The Music Belt -Albany/Nashville/Memphis/Tupelo/New Orleans
Down south the Music Belt is biblical! The sound of Blues, gospel, Rock and Roll, and country oozes, shakes, and rattles through the hot humid air. We have some favourites and just had to hear more. For this section of our USA road trip, we immersed ourselves in the strong sound of the southern soul. Being from Ireland, where music reverberates our atoms, we easily made the connection with our sisters and brothers along this magical trip.
Albany, GA – Ray Charles memorial and plaza
First stop on the music belt journey, and as fans, we just had to take a detour to stop at Ray Charles Memorial in Albany. The life sized, bronze sculpture of Ray Charles sitting at his baby grand piano plays music as the water fountain trickles down. At night the memorial lights up.
There are benches in the plaza and swing seats where you can enjoy the free ‘concert’, close your eyes and listen to Ray’s velvety smooth voice, or walk the piano key paths and watch Ray play. It seemly rotates, although we didn’t see it move when we were there. However, they say it moves extremely slowly, so if you look away and back again, you may see Mr Charles in a different position! Located at 916 Front Street. We certainly enjoyed a boogie.
Nashville – the music belt just got Country to join the Blues
Being the capital of Tennessee, Nashville is extremely popular with tourists, attracting them to the home of country music.
When possible, book in advance. Nashville is a busy place and prices can rise quickly, especially Downtown where the action is.
What a welcome by Dustin! This isn’t an ordinary hotel. It’s done in museum style. There is plenty of quirky, interesting artwork situated around the lobby. When checking in, I (Miko) pointed out the big blue penguin behind the rope and Dustin grabbed the big thing and carried it to our room on check in. Very funny. Unfortunately the Nick Cave Sculpture wasn’t there during our time of visiting, as I think they change the work around a lot.
The rooms are hip and trendy. Corridors are weird and wonderful, you almost feel as if you are walking into mirrors or another dimension. The location was fabulous, close to all the main attractions by foot. Price we paid was £160 a night. Prices can skyrocket during the weekend and events.
The famous musicians that have plucked, strummed, sang, danced, and wowed millions over the years in Nashville are so many to name them all. We will give you a selection of our Nashville music belt enjoyments.
Johnny Cash museum
The Johnny Cash museum is one of Nashville’s most popular, must see attractions.
The museum is set in a red brick building, dedicated to the life of Mr Cash.
The museum features the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash personal keepsakes.
There is everything from costumes, records, handwritten letters, as well as lots of other memorabilia to help bring his life and career to the avid fan.
You can also listen to his music. Watch and listen to ‘The man in black’, sing ‘Hurt’, showing clips from his life, we won’t lie, we had a wee cry. The emotion and lyrics from this song and video, makes you think of one’s own life and the loved ones who have passed.
$24 entry fee. The PatsyCline museum is also here, however this is not included in the price. The museum is located at,119 3rd Avenue, South Nashville
Country Music Hall of Fame
If you are a die hard country fan, the Country Music Hall of Fameis for you, to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the artist’s. Country fans would enjoy spending a good part of the day here. The museum is extensive and covers old country music to the present day. There are visual effects, history, costumes, documentaries, as well as lots more. The only available tour also brings you to the historical RCA Studio B. Located at 222 Faith Avenue South.
An historical recording studio built in 1956, RCAgained Nashville its name for music.
Set on the famous Music Row, all the greats have recorded here, such as Elvis, Chet Atkins, Roy Orbison and Jim Reeves. You can only do the tour of RCA studios with the Country Music Hall of Fame.
As the main feature of Centennial park, the Parthenon is a replica of the original Parthenon in Athens and stands at 42 foot. The grounds and museum are well preserved.
You can walk around the huge structure, or visit inside to see the exhibits.
Entry fee is $10. In the park outside, the music belt vibe continues unabated as local musicians will set up and play while the ducks look for food from the listeners.
Grand Ole Opry
Although we didn’t see a live band here, we did enjoy the grounds of the Grand Ole Opry.
There are some cool guitar sculptures outside for a great photo op. This historic building holds 4,400. It’s also the world’s longest-running radio show and showcases the best in country music, blues and more. A strange fact is that musicians weren’t allowed to play drums in the auditorium until the 70s as they were considered “Too Blues”. Johnny Cash got round this by using a beat up old guitar, with loose strings and paper fixed halfway up the neck, to create a snare drum sound. The genius of the Music Belt.
The Ryman auditorium was home to the Grand Ole Opry for many a year until the mid 70s. It still plays many live gigs and sits just off Broadway.
Day and night in Nashville downtown is completely bustling, crazy, over the top, head wrecking, noisy but fun!
If you can’t beat them, join them, isn’t that how the saying goes! You will find some of the most talented musicians here for free! Music is heard EVERYWHERE! Its an absolute extravaganza and the competition is stiff!
Broadway is where most of the action happens and where tourists flock. The place is full of mayhem and craziness. There is plenty of entertainment to keep you occupied from party buses, live music venues, eateries and tourist attractions.
Lucky Btard Saloon
Packed to the brim country music, with some old fashioned slow dancing. You’ll also get some blues, and rock and roll; old and recent in with the bargain. Drinks are expensive and extremely touristy. The Lucky Btard is Located on Broadway.
This narrow unpretentious bar focuses on the band attraction which takes requests. It can be a bit cheesy with line dancing and ‘dad dancing’, but it’s a good friendly fun atmosphere, reminding us of Fibber Magees in Belfast! Laylas Honky Tonk is located on Broadway.
Printers Alley is a calmer area, not far from Broadway. You can have your pick from several bars and restaurants. Our favourite being Skulls Rainbow Room.
Skulls Rainbow Room
I can’t even stress how much you have to go here! The blues band playing at the time of our visit was AMAZING and so darn right cool!
The atmosphere is chilled and the lighting moody. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ambience of great vibes. Skulls Rainbow Room is located in Printers Alley
Extremely packed out, loud bar with a raucous crowd lapping up the live rock and roll blues on offer.
Roof top bars
Be sure to check out the roof top bars, for spectacular night time views over the city. The bright lights are dazzling as is the nightlife activity below. Located mostly on Broadway.
5 Daughters Bakery
Donut love affair! We tried the vanilla cream, purist (vegan) and strawberry shortcake. All delicious. As well as vegan they also do gluten-free. The shop is getting very famous especially for their 100 layer donuts! The store exterior is so cute to! Find 5 Daughters Bakery at, 12 South. 1110 Caruthers AVE.
Memphis – the music belt of the King
Memphis has played host to a galaxy of musicians. It is truly a star studded part of the music belt. Many blues and rock and roll legends such as BB King, Rosco Gordon Jr, Howling Wolf, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis et al. Oh aye, there is one Elvis Aaron Presley too!
There is a good selection of quirky hotels here as well as the usual names. We stayed a 10 minute walk away from Beale Street.
Well what can I say?! One of the best hotels we have stayed in, in our times of travelling the world. From the beautiful decor to the quirky well thought out room plan, furniture and accessories, this was stunning, everywhere we looked.
I don’t think the photos do it justice. There is also a very chilled cafe and bakery downstairs which is very popular with guests and locals.
Well you can’t stop in Memphis without visiting Elvis’s previous abode, Graceland. The mansion is on a 13.8 acre estate at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard. It is highly recommended to book online as tickets and time slots go fast. We booked through Graceland.com. At $75 each +$10 parking, it’s not cheap.
There is a bus you will have to get to bring you across the road to Graceland, once you do this, the tour is self guided. They give you an iPad and earphones to start your experience in Graceland.
The mansion itself
Even though the grounds are quite big and lush, with horses in the fields, the family graveyard, meditation gardens and a fountain. The house is quite modest, even the swimming pool.
The furniture, decor and even the kitchen utensils, including the wedding set is the real McCoy.
You really do feel like you are stepping back in time.
One could imagine Elvis playing on the white piano in the living room area.
What would it have been like at Christmas time for example, all the family gathered round? What a treat that must have been.
All the other rooms in the house, such as the jungle room, bar area, the central kitchen, racket ball court among others are so interesting, you could spend hours just taking it all in.
Unfortunately, the upstairs is off limits and private, so it was disappointing not to see Elvis’s own bedroom or bathroom. However, it is understandable, when Lisa Marie still visits and uses the house to stay in.
As you finish the tour of the mansion, you will come out to the gardens, where the family graves area.
It’s a somber, reflective moment.
It was also a shock to see the little grave of Jessie, the twin of Elvis, who was still born, who we never knew existed. Elvis had arrived 35 minutes after Jessie. I guess he lived the life for both him and Jessie.
He accomplished a lot of what others can only dream off.
The rest of the experience
Back across the road from the graffitied gates of the King’s mansion, there are numerous other exhibits.
We got a glimpse of the grandeur of Elvis’ living with a walk through his private jets.
The Lisa Marie was bought for $250,000 and then he spent $800,000 kitting it out. Elvis adored Lisa Marie, and when he discovered she had never seen snow as a child, he jetted her off to Colorado. She spent a few minutes playing in the snow much to her father’s delight.
The belt buckles are even made of 24K gold!
Then there are the cars.
All the top models of the time, tailored to Elvis’ particular specifications, like his pink Cadillac were on display.
He loved his gadgets and his toys.
He even had some his vehicles interiors stitched with his initials or his TCB logo.
Then you had his more austere existence in the army.
There was still plenty of attention for him even during his national service.
Sun studio was opened by Sam Phillips in 1950. Originally the name was Memphis Recording Studio.
The tour is $15 per person. It’s only 30 minutes long, but more than enough time to see the artifacts. It was really cool to hear Elvis’s first track he recorded in the studio, ‘Happiness’.
If you closed your eyes, you could feel him in the room.
There are some cool instruments, even U2’s drum kit was there.
Unfortunately you can’t touch the instruments, however, you do have the opportunity to use the microphone, which Elvis, BB King , Jonny Cash and the likes have used.
Since the studio still operates as a recording studio, if you fancy following in Elvis’s footsteps, you can even record songs here from $200 an hour!
Located on 706 Union Street. There is free parking around the back. Although we had no issue, Do not leave anything in your car, as there are reports of regular break ins.
Beale Street Historic District
Beale Street has significant history to the city. It isn’t quite a big street and is a more toned down version of crazy Nashville but its still lively. There are bars / restaurants on the street where you can hear live blues or rock n roll music.
Blues city cafe
Again you are spoilt for choice in the place of music. The Blues city cafe has bands that are so talented you won’t want to leave. The blues are truly alive and kicking here. Keith the bar tender knows his stuff. Make sure you tip him well.
Meeting the locals
On the corner while waiting for an Uber that didn’t turn up, I (Miko) got chatting to a like-minded cop. He ended up taking us back to our hotel! How kind and bonkers at the same time lol
Exhibition dedicated to Rock N’ Roll and soul music. It’s a small museum but very detailed, taking you over the history of the music. Located on 191 Beale Street
Playing on the connection to the city’s namesake in Egypt, this was once a live sports / entertainment venue. The Memphis Pyramid is now a hotel, and megastore.
Levitt Shell is an Amphitheater located at 1928 Poplar Avenue. Elvis had previously performed at the Levitt Shell in the middle of Overton Park in midtown in 1954. Presently bands come here from all over the world to play. There are approximately 50 free concerts every year here! We weren’t lucky enough to catch a concert here as our music belt tour had to roll on.
A must see attraction. We couldn’t resist sitting in Elvis’s favourite booth.
The Arcade is one of the oldest restaurants in Memphis and the classic decoration hasn’t been changed in years.
It’s a meat based menu, so we didn’t have a chance to eat there, but we were very happy to get some pics!
Located on 540 South Main Street. 7am – 3pm
Elvis’s family Apt
Elvis lived with his parents from 1949-53 at Lauderdale Courts apartments. Today it is a gated community with condos and upscale APTS, so there is no access unless you book a tour.
At approximately $250 you can stay at the old family Presley home, apartment 328. It seemly is decorated in the way it would have been. We didn’t have the chance to do this, but it would be a dream of any Elvis fan.
Check out the Elvis Statue on Beale Street for a great photo op. This is just beside the Beale Street sign.
A quirky thing that would have been to do, is visit the Elvis Presley shrine, at Goner Records. Pop a quarter in for a bit of music. Unfortunately the shrine was out of order at the time of visiting, which was a shame, as we would have loved to put a quarter in the slot to listen to one of Elvis’s numbers! You never know you may be lucky!Located At 2152 Young Avenue
Ate at Aldo’s twice. Pizzas are New York style. Good toppings. Garlic twists don’t really taste of garlic.
Tupelo – the music belt’s birthplace of a King
We took a detour to stop off where Elvis was born. How could we resist!
The tiny house
The museum (house) was closed when we got there, however, it is easy to explore the grounds for free. You will see the tiny house where Elvis was born and where he lived with his parents. Vernon Presley had built the home for the family himself.
It’s quirky and pretty with a lovely little porch, where you could imagine them sitting in the evenings
Church of God
There is a little white church up ahead from the house where Elvis discovered his love for gospel music. Neighbors have said they would hear the sounds coming from the chapel as the sunset.
The lake is dedicated to Elvis fans who can reflect on days gone past and remember their love for the king of rock N’ roll.
The outsize is typical of what the poor would have used in days passed. A rudimentary wooden house which was shared by your many neighbors. In the winter it was chilling to the bone and home to many creepy-crawlies. For ventilation a hole was cut into the walls. There was no such thing as toilet paper here, only old catalogue pages. You could imagine the stink!
This life sized statue was placed in honour of Elvis to commemorate the 35th anniversary of his death in August 2012.
It is the site of Elvis’s homecoming concert in 1956. Reach out to grab his hand and feel the love. The Tupelo City Hall is right across the road from the bronzed Elvis Presley statue.
Tupelo Hardware Store
Gladys bought Elvis his first guitar at Tupelo Hardware Store. He wanted a gun or a bicycle but Gladys wasn’t having any of it, so bought him the guitar on January 8th 1945 for his 11th birthday. And, you all know how his life path changed forever.
New Orleans – We got the blues in the Music Belt
First impression, New Orleans reminded us of Belfast, even though muggy and hot there was a hint of Belfast grey, cloudy heavy skies in the air. The buildings in the outskirts were beige and colourless, a familiarity of Belfast, due to the City council demands every business is uniformed. If you ask me, Belfast City Council needs to inject some colour in their lives! A lot of areas were rundown and gritty with shady characters.
We wanted to be close to the French quarter. The title of the hotel we picked should have been right up our street.
Fairfield Inn and Suites Downtown / French Quarter
After our last stay in Fairfield Inn and Suites, in Florida, which was brand spanking new, the Fairfield Inn and Suites in New Orleans was disappointing. It is aged and not well maintained, although clean, which was a bonus and there was fab sunsets. Breakfast was in a bag. There was little vegetarian. WiFi was non existent.
The hotel stated it was in the French Quarter, but this isn’t true, they are on the edge of it, so walking distance to ‘where a bit of life is’, is a good 20/30 minute walk. We say, ‘Where a ‘bit’ of life is’, which we will explain below.
Where was everyone? We were expecting blues and Jazz music to be pouring out of every nook and cranny in the French Quarter, to rival the atmosphere of Nashville. However it was dead. At least the ghost walking tours got an even more creepy atmosphere. The bars aren’t in one area, they are spread out which doesn’t help. Most were closed.
There was hardly any people walking in the streets, except for an odd haunted walking tour group or homeless.
The French Quarter buildings did impress, however. There seemed to be more colour here than that of the outskirts. Lovely blues, pinks, greens and yellows.
The style of the architecture are many Creole cottages, single storey homes from 1790-1850. Or, you have the Creole townhouses built in 1788-1794. brick exteriors and beautifully arched windows, which have a Spanish influence. Most of these houses have shops below them. You may even be lucky to see the Shotgun houses, which can be seen all over New Orleans. Built in 1850-1910, these are narrow, single storey buildings with wood exterior, in Victorian style.
New Orleans is the most poverty stricken area we have seen in the USA so far. How can this happen, in one of the richest countries in the world? There are people just laying on the streets or wandering around aimlessly. If one is lucky they may even have a tent for shelter under the bridge. It was like a shantytown there, full of tents almost stacked up against each other. It reminded us of India. Hurricane Katrina obviously didn’t help, nor has covid. Lives have been destroyed, with no possibility of comeback.
With all the hotels we stay in on our journey, we always grab the toiletries, teas, coffees, and breakfast (the bagged one was handy in Fairfield, New Orleans for that)! Also any unwanted clothes we have, and we hand them out, as well as passing on a few dollars. We recommend that you do it to. It’s a little thing but it has always been accepted with gratefulness. Remember if a couple of the things in the bag doesn’t suit that particular person, then they can usually trade it.
What to do?
This spooky house was built in around 1831, by Louis Barthelemy de MacCarthy. It is an important historical landmark for New Orleans history and has been made famous by The American Horror Story. It has a gory past which will make your body fill with goosebumps.
Louis Barthelemy de MacCarthy’s daughter Delphine and her husband soon took over the house. It seems that Delphine and her husband had some serious issue and neighbors had complained to the police of Delphine whipping one of her young black servants, who then fell to her death from the roof.
When the fire broke out in 1834, neighbors crashed through a locked room and found starving people chained up. The LaLauries escaped back to Europe. It is thought that they killed approximately 62 slaves.
In 1894 the mansion was converted into APTS. There was a murder that police couldn’t solve. The friend of the deceased had told police that he had ‘trouble with spirits’ in the house just before he died.
Also for a time the mansion became a school. Many of the children were terrified, with unexplained bruising and cuts on their bodies. They would tell the teacher, when asked how the children got them, that,
‘It was the woman’.
Lalaurie never returned to the mansion, or did she? There is rumours that her body was secretly brought back from Europe, and buried in the city.
For chills and scares the best time to go to the house at night. Stare up at the windows, touch the house, feel the energy, wrap the knocker if you dare. You may witness some paranormal activity such as the horrifying screaming of the children or a face peering out of a window. Unfortunately you cannot get into the house only walk around it, but that maybe a blessing in disguise!
You can also take walking ghost tours which includes the Lalaurie Mansion, or you can wander around in the darkness yourself for free.
Located at 1140 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116
The French market
Going from 1791 this open air market sells everything from clothes, jewelry, art, food, galore.
Explore every nook and cranny in this market, enjoy some food at one of the little tables and watch the world go by. The French market is located at 1235 N at Peter’s st
Outlet Collection Mall
This mall was disappointing to us, but give us a chance to do the River walk and check out more steamboats.
The outdoor Collection mall has shops such as Forever 21, Calvin Klein, Crocs among others. It also has a food court and parking. Parking is expensive at $11 for 1 hour, but if you spend over $20 for something in the mall, then you will get a small discount on leaving. We opted for the street parking right across from the mall which was $3.50 for an hour and half .
The Riverside mall is located at 500 Port of New Orleans Pl.
Stop by the river and take some pictures of the steamboats or why not take a cruise. There are various riverboat cruises you can take such as a two hour, dinner and jazz package or a lunch cruise from around $40-90. Or if that’s not your thing, have an economically ride in the ferry across the mighty Mississippi River for only a few dollars. Locals use to the ferry to commute along Canal Street which ends at the second oldest neighborhood of New Orleans; Algiers Point. The ferry has been transporting passengers since 1827.
Nestled in the center of the French Quarter. The 2.5-acre Jackson park holds many events and even weddings. There is artists selling their work right outside the gates. It’s a small park but fine for an easy stroll or lounge. Located 701 Decatur St
If you’ve got $10 dollars to burn, go for it, but personally it’s not worth it. We were so excited to see it, but it’s amateurish with a few dolls laying around with very little history information. You won’t get that creepy feeling. You can do the whole thing in less than 10 minutes.
Food and Drink
BB King Blues Club
We were looking forward to seeing this ‘famous’ BB King club due to its high rating, however, unfortunately it was closed and boarded up with a destitute woman laying sleeping outside it.
If, what is known as the ‘best bar’ in New Orleans shuts it’s doors, we weep for the other ones that are not as popular.
Amazingly we did manage to find some live music. Bamboulas had a band playing traditional rock and roll blues covers.
They were fine but nothing more than we could catch in Ireland. Indeed, it was a lot less energetic and magical than the late, great Rab McCullough from Belfast. We Sadly read that day how Rab played his way into heaven in late May. A tear was shed. Thinking of ya!
We wished we had time to dine out at Dominica’s, but instead we got a takeaway. The Margarita and veggie pizza were absolutely delicious, saucy and of excellent quality. Proper Napoli style. It was a shame though they don’t do pasta anymore, only lasagna which was meat.
Pizzas are worth it though. Approximately $14.50 for the margarita and $18.50 for the veggie.
Located at 123 Baronne St
New Orleans Music Belt is frayed
There is definitely a rawness and edge to New Orleans. The complex oddities and paradoxes seep through the cracks. Our expectations were different, in many ways, from the reality. There are several worlds layed on top of one another here and a distraught consciousness has been screaming at deaf ears. plunged into crises over the last number of years, the old charm is like a fading apparition. Can the place rediscover its soul and fight back?
Would we return? Probably not, but never say never, right? Would we recommend it? Well, it’s good to see a place for the first time and we are not going to not recommend it as this is a place that desperately needs attention to grow back it’s economy and give hope to its people.