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March 13, 2008 | 12:00 a.m. CST
To dance out of town with those blue suede shoes, there’s only one place to travel this spring: Tennessee, the home of country and rock ’n’ roll.
Just 433 miles, seven hours and about nine plays of Paul Simon’s Graceland from Columbia, Nashville still pulses with the rhythm of the music legends who gave the city its country swing. Head for the Grand Ole Opry Entertainment Complex, which includes Ryman Auditorium, the Opry Museum and country’s most famous stage, the Opry House. That worn stage has supported the dusty boots of such legends as Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Garth Brooks. Go on a tour of the house, see the museum, and stay for a show.
As Willie Nelson sang, “Happiness is Next Door,” or in this case, 12 miles down the road at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Travel back in time with the Sing Me Back Home exhibit — a walk through the history of country music — and the Hall of Fame Rotunda, which highlights country music mavericks.
The next stop on the tour is Memphis. Take those honky-tonk blues farther south by following the footsteps of the stars toward Honky Tonk Row in downtown Memphis. The strip of bars along Broadway includes famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, where Willie Nelson got his songwriting start in the 1960s. Two-step to any of the bars for live music, which usually continues through lunch and straight into the wee hours of the morning.
Next, walk the line about a mile from downtown to find Sun Studios. Stroll down the same path Elvis and his friends took as they shuffled nervously into the recording studio to audition for the first time. “You’re standing there with the same ceiling, same tiles, same room that all the original artists came to record in,” says John Schorr, president and general manager of Sun Studios. “It’s got an ambience that is hard to put into words.”
Follow Elvis home by visiting his mansion, Graceland, where fans can take a tour through The King’s wardrobe, shop for Elvis attire and see all kinds of exclusive exhibits.
Sick of Elvis-y attractions? The Stax Museum of Soul, built on the former location of Stax Records and the only soul museum in the world, lets visitors “Twist and Shout” with Booker T. & the MG’s while enjoying more than 2,000 interactive exhibits. But to find a whole lot of shaking going on, head to Beale Street, a string of highly acclaimed theaters and bars, for a night of live rock and blues music.
A 90-minute drive from Memphis will get blues fans to Clarksdale, Miss. Here, the style of the Delta blues, which usually features a solo performer with a slide guitar, was born. Learn all about blues history and legends such as Robert Johnson at the Delta Blues Museum. Get that “Mojo Working” inside what’s left of Muddy Waters’ childhood home, and see a guitar made from a piece of his house. To really understand the blues, come Wednesday through Saturday, and stay for a live music performance at one of the nearby bars in the evening, such as Ground Zero, owned by actor Morgan Freeman.
Unfortunately, that’s the end of this music tour of Tennessee. But “That’s All right, Mamma.” There’s time to jam to Graceland all the way home.