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Play the moments and pause the memories. Rewind the highlights and put the best bits on repeat. Discover music's past and present in the USA; your musical pilgrimage to the very heart of jazz, pop and rock n’ roll.
It’s the city where Kurt Cobain was born and grunge was forged; the place that gave the world both brilliant music and beautiful melancholy. Seattle has been dishing out alternative rock and its complementary blue torn jeans since 1990, and it still hosts some of the most influential musical hangouts in the States. The Crocodile, a club in the neighbourhood of Belltown, has welcomed the talents of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and REM, and continues to invite the up-and-comers, lead acts and legendary greats. If you want to stand in the very spot Nirvana debuted ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, head to The OK Hotel. It’s now an apartment block, but a gallery in the lobby is open to the public on the first Thursday of every month. And if it’s the death of band members that intrigues, Cobain shot himself in the greenhouse inside his Seattle home at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard East. The greenhouse has gone and the house is heavily gated, but you can pay your respects at the nearby Viretta Park, with its memorial Cobain bench – notably estranged, shabby and covered in song lyrics.
As the widely accepted birthplace of rock n roll, Memphis has a compelling argument for its self-appointed title. Many game-changing industry leaders such as Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, the infamous Elvis Presley debuted their songs here. Sun Studio is where The King recorded his first record and is now littered with nostalgic memorabilia, including a microphone once touched by the superstar himself. Then there’s the 14-acre estate that Presley bought in 1957, AKA Graceland. Selfguided tours lead through the musician’s undeniably garish abode, from the shag carpeted walls of the ‘Jungle Room’ to the Meditation Garden, where Elvis is now buried. For musicians that are still strumming a beat, Beale Street is the former playground of singers and temptresses; boozers, brothels and above all, mayhem. A feisty ambience still hangs heavy in the air, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. Try B.B King’s very own Blues Club for house bands and hedonism; soak up the big crowds, loud applause and sling back a Motown Margarita - or three.
If New Orleans was a person, it’d be your mad uncle Jack - the one with a pocketful of tricks and a colourful past. Our point? New Orleans is a batty but spellbinding mix of tap dancing kids and gypsies reading tarot cards, timeworn buildings and jazz played by buskers - on pavements, in clubs and on every gas lamp street corner. If you’re after a quintessential back alley jazz club, the Candlelight Lounge is an unassuming diamond in the unassuming rough. Located in Tremé (the birthplace of jazz), the exterior is rundown at best, the chairs are scruffy and the tables were probably once new. But it’s the sights, sounds and smells that you come for; the in-house Tremé Brass Band and the big pots of red beans and rice, it’s absolutely New Orleans. And when you’re done dancing in backstreet jazz dives, enjoy something a little more modern at Frenchmen Street in Marigny. Home to live music, bars, pubs, clubs and eateries, this flashy entertainment district boasts 20+ establishments all spilling into the street.
Sure, the blues get bluer the further south you travel. It was, when all said and done, the Mississippi Delta and all those who hitchhiked along it that brought the art form north. But Chicago, in all its mid-western glory, will always be a blues town. With streets that rumble with the midnight happenings of underground bars and the sound of a sax hovering in the air, Chicago is the city that’s defined by the blues, but with far fewer tourists than its Mississippian cousin. You could easily stumble across any number of ‘worried notes’ on your exploration of the city, but B.L.U.E.S. bar on Halsted Street, quite literally spells it out for you. Step inside and you’ll fall down the rabbit’s warren into a world of traditional tunes, a cosy ambience and an intimacy you only get in sullen dives. The venue is bijou, the beer’s basic and the food is an afterthought, but this is old school blues at its most authentic. With local talent sitting both on and off the stage, B.L.U.E.S blurs the distinction between performer and audience, so huddle up and sing out your cynicism together.
Ah come on now little lady, ain’t we all know you love a little country! And if it isn’t for the enticing dulcet tones of a Southern drawl, you should visit Nashville for its supreme music history, notably country music. The former home of Dolly and the hangout of Elvis, even Bob Dylan recorded a few records in this city. Expand your knowledge and appreciation for a boot tapping melody at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. It’ll take you back to the very roots of this musical genre via interactive exhibits and a shiny Cadillac once owned by Elvis. From here you can book a tour of RCA Studio B, the famous rec room where Presley recorded over 200 songs, along with Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and Eddy Arnold. Honky Tonk Highway is lined with atmospheric bars but there are always hoards, so if you’re after something a little more bespoke, suss out a ‘writers night’ in a local cafe. These are open-mic nights of sorts; you’ll be treated to a stellar lineup of songwriters and songstresses, established artists and nervous auditionees.
Well regarded as the holy grail of music festivals, Coachella is one monster of a three day event. From the 40˚C heat, to flat dry desert, constant sweat and fedora hats, it’s not for the faint-hearted; if you can cope with the remoteness of Coachella Valley, the swathes of people, sleep deprivation and a distinct lack of hydration then buckle in and hold on tight. For the most part, attendees frequent Coachella for the music, but also the opportunity to share the very same desert dirt with a plethora of A-list celebrities. As well as high rollin ‘ superstars, you’re also in the realm of unprecedented musical talent; ask anyone about Daft Punk’s 2006 performance, widely considered the best set of all time, and they’ll go glassy eyed. World-class artists pair their performances with big announcements such as worldwide tours and new albums, and then of course, there are the surprise stage appearances. Is that Rihanna about to shimmy on stage next to Calvin Harris? Potentially. Anything goes at Coachella. Anything except a Daft Punk repeat… but we can all live in hope.
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