There are plenty of countries around the world that are inextricably linked with the music they produced: Jamaica and reggae, Italy and opera, Brazil and samba, to name just a few. But there is surely nowhere on earth that has given rise to as many world-conquering genres, platinum-selling artists and iconic record labels as America’s Deep South.
The music of the South is as complex as its history, bound up in the story of slavery and the Civil War. Influences range from the rhythms of Africa to the folk styles of the British Isles, and the mixing of cultures and musical traditions has produced a huge variety of genres, including jazz, blues, country, bluegrass and soul.
There is a well-worn tourist trail for musical pilgrims touring the Deep South, visiting famous sites such as Elvis’s home at Graceland and the French Quarter of New Orleans, but the standard whistlestop itineraries often only scratch the surface. The Deep South is far more than just a musical museum, and remains at the forefront of innovation and experimentation, with new genres continuing to cross-pollinate at a dizzying rate. Here are four of the most exciting tours showcasing the music of the Deep South…
Lonely Planet has just unveiled a new partnership with Intrepid, curating a range of tours with a focus on authentic local experiences and sustainable travel. This 9-day tour takes you from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the boisterous bars of New Orleans via Nashville and Memphis. Nashville is the city that gave the world Johnny Cash and Willy Nelson, synonymous with country music and toe-tapping, banjo-plucking honky-tonk bars. While in Memphis you’ll have free time to explore, and though most people head straight for Graceland or Sun Studios, we recommend a visit to the fantastic Stax Museum of American Soul, where you can learn more about the label that brought the world stars including Otis Redding, Johnnie Taylor and Isaac Hayes.
This two-week tour from Newmarket Holidays ticks off all the classics, including New Orleans, Nashville and Memphis, but it also takes you into sleepy Alabama and the little city of Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River. It was here that the famous ‘Muscle Shoals Sound’ developed at studios such as Rick Halls’ Fame Studios, which helped to launch the careers of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones all laid down tracks.
This fantastic 13-day tour combines the lively streets of New Orleans and Nashville with the faded elegance of Savannah and Natchez, as well as an overnight stay in Atlanta, Georgia. Not many southern tours stop in Atlanta for the night, but it’s another city with an impressive musical heritage, known as a centre for the gospel scene. Cosmos have teamed up with Classic FM and Good Housekeeping magazine for a very special departure on 20th May 2020, which features exclusive excursions and will be accompanied by Good Housekeeping’s travel editor, David Wickers.
Forget what you thought you knew about music in the Deep South; there is so much more going on than just Elvis and Johnny Cash, and this tour gives you plenty of free time to immerse yourself in the local scenes. Highlights include two nights in Atlanta, a crucible of the hip-hop and R&B scene that has given the world superstars including Usher, Outkast, TLC, Toni Braxton and CeeLo Green. The Deep South is also the birthplace of genres including neo-soul, crunk and trap, while New Orleans has a thriving metal scene and Nashville is the current home of rock band The Black Keys.
This article is just a snapshot of the incredible musical diversity on offer in the Deep South. Alternative options include tours visiting bohemian Austin, Texas, home to more than 100 live music venues, while others swing south through Florida to Miami, where house and techno fans flock every March for the Winter Music Conference. Whether you’re a rock ‘n’ roller, a honky-tonker, a hip-hopper or a hands-in-the-air raver, you’re sure to find a Deep South tour at a tempo that suits you.