The Yellowhammer State has produced many of America’s most revered and influential musicians including WC Handy ("Father of the Blues"), Jimmie Rodgers ("The Father of Country Music") and Hank Williams ("The King of Country"). It’s also home to legendary Fame Studios, the ‘Hit Factory’ frequented by everyone from Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding to Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones.
To share the incredible legacy with the wider world, music specialists from the Maverick Festival (first and finest American Festival in the UK) and Bon Voyage, have curated an insider’s guide to the state taking in all the musical milestones from Muscle Shoals to the Gulf Coast with a strictly Alabama soundtrack featuring local artists like Jason Isbell, Emmylou Harris, The Civil Wars, St Paul & The Broken Bones, Dylan Leblanc and many more.
Distance: 98 miles
Arrive into Atlanta, Georgia ready to hit the road. After collecting your car, it's about an hour and a half journey to Opelika, Alabama. Don’t forget to reset your clock because you gain an hour with the time change from Eastern to Central Time Zones. And, life here is at a much slower pace, so throw away any big city ideas and immerse yourself in an authentic 'living like an Alabama local' holiday.
First stop? It has to be for an American hot dog and milk shake at Opelika's iconic Mrs. Story’s Dairy Bar. Your hotel is nearby and after checking in you have a little time to rest and relax before a night out. Pay a visit to the John Emerald Distillery, a small batch craft distillery, known for its gin, vodka, single malt whiskey and rums. Take a tour, or just enjoy the tasting room. Nearby is the Red Clay Brewery ideal for craft beer and pizza, plus plenty of pubs and restaurants along the old railroad tracks.
Distance: 251 miles
As well as being one of the wellsprings of American popular music, Alabama is also the cradle of the civil right movement. Located near the Hank Williams Museum are the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The Legacy Museum uses interactive media, sculpture, videography and exhibits to tell the story of the domestic slave trade and the Jim Crow laws in the south of years past
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened to the public on April 26, 2018 and is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved people.
Depart Montgomery continuing south and stop for lunch or a snack at Priester’s Pecan Company in Fort Deposit. Priester’s is close to 100 years old and manufactures pecan-based candy and goodies which are shipped worldwide. While there, observe the candy processing areas and shelling plant. If you have time you can take a 20-minute tour.
About an hour’s drive south of Montgomery towards Alabama’s coast is the small town of Georgiana - the childhood home of Hank Williams. Hank enjoyed making music, perhaps an escape from the hard times he and his family experienced. Local musicians, including a black street singer known as Teetot, taught Hank Williams how to play the guitar. In the summer, on the front porch and during the winter they'd crawl underneath the house to play and sing near the warmth of the fireplace.
Two and a half hours down the highway from Georgiana, the road yields Alabama’s famed Gulf Shores & Orange Beach community. Gulf Shores is located on the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico and features brilliant sugar-white sand. In addition to the magnificent beach and emerald green water, the community draws visitors for sport fishing, golf and has become a fresh seafood lover’s delight. The Hangout is a popular spot and Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina are both great dinner options.
Enjoy the morning at your leisure on the beach. About noon, we suggest you drive to LuLu’s for lunch. This is run by Lucy Buffett, Jimmy's sister and is a great burger joint, so go on have the famous 'Cheeseburger in Paradise'!
If you happen to be in the area on a Sunday, head north to the small rural community of Silverhill for the house concert at The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm. Gather around the 200-year-old Cedar Tree and enjoy listening to various folk artists ‘pickin’ and grinnin’ on the front porch. Many of the country’s best songwriters and musicians have performed here with gusto. During the concert, but later in the day, enjoy a traditional ‘covered-dish’ supper. This is when local folks bring various mouth-watering Southern dishes from home to share at a community meal. This is an intimate, private, event for music lovers, so let Bon Voyage check that it's running whilst you are in town and obtain tickets for you.
Distance: 184 miles
Rise early today and watch the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico before your journey into Mississippi. Fairhope, voted 'The Best Small Town in the USA" by readers of Southern Living Magazine, is worth a stroll. Mooch around the art galleries, boutiques and cafes in what feels like a small town movie set.
Continue south and then head west where you cross Mobile Bay along the Highway 98 Causeway rather than on Interstate 10. There are lots of seafood restaurants along the Causeway, as well as the fascinating Five Rivers Delta Resource Center. Consider a stop at USS Alabama Battleship Park and climb aboard the USS Alabama and the USS Drum, the oldest American submarine on public display.
Referred to as 'Mississippi’s Music City', the people of Meridian are accustomed to tapping toes and clapping hands to the music in the air all year long, thanks to many outdoor music festivals, downtown concerts and bands playing nearly every night at several venues.
You'll also find the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Experience - The MAX - a $50 million dollar museum highlighting Mississippi artists. The immersive exhibits take you behind the scenes to the humble birthplace of the stars. Explore their cultural influences, glimpse their earliest forms of creative expression and see the raw creative process behind the polished work you know and love.
Distance: 95 miles
Jimmy Rogers, the' Father of Country Music', also known as “The Singing Brakeman”, was born and raised in the Meridian area. Visit the Jimmy Rodgers Museum before a relatively short drive back into Alabama and the city of Tuscaloosa. Be sure to visit The Alabama Blues Project - located inside the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center. This project has gained an international reputation for its work with young musicians and at risk students. It is also major resource centre for Alabama blues.
Tuscaloosa is the birthplace of the ‘Queen of the Blues’, Dinah Washington, you’ll find art exhibits inside the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center and the Paul R. Jones Museum one block away. Both are on the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail as the city was pivotal in the civil rights movement in Alabama. A guide to the trail is available at the local Visitor Information Center and at the trail stops.
The Alabama Natural History Museum and the museum dedicated to the legendary American College Football coach, Paul Bear Bryant, also call Tuscaloosa home. As a college town, you'll find lots of music along “The Strip” in Tuscaloosa next to the University of Alabama. The Lookout Rooftop Bar at Hotel Indigo and Temerson Square Arts & Entertainment District, located two blocks away from your hotel, are ideal for music, beer and food...in that order! Temerson Square is a turn of the century refurbished cotton warehouse with a variety of bars and eateries. Just around the corner on University Boulevard, you’ll find Black Warrior Brewing Company where you can taste local craft beers brewed onsite.
Distance: 122 miles
Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley and home to a memorial that includes his home, a museum and the church where the Presley family attended. Johnnie's Drive-In was a favourite hang-out of Elvis and today you can sit in the booth he always made a beeline for and choose dishes from the original menu. Die hard fans will want to visit the Tupelo Hardware Company where Elvis begged his mother to buy him a shotgun. She refused and to console him, employees of the store let him strum a guitar. Elvis was so enthralled that his mother bought the guitar for him and as they say - the rest is......
If you are into classic cars, the Tupelo Automobile Museum features over 100 antique, classic and collectable cars, including a rare Tucker and a Lincoln once owned by Elvis.
You should arrive in Florence, Alabama, late this afternoon where you'll find live music in many nearby locations near your hotel. Our suggestion - Singing River Brewing Company & Taproom for a great local experience.
Distance: 119 miles
The Quad-Cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia, are referred to as The Shoals, and are THE destination to head for if you’re a true music fan.
A must-do is a tour of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals which was started by Rick Hall in the 1950s and owned by him until his death in 2018. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and numerous others all recorded here. FAME has been involved in recording or publishing records that have sold over 350 million copies worldwide.
The Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield was formed by the four session musicians at FAME Studios known as The Swampers. Numerous artists including Boy Dylan, Paul Simon, Cher, Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones recorded here. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame honours more than 1,200 Alabama musicians from Hank Williams and Sun Ra to Emmylou Harris and the Commodores. Check out the Sun Studio equipment Phillips used to record Elvis Presley; the country group ALABAMA's tour bus; a 15-foot jukebox and 17-foot guitar that play songs by Alabama artists.
Back in Florence you’ll encounter two of the greatest figures in blues and rock in the same afternoon, W.C. Handy and Sam Philips. Handy earned the title "Father of the Blues" not just because he wrote some of the most famous blues standards, but because by transcribing blues music to sheet music, he shared little-known southern music with musicians around the world. The W.C. Handy Birthplace, Museum and Library, housed in the log cabin in which Handy was born in 1873, holds a wealth of memorabilia, including his trumpet, much of his handwritten music and the piano on which he composed the classic "St. Louis Blues".
Tonight you will find live music in several locations but we suggest the Rattlesnake Saloon near Tuscumbia. Featured on the Food Network's "Craziest Restaurants in America" for its unique setting, it’s the cave-like watering hole that looks like the set of an old Western!
Distance: 112 miles
Before leaving Florence, pop into Cypress Moon Studios where many music icons such as Bob Dylan, Steve Winwood and Bob Seger have recorded hits.
For all its small town charm, Birmingham is a sophisticated community with a vibe that you won't necessarily encounter in other like-size cities. It's hard to put a finger on the particulars of it, but it's here.
Head to the moving Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which is located downtown. Opened in the 1990s, it's a moving and educational example of how a city broken by hate found a way to heal itself.
In the bustling Lakeview District and 5 Points South entertainment districts you’ll find a diverse selection of music from bluegrass to reggae. Depending on the night of the week, catching a live show at Saturn or Workplay is a must.
Aim to be in Birmingham for a Saturday morning and head for the Pepper Place Market. Open from mid-April through mid December, you'll find food trucks offering mouth-watering southern dishes, local crafts and all types of live music, normally until noon.
Also on first three Saturdays of the month, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, although closed for renovations until December 2020, still holds free jazz classes where you can learn to read and improvise jazz.
Just outside of Birmingham near the small town of Leeds, is the Barber Motorsports Park housing one of the world’s largest car and motorcycle collections. More than 1,600 motorcycles represent 100 years of production from 20 countries. Spanning 880 acres, the park features a world-class racetrack where Grand Prix and motorcycle races are held.
Distance: 146 miles
Drive back to Atlanta today for your return flight. Remember that you lose an hour when you cross into the Eastern Time Zone. An extra night in Atlanta can also be arranged.
In fact, if you aren’t in a hurry to get home, let the music continue with visits to Nashville, Memphis or New Orleans? Call Bon Voyage for further details.