There is something special about visiting a landmark, a piece of history that has shaped country music tradition and culture, that cannot be explained. A warm tingle in your toes that makes you realize that you are truly part of something special. These 15 places will give you that tingle, as you share a stage where your idols once played (or are still playing) or simply pay your respects to the legends of country music history. These are the 15 places that every country fan should visit before they die.
Built way back in the 19th century, New Braunfels, Texas’ legendary Gruene Hall is a mecca for country music fans from across the country and locals alike. Not much has changed about Gruene Hall in the past 150 years or so. These days you can find your favorite Texas country artists and international headliners playing on a nightly basis. Just make sure you bring your dancing boots.
At least once in your life you have to pay your respects to the legends of country music. What better place to do that than at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville? This repository for country music’s most important people and artifacts has permanent and temporary exhibitions, live concerts and more country music history than you could ever imagine.
Because at some point in your life you need to say, “let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas” and mean it. The tiny Texas town is bigger in name than it is on the map, but it lives and breaths country music and culture. A visit to Luckenbach is to truly experience what it means to have a Texas state of mind. Just don’t steal the road signs.
Between Third and Fourth avenues in downtown Nashville, Printer’s Alley is perhaps the most influential 200 feet in country music history. And if not, it’s one hell of a fun place to hang out. Though the original printers and publishers are gone, the honky tonks and nightclubs have done nothing but grow and everyone who is anyone has played Printer’s Alley.
When it comes down to it, the Ernest Tubb record shop in Nashville is a record shop. But if that’s all you feel when you visit, you’re missing the point. The record shop stands as a homage to country music tradition and lifestyle. It is a reminder of country’s roots and what it means to be a country music musician or fan. And it’s home to the Texas Troubadour Theater, where you can catch the famous Midnight Jamboree or the Cowboy Church.
Graceland is such an iconic destination that it has permanently etched itself in the American psyche. How often have you heard someone say, “It’s my Graceland”? Elvis was just as influential on country music as he was on rock (he is in the hall of fame for both genres). Everyone should visit Elvis’ Memphis retreat before they die and pay their respects to the King, check out the Jungle Room, and argue which impersonator is best.
Any country music fan simply cannot go their entire life without paying a visit to the Ryman Auditorium, one of the original homes to the Grand Ole Opry. The Ryman is so influencial that it earned itself the nickname “The Mother Church of Country Music”. And it is where country music fans go to worship. The Grand Ole Opry eventually moved to the Opry house but they have returned to the Ryman for a series of shows every year.
Dolly Parton had her sights set high when she opened her theme park in 1986 in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. And boy did she reach them. Today the Appalachia-themed park is one of the nation’s finest and features ten themed areas. Visitors can ride the full-sized steam train or crash at Dolly’s Demolition Derby. Of course, no visit would be complete without a stop by the Dolly Parton Museum. You should plan on going when the park is hosting one of its many music and food festivals.
The Cheyenne Frontier Days is an annual event in late July that bills itself appropriately as a western celebration. The world’s largest outdoor rodeo is just that, with entertainment and events from all aspect of country music culture and living. In operation since the late 19th century, the Cheyenne Frontier Days are a must see for any country music fan.
It may not be the glitziest destination, but any true country music fan will make the pilgrimage to Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama to visit the final resting place of Hank Williams. Tipping your hat to Luke the Drifter is a humbling and restorative experience, one that every country music fan should make.
No country music pilgrimage would be complete without a visit to the Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Home to some of the first recordings of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, Sun Studio left an indelible stamp on the country music landscape. Today you can tour the studio and take in a performance by one of country and folk’s finest acts.
Home to the Bakersfield sound, this city in southern California doesn’t boast as many honky tonks as it did in its heyday. But Trout’s & the Blackboard Stages isn’t going anywhere soon. The famous nightclub has been around since 1931 and is a living museum, preserving the Bakersfield sound. The bar offers free live music, dancing, karaoke and has only been closed four days in the last 80 years.
The official Birthplace of Country Music , Bristol was where Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter family and others recorded the famous 1927 Bristol Sessions. Today the city is home to a museum celebrating the heritage of music from Southern Appalachia and the roots of country music. You can catch a concert at the museum or simply take in the country music history flowing down from the mountains in the Appalachian air.
To travel Route 66 is to travel America. From Chicago to Tulsa, Amarillo to Flagstaff, and finally on to Los Angeles, this road trip is like living a country song. Any country music fan will recognize hundreds of places that you’ve heard songs about songs. Besides, along the way, you can stop at many of the other country music destinations on this list.