If the word ‘museum’ doesn’t exactly instil excitement in your music-loving self, lead with the fact that this Phoenix attraction features artefacts from artists as diverse as Taylor Swift and Johnny Cash, via Adam Levine of Maroon 5 fame – whose rare Ibanez electric guitar is on display – plus the piano on which John Lennon composed Imagine and vintage material from country star Dolly Parton.
It’s a real treasure trove of musical history with more than 12,000 instruments from around the world, and audio headsets so visitors can hear their chosen exhibit as they view it. But it’s not just for oldies – this is the perfect place to bring budding musicians in search of inspiration. The Experience Gallery lets even the youngest children take their turn at banging African drums or strumming a Burmese harp, while older ones can go behind the scenes in the Conservation Gallery to see experts restoring historic instruments using authentic materials.
2. Honky Tonk Bar, Texas
Honky tonk music is one of those genres that defies definition, bringing together influences from country, ragtime and ‘hillbilly’ music into one distinctive sound. The term originated in Fort Worth, so where better to experience it live than in Billy Bob’s Texas, the largest honky tonk bar in the country?
Once a 100,000sq ft department store, the building was taken over in 1980 by Billy Bob Barnett and Spencer Taylor, picking up on the urban cowboy craze to open a bar promising line dances, live bull-riding and, most importantly, live music from some of the best country bands. It went on to play host to the likes of Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry and Garth Brooks, and was a regular fixture on American TV each New Year’s Eve.
While it still draws in big names from the country world, the best time to visit is for line-dancing lessons each Thursday night or bull riding on Fridays and Saturdays. Saga includes a line-dancing session here in its Texas tour, alongside a visit to another music capital, Austin.
3. Muscle Schoals Sound Studio, Alabama
You know a studio has done some pretty serious business when it can count the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin and Lynyrd Skynyrd among the artists to have recorded there. Cher took it so much to heart that she named an entire album after the studio address, 3614 Jackson Highway. It’s also where the Stones recorded Brown Sugar and Wild Horses for their landmark album Sticky Fingers.
Yet this venue was only partially open to the public until a huge renovation effort – sparked in part by a documentary, Muscle Shoals, looking at the studio’s influence on the sounds of the 1970s – helped raise the funds needed for refurbishment. It reopened in January and was named the Alabama Tourism Department’s attraction of the year. It now acts as something of a time warp, showcasing the same period colours and furnishings as when it was run by studio founders The Swampers.
4. Jazz in New Orleans
“New Orleans is the epicentre of jazz,” says Gold Medal assistant product manager Ashley Pilkington. “So no trip to the ‘Big Easy’ is complete without an evening on Frenchmen Street in Faubourg Marigny, grabbing a bite to eat, hopping from bar to bar and listening to some of the finest jazz on the planet.”
Jazz is so firmly rooted in the DNA of this Louisiana city that it gave rise to the names of the local basketball team and football club, and even sparked the creation of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, an area of Louis Armstrong Park in Tremé which has a visitor centre and organises live performances most days.
5. Headline acts, Las Vegas
Where else in the world could you find Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Britney Spears and Celine Dion in the same town? The stages of Las Vegas are lit up with the biggest names in the business, and with venues almost as iconic as the stars that appear on them – think the Colosseum at Caesars Palace or the Axis auditorium at Planet Hollywood – it’s a must for anyone who likes their entertainment big, bold and slightly bonkers.
The length of some stars’ residencies also turns this into a key selling point – unlike a concert that might offer only a few dates, some go on for years, so it can be enough to spur die-hard fans to make a booking.
6. Gospel music, New York
The soul-stirring sound of gospel music is deeply rooted in the traditions of the African American church, but you don’t have to be religious to find it a moving experience. Just passing by an open door as one of New York’s resident gospel choirs practises harmonies is enough to offer inspiration, so watching them in full-blown rejoicing mode is even more of a treat.
Some congregations have raised concerns over tourists treating gospel music as just another attraction, so do warn clients to be respectful – wear suitable clothing, avoid taking photos or videos during a service, and don’t just get up and leave once the music has finished. However, choose the right tour and this can be a valuable way to appreciate the power and resonance of gospel music, while getting a window into a New York neighbourhood along the way.
Most tours are centred on Harlem, often touching on the area’s history and pointing out sights associated with the likes of Malcolm X, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. But the historic churches of Brooklyn Heights are becoming an increasingly popular spot for gospel tours too.
7. Motown Museum, Detroit
Welcome to Hitsville, USA! ‘Motor City’ not only gave birth to the name, but also to an entire genre of music made famous by the likes of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Michael Jackson even paved his way to fame here, and with The Jacksons touring the UK for their 50th anniversary, and the popularity of Motown the Musical in the West End, there’s never been a better time to remind to visit.
Detroit’s Motown Museum is a must-visit even for those who don’t think of themselves as fans – you’d be surprised how many start humming Shop Around or Please Mr Postman when they take a step inside Studio A, the place where many a Motown hit was recorded.
But the museum is also a social commentary looking at how Berry Gordy – who founded the Motown movement in 1959 with nothing but an $800 loan – transformed ‘black’ music from a niche interest into the so-called ‘Sound of Young America’.
8. Country music, Nashville
Few genres of music can be so closely identified with just one place as country music is with Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
To continue the music theme, twin Nashville with fellow Tennessee hotspot Memphis, a three-hour drive away, to visit Sun Studios where Johnny Cash, BB King and Jerry Lee Lewis cut their records, or hop out of town to tour Elvis’s legendary home, Graceland.
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