Working with our travel partner, Collette, Reader’s Digest is offering an 8-day tour uncovering the roots of North America’s rich musical history. Taking in Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, this tour will give music-lovers an authentic taste of the cities that created our modern musical landscape

The United States is, and always has been, a mosaic of ideas, inspirations and cultures. Its foundations were built on the multicoloured, multifaceted building blocks of the old world – whether from the Americas, Europe, Africa, or elsewhere – and strengthened by combining their most distinctive elements into something new, dynamic and surprising. Nowhere is this more true than in the South, and nowhere in the South is this more true than in the musical trinity of New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville.

The South’s long history of hardship and division is in many ways responsible for the vibrancy of its culture. In the face of racial segregation, followed by continuing widespread poverty and inequality, the region has contributed to some of the twentieth century’s most startling musical innovations. And now, when much of the rest of the US is dominated by mile upon mile of anonymous, homogeneous strip malls and retail parks, New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville have managed to retain their authentic charm and easygoing, life-embracing swagger.

“On any day or night of the week, a musical revelation is waiting for the curious around each street corner”

Each city has a great deal in common – the voices, melodies and rhythms that fill their streets day and night are their very lifeblood – but their differences lend them their own special place in the hearts of musicians and music lovers alike. The skronk and shuffle of jazz in New Orleans, the soulful blues and raw rock ‘n’ roll of Memphis and the infectious twang of country in Nashville have over the years seeped into the very fabric of their buildings, from small, family-run bars and cafés to world-renowned concert halls.

But these cities are not stuck in the past. Although a celebration of tradition, and even sometimes nostalgia, is central to their appeal, the sounds of the present and the future can be discovered here too. On any day or night of the week, a musical revelation is waiting for the curious around each street corner, as established big-name stars, world-class virtuosos and eager upstarts with something to prove play their hearts out on stoops, stages and sidewalks.



New Orleans staged the first opera ever performed in the United States – Andre Gretry’s ‘Sylvain’ – in 1796

New Orleans has been described as ‘America’s most haunted city’, and ghost tours are a popular attraction

The city is home to the longest bridge in the world, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, which stretches nearly 24 miles.

Although the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on the city cannot be overstated, New Orleans has bounced back in an astonishing and inspirational way in the subsequent years. This is a place where life and death have always been close bedfellows, and the city embraces both with equal verve – its famous jazz funeral processions are a moving combination of the sombre and the joyful, and a fine example of what makes New Orleans unique. And the annual New Orleans Jazz Fest offers visitors a glimpse of just how central jazz is to the identity of the city that gave the world Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong.

Like the Mississippi river that meanders lazily through the town, New Orleans’ approach to life is laid-back and languorous –  it is known as the Big Easy, after all.

That even applies to its layout: “In New Orleans particularly, it’s easy to walk a little further afield to check out some less touristy places on Frenchmen Street,” says Dee McConnaughy, who visited last year. “I’d be less inclined to walk too far in Memphis; the streets are wide and deserted, and empty lots pepper the city centre.” New Orleans, she adds, is “almost overwhelmingly beautiful”.

“Few of the locals would care about such things as dieting – people here seem to be very comfortable in their own skin.”

As well as music, the unmistakable character of the three cities is reflected in their distinctive approaches to food. One of the local culinary delicacies any New Orleans resident will be more than happy to recommend to the hungry visitor is gumbo, a hearty stew of rich and powerful flavours – and the dish serves as a potent metaphor for the place itself. Just like the ‘city that care forgot’, gumbo packs a punch of Spanish, Cajun, Cuban, West African and French influences, along with a certain je ne sais quoi that gives it a piquancy all of its own. Similarly, the ubiquitous deep-fried sweet pastries known as beignets, for which the city is justifiably renowned, are a uniquely New Orleans take on elements of French and Creole cuisine which, while pleasing to the tastebuds, are not quite so obliging to the waistline. Not that many of the locals would be so uptight as to care about such things as dieting – people here seem to be very comfortable in their own skin.

Beignets are so central to New Orleans’ identity that they are dispensed in huge numbers and with an almost military precision: “The operation in the Morning Call café (open 24 hours) was slick,” says Dee. “The staff were well-drilled as the tourists swept in, and plates of beignets and coffees came flying out of the kitchen. Like a hoard of locusts, we were there one minute and gone the next, leaving only crumbs in our wake.”


On July 30, 1954 Elvis Presley played what has been called “the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll show” at the Levitt Shell auditorium

Many bars ask for ID, even if you don’t appear to be in the first flush of youth – it is a good idea to bring a passport/driving licence even if you are over 21

The ‘Duck Palace’ which houses the ducks on the roof of the Peabody Hotel cost $200,000 to build and includes granite flooring and ceiling fans.

A visit to Memphis must, of course, include a trip to Graceland, the home of local boy Elvis Presley – and the spiritual home to the millions of fans who have made the pilgrimage. The King may have left the building but his presence can be felt in every dazzling chandelier, chintzy soft furnishing and alluring souvenir, and the place has a genuine sense of magic. It is no surprise that it is the second-most-visited residence in the United States, after the White House. Elvis is just one thread in the city’s rich musical tapestry though. His Sun Studios comrades included Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, while Stax Studio hosted such luminaries as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.

“The King may have left the building but his presence can be felt in every dazzling chandelier, chintzy soft furnishing and alluring souvenir”

Memphis is very much barbeque city, a place where sizzling steaks and sticky, sauce-laden ribs lie in wait to tempt the ravenous. Perhaps it is due to concerns about overzealous carnivores that, at 11am every day since 1933, the ducks of the Peabody Hotel have been escorted from their home on the building’s roof down to the lobby, where they paddle in the fountain to the strains of their own fanfare in front of the gaze of enraptured tourists. Or perhaps the Peabody ducks are just a symbol of Memphis’ fun, irreverent and, in some cases, slightly tacky approach to things. Beale Street is the city’s musical nerve centre, where the singing, dancing and laughter go on into the wee small hours. “Club Handy is an unpretentious Dive Bar, with a mix of tourists and locals,” says Dee. “Low key… I liked it!”

One thing worth bearing in mind is that some Memphis bars have a particularly stringent ID policy, even for those not obviously in the first flush of youth – visitors would be well advised to keep a passport or driving licence with them.


The Frist Art Gallery contains many treasures, and even offers budding artists of all ages the opportunity to try their hand at various painting techniques

Blind Nashville resident Morris Frank was the first person in the United States to have a guide dog – he brought his companion Buddy to the city in 1928

Nashville’s famous United Records Pressing factory, which has been in operation since 1949, presses up to 40,000 records a day.

While New Orleans is known for its easy going attitude and Memphis is celebrated for its often gaudy sense of fun, Nashville has been described – albeit affectionately – as one of America’s snobbiest cities.

Its early cultural aspirations to be ‘the Athens of the South’ live on in the full-scale concrete replica of the Parthenon which houses the city’s art collection, and even today Nashville is discernibly more sedate – and wealthier – than many of its neighbours. That isn’t to say that it lacks any of the soul though. The Country Music Hall of Fame is a tour through the hard-livin’, hard-drinkin’, heartbreakin’ heritage of country music, and visitors
to the nearby RCA Studio can walk in the footsteps of artists including Dolly Parton and Charlie Pride.

One of Nashville’s musical highlights is the Bluegrass Jam, which takes place every Sunday at 8pm. “We watched 20-odd musicians come and go throughout the night jamming in a circle,” says Dee. “From a guy of about 80 in dungarees playing banjo, to a young girl of around 14 singing like an angel. United by their love for music and supporting each other – a true musical community, each one given space and time to shine, the younger ones encouraged by the older ones. It was beautiful.”

The Grand Ole’ Opry is also well worth a visit – it’s more family-oriented and wholesome than Memphis’ sweaty, raucous music bars or New Orleans’ sultry swinging jazz clubs. As to which offers the most satisfying experience – well of course, that’s in the eye (and ear) of the beholder.


“Nashville more than holds its own when it comes to liquid refreshments – it is not for nothing that it has been described as a drinking town with a music problem”

Nashville is not quite so synonymous with cuisine as New Orleans and Memphis, although that has started to change. A plethora of upscale eateries run by ambitious chefs have recently made the city a magnet for gastronomes, while the traditional ‘meat and three’ restaurants, serving a main meat dish with a choice of three vegetable sides, offer more homely fare – as do the ubiquitous ‘hot chicken’ outlets which serve up an extra-spicy take on southern fried chicken. Nashville more than holds its own when it comes to liquid refreshments though – it is not for nothing that it has been described as “a drinking town with a music problem”.

Anyone who has indulged in a wine-tasting session at Belle Meade Plantation or sampled the Tennessee whiskey at one of Nashville’s historic distilleries will come away with a renewed appreciation for the region’s libations and, more than likely, a slight wobble in their walk.

“I loved Nashville,” Dee says. “It felt (and is) thriving and wholesome, and the people we came across were kind and friendly. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy – and not just because of the beer.”

DAY 1 - 3

Day 1 your journey begins in Nashville, Tennessee – the ‘“music capital of the world”. This evening gather for a spectacular dinner and holiday show at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.

Day 2 you will visit RCA Studio B, where artists including Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton recorded. After this there will be a tour of the city and a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame, followed by an evening at the world-famous Grand Ol’ Opry.

Day 3 starts with a trip to the Ryman Auditorium, followed by a wine-tasting session at the Beale Meade Plantation. Next the tour moves to Memphis, where a mouth-watering selection of southern cuisine will await your arrival.

DAY 4 - 5

Day 4 continues in Memphis, with local musicians guiding you through the city’s musical landscape. A trip to Elvis’s spiritual home Graceland follows, after which you will be free to explore Memphis’s vibrant nightlife on Beale Street.

On Day 5 the tour leaves Memphis for New Orleans, where the sounds of jazz and the tastes of the city’s renowned culinary delights will be there to greet you.

New Orleans
DAY 6 - 8

Day 6 offers the chance to either explore the city’s famous French Quarter and its surroundings on foot, or to take a coach trip through some of New Orleans’ most stunning panoramic views.

Day 7 includes a Louisiana swamp cruise on which you will encounter the astonishing array of wildlife surrounding the city. Back in New Orleans, prepare yourself for a feast as a top chef takes you through a demonstration of the city’s unique cooking styles, before you head to the French Quarter for an evening of authentic live jazz.

Day 8 your journey comes to an end, the sounds of three of America’s most musical cities still ringing in you


Reader’s Digest only recommends the very best tours, which is why we are working with Collette – boasting a century of travel experience and strong family ownership, Collette focusses on helping you get the very best curated experience when you travel.

If you want to find out more about the US MUSIC CITIES TOUR then you can request a no-obligation quote below or call 0800 804 8373 to speak to a travel adviser.

If you can’t wait to get your tour booked then click on ‘buy now’ to go straight through to the Collette site and plan the adventure of a lifetime.