When considering a trip to the USA, many people ponder the virtues of the east coast versus the west coast, forgetting the Deep South altogether. Which is a big, fat, deep-fried, sugar-coated, bourbon-spiked mistake.
The Deep South has its own thing going on. A unique identity forged through surviving the hard times and relishing the good times, the Deep South is place for travellers not afraid to put a quarter in the jukebox, tear up the dancefloor, ask for an extra serve of brisket and have ‘just one more for the road’.
Here’s what to expect at four of the Blues Trail’s most pivotal places:
The birthplace of the American Civil Rights Movement, Atlanta is a place to learn about the events that have shaped modern America. The Center for Civil and Human Rights, The King Center and Ebenezer Baptist Church are good places to do this. No trip to the south can be complete without learning about the Civil Rights Movement and there’s no better place to do this than in Atlanta.
Despite ensuring hard times over the years, Atlanta still knows how to have a good time, so make sure you make time to listen to some home-grown music and eat some good, old-fashion southern cooking. With a tagline like ‘It ain’t easy being sleazy’, Blind Willie’s is an upfront kind of place. Inside you’ll find Cajun chicken wings, red beans and rice, gumbo, jambalaya and an impressive range of Kentucky’s finest whiskey. You’ll also find some of the best live music in town.
As the world’s largest drive-thru restaurant, The Varsity is a must-do, hyper American experience. Expect chilli cheese dogs, triple-decker burgers and fried peach pies. Keen on hunting down the best ribs in town? Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and Thin Smokers BBQ are both up there, with Thin Smokers BBQ edging out the competition with Bourbon-spiked milkshakes.
Home to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum and Grand Ole Opry, Nashville is the undisputed capital of country music. Think country music is cheesy? Well yes, a lot of it is so get into the spirit of things by buying some cowboy boots with tassels to boot scoot in. Frequently hailed as one of the friendliest cities in America, Nashville is the kind of place that’s easy to be in. Settle into a diner booth and down pancakes swimming in syrup, visit the famous Bluebird Café to hear up-and-coming country musicians in action and hit up Robert’s Western World to experience honkytonk with a side of French fries. When it comes to welcoming newcomers to the table, Music City is oh so obliging.
Graceland. Sun Studio. Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Gibson Guitar Factory. Beale Street. Memphis is home to an avalanche of music hot spots. From soul to rock ‘n’ roll, country and gospel, this city has it all in spades. From seeing Elvis’s backyard pool, shooting range, private jet and resting place at Graceland, to witnessing how Gibson Guitars are made, and busting a move with strangers on the replica Soul Train dance floor at Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis is the place to be immersed in some of the most enduring musical movements in history.
Memphis’s penchant for deep-fried foods has seen it labelled as the unhealthiest city in America, but public health warnings aside, Memphis is a top place to get stuck into southern favourites like slow-smoked meats, deep-fried pickles and biscuits and gravy. A long walk along the Memphis Riverfront will offset all the calorific foods you’ve eaten while allowing you sing Walking in Memphis at the top of your lungs.
4. New Orleans
The birthplace of Jazz operates on a different frequency to most other cities. Set to party mode more often than not, New Orleans is the place to listen to late night jazz – and early morning jazz, lunchtime jazz and afternoon jazz too. Preservation Hall Jazz is one of the best places to do this. Blues gets a good run too, with the Funky Pirate Blues Club and House of Blues proving popular with locals and visitors alike. Going hand-in-hand with music, food is another good reason to spend time in New Orleans. Sure, you could eat at a fancy restaurant but why go past Parkway Bakery & Tavern? This favourite haunt with locals has been slinging po’ boys since 1911, so knows a thing or two about smashing deep-fried shrimp and oysters into bread. It’d be rude not to.
Regardless of when you go, the Deep South knows how to show its guests a damn good time, every time.
All aboard the blues train! Check out our range of small group adventures through America’s south here.
All images by Jo Stewart.