When you think of St. Louis, Missouri’s second-largest city, chances are the Gateway Arch comes to mind. But St. Louis is much more than the 630-foot monument, as iconic as it is, or even the resident Anheuser-Busch Companies, makers of beloved Budweiser beer.
According to Renee Eichelberger, director of leisure travel sales for Explore St. Louis, group leaders could plan an entire itinerary simply around The Gateway to the West’s incredible music scene, which was born from the blues.
“We always say the blues grew up here,” Eichelberger said. “We’re part of the American music corridor. Musicians used to travel from New Orleans all the way up to Chicago. They came through St. Louis because of the Mississippi River. That really influenced our music, and it still carries on today. There’s so much for groups to see and do here related to the blues and music in general.”
Here are five attractions around town that offer great music experiences for group travelers.
National Blues Museum
Groups interested in exploring the history of St. Louis’ dominant musical genre might well begin with a stop at the National Blues Museum.
“It talks a lot about the influence of blues music on all types of music,” Eichelberger said, “but they also have special programming, so they host concerts and that type of thing.”
The museum, which opened in 2016, is conveniently located downtown, in the Mercantile Exchange District and within walking distance from the city’s sports stadiums. While its footprint is a bit smaller than other national music-centric attractions, the National Blues Museum benefits from plenty of engaging, technology-driven exhibits, like an interactive experience that allows guests to write their own songs and add instrumentation to them. Group visitors will also get a kick out of the many photographs of blues superstars, including Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Special ticket pricing and guided tours are available for groups.
The Blues Cruise
Speaking of the blues, group visitors can experience the best of it onboard a three-story replica paddlewheel boat with The Gateway Arch’s Blues Cruises, a decades-long St. Louis tradition. Running seasonally from June through December, these 2.5-hour journeys on the mighty Mississippi River feature regional blues acts, both established and up-and-coming, playing live on select Thursday nights. The St. Louis skyline (including that awesome arch), provides a stunning background on this specialty cruise, but group leaders should be aware — according to Eichelberger, tickets for Blues Cruises sell out fast.
Should you miss out on securing spots for your group aboard a Blues Cruise, private charters for up to 220 are available on one of the Gateway Arch’s two 19th-century replica steamboats, the Tom Sawyer and the Becky Thatcher. Book a buffet or sit down meal, choose from various bar options and line up live entertainment for your group, blues or not.
Missouri History Museum
“St. Louis Sound,” which just opened in August at Forest Park’s Missouri History Museum, is another must-see for groups looking to delve into the city’s vibrant musical history. Running through January 2023, this 6,000-square-foot special exhibit dives deep, covering popular music in St. Louis from the late 1800s to the dawn of the new millennium. Among the hometown performers featured are Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and Nelly. Their stories are told through a breathtaking array of artifacts that include a dress worn by Tina Turner on the Tonight Show, a trumpet belonging to Miles Davis and one of Chuck Berry’s guitars.
And as if this weren’t enough fun for groups, the Missouri History Museum also presents live music seasonally in an event dubbed Twilight Thursdays.
“They have free concerts out in front of the museum,” said Eichelberger. “You just hang out and check out some great music, and that music can vary from bluegrass to rock ‘n’ roll, to the blues.”
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
As cherished as the blues are in St. Louis, there’s more to music in the city than that esteemed genre. The second-oldest orchestra in the country, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) was founded in 1880 and has since emerged as one of the nation’s preeminent classical ensembles, winning nine Grammys and 60 nominations. In 1968, the orchestra moved into Powell Hall, a former motion picture and vaudeville theater erected in 1925. Groups will enjoy attending a concert there almost as much for the beautiful building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as the magnificent music.
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra offers a 43-week season, September through June. These roughly 120 concerts include not only performances of classical music but also film scores, holiday tunes and music aimed at families. Goodies for groups include special ticket discounts, priority seating, free motorcoach parking, Powell Hall tours and pre-concert discussions with SLSO artists.
Live Music Venues
It’s a good idea to offer groups something to do after hours, and St. Louis is home to some of the country’s best live music clubs. In particular, Eichelberger recommends BB’s Jazz Blues and Soups, a downtown venue it wouldn’t be an overstatement to call legendary. Visitors can start off the evening by dining there on Southern-inspired fare and then stay to catch the show.
“BBs has got that authentic feel,” Eichelberger said. “You don’t know if you should watch the music or watch the people enjoying the music. And they get not only locals performing there but also blues players who are touring the world.”
According to Eichelberger, other establishments worth checking out include Broadway Oyster Bar, which she said is “a little bit more casual, but they always have great music,” and 1860’s Saloon in historic Soulard. “That’s the neighborhood just south of downtown, where the Anheiser-Busch Brewery is,” Eichelberger said. “1860’s always has great local and national bands coming in.”