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Must-see musical attractions in Minnesota and Tennessee

Visit Prince’s Paisley Park home and studio, marvel at historic Memphis recording studios and see the Tennessee town where country music was born.

Sun Studios
Sun Studio (Credit: Tennessee Tourism)

A trip through Mississippi River Country is a trip through the history of America’s music. Throughout the 10-state region, visitors will discover the stories, locations and outsized personalities behind the creation of uniquely American musical forms like country, rock ‘n roll, blues and soul music. Here are three destinations music lovers shouldn’t miss.

Minnesota: Paisley Park

Minnesota is home to its share of musical icons. Bob Dylan was born in Duluth and raised in Hibbing, and he spent his early college years performing in venues around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul (in fact, an iconic mural of Dylan entitled “The Times They Are A-Changin’” can be found at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and North 5th Street in downtown Minneapolis). But another legendary musician made his home in the Twin Cities, too. Prince—who skyrocketed to fame in the 1970s and ‘80s—was born and raised in Minneapolis, and his famed Paisley Park private estate and production complex in nearby Chanhassen opened for tours after the singer’s death in 2016. Visitors can see memorabilia and artifacts from throughout Prince’s life and career and walk through the studios where he made some of his best-loved records.

Other options: Prince got his start at First Avenue, a live music venue in downtown Minneapolis that has been welcoming groundbreaking performers for nearly 50 years. Located on the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, the Dakota is a world-famous jazz club and restaurant offering live music seven nights a week.

Getting there: Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport welcomes direct flights daily.

Memphis: Iconic record labels – Sun Studio and Stax

So much music history was made in Memphis, so there many places where visitors can explore the invention and evolution of blues, country and many other uniquely American styles of music. But two sites—one a recording studio-turned-museum and the other an iconic recording space where artists still record today—epitomize the creativity and musical history of this city. Sun Studio is one of the world’s most famous recording studios, and rightfully so—it helped launch the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and others, and world-famous bands like U2 have recorded there. Tourgoers can see memorabilia from Sun’s history and walk through the famous recording studio. Nearby, music fans can visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which tells the story of the record studio where greats like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers cut albums. The museum features interactive exhibits and an exact replica of the legendary Studio A, a converted movie theater that served as Stax’s main recording space.

Other options: Memphis is also the home of Elvis Presley, and the late singer’s Graceland is open for tours of the mansion, Elvis’ archives, an automobile museum and Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a 200,000-square-foot art entertainment and exhibit complex. The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian, tells the story of the musical pioneers behind the birth of rock and soul music.

Getting there: Memphis is served by Memphis International Airport.

Tennessee: Birthplace of Country Music

The small town of Bristol—located in far northeastern Tennessee on the state’s border with Virginia—made music history in 1927. It was there that legendary country musicians Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family first recorded their music commercially, setting the stage for the creation of modern country music. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, opened in 2014 as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, tells the story of these important recording sessions and how these classic artists’ influence lives on in the music of today in the United States and worldwide. The venue is also home to the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival and daily broadcasts of WCBM Radio Bristol.

Other options: Country music fans have almost countless options for learning about the art form’s history in Nashville, including the Country Music Hall of Fame,  the Bluebird Café, and the Ryman Auditorium, the “Mother Church of Country Music.” Dollywood is country music icon Dolly Parton’s sprawling entertainment complex in Pigeon Forge in the Great Smoky Mountains that celebrates the music and culture of Tennessee.

Getting there: Bristol is a 3½-hour drive from Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., or a 4½-hour drive from Nashville International Airport. Pigeon Forge is a 4-hour drive from Nashville.