Of the thousands of places to visit for music lovers in the USA, we have narrowed it down to these 8 iconic areas.
Jazz and blues laid the foundation for many of the US popular music genres, including rock n roll, soul, funk, hip hop, and rap. They developed from New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta, up the Mississippi River into other parts of the US and eventually the world. Folk music evolved around the same time in Appalachia and was the origin of country music and bluegrass.
Enjoy our suggested 8 great places to visit for music lovers and let us know if you have any favorites. Whether included here or not.
1. New Orleans Places to Visit for Music Lovers
Around 1890, jazz evolved from the African dance and drumming events (mainly held on Sundays in Congo square through Civil War), early Mardi Gras Indian processions, ragtime, and brass bands. Various New Orleans jazz sounds developed over the next 27 years and jazz really blew up and went mainstream. Original Dixieland Jazz Band made the first jazz recording while in NYC in 1917.
The world could not get enough jazz and popular New Orleans jazz musicians were hired off to Europe, Chicago, New York City, and elsewhere. The early 1920s saw Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, perhaps the two biggest New Orleans jazz artists, depart and revolutionize jazz while in Chicago.
Over subsequent decades, the original New Orleans jazz sound has birthed several offshoot styles, including Swing, Bebop, modern, experimental, and various jazz fusions. Really, who can resist a good second line parade?
Here are some New Orleans places to visit for music lovers.
New Orleans Jazz Museum
Located in the Old US Mint, the New Orleans Jazz Museum houses over 25,000 jazz artifacts, hosts 15 annual festivals, and presents over 365 concerts every year.
New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park
Visit New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park to learn all about jazz history and see performances. It is so cool that there is a national park devoted to jazz and of course it is in New Orleans.
Other Places to Watch Live New Orleans Jazz Music
Be sure to catch live jazz performances in New Orleans in places like Preservation Hall, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, Maison Bourbon, and The Spotted Cat Music Club.
One of our recommended New Orleans hotels is The Eliza Jane.
And see also our favorite New Orleans day trips.
Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Jazz Hall
Across Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville on Louisiana Northshore, hear traditional jazz in the oldest surviving jazz venue. Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Jazz Hall was built in 1895 and hosted underground jazz musicians who could not perform in New Orleans (black and ethnic non-white musicians).
Today Dew Drop Jazz Hall hosts monthly traditional jazz concerts in the most authentic possible setting. No acoustics, no electricity, just amazing music.
Our recommended hotel in Louisiana Northshore is Southern Hotel in Covington.
2. Mississippi Delta Blues Sites
Located between New Orleans and Memphis, the Mississippi Delta is where it all began. The blues, rock n roll, and country music genres can all trace their beginnings to the Mississippi Delta. The Who’s Who list of iconic US musicians is ridiculously dominated by Mississippians.
Here are some Mississippi Delta places to visit for music lovers.
Charley Patton is considered the Father of the Mississippi Delta Blues. He played at Dockery Farms for years, learned what was called the blues from Henry Sloan, and around 1910 started teaching others—including Howling’ Wolf and Willie Brown—and playing with countless others, including Pops Staples and Robert Johnson.
The sprawling Dockery Farm plantation at one time housed 3,000 people over 40 square miles and served as a laboratory for blues musicians, the rock stars of that era. Legendary Saturday night all-night blues jams earned the best bluesmen $200, at a time when the daily farm wage was 50 cents.
Dockery Farms is on Mississippi state highway 8 between Cleveland and Ruleville.
Legend says that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for everlasting fame. And that this event happened at The Crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Take a photo of The Crossroads sign in downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi and stop in Abe’s BBQ for some spicy tamales.
Delta Blues Museum
Also in Clarksdale, the Delta Blues Museum preserves, interprets, and encourages continuing interest of the blues. It is Mississippi’s oldest music museum.
Ground Zero Blues Club
Listen to today’s Delta Blues musicians at Ground Zero Blues Club, which is co-owned by Morgan Freeman. Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale is located next to the Delta Blues Museum. Also visit the other Ground Zero Blues Club in Biloxi when you are down on the Gulf Coast.
The Max in Meridian
Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience (aka The Max) includes the Mississippi Hall of Fame. Learn about the astounding abundance of talent born and bred in Mississippi.
Musicians inducted include Robert Johnson, B. B. King, Elvis Presley, Jimmie Rogers (Father of Country Music), Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Buffet, John Lee Hooker, Tammy Wynette, Bo Diddly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sam Cooke.
As well as W.C. Handy—the Father of the Blues (see North Alabama section below)—and non-musicians native Mississippians like Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and James Earl Jones.
Mississippi Blues Trail
The Mississippi Blues Trail has more than 200 stops divided into three sections—North, Central, and South. About 20 of the stops are out of state, including a few in Europe. View every Mississippi Blues Trail sign online on their website.
Little Zion Church
The Little Zion Church cemetery in Greensboro is the site of Robert Johnson’s grave. But two other locations also claim to be his burial site. An eternal mystery to lend to the Robert Johnson mystique.
B.B. King Museum in Indianola
In the middle of the Mississippi Delta, be sure to visit the B. B. King Museum and Interpretive Center. B. B. King was born in Indianola and this center covers his life, story, and impact on music, culture, and more.
Our favorite hotel in central Mississippi is Fairview Inn in Jackson.
Other Mississippi Music Sites
Here are some other Mississippi places to visit for music lovers.
Elvis Presley Birthplace
The King of Rock n Roll, Elvis Presley, was born and lived in Tupelo, Mississippi until he was 13 years old. In his first 13 years, Elvis was exposed to gospel, blues, and country music through the family’s church, radio programs, and friends and neighbors.
Elvis Presley Birthplace is on the Mississippi Blues Trail, Mississippi Country Music Trail, and is a Mississippi Historic Site. The grounds are open 24 hours a day and are part of the Elvis Presley Center (which includes Elvis Presley Museum and Memorial Chapel, Elvis Presley Park, and Elvis Birthplace).
GRAMMY Museum Mississippi
GRAMMY awards are the most coveted accolades in the music industry and the main GRAMMY Museum is in Los Angeles. But did you know there is a second GRAMMY Museum in Mississippi? Located on famed Highway 61 (the Blues Highway) on the campus of Delta State University in Cleveland MS, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi is a must visit for music lovers.
Jimmy Buffett Sites
A few miles from the newish Ground Zero Blues Club Biloxi, is the birthplace of Jimmy Buffett. Parrotheads visiting Pascagoula, Mississippi will enjoy seeing Jimmy Buffett’s first childhood home, Buffett Bridge, and Buffett Beach. To complete the Buffett pilgrimage, stay at the nearby Margaritaville Resort Biloxi.
Elvis Presley’s Summer Home
For several summers in the 1950s, Elvis Presley lived in a lavish hotel suite in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. You can stay in the same three-bedroom suite, as I did. Can you say that you are a true Elvis fan if you have not experienced the Love Me Tender, Love Me Suite at Gulf Hills Hotel?
3. Bristol VA/TN Places to Visit for Music Lovers
While jazz and blues were evolving in other parts of the US in the 1920s, country music had its own perfect storm origin story. A few early “mountain music” and “hillbilly” artists recorded records in New York City starting in 1922. But most Appalachian and southern artists were too poor to travel.
Record executives recognized the potential—sales/money, that is—of this type of music and traveled the US south looking for rural acts. After Savannah and Charlotte stops, producer Ralph Peer set up a recording studio in Bristol on the border of Virginia and Tennessee.
The Bristol Sessions have been called the Big Bang of Country Music, and yielded 76 songs from 19 performers. Jimmie Rogers and The Carter Family emerged from the Bristol Sessions as country music’s first stars.
Here are some Bristol places to visit for music lovers.
Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Listen to the original Bristol Sessions recordings at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol. One exhibit I loved was hearing the progression of how other artists interpreted and covered them. Fascinating.
Carter Family Fold
Whether you are a country music fan or not, put a Saturday night show at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, VA at the top of your Music Lovers Places to Visit list. During our visit, visitors from Europe, Japan, and Australia were in the house.
The Carter Family are country music pioneers and called the “First Family of Country Music.” Johnny Cash married Roseanne Carter, niece of patriarch A.P. Carter, and gave his last public performance here at Carter Family Fold.
The Crooked Road
One of the best music road trips in the world is The Crooked Road through beautiful Southwest Virginia. The Crooked Road covers 333 miles through spectacular mountain scenery and small towns. It includes nine major performances venues, 60 smaller affiliated music venues, dozens nineteen counties, and over 50 small towns.
The traditional and modern music encounters along The Crooked Road varies from pre-colonial ballads and string bands to bluegrass and gospel.
Hank Williams “Final Meal”
The Burger Bar in Bristol, VA is infamous as it is associated with the final hours of country music icon Hank Williams, Sr. Long-standing rumors and legends say that Hank Williams ate his last meal here, spoke his last words here, and even died in or outside the restaurant.
The 29-year-old Hank Williams was officially pronounced dead at a hospital in Oak Hill, WV, 150 miles from Burger Bar but likely died somewhere between Knoxville and there in the car. Still fans flock to Burger Bar to bask in the lore and legend of Hank Williams.
Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace
On the north side of I-81, the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace in Abingdon is a great stop for music lovers. It has a lot of information about The Crooked Road, local music history and musical instruments on display, locally made products for sale (including instruments), and live music.
We love stopping here on long road trips to stretch our legs and buy artisan lunch items from the market.
Our recommended hotel in Bristol is Bristol Hotel, right next door to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
4. Memphis Sites to See for Music Lovers
Rock n Roll really started in Memphis. Music historians consider Memphis as the home of the first rock n roll recording and first rock n roll concert.
In addition, Aretha Franklin and Justin Timberlake were born in Memphis. Isaac Hayes was born in nearby Covington, moved to Memphis when very young, and pioneered progressive soul music.
Here are some Memphis places to visit for music lovers.
Sun Studio and the Million Dollar Quartet
Sam Phillips opened Sun Studio in 1950. “Rocket 88” recorded in Sun Studio in 1951 by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (led by Ike Turner) is considered the first rock n roll recording. Thus Sun Studio is called the Birthplace of Rock n Roll.
The million dollar quartet of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins recorded at Sun Studio in December of 1956. Other prominent musicians who recorded in Sun Studio include B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Roy Orbison.
Sun Studio shut down in 1969 and re-opened in 1987. Acts since then include Bonnie Raitt, U2, Chris Isaak, John Mellencamp, and Ringo Starr.
Music lovers will want to stop and take a tour of Sun Studio and see the vintage equipment, including the microphone used by Elvis himself.
First Rock n Roll Concert
The performance by Elvis Presley at the Overton Park Shell in July 30, 1954 is considered to be the first rock & roll concert. Elvis was the opening act that day for headliner Slim Pickens and it was actually also the first ever Elvis public performance.
Now called Levitt Shell, the venue is restored and hosts shows throughout the year. There is a historic sign onsite about the first rock n roll performance.
Over 600,000 people visit Graceland every year and it is a must place to visit for music lovers.
Elvis called Graceland home from when he bought it in 1957 until he died in 1977. Graceland opened for public tours in 1982. In 1991, Graceland received American National Register of Historic Places recognition.
Visiting the Graceland mansion is only a part of the Elvis experience in Memphis. Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum is the largest Elvis museum in the world. Also on the Elvis Presley’s Memphis property are Presley Motors Auto Museum, two restaurants, and several other exhibits and offerings.
Memphis Rock n Soul Museum
This Smithsonian affiliate is located on highway 61 (the Blues Highway) and steps from Beale Street. The Memphis Rock n Soul Museum covers the city’s contribution to the American music history—from rural sharecroppers in 1930s to the popular studios (Sun, Stax, and others) to the global influence today.
Stax was considered the Birthplace of Soul Music. Major Stax acts included Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas, and Booker T and the MGs. After losing alll momentum in a deal with Atlantic Records in 1968, Stax rose from the ashes in the 1970s as the top soul music producer. Acts such as Isaac Hayes, Staple Singers, and Albert King created the Soul Explosion.
Today, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is a testament to the history of soul music. Exhibits feature a 1906 era Mississippi Delta church, dance floor, control room, Isaac Hayes custom car, and a wall of sound with every Stax recording.
WC Handy Memphis Home And Museum
Bustling Beale Street has retained the home of the Father of the Blues. The WC Handy Memphis Home And Museum houses memorabilia and artifacts from his time in Memphis. One block away on Beale Street is Handy Park featuring frequent free public performances.
Our recommended hotel in Memphis is The Guest House at Graceland.
McCool Travel note: a convenient way to stay at The Guest House at Graceland and visit the Memphis sites is on a Collette American Music Cities tour.
5. North Alabama Sites to Visit for Music Lovers
A small pocket of North Alabama lays claim to the Father of Rock n Roll, the Father of the Blues, for producing some of history’s greatest music (and inspiring much more), and is the birthplace of Southern Rock.
Situated equidistant from the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, and Nashville, the tiny Muscle Shoals area of Northwest Alabama produced the world’s best music in the 1960s and 1970s. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones called Muscle Shoals “Rock n Roll Heaven.”
Amazingly, I learned on a recent visit, this area is also the birthplace of American heroes and icons Helen Keller and Jesse Owens. There is something about this area you gotta experience.
Here are some North Alabama places to visit for music lovers.
Alabama Music Hall of Fame
I suggest starting your North Alabama music journey at Alabama Music Hall of Fame to give you an intro to the incredible diversity of musicians here. But also to blow your mind and completely overwhelm you.
Inducted performers include Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, Temptations, Lionel Ritchie (and his group Commodores), Jimmy Rogers, Tammy Wynette, Alabama, and so many more.
But the non-performers might be more impressive. The nearby town of Florence is the birthplace of the Father of Rock n Roll (Sam Phillips) AND the Father of the Blues (W.C. Handy) plus one of the architects of the Nashville scene (Buddy Killen). From one town—amazing!
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is located in Tuscumbia, seven miles from the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and only two miles from the Helen Keller Birthplace.
FAME Recording Studios
The soulful, iconic Muscle Shoals sound started with FAME in 1959. A couple of years later, FAME moved from Florence to its current location in Muscle Shoals and the still in operation recording studio can be visited today. Go and see, live, and absorb the history.
From this studio emerged Aretha Franklin’s first million sellers, Etta James’ and Wilson Pickett’s biggest hits, along with hundreds of other amazing recordings. Otis Redding, Alicia Keys, Kenny Chesney, Steven Tyler, Allison Krauss, Blind Boys of Alabama, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Gregg Allman are among the artists who have recorded at FAME.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
While FAME launched the Muscle Shoals sound, they were not the only player in town. In fact, the Swampers (the house rhythm section at FAME) left in 1969 to start their own studio.
The result, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, is responsible for two of The Rolling Stones biggest hits (Wild Horses and Brown Sugar) as well as hundreds of other recordings. Some of the artists who recorded here include Cher, Linda Rondstadt, Paul Anka, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Tom Orlando, Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin, Staple Singers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
In fact, the first demo of “Free Bird” was demo’d by Lynyrd Skynyrd here and you can see the piano used for it (and other iconic songs).
The building was lovingly saved and restored to 1970s look and feel by a foundation started by Dr. Dre after he saw the “Muscle Shoals” documentary (20125).
W.C. Handy Museum and Library
William Christopher (W.C.) Handy is called the “Father of the Blues” because he was the first person to record the music on paper. Until W.C. Handy, blues music was played by memory by remarkable bluesmen.
Handy’s father was a pastor and his parents did not allow musical instruments in the house (tool of the devil, they said). As a teenager, W.C. secretly bought a guitar and later a cornet.
W.C. Handy was born in the log cabin (built by his grandfather) that is part of the W.C. Handy Museum and Library in Florence. The museum has a vast collection of his memorabilia, artifacts, and one of only three known Deagan Organ Chimes in the world.
Our recommended hotel for exploring North Alabama is Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa.
An hour east of Muscle Shoals, Huntsville, Alabama has two great reasons for music lovers to visit.
One is the gravesite of Little Richard. He was called the “Architect of Rock n Roll,” and when told Elvis was called the King of Rock n Roll, said if I am not the king then I am the Queen of Rock n Roll. Little Richard (Richard Penniman) quit rock n roll and joined the ministry. He is buried at Oakwood University, where he studied religion.
The other is The Orion Amphitheater, a state-of-the-art world-class music venue developed by a group led by Ben Lovett from Mumford and Sons.
6. Nashville Sites for Music Lovers
Nashville is one of the most popular places in the US to see live music. People love Nashville for country music and honky tonk. The short section of Broadway heading away from the river is called Honky Tonk Highway and is lined with saloons and lounges featuring lively music and full pours.
Here are some Nashville places to visit for music lovers.
The Ryman Auditorium is a short block walk from the Honky Tonk Highway and is one of the most hallowed music venues in the world. It was built as a grand tabernacle before 1900 and hosted the Grand Ole Opry for 31 years (until 1974).
Called the Mother Church of Country Music, or simply Mother Church, The Ryman now hosts diverse concerts and performances and even the Grand Ole Opry once or twice a year. If you have the opportunity to catch a show here, do it!
But even if you do not see a show here, you can tour the Mother Church. On your tour, make sure to take a photo onstage before or after sitting in the classic pre-1900 pews and exploring the memorabilia.
Outside the Ryman Theater is a statue of Loretta Lynn and a historic sign for Birthplace of Bluegrass.
Country Music Hall of Fame
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum preserves and interprets country music history. Collections include instruments, clothing (performance and personal), accessories, and objects that tell the story and cover the history and culture of country music.
National Museum of African American Music
The National Museum of African American Music just opened in 2021. It is the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of Black music in America. It is located right on Broadway, a block from The Ryman.
And whatever else you do in Nashville, be sure to listen to some of the fantastic live music. Also consider visiting Franklin, nearby, which is where many country music and other entertainment celebrities choose to live.
Our recommended hotel in Nashville is Gaylord Opryland Resort, which has the current and modern Opryland venue onsite.
7. NYC Places to Visit for Music Lovers
The City That Never Sleeps has a lengthy and iconic history for US music. It has been the US cultural barometer since the 1830s.
From helping launch jazz in the early 20th century to the hotbed of disco and hip-hop origins in the 1970s through today, New York City is a place for music lovers and musicians. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Here are some New York City places for music lovers.
The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is the largest performing arts center in the world. It serves as the home of the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, Julliard School, NYC Ballet, and much more.
The legendary Apollo Theater attracts the most vibrant audiences for performers from hip hop to jazz to comedians. If the crowd does not like it, they will definitely let you know.
Operating since 1935, Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village is considered one of the world’s best jazz clubs.
The tagline at Cafe Wha? is “best live music in NYC since 1959.” Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan are among the superstar musicians who played Cafe Wha? as unknowns. So attend a show there and see tomorrow’s stars.
Since George Gershwin in the 1930s, Broadway theater music has produced some of the most popular music in the US and the world. Hamilton anyone?
Radio City Music Hall
Located in the Rockefeller Center complex, Radio City Music Hall is on the American National Register of Historic Places. It is a spectacular venue for watching the Radio City Rockettes as well as any concert held there.
One convenient way to catch a Broadway play and a Radio City Music performance is on a Collette NYC Tour.
With perfect acoustics and classic design, Carnegie Hall is the ultimate venue for many performers. From Sinatra to Adele, playing Carnegie Hall means you are really something. For a music lover, seeing a favorite artist at Carnegie Hall would be phenomenal.
New York City Neighborhoods
Fanatical music lovers will enjoy exploring various neighborhoods based on what appeals to them. Here are a few ideas.
- Washington Heights for Latin
- Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Harlem for hip hop and rap
- Greenwich Village for jazz, folk music revival, and protest 60s music
- Manhattan Dance Clubs for electronic, house, and freestyle
8. Other US Places to Visit for Music Lovers
There are hundreds if not thousands of other destinations. Here are more US sites for music lovers.
- Cleveland, Ohio is home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Spend hours or days here experiencing everything about rock & roll history and its fascinating people.
- Texas Sites to Visit for Music Lovers: Austin, Texas calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World. Austin City Limits is the only TV series to be awarded the National Medal of Arts. While in Austin, visit the memorial statue for Stevie Ray Vaughan. In Lubbock, visit The Buddy Holly Center, which includes a memorial for the young rock n roll pioneer and a great museum. In Port Arthur, Museum of the Gulf Coast has a collection of memorabilia from hometown Janis Joplin.
- Vienna, Virginia, about 20 miles from Washington, DC, is home to Wolf Trap. It is the only US National Park devoted to the performing arts.
- Seattle, Washington produced Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Heart. The Museum of Pop Culture is an amazing museum with a sound lab for guests to try instruments. Several memories for Hendrix and Kurt Cobain are in the city and nearby.
- Phoenix, Arizona is home to the phenomenal Musical Instrument Museum. It displays thousands of musical instruments from 200 countries, many of which guests can play.
- Georgia is home to James Brown (Augusta), B-52s and REM (Athens), Little Richard, Otis Redding, and Allman Brothers (Macon).
- Miami, Florida is where I grew up in the late disco era. Harry Casey (KC of KC and the Sunshine Band) and Gloria Estefan were local heroes. Later, Flo Rida and Rick Ross came from my hometown. Ricky Martin, Pitbull, Enrique Iglesias, and so many more acts call Miami home. Visit Eden Roc and Fontainebleau hotels for a classic look at the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr.) era.
- Shelby, North Carolina is home to the Earl Scruggs Center. Visitors from around the world visit to learn about the banjo master and bluegrass pioneer.
- Lafayette, Louisiana is a fantastic live music scene, featuring zydeco and Cajun music every night. Head to nearby Breaux Bridge for Saturday morning zydeco breakfast at Buck & Johnny’s. True blues fans will want to head about an hour north of Lafayette to Birthplace of Buddy Guy in Lettsworth.
Thank you for checking out our great US places to visit for music lovers. Do you have a favorite US spot for music history or to watch a show?