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State spotlight: Tennessee

The Volunteer State consistently lands near the top of group leaders’ lists of favorite travel destinations, and the reason is clear: Tennessee enjoys a longstanding and well-developed tourism culture in many of its cities and offers first-rate visitor experiences in every corner of the state.

Not to be satisfied, though, Tennessee’s tourism industry continues to develop new attractions and experiences for groups. Several favorite institutions in the state have developed new exhibits and activities for visitors, and other destinations boast brand-new attractions that will be opening this year.

Music heritage takes center stage in Nashville, where a new Johnny Cash museum will open this summer. A new exhibit at Graceland in Memphis gives visitors a personal look at Elvis Presley’s family life, and Casey Jones village has opened a new attraction called Music Highway Crossroads.

In Knoxville, a new adventure center highlights the abundance of outdoor activity options in eastern Tennessee. Groups that spend time in the east will also enjoy a new exhibit at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg and a new behind-the-scenes tour at Chattanooga’s Rock City.

Presley family memories

Presley’s Graceland has become a must-see attraction for tour groups visiting Memphis. Although relatively small when compared with modern mansions, the rock star home that Presley built and the accompanying museum give visitors a look inside the life of the 20th century’s most iconic musician.

The curatorial staff at Graceland is constantly creating new exhibits to educate visitors on Presley’s personal and professional life. This year, they opened an exhibit called “Elvis: Through His Daughter’s Eyes.” Created in cooperation with Lisa Marie Presley, the exhibit uses personal memorabilia to portray Presley as an adoring father and sheds light on his relationship with his daughter.

Visitors will find numerous special items on display, among them rarely seen Presley family photos and home movies. Other artifacts include baby footprints, a tricycle, a record player and more items that belonged to Lisa Marie as a child.

The exhibit will be on display until February 2014.

Museum in black

Nashville is universally recognized as America’s country music capital, and music-lovers will find abundant opportunities to hear live performances and remember some of their favorite music experiences.

This fall, downtown Nashville will celebrate the opening of the Johnny Cash Museum, a long-awaited institution that will explore the life and work of one of country music’s most legendary artists. The museum’s exhibits will be based around the collections of Bill Miller, a longtime friend of Cash and a collector of music memorabilia, as well as pieces from Cash’s colleagues, friends and family members.

Groups that visit the museum will find a number of never-before-seen historical documents, letters, awards, and costumes and instruments that Cash used throughout his career. Highlights will include the earliest known personal letters written by Cash, as well as the handwritten manuscript of the last song he wrote just days before his death.

The museum will also include sections on other aspects of Cash’s life, such as his childhood and his service in the U.S. Air Force.

Music Highway Crossroads

In the great American tradition of roadside attractions, Casey Jones Village has become a favorite stop for travelers road-tripping between Nashville and Memphis. The site has grown to encompass several points of interest, including a historic home, a railroad museum, an old country store and a number of specialty shops.

Last spring, Brooks Shaw’s Old Country Store at Casey Jones Village opened a new venue called Music Highway Crossroads. This 2,000-square-foot space features a performance stage and a radio studio, in addition to a new retail area.

The purpose of the new venue is to honor the blues music and rockabilly music styles that converged in this part of the west Tennessee Delta region. The on-site studio hosts a weekday-morning gospel-music radio broadcast. Throughout the week, the performance venue at Music Highway Crossroads will host regular concerts that feature local blues, gospel and folk artists.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.