A Music-Themed Trip Through the American South


new orleans

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 change 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.

Lauren's dad
My dad inspecting his vinyl haul after a day of record shop-hopping in Memphis

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
Typical New Orleans architecture

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.

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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.

Louisiana swamp tour
Swampy Slidell

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.

Cocktail tour of New Orleans

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.

Mississippi state sign

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.

Groan.

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.

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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.

Family at Graceland

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.

lauren elvis microphone
Caressing Elvis’ microphone

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.

beale street

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!

Lauren's album cover
I got to design my own album cover at the Country Music Hall of Fame!

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 museum

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.

I don't have any photos of East Nashville, so here's one of the downtown area, which was full of cowboy boots stores!
I don’t have any photos of East Nashville, so here’s one of the downtown area, which was full of cowboy boots stores!

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!

Pearl Jam in Miami

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!

Does this sound like your kind of trip? Let me know what you think of it in the comments!

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36 Comments

  1. August 31, 2016
    Reply

    Your post makes me want to visit New Orleans again! I went a long time ago and did the touristy thing of staying almost solely on Bourbon St. It was really fun, though. Oh! We did do a ghost tour while there and that was a delightfully creepy good time!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the US. It’s a great place to live, too!

    • August 31, 2016
      Reply

      Dave and I have often said that if we could live in the U.S., we’d totally give it a shot. Although, um, the healthcare situation would definitely put us off.

  2. Claire
    August 31, 2016
    Reply

    When you go back, add Elizabeth’s to the list of foodie places to visit in NOLA. I discovered praline candied bacon there recently. It was as good as it sounds!!

    • August 31, 2016
      Reply

      I have a strong aversion to nuts, so it doesn’t sound very good to me, hahah ;-) But I’ll keep it in mind if I happen to revisit with any nut-loving companions.

  3. August 31, 2016
    Reply

    This trip sounds so awesome! Can’t wait to read more in depth details :) I’ll be driving around the same area next Spring with the same objects in mind – music and food!

    • August 31, 2016
      Reply

      My posts will be perfect timing then! :-) It’s such a great area of the U.S. — you’ll have a wonderful trip!

  4. August 31, 2016
    Reply

    I am dying to do an American South Road trip! I really want to go to New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston and Nashville – not sure where else yet. I love southern food but I can imagine it would make me feel sick after a while

    • August 31, 2016
      Reply

      Oh, the food was both amazing and sickening by the end of the trip! The breakfasts were the worst for me — they were huge and so heavy. But delicious! I would be enormous if I lived in the South, haha.

  5. Laurie
    August 31, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve been to New Orleans three times and love it. It’s my favourite American city. Nashville was pleasant but not a country music fan. I only ever spent the night in Memphis in between buses and nearly got myself mugged (a taxi driver came to my rescue) but I will give it another chance as I want to visit Graceland one day. I love the south! You need to visit Savanah one day. Awesome.

    • August 31, 2016
      Reply

      Memphis definitely felt a little more dangerous, and especially as soon as we left the more touristy areas. I’d love to visit Savannah! I wanted to go on this trip actually, but we didn’t have enough time. Hopefully on my next visit :-)

  6. August 31, 2016
    Reply

    I can’t wait to hear more about this road-trip ! I can’t find the offer on your book when clicking on Amazon though (even through the link you posted here) is it normal? thanks!

    • August 31, 2016
      Reply

      Hmmm, that’s strange! Where are you at the moment/which country is your Amazon account for?

      It could just be that you need to head direct to your Amazon store rather than going to the .com link in the post.

      • August 31, 2016
        Reply

        My account is French but I am in Spain at the moment. I’ll try with a VPN.
        On Amazon FR, I see the Kindle is 5 euros and paperback 9,56, on Amazon GB £4.36 and £9.99 and on the direct link $6,43 and $11.99
        (sorry for all the numbers !)

  7. August 31, 2016
    Reply

    I just recently did a similar trip and Route 61 is definitely worth the drive. For a music lover the history is incredible. Indianola and Clarkesdale by far the best…Indianola is the birth place of BB King. Loved reading your post and will follow along with the ones you follow up with. Tim

  8. August 31, 2016
    Reply

    What a dream trip! The south of the US appeals to me so much! This trip looks amazing! I would love every bit of it: the Johnny Cash museum, Elvis’ Graceland, and a concert to tie it all off! Wow!

  9. August 31, 2016
    Reply

    There is something about that part of the US isn’t there? I’m a New Yorker in my soul, but I’ll always have a weak spot for New Orleans. I’m kind of dying to know what bar you were at that had a carousel in it.

    Also, don’t know if you’ve ever done Detroit, but I think you’d love the Motown Museum there. They take you into the studio where some of the greatest artists from the Motown era recorded and all the original equipment is still there, they tell you great stories, they sing, it’s not tacky, and the tour guides have such a ball. It’s like mecca for music buffs.

  10. August 31, 2016
    Reply

    I’m so happy you had a great visit to the south! And I am selfishly happy that I am back in Memphis, because otherwise seeing those photos from Blues City and reading about your Memphis adventures would have made me supremely jealous and homesick. I can’t wait to read more about your trip, and please let me know if you are ever back in the neighborhood xx

    • September 1, 2016
      Reply

      I absolutely will do! I loved Memphis so much :-)

  11. September 1, 2016
    Reply

    Ever since I was a kid I have been dreaming of New Orleans. I’m Canadian, but I’m pretty sure in a previous lifetime I grew up in the Louisiana swamps!

    And growing up I was a die hard Elvis fan, so visiting Graceland one day is a must!

    Your trip looks so fun!

  12. September 1, 2016
    Reply

    We just missed you, we had done a roadtrip through the South a few months ago! We are also non-partiers, but loved NOLA. What an amazing city. And the ribs in Memphis are mind-blowing!
    America is an amazing place for road trips. It’s the only trip I’ve ever done where we’ve successfully spent under $50 per person per day, since there’s so much to do for free or cheap. And it must be even more interesting for those non-North Americans that aren’t exposed to American culture as much as we are.

  13. September 1, 2016
    Reply

    Good job Lauren and Happy 60th birthday to your dad. I’m having a great time reading your article, really worth reading for. I guess you’re a fan of Elvis Presley, my grandfather is a great fan of him too. Anyways, see you in your next adventure. :)

    • September 1, 2016
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Faye! I actually only know about three Elvis songs. Not really my kind of music, but cool to learn more about his story :-)

  14. Jennifer
    September 1, 2016
    Reply

    I was laughing so hard, I love NOLA I want for the first time in January and fell in love. I love Memphis and if you go, you just have to play tourist, shame you didn’t make it to my state… Austin to be exact… music is amazing there. I lived there for years and now I am back in Dallas. Mississippi is always interesting more history than music. Glad you had a great road trip. The American south is probably the region of the world I know best lol:)

    • September 1, 2016
      Reply

      I actually visited Austin on my last U.S. road trip! Loved it there :-)

  15. September 1, 2016
    Reply

    Sounds like you had a very successful and amazing experience! I’ve always been interested in the American South, specifically because of the music and it’s my dream to go on a road trip very similar to yours. Thanks for letting us experience your trip vicariously and hopefully I’ll get to take a similar trip of my own! You can’t beat taking a trip to explore the roots of some iconic music :)

  16. Connor
    September 2, 2016
    Reply

    Jaques-imos in New Orleans HAS to be on your next Nola itenerary!! it’s amazing Southern creole food with french influences!! One of their best dishes in my opinion is the carpet bagger steak (steak stuffed with oysters).

    • June 3, 2017
      Reply

      Oooh, thanks so much for the recommendation, Connor!

  17. Atanas
    September 4, 2016
    Reply

    FFS, I thought I was the only one skipping university for LOST. Had not been out of the dorm for two days, when found the series on the Internet. Even started playing on the National Lottery with the Hugo numbers… Was so disappointed with the series finale few years later.

  18. Darren Elvis Tribute Artist
    May 12, 2017
    Reply

    WOW fab article and great photos, thanks for sharing! I am going to Memphis later this year, can not wait!

    • May 14, 2017
      Reply

      Hope you have an amazing time!

  19. Laura
    May 23, 2017
    Reply

    This looks amazing! What a cool idea and it sounds like you got the perfect mix of different music types too. I’m hoping to visit Nashville in August!

    • June 10, 2017
      Reply

      You’ll have a wonderful time, Laura! Nashville is such a cool city.

  20. e
    May 14, 2019
    Reply

    I have been to Clarksdale many times. Eat at Abe’s, check out Ground Zero, go to some cool shops. The blues festival is great. Its one of those places that is hard to forget, its just different.

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