Music is such an integral part of the American culture. The artistic talent that is propagated by the US is well renowned and evidence of a long history where music was the adhesive of a community. Each state harbouring their own eclectic mix of sounds, superstars and musical influences.
When you think of country music in America you are drawn to the iconic city of Nashville. I arrived in this hub of honky tonk and was greeted with the warm sunshine and blue skies that you always hope for when camping. This was going to be a fly by visit for me. I only had 24 hours in the iconic city and I wanted to make the most of it, because music is something that brings great joy in my life. While country is not my first choice genre, I still appreciate the lyrical sensitivity in the music.
There are a number of daytime activities available, like the Johnny Cash museum and Grand Old Oprey that share the stories of the region. However, I had been told that Nashville is best to see after the sun sets, as this is where musical pulse of the county kicks in to gear and is a sight to behold. This was my target. The night to end all nights. But with so many options, what do you do?
Food first, music, and a little boogie on the D-floor.
Lucky for me, I was staying at the KOA camping ground, and they provided a very affordable shuttle right into the centre of downtown Nashville, and a late night service home. So I donned my disco shoes, and red lippy, put on my favourite party dress and headed into town. First stop, Wild Horse Saloon. Don't be misled by the name, this is not a Gentleman's Club but world renowned live music venue for talented country music stars. It is also home to some serious southern culinary classics, like brisket, cheesy grits and a particular favourite, deep fried Gerkens.
While your tastebuds are having foodgasms, your ears are being serenade by the milky sounds coming live band on the stage. The sensory explosion leaves you entirely satisfied, and then you hear it....the call to the dance floor. In America's south, it is a standard that you know how to line dance. In these parts babies learn the boot scooting ways before they even know the spelling of their name. A single call and the restaurant immediately vacates their chairs and head for the prime positions on the cordoned off dance floor. On the stage is a single lady who is clearly the most knowledgable in the ways of line dancing. Dressed in her denim skirt, and neatly polished cowboy boots, when she began talking the whole room listened. Like the oracle of dance, she walked the uninitiated through the steps of the dance before unleashing the music. I appreciated this. My skills at dancing resemble something of a drunk giraffe wearing roller-skates, but when you are in Nashville, you dosey doe with the rest of the crowd. After a few hours of scooting my boots it came time to head for our next point...karaoke. America is well renowned for its culture support of the development of confident, musically talented individuals, and this not more evident than when you go to a Kareoke bar. Just approaching the entrance of the Wannabe's Kareoke Bar I could hear the power ballad of Brian Adams being pumped out into the street by a local singer. Young and old, they congregate and challenge each other to a musical duel, like some scene out of West Side Story. It is both impressive and slightly surreal, as not all of the performers are superb singers. But they don't seem to care, and more often than not, they are unaware of their talent deficiency.
It did't seem long until we were off to the dance floor to 'shake what my mama gave me', and test the endurance of my feet. As the DJ span the next set I looked forward to my next musical extravaganza....Memphis.
Memphis, the heart of blues and the birthplace of Elvis Presley, is a rugged and traumatised city that reflects more of unpolished gem than a goldmine of talent. It is easy to see how Blues music would thrive in this environment with the evidence of hardship visible in the streets.
No sooner had I arrived before I was stepping over the threshold of musical royalty. Graceland, the estate of the Presley family, is also a memorial of the life and musical genius of Elvis. Walking through the rooms where the King himself had shared intimate moments with his family, whilst also listening to audio recordings that shared stories from his friends and close companions, i felt like i was transported back to a different time where Elvis lived. The echo of Elvis' songs filled the corridors as I passed through each of the uniquely crafted rooms decorated the best of the 70's decor.
While the visit to Graceland comes with it a multitude of tourist demerits (expensive, commercial, and crowded), the experience helped to craft a more human side to the god like figure of Elvis that has been projected worldwide.
Next was Sun Studios, the quaint recording studios that had been the epicentre for the changing the face of music in the 60's. Providing a platform for the African American musicians, to record and distribute their talent to radio stations, Sun Studios was a critical element in the maturity of Blues music.
Sam Phillips, the producer behind Sun Studios, was so committed to finding a 'new sound' that he invested all his worldly possessions into founding the studios. Despite a few setbacks he persevered to find a unique sound, and in doing so uncovered a star who self proclaimed, 'I don't sound like anyone''.
Elvis' statement is so profound. Thinking about the current manufactured music industry churning out hit after hit. How many of the artists that frequent our playlists can confidently claim that they are a unique sound?
I mulled over this thought while refuelling on some BBQ Ribs at Capital barbecue before hitting Beale street for some refreshing live music.
Leaving behind the blues and soul of Memphis i headed to the jazz capital of New Orleans. Music here is part of the very fabric of the city. You can't even walk the street without encountering the Bourbon Poet, a bicycle riding lyricist that freestyles rhymes in a creative technique to pick up tips and ladies.
New Orleans is the home of the creators of a new sound of Jazz. New Orleans has experienced a tumultuous history of slavery, disempowerment and natural disasters. This challenging history is emulated in the chaotic cacophony of melodies that is so often seen in Jazz performances. It's unique sound could be described as well a beautiful blend of European articulation and Creole soul blended into a musical sound. Watching live artists harmonise their creative expression in front of an audience, taming an erratic mixture of notes into a hypnotic interconnected flow of melody, is just spectacular.
Music runs through the veins of America's south. It is the lifeblood and soul of this country. You should come and experience it for yourself!