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Music history in the South

There’s something freeing about hitting the road with some good tunes accompanying the journey. What could be better? Hitting the road with the entire gang to head to one of these musical meccas, each steeped in a rich tradition of Southern musical heritage and history.

From catching some Delta Sound Bites at the original King Biscuit Time radio show to glimpsing a peek at the stars from inside the RCA Studio B at the Country Music Hall of Fame, here are a few of the top music history and heritage destinations in the South, brimming with opportunities for truly jamming group experiences.


Preservation Hall

New Orleans, Louisiana

Preservation Hall was created with one objective: to preserve authentic New Orleans jazz music where it all began. Set in the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter, this iconic venue has offered nightly live music to fans for the past 50 years.

“Preservation Hall is a one of the most well-known music venues in the French Quarter,” said Brad Weaber, executive vice president for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The owners and the Preservation Hall Band have stayed true to their mission as a cornerstone of New Orleans music and culture. Everything in the Preservation Hall is centered around the musical experience. They present intimate acoustic New Orleans jazz concerts nightly showcasing a musical legacy dating back to the origins of jazz itself.

“To this day, people from all around the world continue to visit New Orleans to share the intimacy and atmosphere of Preservation Hall. It is a wonderful place for an event, accompanied by the best New Orleans jazz performers in the city.”

The hall was originally a private residence in the early 1750s, and since opening as Preservation Hall, the space has transformed into a tavern, an inn, a photo studio and an art gallery that celebrates the historic sounds and rhythms of New Orleans jazz. Over the years, Preservation Hall has been host to some amazing musicians, including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band that calls the venue home.

Groups can come hear authentic New Orleans jazz playing every evening starting at 8:15.


Delta Cultural Center

Helena, Arkansas

One of the best places to experience the music of the Arkansas Delta as a group is inside the Delta Cultural Center Visitors Center. The center houses multiple properties and is a one-stop destination for music lovers looking to dive into the music of this region.

Groups can explore the property by starting with the Delta Sounds, one of three galleries in the center that features a dedicated music area with interactive exhibits and listening stations, aka Delta Sounds Bites, about the blues, gospel and rockabilly history of the Arkansas Delta. The other galleries include a Civil War exhibit, “Songs From the Field,” and a traveling exhibit with rotating galleries. It’s there groups can uncover the roots and legends of that musical region, including stories about country stars Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty; famous crooners Levon Helm and Charlie Rich; and blues legends Sonny Boy Williamson, James Cotton and Albert King.

The gem of the center is the Peabody Award-winning “King Biscuit Time” radio show, the longest-running daily blues radio show in the United States, where groups can witness a live KFFA 1360 AM broadcast by Sonny Payne from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m., Monday through Friday. The show started in 1941, and since Payne’s reign began in 1951, the station has played host to renowned artists such as B.B. King and Robert Lockwood Jr.

“It is a true, authentic experience,” Paula Oliver, public information officer for the Delta Cultural Center, said. “I love the chance to interact with visitors from all over the world who come to hear the radio broadcast. It is not unusual to meet folks from England, Japan, Sweden, Australia and other countries.”


Birthplace of Southern Rock

Macon, Georgia

Turning out world-class musicians like the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding, Little Richard and others, Macon’s musical heritage dates back decades and offers tons of opportunities for groups to soak up as much legendary artistry as possible, from museums and festivals to tours and concerts at the local music school.

“Groups will find unique entertainment and true Southern hospitality in Macon,” said Valerie Bradley, communications manager for the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our musical legacy dates back to the city’s founding on the banks of the Ocmulgee River in 1823. Many visitors aren’t aware of Macon’s musical legacy, but when they visit and experience it, they are excited and want to know more.”

Top itineraries for groups looking to go behind the music include walking in the footsteps of the greats with Rock Candy Tours, whose two-hour Rock ’n’ Soul Stroll guides groups along the path to stardom walked previously by some of the biggest names in music. For a little home-born inspiration, groups can check out the Allman Brothers Band’s home-turned-museum at the Big House or explore the birthplace of Sidney Lanier at his cottage, where his famous flute is still on display.

The legend lives on in Macon as students from Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music, the Macon Symphony, and other trailblazing artists take the stage at one of the many historic music venues around town, including the Douglass Theatre and the Grand Opera House, which has hosted acts such as Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini.

“Houdini actually built a trap door specifically for his performance, and it still exists,” Bradley said. “It is used every year for the ‘Nutcracker’ production.”

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Nashville, Tennessee

A visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is an engaging, interactive experience for groups of all ages. The hall’s permanent exhibit tells the story of country music using colorful costumes, priceless instruments and other artifacts, with a rich layer of photography, video and interactive touch screens throughout. Groups can also enjoy a rotating exhibit of sight and sound and experience regular live programming on-site.

The Country Music Hall of Fame opened in 1967 just off Music Row and moved to its new 140,000-square-foot building in downtown Nashville in 2001. It has been under expansion for the past three years and plans to debut the final masterpiece in March.

“When the expansion is completed, the museum will be 350,000 square feet,” said Tina Wright, senior director of media relations at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “And right now is a particularly exciting time to visit. Many of the new spaces are already open, including Hatch Show Print, which the museum owns and operates.”

Founded in 1879, Hatch is one of the country’s oldest letterpress print shops; visitors to the shop can watch as posters are created and then pick up a few as souvenirs.

“Where else can you pick up handmade, original works of art starting at about $5?” Wright said. “It’s one spot I tell everyone not to miss. We’ve also customized some of our programs for the group experience, so your group can have a songwriting experience with a professional songwriter or record at the historic RCA Studio B, both true, only-in-Nashville experiences.”


The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail

Southwest Virginia

“The Crooked Road started in 2003 when the co-founders, folklorist Joe Wilson and community developer Todd Christensen, were discussing what the communities in southwest Virginia have in common that might serve to connect them,” said Jack Hinshelwood, executive director for the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. “The answer was a common musical heritage that has been passed down in the region since Colonial times.”

Now a 330-mile driving trail in the beautiful hills of Virginia, the Crooked Road connects nine major old-time, bluegrass and gospel music venues in an effort to present and preserve the region’s musical heritage. Groups traveling the trail learn about the roots of great American performers such as the Carter Family, Carter and Ralph Stanley, Jim and Jesse, and the Stonemans.

The nine major venues are the highlight of this region and include the Ralph Stanley Museum; Country Cabin II; the Birthplace of Country Music, with a new museum opening in August; the Carter Family Fold; Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway; the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway; the Rex Theater and Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax; the Floyd Country Store and County Sales; and the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum.

“There are also over 60 affiliated venues and festivals of the Crooked Road,” Hinshelwood said. “Visitors can experience the music every day of the year in multiple locations.” 

Mississippi Blues Trail


Although many people claim that music has the power to transport you to another place, the Mississippi Blues Trail is one American icon that can be fully experienced only in person. Not only does this trail proudly claim the title of “The Birthplace of America’s Music,” but the 171 historical markers that make up this mostly Mississippi trail can be found as far away as Notodden, Norway, with other markers staking claim in Tennessee, Illinois, California, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Maine and Wisconsin.

“The first Mississippi Blues Trail marker was unveiled December 11, 2006,” said Allison Washington, music trails program manager for the Mississippi Development Authority/Division of Tourism. “It’s now composed of 171 historical markers which tell a story of the bluesmen and women and how the places where they lived and the times in which they existed — and continue to exist — influenced their music.”

The sites span an entire range of destinations, including city streets, train stations, graveyards, nightclubs, cotton fields and even places of worship. Each marker has been carefully researched by the Mississippi Development Authority and the Tourism Division’s Music Trails Program to ensure the history is authentic and the information and images at each site are true. The trail places groups in the world of the blues and takes them on a remarkable journey that shows the sordid history of where it all began as well as the influence those classic tunes have had on modern pop music.

Kristy Alpert

Kristy Alpert has traversed more than 50 countries in her quest to uncover stories for her outlets in Food & Wine, Men's Health, Group Travel Leader, American Way, and more. When she's not on the road, you can find her teaching yoga and exploring around her new home in Germany with her husband and her Boston Terrier, Tobias.