A Southern Road Trip through Rock & Roll Country

Take a road trip to the deep south and see where Elvis lived, buy records from Jack White, or visit Johnny Cash’s grave. Your kids can catch up on a century of rock and roll history with a car full of well-themed tunes as you drive through Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi on the hunt for the greatest moments in American music history.

First Thing’s First

Start your trip with The Great Twenty-Eight, an essential best-of album to introduce your kids to a classic fret from rock and roll legend Chuck Berry.

Plan this trip strategically, because you’ll be starting in St. Louis on the third Wednesday of the month. It’s on this auspicious date, every month, that the legendary fret-tickler took center stage at Blueberry Hill for some 200 shows. Book tickets for some awesome musical numbers and tell “Johnny” he’d better “B. Goode” on the car ride if he wants to see the show!

After the show, take a load off at one of the city's many historic hotels. The Chase Park Plaza will wow you with its gorgeous Art Deco architecture and its storied past with legends from Big Bands to crooners taking the center stage in the hotel's club. The next morning, grab your breakfast before hopping in the car.

Nashville or Bust

Country music’s home in Nashville is your next stop. You’ve got plenty of time to prepare the kids during the four-and-a-half hour road trip. Essential listening for the journey includes old-time country greats Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and the Carter family. Make your way into the modern era with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, and Brad Paisley.

Once you’ve arrived in Nashville, head for Music Row on 16th and 17th Avenue, southwest of Downtown. Explore historic recording studios like Studio B, radio stations, and music shops. For country, gospel, and Christian music, this is ground zero.

Bed down at a nearby boutique hotel like Hotel Indigo, where you'll be close to Nashville’s honky-tonks, Printer’s Alley and The Ryman, but located a stone's throw away from the hustle and bustle for a good night's sleep. If you're looking for something that feels more like a vacation rental than a hotel, then check out Music City Loft. The rooms are truly lofts with kitchen, laundry, and living spaces. Rooms are named after musical legends and can fit up to 6 people.

Country music’s most legendary site, the Grand Ole Opry, is the place where country stars are born and bred. Take a backstage tour and learn all about the stars that made the Opry famous – the ones you’ve been listening to. See a show at the Opry or its sister venue, Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Opry from the 1940’s until the 1970’s.

It’s not just country that finds its home in Nashville though. White Stripes frontman Jack White launched a record label that opened a brick-and-mortar storefront in Nashville in 2009; Third Man Records, which houses a recording studio, record store, and novelty shop, is a paradise for music lovers of all ages. Stock up on a “Seven Nation Army” of new music from Mr. White and don’t forget to grab some tunes from the man in black for your next stop.


Life and Death of the Man in Black

Make the half-hour pilgrimage outside of Nashville to Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Hendersonville, where Johnny Cash now “Walks the Line” alongside his beloved June Carter Cash, another country music legend. Circle the cemetery to find traces of other country music greats too.

But there’s no reason to dwell in the “Ring of Fire”: cross back over to the land of the living and get back on the road. It’s a four-hour journey to Dyess, Arkansas, where you’ll find Johnny Cash’s childhood home. The Dyess Colony, the “projects” of the south during the recovery from the Great Depression, was a resettlement colony for poor Arkansas families like Cash’s. Today, Cash’s childhood home accepts tour groups and educates young ones about a particularly hard time in American history too.

From here, it’s only a 45-minute journey back across the border and into Memphis, perhaps the true seat of rock and roll greatness. Stay Downtown at the Residence Inn, where you can spread out in a spacious one- or two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen, free Wi-Fi, and a pool for the kids. Hot breakfast is included, and the hotel’s complimentary grocery shopping service does the practical stuff while you’re out exploring.

Rock Legacy in Memphis

Speaking of exploring, cruise through Beale Street, a national historic landmark dedicated to the history of the blues, which began right here. Famous former residents include B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Louis Armstrong, among the many greats who had the Beale Street Blues. Stop by the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum to learn more about the sounds of the corridor.

While the blues might have set the precedent for what would become rock music, it was artists like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins who added the “roll” at Sun Studio, where visionary producer Sam Phillips recorded those first rock and roll legends in the 1950’s. Take a tour and get the inside scoop – children 11 and under get in for free. Just don’t anybody step on the Blue Suede Shoes.

Rock and roll was, in turn, the forerunner to soul music, as memorialized at the Stax Museum.

Inspired by Phillips, Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton started their own studio: Stax. After struggling first as a record store, they eventually recorded stars like Otis Redding, the Mar-Keys, and some real soul legends. Find out more about this little recording shop that gave rise to the Memphis soul sound at the museum when you hop aboard the soul train.

Elvis: Need We Say More?

And finally, no trip to Memphis would be complete without a tour of Graceland, the Memphis mansion of the King himself. It’s here that the legends, the life, the legacy, and even the death of Presley are memorialized. As the story goes, it was Elvis’ dream to buy a nice house for his parents, and Graceland became a source of much family pride after his rise to fame. For superfans, staying at the Heartbreak Hotel (or, ahem… the Graceland Guest House or RV park) will complete the tour – but no “Hound Dogs” allowed!

Your kids must be wondering what Elvis’s life was like before Graceland, so pop in the Jailhouse Rock and take a drive. Two hours south sends you to Tupelo, Mississippi, proudly known as the Birthplace of Elvis, with tours and exhibits to boot.

You can walk the trail of a legend by stepping into his boyhood house, the country church where he first sang “Amazing Grace” and fill in the details at the “story wall” with an illustrated narrative of the icon’s life. And just to avoid any “Suspicious Minds”, you might as well hit the gift shop so the kids won’t have a “Blue Christmas” once they leave Elvisland.

Planning on a musical Southern road trip with the family? What iconic spots will you be hitting up?

Cover image by aceshot1 / Shutterstock.com

Tags : travel   St. Louis   Nashville   Memphis   road trip   

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