When you're gearing up to explore music hotspots in Memphis, make sure you add these venues to your itinerary.
The history of music in Memphis, Tennessee dates back many decades to the early years of jazz, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. Although Elvis is easily the city’s most famous musical resident, many other well-known artists hail from Memphis, including B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, and Rosanne Cash. Today, Memphis retains a vibrant live-music scene that includes both big-name touring bands and local groups. The city also boasts a range of music-related attractions, including the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, and Graceland, home of the King himself.
When you’re gearing up to explore music hotspots in Memphis, make sure you add these venues to your list.
If you only have a day or two in Memphis, be sure to check out the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, where you can get a wide-angle view of the city’s musical heritage. “It’s probably the best museum out of all of them,” says Holly Whitfield, a new media content strategist at Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and author of the popular I Love Memphis blog. “It’s a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that tells the story of all different kinds of Memphis music.”
The Blues Hall of Fame offers an in-depth history of blues music with interactive exhibits and a wealth of information about the 400-plus inductees. Several pieces of music history are on display, including R.L. Burnside’s guitar and Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica.
If soul is your style, don’t miss the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where you can find exhibits highlighting the history of soul, from its southern gospel roots to its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. Period recording equipment is on display along with a “wall of sound” filled with a copy of every single and album Stax released.
Billed as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, Sun Studio opened in 1950 and recorded such greats as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Today, you can explore the onsite museum tracing the history of Sun Records and Memphis’ rock ‘n’ roll scene and tour the little studio where Memphis music legends recorded some of their greatest hits.
Perhaps Memphis’ best-known attraction, Graceland gives you a peek at Elvis Presley’s personal life with a tour of the musician’s 17,000-square-foot mansion. While there, check out Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a new 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex where you can trace the fabled singer’s roots, life, and career through a wide range of exhibits.
If you want to catch some live music in Memphis, the music scene remains active throughout the year, and many venues are family friendly with early evening shows, sometimes outdoors. “Beale Street, of course, is the place where you can go, walk down the street, and hear the music on any night of the week,” Whitfield says. “It’s touristy, but it still has great music.” Rum Boogie Café features music memorabilia and serves up delicious barbecue while hosting blues bands seven nights a week.
Lafayette’s Music Room, which originally opened in the 1970s, hosted a number of rising stars of the day, from Barry Manilow to Billy Joel. Today, the renovated venue serves a variety of tasty local eats, from wood-fired pizza to shrimp, and features live music every night. Bands vary from blues and jazz to rock ‘n’ roll, so check the calendar ahead of time to see who’s performing.
If you’re in Memphis in the summer or fall, be sure to check out Levitt Shell, a large amphitheater where Elvis performed his first public show. “It’s been revitalized in the past several years and has a state-of-the-art sound system,” says Whitfield. “They offer 50 free shows per year, everything from rock to blues to indie and world music.”
If you thrive on late-night excitement, check out Hi Tone, a popular lounge and rock venue featuring mainly local artists. “They have live music almost every day, with later shows and a bar atmosphere,” says Whitfield. “It’s a Memphis institution.”
Annual Music Festivals
Memphis plays host to a wide range of festivals each year, many with a live music component. Every May, the Beale Street Music Festival brings big-name stars like Paul Simon and Neil Young to Memphis, while also highlighting a variety of local and regional bands. Held in mid-September, the Cooper-Young Festival draws more than 100,000 attendees to enjoy live music, arts, and crafts vendors. In October, Mempho features mainly Americana musicians from Memphis and beyond in the beautiful natural surroundings of 4,500-acre Shelby Farms Park.
What are your favorite music hotspots in Memphis? Tell us about them on Facebook.