Country music is as American as apple pie and baseball. The genre, a combination of American folk music, blues and western music, originated in the southern American United States in the 1920s. Since then, country music has evolved to appeal to a broad, international audience. Said Scott Stem, the Media Relations Director for the Country Music Awards (CMAs), “We are a very real-life music, based on real-life experiences.”
Think of country music, and you think of Nashville, home to the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. However, Nashville isn't the only country music town in America. If you're looking for a stop on your vacation itinerary with its roots in country music, you can't go wrong visiting one of these five cities.
1. Nashville, Tennessee – Nashville is the ultimate pilgrimage for country music fans. Tennessee's capital city offers a number of attractions related to country music. Music Row, located just west of downtown, is home to a number of country music record producers, managers, agents and promoters. You can hear country entertainers at the Ryman Auditorium, called the “Mother Church of Country Music,” and the Grand Ole Opry House as well as visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum.
Photo of the Country Music Hall of Fame by Deirdre via Wikimedia Commons
You may not be the struggling artist sleeping on couches, playing the local bars and saving up for used cars in Nashville to get you from gig to gig, but that doesn't mean you can't soak up a genuine, local experience. There are plenty of country music sites to visit.
2. Memphis, Tennessee – Memphis, located in western Tennessee along the Mississippi River, earns its country roots for being the home of numerous country recording artists, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Of course, Graceland (Elvis Presley's home) is the leading attraction in Memphis. However, music fans will also want to visit Sun Studio, the place where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash got their big break. Memphis hosts the annual Beale Street Music Festival each May, a musical event that draws more than 100,000 visitors from all over the globe.
Photo of Sun Studio by David Jones via Wikimedia Commons
3. Austin, Texas – The Texas capital has become synonymous with all forms of music, including country. The city, named the No. 3 best music city in America by “Travel + Leisure” magazine, hosts the South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and technology festival each spring. It's also home to scores of live music clubs, earning it the “live music capital of the world” moniker. In addition to SXSW, Austin hosts several other music festivals throughout the year.
Photo of Austin's Sixth Street by Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0
4. Branson, Missouri – Branson, once a sleepy Ozark Mountains town, transformed itself into a country music mecca when major country music stars moved their home bases to the city and built huge performance halls in the 1980s. Today, Branson offers dozens of country music shows every night.
Photo of the Strip in Branson by Bobak CC-BY-SA-2.5
5. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – Pigeon Forge, along the Little Pigeon River in Tennessee, earns its country music city status by being the home of Dollywood, the country music theme park owned by entertainer Dolly Parton, who grew up just outside of town. Pigeon Forge is also home to several live country music venues and the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Photo of Dollywood sign by Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons