Last weekend, I traveled with my husband to Memphis, TN for four days full of music, soul food, and some southern culture, everything that the "Deep South" is know for. Growing up in New York, I've always had a fascination with the South, and it's otherworldly way of being—the drawl-ish accents, the slow-paced life, the kindness of the people. We chose Memphis for it's musical history, it's considered by many the birthplace of Blues, Gospel, and Rock n' Roll (Elvis), but we got so much more. Memphis has that old-world charm that just draws you and makes you feel right at home. Four days is barely enough time to discover and enjoy this rich city.
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Main Street in Downtown Memphis[/caption]
We rented a car and stayed at the famous Peabody Hotel
in downtown Memphis. You actually don't really need a car if you're staying in downtown Memphis, as everything is literally within walking/trolley distance. We only used the car twice to travel to Graceland
and Overton Park
, but you could get to those places just as well without a car. Our first two days were all about hitting up all the best spots in downtown Memphis. We started with a late breakfast at the historic Arcade Restaurant
on South Main Street. So many movies have been filmed here, The Firm, Great Balls of Fire, 21 Grams, Walk The Line, to name a few and it's been a hot dining spot since the 1950's. My husband ended up ordering The Travel Channel Favorite, "Eggs Redneck." Portions were as expected, HUGE, especially for us New Yorkers, but the food was absolutely delicious.
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The famous Arcade Restaurant in Memphis[/caption]
Breakfast was followed by a 40-minute tour of the Gibson Factory
, we were lucky enough to go while the factory workers were still there, which made for a very cool experience. We saw all aspects of the making of a Gibson Guitar—starting with the type of wood and it's cutting and shaping, to the custom artwork stations, and then the stringing and testing, almost every step is actually done by hand and it takes several weeks to complete one guitar. Job training takes as long as 9 weeks and the whole factory is kept at 45% humidity to keep the wood just the right amount of moist. My favorite part was by far the painting station, I had no idea an artist actually spray paints each guitar by hand (which made me think...what if he messes up!?) Tip: Go when the workers are there, so any time before 2:30pm, except for their lunch time, which is around 11am, it makes for a much more complete tour. Tickets are $10 p/person.
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Gibson Guitar Factory and Store[/caption]
Our night excursion started with a ride on the trolley, which immediately took us back a few decades. Racket-y wood seats, old ticketing machine, and woman singing her blues-y heart out to the strum of a guitar. The place we were planning to eat at was packed, so we walked down Beale Street and randomly stepped into King's Palace
, a Blues Club/Cajun Restaurant. Given that this was on the super tourist-y Beale Street, our expectations weren't high, but we were definitely proven wrong. The food was delicious, the drinks strong, and the entertainment - a guy singing some of our blues and rock favorites to his guitar, was superb. We followed this up with the Bruno Mars concert at the FedEx Forum
, which seemed even larger than Madison Square Garden, and was packed to the the max. People had traveled in from all over the South to see him sing that night. The Moonshine Jungle concert was fantastic—high energy, phenomenal singing and dancing by a super talented artist. The whole night was this unique, contrasting experience of music in the old and new form, from Blues in a bar on historic Beale Street, to Bruno Mars at a massive and modern entertainment center.
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Historical Memphis trolley[/caption]
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Beale Street at night[/caption]
The next afternoon we took the Mud Island
monorail, which gives you spectacular views of the Hernando De Soto Bridge and of the Mississippi River. The bridge is in the shape of a wide letter M, and is lit up by 200 sodium vapor lights. It lights up the whole city at night, and you can pretty much see it from all parts of town. It was so cool to see the Mississippi River in person, considering it's the fourth longest river in the world, and even water sources as far as Pennsylvania and New York feed into the Mississippi. It's also been and is still a key source of commerce for towns like Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Memphis, among others. Mud Island River Park
was a fun way to learn about the topography and commerce on the Mississippi River, it's a miniature replica of the river from start (in Minnesota) to finish (the Gulf of Mexico). Our favorite part though, was surprisingly the Mississippi River Museum
on the 2nd floor. It started off a bit slow at first and then became increasingly better with each segment. You get to walk through a replica of a saloon of an actual steamboat that was used for entertaining back in the 1800's. You can sit at the bar, with the ornately designed walls, ceilings, and chandeliers above you and feel like you're on a dinner-time ride on an 1830's steamboat in the 1830's. The rest of the museum brings you through segments of the Civil War, slavery, and the development of Gospel, Soul, Blues, and Rock and Roll music in Memphis, all done in a very interactive way. We walked out of that museum being shocked by how much there was to see and learn in what seemed like a small, unassuming space.
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Mud Island River Park[/caption]
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Memphis trolley, Mud Island River Park monorail[/caption]
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In front of Hernando De Soto Bridge at Mud Island River Park[/caption]
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Hernando De Soto Bridge between Tennessee and Arkansas at sunset[/caption]
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Restaurant prices of local dishes from 1950's at Mississippi River Museum...everything under 25 cents![/caption]
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Sun Studios Replica at Mississippi River Museum[/caption]
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Beautiful view of Memphis city from Mud Island River Park[/caption]
That night we spent the evening hopping from one blues bar to the next on Beale Street, and the talent of these artists in these dive bars is incredible. Music abounds everywhere in this city, and no more can you find this than on Beale Street. We really enjoyed listening to soul singer Natalie, at Blues Hall Juke Joint
, though we heard B.B. King's and the Hi-Tone Lounge
on North Cleveland Street are also top notch. At around 12am, we followed the music into Silky O' Sullivans, where a phenomenal cover band was playing old and new hits. There's a beautifully lit, large outdoor patio at O' Sullivans where we sat and grabbed a late-night snack, but the music was too good to stay seated for long. We joined the crowd of people dancing up at the stage and basked in the warm, Southern weather. At around 1 am, Alfred's on Beale switches from a band to a dj that blast the music onto the street, and street dancers and performers break it down to crowds of people circling them and cheering them on. A fun fact: you can buy drinks on the street at any of the outdoor street bars that line all of Beale Street, and just sit yourself down on the stoop on the side of the street and people watch. An entertaining ending to a wonderful night.
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Blues Hall Juke Joint...a dive bar worth visiting for the musical talent.[/caption]
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Beale Street stays alive into the late hours[/caption]
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Neon-lit outdoor street bars on Beale Street[/caption]
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Main Street in Downtown Memphis[/caption]
We designated Sunday for traveling to Graceland
(not far from Memphis, about 15 minutes). Neither my husband or I grew up listening to Elvis, but we felt we couldn't visit Memphis without visiting Graceland. This place is not to be missed! As with the rest of the trip, we were more than pleasantly surprised with the way the tour was led, we learned so many interesting facts about Elvis that we never knew before, his charitable nature—he would write checks to anyone and everyone to help pay people's bills and help support hospitals and endless charities, his obsession with music that went beyond concert performances—he would invite friends, family, and his management team to play up on the roof of his hotel after playing a full concert he'd done just an hour earlier. He led a very full, though short, life, and was an energetic spirit that definitely resonates to this day. His decorating skills were extravagant—from the peacock room to the jungle room (where he held impromptu recording sessions in the 70's), to the decor of his planes, everything had an exotic and energetic touch to it. On our way back to downtown Memphis, we made a stop into Sun Studios
, where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and other musical stars had recorded when they were first starting out.
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Elvis Presley's Peacock Room at Graceland Mansion[/caption]
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The Trophy Room at Graceland Mansion[/caption]
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At Sun Studios[/caption]
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The Pool Room in Graceland Mansion[/caption]
The last stop of the day was Overton Park, the perfect ending of live music on a green lawn, with local beer crafters and food vendors. During the summer they have free concerts on the weekends (Levitt Shell Free Music Concert Series
). Following the concert, we snuck into the Memphis College of Art
, and browsed the local art of students.
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Levitt Shell at Overton Park in Memphis where free concerts are held during the summer time.[/caption]
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Memphis College of Art beautifully lit up at night.[/caption]
The nicest thing about Memphis, especially for a romantic like me, is that it completely transports you to another time and place. It's a romantic and nostalgic city, holding on to its Blues and Rock fame, and it has so much soul that is deeply immersed in its food, music, and people. This is a must-go.
Best Time To Go: May for the month-long cultural and musical celebration
Travel Types: old souls, romantics, music afficionados
Best Nomaterra Fragrance for this trip: Savannah Magnolia
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Downtown Memphis Sunset[/caption]