A trip through the South is like travelling through a cultural history of America. So many famous place names and events and a very different world to the North….
The first thing you notice about Memphis ( if you can do anything but think about Elvis) is that even though it looks like a high rise modern city it is actually very small and accessible and just a little empty. It is not the wealthy city it once was and it almost feels a little abandoned but hear to Beale St and life is humming with the sound of the Blues. Listen to fantastic live music, eat pulled pork, visit Graceland ( Elvis’s tacky kitsch but somehow poignant mansion) and go to Sun Studios where rock n roll all started. For a more sombre experience visit the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated now a civil rights museum and start to get a little understanding of the past of this area. A tour of the city ( accompanied by a guitar playing, singing and dancing guide) brings all the music and stories of the city together and don’t miss Stax Records if you are a soul fan.
From Memphis travel down the Blues Highway through the Mississippi Delta – this is cotton country and the Delta is filled with small towns that feel as if nothing has changed for a long time. Some are desperately poor and some are filled with glorious antebellum mansions that recall the elegant Gone with the wind era. Natchez, one of the oldest settlements on the Mississippi river, is a beautifully restored town filled with gorgeous historic houses and a lovely place to take a horse and carriage ride drooling at the old wealth and architecture.
Continuing into Louisiana the landscape changes for cotton to sugar plantations and you start to see the famous bayous (swamps). A place to spot ‘gators’ and to start hearing Cajun music and eating the distinct food that the state is so famous for – gumbo, jambalaya, etoufee, blackened fish, crawfish – the delicious list goes on and on. It’s another great place to visit historic mansions and unlike many museums they let you touch the treasure.
Finally you arrive in New Orleans to the beautiful French Quarter lined with brightly coloured buildings and the sounds of jazz and the very fast accordion led Zydeco music. Poke around the flea markets, visit the unusual cemeteries and check out the parks (especially Louis Armstrong park filled with statues telling the history of jazz).
Highly recommended is a full city tour so you hear stories of Katrina and see the extremely elegant expensive parts of town and the coast line. As the evening progresses try the infamous ‘Hurricane’ cocktail and eat and oyster po’ boy and then sit back and enjoy the sounds and craziness the city is famed for.
See the itinerary for my Globus Coach tour America’s Musical Heritage