The music. The foot-tapping, soul-saving kind. Walk in the footsteps of legends, discover up-and-comers and watch songwriters on porches, stages and one-of-a-kind music venues. Every beat, every chord, every lyric holds The Soundtrack of America.
Discover the state’s rich musical heritage and artistic roots with a road trip on the Tennessee Music Pathways. Explore the history and creative culture of the genres that call Tennessee home, including rock, blues, soul, R&B, country, bluegrass and gospel. The interactive website makes it easy to create customizable driving tours specific to a geographic regions, musical category or type of attraction; such as museums, venues and festivals.
Grab your Ken Burns’ Country Music Passport to visit places inspired by the music in his PBS documentary. Explore spots where Tennessee’s legends first found their sound, discovered soul and changed the world. Get stamps, earn exclusive discounts, souvenirs and prizes along the way.
Visit the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s home, Graceland, from Elvis’ humble beginnings through his rise to superstardom. The entertainment complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, houses the largest and most comprehensive Elvis museum in the world. Listen to live music at the venue Soundstage at Graceland. Stand in the same spot Elvis first recorded at Sun Studio. Often regarded as “the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll,” Sun Studio launched Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and B.B. King. Continue the musical journey at the site of the original Stax Records. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music celebrates the music of soul icons such as Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and more.
Relive the legacy of music greats like B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie and Muddy Waters while exploring Beale Street, a historic center for jazz, blues and rock enthusiasts. Explore the district’s more than 25 bars, clubs and restaurants. Every year, the Beale Street Music Festival brings together an eclectic mix of bands and solo artists to four stages each May for a series of unforgettable performances, while the nearby Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum brings history to life.
More than 50 free concerts are held each summer at the iconic Levitt Shell in Overton Park. Built as a WPA project in 1936, the clam shell-shaped Levitt played host to one of Elvis Presley’s first concerts in 1954 and currently hosts the best in rock, Americana, jazz and the blues each season. The city's largest historic district, Cooper-Young, welcomes thousands and more than 400 artisans from around the country in September to share their art. Performances range in sound from R&B to reggae to pop and gospel. Grab a photo op at the famous murals in Memphis, like The Sound of Memphis.
In Brownsville, the Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School showcases the Nutbush, Tennessee native and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s musical journey, legacy, music and worldwide impact. There, fans can also visit legendary blues crooner Sleepy John Estes’ home. Live blues, music, a cruise-in, deep-fried barbecue eating contest, arts and crafts and a corvette show are all on tap each May at the Exit 56 Blues Fest.
Tour the Legends of Tennessee Music Museum in Jackson for a rich mixture of country music, rock ‘n’ roll and blues. Jackson was the site of the first Hard Rock Café in America. Grab a blanket and celebrate the musical legacy of the region with live performances at Jackson’s Amphitheater at the Market (AMP). About 75 miles west of Nashville, visit Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills. Stroll through the museum chronicling the life and legend of one of the biggest stars in country music, known for hits like “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Travel to Nashville to witness the unparalleled music scene. The Ryman Auditorium, known as “The Mother Church of Country Music,” is considered one of the best venues to see live music. Acoustics echo off church pews and light streams through stained-glass windows. The Ryman was the early home of the Grand Ole Opry, and it became the birthplace of bluegrass when banjo player Earl Scruggs joined guitarist and singer Bill Monroe onstage in 1945. Now, artists from all genres from R&B to rock, folk, soul, country and Americana take the hallowed stage. At the Grand Ole Opry, superstars like Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire grace the stage with up-and-comers. Be sure to take the backstage tour.
Tour 350,000 square feet of state-of-the-art galleries, archival storage, educational classrooms, exhibits, CMA Theater and the working legendary letterpress shop Hatch Show Print at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The tour offers a bus visit to Music Row and Historic RCA Studio B, Nashville’s oldest recording studio and home to hits like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and 250 hits by Elvis Presley. Other stories and must-see visits include the Patsy Cline Museum, Johnny Cash Museum and Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.
Music City is a multi-genre oasis for musicians and fans of live music, from Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and other honky-tonks and venues in Broadway’s historic district to the legendary Bluebird Cafe, a singer-songwriter haven and listening room. The Exit/In opened in 1971 and is one of the nation’s most venerable, historic music venues. Other local favorites include Marathon Music Works, Jack White’s Third Man Records, Mercy Lounge, 3rd & Lindsley and more. Browse through vinyl and take home a record from Grimey’s Record Shop.
Converge on Nashville for world-renowned festivals throughout the year include CMA Music Festival, Americana Music Festival and Tin Pan South, the largest songwriting festival in the world. In nearby Franklin, a diverse, yet renowned line-up of rock-and roll, alt-country, bluegrass, jazz, indie, gospel and other artists take the stages at Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival in September. In June, The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester is a 100-acre entertainment village buzzing with activities, a classic arcade, on-site cinema, silent disco, comedy club and some of the world’s hottest musicians taking the stage.
In East Tennessee, The Caverns in Pelham is home of the Emmy-winning PBS television series, Bluegrass Underground. Guests can revel in the magical cave system and the prehistoric venue’s natural acoustics for a bucket list experience. Nearby, singer-songwriters share the stories behind the tunes with live music every weekend at Jim Oliver’s Smoke House Restaurant.
In Chattanooga, the 1920s “picture palace,” Tivoli Theatre, is now a community showplace. The Tivoli is the home of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association and welcomes blues, jazz, classical, dance, opera, the best of Broadway and national headliners like Ben Folds and The Avett Brothers. At The Foundry, fans will find live music from acts across the region in an intimate setting. Learn about the “Empress of the Blues” and African-American history with exhibits on civil rights, jazz and local figures at Bessie Smith Cultural Center. A wide variety of artists covering almost every music genre perform on the waterfront over eight days during the annual Riverbend Music Festival.
Knoxville is a dynamically music city, remarkable for its part in the development of country music, jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. The Cradle of Country Music Walking Tour explains Knoxville’s ties to Hank Williams, Elvis Presley Dolly Parton, Roy Acuff and others. It also highlights the stories of artists featured in Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary. The historic Bijou Theatre is a Knoxville treasure, preserved for generations of artists to perform on stage. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Tennessee Theatre, originally built as a 1920s movie palace. offers classical music, vintage films, dance, drama and stellar performances. Don’t miss the WDVX Blue Plate Special’s live radio show weekdays at noon from Visit Knoxville. Dive for vinyl at the local record store Wild Honey Records. In March, the Big Ears Festival is a weekend celebrating Knoxville’s historic theaters, nightclubs, churches, museums and outdoor spaces with concerts, discussions, interactive workshops, film screenings, surprise collaborations and artistic collisions.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol explores the history of the 1927 Bristol Sessions which launched the careers of Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family and others. The Paramount Center for the Arts, once a gilded 1930s music palace, serves as a stage for world renowned artists as well as for local arts and civic organizations. The city also hosts the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, an annual festival celebrating roots music. In nearby Johnson City, take in a show at the Down Home, a mecca for music lovers and listen room for songwriters.
Learn about the life and legacy of Tennessee native Dolly Parton at the Chasing Rainbows Museum, see costumes and a replica of her childhood home at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. Born in a one-room cabin in Sevierville, Dolly Parton went from humble beginnings to country music superstardom. A statue in her hometown is a tribute to her success. A weekend of barbecue, family fun and fantastic bluegrass are on tap at Sevierville’s Bloomin’ Barbecue and Bluegrass Festival. Hear original songs at the annual Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival in Gatlinburg.
For more Tennessee music sites, venues and more, visit www.tnvacation.com/experiences/music.