Sounds of the South: The must-visit Southern states to add to your list

Carly Williams
Social Media Editor

This article is brought to you by Travel South, USA. However, all opinions are genuinely held by the Yahoo Lifestyle Editorial Team.

Just like Johnny Cash’s simple-yet-mysterious charm, America’s southern states have juxtaposed qualities that delight at every turn.

A land rich in music history, natural beauty and constitutional antiquity effortlessly makes the South interesting to us Aussies.  

“Keen on experiencing more of the charming South?  WIN a musical adventure for two to the South, simply fill out your details HERE.”

The area may feel endless but the unique destinations are surprisingly close in proximity, especially when travellers take to the open road to get amongst the ‘Authentic America.’  

Historic 4th Avenue district in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo: Getty

Here are our off-the-beaten-track experiences in the US Southern states, full of hospitable people and musical charm…

Alabama

Whether it’s the sugar-white sands of the beaches or the booming Birmingham nightlife, Alabama’s sweet homely qualities will have you whistling that famous Sweet Home Alabama tune long after your visit.

Kick off an Alabama road trip at FAME Studio.  Stand in the same space and hear the same instruments that ‘60s and ‘70s pop legends and many R&B singers used in classic recordings.  Down the road is Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.  

The Rolling Stones recorded tracks in Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in the ‘60s. Photo: Getty

It’s not everyday you can walk through a legitimate recording studio that was founded and run by actual musicians. Cher recorded her album ‘3614 Jackson Highway’ here with legend Bob Dylan. This is where The Rolling Stones laid down tracks ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Brown Sugar.’ At $15 for a studio tour, it’s a small price to pay for a piece of rock n’ roll heaven.  

Shangri la waterfall in Bankhead National Forest in Alabama is a good stop along the highway while heading south. Photo: Getty

Four hours drive south is the city of Birmingham where hidden one-of-a- kind gems are a dime-a-dozen. Take a four-hour tour with Bham Eat Drink Ride Food Tour where you’ll rage through restaurants, breweries and wineries, meeting local chefs and barmen.  Comedian Joy the Queen of Clean is your guide and her wisecracks will have you giggling through a fun night on the town.  

Joy will take you out on a night of food, music and laughs on her tour of Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Instagram Bham Eat Drink Ride Food Tour

Head even further south for Hank Williams’ Boyhood Home and Museum and take in the surroundings that shaped one of country music’s biggest icons. You can imagine Hank outside this house selling peanuts and shining shoes, money he used to buy his first guitar!  

Country music singer-songwriter Hank Williams’ Boyhood Home and Museum. Photo: Getty

Arkansas

Just 45-minutes north of the city of Memphis is another nook of monumental music history: Johnny Cash’s Boyhood Home.  A small fibro shack, built by the US government to provide relief for destitute Arkansas farmers, stands proudly on a block in small-town Dyess. Still fitted with furnishings from the Cash family’s 1930s set-up, you can see how this country life inspired Johnny’s song ‘Five Feet High and Rising.’

Johnny Cash grew up in this humble home in Arkansas. Photo: Getty

The annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena is on the banks of the Mississippi River and is worth planning your trip to collide with the Saturday before Labour Day. There is live music, a ladies’ swimsuit competition and a men’s six-pack pageant, a community health fair and the famous ‘Big Dog Barbecue cook-off.’   

Helena, Arkansas is known for the King Biscuit Blues Festival. Photo: Getty

The longest continuously-running folk festival in America is Ozark Folk Festival in Eureka Springs. But if you’re not in town for the event in November, there’s still a lot to see. Eureka Springs is known for its caverns, quaint horse-drawn and tram tours, and the crystal clear waters of Beaver Lake.

The quaint town of Eureka Springs. Photo: Getty

One of the most interesting spots in Arkansas is a place nicknamed ‘The American Spa’ – Hot Springs National Park, a natural thermal pool nestled on the southern end of Hot Springs City. Yes, thermal baths in the middle of a town, perfect for healing and relaxing.   

Mississippi

They don’t call Mississippi the birthplace of American music for nothing.  There’s a place in Clarksdale called ‘The Crossroads’ where, legend has it, blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange to play mean guitar.

Mississippi is the birthplace of American music. Photo: Travel South USA

Staying on the old-school town on Clarksdale, the Delta Blues Museum has been going for more than 40 years and gives deep insight to where the notable players in Blues came from.  You’ll see clothing of Blues legends like Muddy Waters but designate a few hours to absorb the music memorabilia – they have five of John Lee Hookers guitars!     

The Ritz We Ain’t is the slogan at The Shack Inn, a humble hotel where guests can immerse themselves in history while staying in refurbished sharecropper shacks.  Catch a gig at nearby Ground Zero Blues Club to truly get in the spirit.     

Ground Zero Blue Club is right down the road from The Shack Inn. Photo: Getty

From the Crossroads to the backroads, the Mississippi Blues Trail has hundreds of landmarks across the state of Mississippi keeping blues alive.  A must-do is the township of Tulepo, Elvis’ Birthplace which is 160 kms from Graceland.   

Missouri

If it’s not the inviting mountain towns, folk music and traditional Southern food fair that makes you fall for Missouri, it’ll be the city of St. Louis.  Soulard is the oldest suburb in the city and is known for its bustling nightlife and live music scene. Also a gem during the day to stroll the streets and take an Instagram snap against the quintessential French architecture.  There are more than 40 bars and restaurants, mostly alfresco and one-hell-of-a flower market. Eat at Bogarts for one of the best BBQ experiences in the South.

The tallest man-made building in the US is Missouri’s iconic Gateway Arch, standing at 192 meters.  The complex honours founding father Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Louisiana Purchase’ (when the US famously bought a slab of land from France in 1803 for the westward expansion of the US.)  Like all good megastructures, you can take an elevator to the top.

The beautiful Autumn colours of St. Louis, Missouri. Photo: Travel South, USA

Four hour’s drive west is another American urban jewel: Kansas City. Spend a night sipping cocktails and listening to Aretha Franklin tunes at The Blue Room.   

If Missouri is known for putting on a show then the town of Branson shines brightest in the spotlight.  The warm Ozarks hospitality makes it a romantic hotspot of wineries, restaurants and a night at the theatre.  Copper Run Distillery and Missouri Mountain Moonshine will whet the palate before some tunes at Branson’s Grand Country Music Hall.   

Tennessee

Love blues, jazz, rock, country, singer-songwriters and gospel? Music City AKA Nashville has it all.  We’ve all seen The Bluebird Café in movies and shows like ‘Nashville’ it’s where you’ll sit down to a massive plate of nachos and listen to the hits-to-be on the live stage.   With an intimate 90 seats, visitors rub shoulders with locals and bigwig music execs in the same night.

Live music on Nashville’s broadway. Photo: Getty

Aussies travelling Tennessee must see both Nashville and Memphis.  Hit the road from Nashville for four hours and arrive in Memphis for lunch at Cozy Corner.  Try their one-of-a-kind menu items like BBQ spaghetti and barbecue cornish game hen before getting amongst the interactive exhibits at STAX Museum of American Soul Music.  

If you’re coming to Tennessee for a festival, the two best-in-show events are Beale Street Music Festival/Music Scene in Memphis and Nashville’s Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival – you may even bump into Keith Urban.  

Downtown Memphis, Tennessee is pretty as a picture. Photo: Getty

The diverse destination that is America’s South is unmatched when it comes to music, history and the open road. 

“Keen on experiencing more of the charming South?  WIN a musical adventure for two to the South, simply fill out your details HERE.”

For Southern USA tour packages, visit Intrepidtravel.com

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