I get my addictions from my dad.
Neither of us do things by halves. If we find something we love, we’re either all in, 100%, or we just don’t care.
There was the time I developed an obsession with LOST and skipped three weeks of lectures at college because I couldn’t tear myself away from my laptop. The time I fell in love with Pink Floyd and spent thousands of pounds buying rare vinyls and following touring band members around the world. The time I realised that having a skincare and makeup routine stops my panic attacks, so spent a serious chunk of my book royalties at Sephora. Oh, and the time I fell in love with travel and spent the past five years exploring the world. Cough.
And my dad is exactly the same.
His obsessions, though? They revolve around listening to music at every possible opportunity, collecting vinyl for his jukebox, and gazing lovingly at said jukebox.
So naturally, when his 60th birthday rolled around, my family all pulled together to plan a kickass music-themed birthday trip for him. We all managed to score a couple of weeks off work, then led him to his business class seat and whisked him away on a one-way ticket to New Orleans.
It was time to get our music on.
And what a great trip we had. Our two weeks were spent travelling around the American South, catching great live music, visiting fantastic museums, wandering around fun cities, and eating so. much. food.
I’ve got a ton of posts coming up over the next few weeks about our trip, but for now, enjoy this overview of my new favourite region of the United States.
New Orleans Nights on Frenchmen Street
New Orleans: what a pleasant surprise!
I’ll be honest with you, despite knowing so many people who have fallen in love with the Big Easy, I wasn’t expecting it to be my jam. I thought it’d be loud and brash and full of partiers and, well, that’s just not my kind of scene.
And man, was I wrong.
I loved New Orleans! I loved the friendly locals, the gorgeous architecture, the music spilling out from every door, the amazing food scene… and on Frenchmen Street, I really fell in love. That was where we found the New Orleans that was my dad’s idea of heaven.
So every night, we fled Bourbon Street for Frenchmen, heading for burgers and cocktails at Port of Call, then bar-hopped our way down the street, stopping anywhere with guitars and harmonicas (and in one case, tapdancing, pictured above) ringing out into the night.
Alligator-Spotting on a Louisiana Swamp Tour
Of course, our trip through the South couldn’t be just about the music!
Because then my mum and sister would have been really bored.
On the second day of our trip, we doused ourselves in bug spray and headed over to Slidell for a two-hour bayou experience around Honey Island Swamp.
And who knew that swamps could be so beautiful? I couldn’t get enough of the murky, chocolate-brown water, the eerie cypress trees dangling overhead, and the dangerous wildlife lurking in the water. We were fortunate enough to spot multiple alligators and snakes on our trip, with a particular highlight being the eight-foot long alligator that dragged itself out of the water to a path mere metres from our boat.
A Boozy Introduction to the New Orlean’s History
My birthday present to my dad was signing the entire family up for a cocktail tour around New Orleans, which aims to teach you about the city’s history through its most famous drinks.
And it was just as fun as it sounds.
This was one of my favourite activities in New Orleans, and I loved getting to check out some amazing, quirky bars (the one pictured above had a circular bar that rotates like a carousel!), try some interesting cocktails, and learn about how alcohol had such a big influence on the city.
The Long Drive Across Mississippi
It wouldn’t be a road trip without a really long day of driving, and that took place in Mississippi for us.
And guys, did we screw up with this. Rather than doing our research and realising we could make our way from New Orleans to Memphis via highway 61, otherwise known as the Blues Highway, the road where people like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf grew up beside, we took the quickest route Google Maps showed us and ended up with an incredibly boring drive instead.
If I could do this trip again, I’d choose to work in an overnight stay in Clarksdale, so that we could do the route justice.
Ribs, Ribs, and Even More Ribs in Memphis
After our first night in Memphis, my entire family swore we would never eat ribs outside of Memphis again. Nothing could ever come close!
So we decided to make the most of our time in the city and had ribs for practically every meal we could. My favourite ones were at Blues City Cafe, with my meal at B.B. King’s Blues Club coming in at a close second.
Getting Our Tourist On at Graceland
Yep, we did it. We went to Graceland.
And it was just as, um… unique as I’d expected. But Elvis runs in the blood of the Juliffs so there was a deeper meaning in visiting. My dad’s mum was crazy about him and ran his UK fan club for many, many years. My dad was brought up on Elvis and his childhood home had always been full of rare records and signed memorabilia from The King.
There’s that Juliff obsession again.
So I can’t mock our visit too much. It was interesting, it was tacky, and, at times, it was sad. And there were a lot of crazy Elvis fans in our midst.
Sun Studio for Even More Elvis
I firmly believe that an enthusiastic tour guide can make the most boring subject fascinating, and we definitely lucked out with our guide at Sun Studio. Her passion for music was infectious, and she had us all in the palm of her hand as she spoke about the amazing list of artists who had recorded here, took us around the recording studio, let us fondle Elvis’ microphone, and played us some unheard recordings from impromptu jam sessions that had been held there by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.
Falling in Love With Beale Street
I realise that hanging out on Beale Street for the vast majority of our time in Memphis was probably the most touristy thing we could have done, but hey, it was a lot of fun. And also, we’re tourists.
I loved the bright flashing lights, the blues music ringing out from every bar, the stores selling vinyl and guitars, and the ribs, of course. What a fun place to hang out!
Country Music Everything in Nashville
By this point, we’d experienced the heart of jazz, blues, and rock and roll in New Orleans and Memphis, and it was now time to get our country on in Nashville.
And it was at the Country Music Hall of Fame that I discovered that, 1) I have no idea what country music actually is and it definitely isn’t Carrie Underwood or Florida Georgia Line, and 2) I don’t really like country music.
That wasn’t a huge success and honestly, Dave and I spent a vast amount of our time at the Hall of Fame staring at exhibits of people we’d never heard of. And we then quickly shot down our idea of an evening at the Grand Ole Opry.
Johnny Cash Love
We visited a ton of music-themed museums on this trip, but my absolute favourite has to be the Johnny Cash museum. And I’m not even much of a Johnny Cash fan!
It’s rare that I’d splash out $20 on a museum on somebody I don’t really care about, but it was so well done that I thoroughly enjoyed myself nonetheless. There was a ton of cool memorabilia, lots of interactive exhibits, and even a few handwritten letters that had me giggling at his jokes.
East Nashville Love
We lucked out with our stay in the city and scored an Airbnb apartment in hipster East Nashville, which immediately had us talking about how we could totally live in this area one day.
It reminded me a lot of my favourite neighbourhood in Portland, OR. Lots of amazing food, friendly locals, and more of a laidback, residential feel. I loved it and would totally stay in this part of Nashville again!
A Pearl Jam Finale in Miami
I’d been planning it for months: ever since one of my friends liked an update from Pearl Jam on Facebook about their upcoming U.S. tour.
Pearl Jam is Dave’s favourite band, so I jotted down the date tickets went on sale, and woke up at 4 a.m. in Fiji to grab a couple as a surprise for him. Success!
We spent an incredible week in Miami, staying in an amazing apartment on South Beach and spending our time relaxing on the beach or snapping photos of the art deco buildings. And then seeing Pearl Jam. Which Dave said was probably the best Pearl Jam show he’d seen.
The perfect end to a perfect trip!
My Introduction to the American South
What a fantastic part of the U.S.! I warmed to the South in a way I wasn’t expecting and I’m already plotting my return.
And honestly, the only downside, which wasn’t much of a downside, was the food. The food was so rich and so heavy, and I was so determined to try it all, that by the end of the trip, I felt constantly nauseated and was craving carrots.
Everything else was wonderful!
Oh, aside from that night when there was a tornado warning in Memphis and we were staying in an Airbnb apartment that was about as sturdy as a shed.
Coming up over the next month: a deeper look at my road trip!