music Hall of Fame, the iconic Grand Ole Opry music hall and the CMA Music Festival, Nashville is a proud displayer of its musical heritage. Away from the museums and the tours however, the best way to experience Nashville is simply to visit Lower Broadway, a buzzing street in the downtown, full of honky-tonk music bars. Boasting incredible talent from all over the world every night of the week, Lower Broadway is a guaranteed good time in good company.
With its own proud country music scene, distinct from the Tennessee sound, Texas is packed with live music venues and quality Texan musicians. From the Broken Spoke (known as the “last true Texas dance hall”, to the Continental Club, you can experience live country music as it was meant to be heard. To fully immerse yourself, sign on to a Texas Two-Step lesson at the Broken Spoke, and let your hair down dancing with others. Live music in Austin is certainly not reserved for music halls however, and you may be surprised to see musicians everywhere, from city council meetings to grocery stores! Time your visit to fall alongside one of the cities popular music festivals, and don’t be afraid to throw yourself in, the Texan way.
To discover the sound of Austin's homegrown country music stars, check out this Spotify playlist:
Another live music capital, Branson is not to be forgotten on the trail of quality cities for spectacular shows. Forget dingy music bars, Branson goes all out with its huge choreographed stage spectaculars. Check out Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction, for a high-spirited show featuring 32 horses and talented riders, all served alongside a four-course feast. Alternatively, experience the critically acclaimed ‘Hughes Music Show’, voted “Live Music Show of the Year” complete with 50 singers, dancers and musicians. If showstopping spectaculars are the shows for you, Branson is certainly the place to be.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Speaking of showstopping spectaculars, how about a 150-acre theme park devoted to and set up by country music’s sovereign herself, Dolly Parton? Believe it or not “Dollywood” really exists, and can be found in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. With roller coasters, water parks and of course, live entertainment, a trip to Dollywood is a music lovers Disneyland, and an absolute must for anyone who worships Dolly. With stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains and a variety of charming hotels and adventure opportunities, Pigeon Forge is a perfect introduction to southern scenery and well-balanced destination for all the family.
Elsewhere in Tennessee, Memphis has a long legacy of producing some of the best musicians of all time. From B.B. King, to Johnny Cash and of course, Elvis Presley, it’s easy to see why this city inspired such incredible music. With its colourful downtown streets and fading LED lights, the city is like a time portal into the swinging sixties and seventies, and has no plans of slowing down. Blues bars and late-night restaurants pack out as the sun goes down, spilling into the streets and filling the warm air with an exciting buzz. With a complex history, rooted in civil rights struggles and African American liberation, downtown areas such as Beale Street are bursting with history, music having a highly important role in articulating struggle and political protest. Join a tour to hear more about Memphis’s diverse and fascinating history, before heading down to Beale Street in the evening, to hear its legacy in the eclectic music scene of today.
Not just reserved for the American south, country music has had its influence all across the US. Known as ‘Nashville West’, Bakersfield developed its own distinct form of country music in the 1950s and 60s. Stars like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard had their start in Bakersfield, and developed their sound in the various honky-tonk bars you can still find today. Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace is perhaps the jewel of the town, a restaurant, museum and music venue full of memorabilia from Owen’s life as well as a space for some of the country’s top music stars to come and perform. The Kern County Museum is also a great place to explore this towns interesting history with country music.
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Our final destination is not a town but a highway, stretching all the way across the nation from Chicago in the East to Los Angeles in the West. This road is the most famous in America, and has spawned a legacy of endless cultural meanings and references, particularly in country music. If there was ever a car journey to accompany the moody tunes of country classics, it would be the dusty open expanse of Route 66. Get your friends together, pile into a car and strap in for a mid-Western adventure, encountering the sublime expanses of central America, and the rural communities that still live along this historic route.