After an amazing night out on Beale Street we started the last day in Memphis with some more musical history at the fascinating STAX Museum of American Soul Music. It used to be a recording studio and has lots of memorabilia to look at. We’ve really enjoyed the museums so far because they tend to start with a really good video to set the scene, perfect for people like me who don’t know much about the music genres we have been learning about.
We finished there and headed back on to the highway to Tupelo, Elvis’s birthplace and hometown. Tupelo is sort of on the way to Nashville but heading more south, about 90 minutes from Memphis. We thought we would go there for lunch, see where Elvis was born and then continue on to Nashville, another 4 hours in the car.
We arrived at 1pm and went straight to Johnnie’s Drive In, a fantastic diner where Elvis used to have a cheeseburger and a coke. Of course, we all ordered exactly the same and sat outside in the shade. Unbelievably on the next table was Guy Harris, a local historian and childhood friend of Elvis. He came over to sit with us and whipped out his photo albums to show us some pictures of him and Elvis growing up. at first I was a bit dubious – you can imagine there are plenty of Elvis’s “friends” hanging around downtown Tupelo but Guy really is the real deal. When we went to Elvis’s birthplace, there is a big visitor centre and a quote from Guy on the wall. It was great to meet him and a lovely stop from lunch.
We continued on to Nashville and arrived at around 7pm after a toilet stop at Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen (country music star). We were staying near the Grand Ole Opry in Music Valley but it was quite far out from downtown so we did a quick turn around and got the shuttle at 8pm for our night out on Nashville’s main street, Broadway. We went straight to Robert’s Western World, where you can buy cowboy boots, have a beer and get something to eat while watching the band. When Nashvillians go on a night out, they call it honky tonkin’ and we did our best to fit in but the culture is very different to where we’ve been so far. Luckily we had a table so we could observe the goings on. It was a good night out but I preferred Memphis.
The next morning we drove into town and parked for the day. It was Sunday so everything was quiter and we started at the Ryman Auditorium, the original site of the Grand Ole Opry. The theatre was a huge influence on many musicians in the South through it radio show, streaming live music every week. It’s a major stop on the music tour and was great. It started with a great video and then we walked around looking at the exhibits and the stage. Michelle and Mike also recorded a song in the recording studio – it was brilliant!
We walked a couple of blocks in the searing heat to the Country Music Hall of Fame, another museum with really interesting exhibits and stories of artists throughout the last couple of hundred years. There was a special section on Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, which was very good and we saw lots of the show outfits, Elvis’s gold piano, Issac Hayes’s Cadillac and more.
We had lunch at Pub 5, a trendy little restaurant round the corner and drove to Third Man Record, a working studio founded by Jack White. You can’t go in the studio but they have a fantastic gift shop.
After a freshen up at the hotel we headed back out and went for a lovely dinner at Demo’s Restaurants on Commerce Street. It was great, especially as we were all craving something that hadn’t been fried and it was lovely to drink wine rather than Bud Light out of a plastic cup.
The next day we were driving to Pigeon Forge in the Great Smoky Mountains, so before we headed down the highway we spent the morning at Franklin. The Carnton Plantation is full of history and was the site of a Confederate field hospital in the Battle of Franklin during the Civil War in the 1860s. We had a guided tour around the house and saw where hundreds of soldiers were treated – pools of dried blood can still be seen on the floor where the doctors operated by the windows (no photography allowed so I don’t have pictures). The site also has a smokehouse, a cemetery and a lovely garden.
Next stop, Dollywood!