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Published May/June 2006

Travel to Shreveport, Memphis, Branson and St. Louis and discover music is the common thread that connects these cities.
By Pat Lindsey

Melodic threads of blues, gospel, country and rock weave four great American cities—Shreveport, Memphis, Branson and St. Louis—into a musical tapestry that represents our country’s musical heritage. Each city boasts its fair share of musical talent from the past and present, as well as its own down-home festivals and concerts.

Shreveport: Where Elvis began his career

To appreciate the musical history rooted in Shreveport, visitors must tour the Municipal Auditorium and Stage of Stars Museum at 705 Elvis Presley Ave. During the 1950s, the “Louisiana Hayride” was broadcast from the Municipal Auditorium on KWKH every Saturday night and helped launch the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash and a 19-year-old Memphis truck driver. It was on Oct. 16, 1954, that broadcaster Frank Page introduced Elvis Presley to a live audience. In his professional debut, Elvis sang “That’s Alright Mama” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Page, now 80, remembers that first night he introduced Presley.

“Elvis had what it took at the right moment. It was an unplanned happening,” he said.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame member, guitarist James Burton, also tells stories of the 1950s and the birth of rock. Burton was only 14 years old when he got his start on the “Louisiana Hayride” and played backup guitar for Johnny Horton.

“I’ve worked with a lot of entertainers,” Burton said, “but Elvis was at the top of my list.”

Next year, the James Burton International Guitar Festival will be Feb. 9–11 during Mardi Gras weekend.

Music is important to the City of Roses, the festival capital of northern Louisiana. Shreveport hosts more than 20 festivals annually. Two of the biggest are Mudbug Madness (May 25–28) and Jazz and Gumbo Music Festival (May 13 and 14). The largest festival is the eight-day Red River Revel Arts Festival held Oct. 7–14, which is known for its five stages of international, national and local entertainers.

Throughout the summer, concerts and plays are held outdoors in RiverView Park, a $6.5 million expansion along the Red River.

Memphis: The meeting place of gospel and blues

Since the 1920s, raucous Beale Street in Memphis has been a meeting place for musicians, especially bluesmen. After World War II, younger musicians blended blues with jazz and added electric amplification. Promoter Sam Phillips loved the new sound and opened a tiny recording studio–called Sun–at 706 Union Ave.

Then a nervous young man by the name of Elvis Presley recorded “That’s All Right” on July 5, 1954, at Sun Studio, and music history was made. A tour makes visitors feel as though they’re reliving history with musical greats such as Ike Turner, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and others whose careers began at Sun. The studio is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily.

By the 1960s and early 70s, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Isaac Hayes were among those recording their Southern soul hits at Stax Records. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is located on the site of the original studio at 926 E. McLemore Ave., minutes from Elvis Presley’s Graceland (3734 Elvis Presley Blvd.) and the Memphis Rock ‘N Soul Museum (191 Beale St.).

Today, Beale Street has been restored as an historic district. Shops, clubs and cafés line the street. Special points of interest are the Gibson Guitar Plant at Beale and Third, and the Center for Southern Folklore, 119 S. Main St., that features live music.

One of the city’s biggest events, the 30th annual Memphis in May International Festival, May 1–31, will feature leading jazz and blues musicians for the Beale Street Music Festival.

Branson: A musical magnet

In recent years, baby-boomers have become another big market in Branson, Mo., and there is plenty of music to relive your glory days of the 1950s and ‘60s.

The new Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater Complex & Grill, which is due to open April 21, will present acts such as Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Fabian, Bobby Vee and The Chiffons.

The Branson Variety Theater will host Frankie Avalon with Brenda Lee on Sept. 26–29 and Oct. 3–6; Neil Sedaka Oct. 17–20; and Bobby Vinton Nov. 1–Dec. 8.

In addition, AAA members can save on tickets to see the Lost in the ‘50s show, No. 1 Hits of the ‘60s, as well as The Platters.

From bluegrass to blues, there’s a show to satisfy any music appetite in Branson. And if you can’t find whatever you’re looking for along the neon-lit highways and byways of Branson, it’s probably waiting for you a few miles away at Silver Dollar City.

International foods and music can be sampled during World-Fest, April 6–May 7. From May 13–June 4, it’s Bluegrass & Barbecue. The Southern Gospel Picnic will be from Aug. 31–Sept. 10, and the big Festival of American Music and Crafts, Sept. 14–Oct. 28, with more than 500 musicians and craftsmen.

A new addition to the Silver Dollar City theme park is The Grand Exposition, which features 10 rides, and remembers the grand 19th-century world fairs and expositions.

St. Louis: Gateway to America’s Music Corridor

When W.C. Handy wrote “The St. Louis Blues,” he had no idea that he was forever cementing St. Louis’ place in American music.

During the early 1900s, Delta blues combined with influences from Scott Joplin’s rags and New Orleans’ jazz to create St. Louis’ brand of the blues.

Today, visitors will find live blues nightly at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups (700 South Broadway) and assorted blues, jazz, Cajun and Zydeco music at the Broadway Oyster Bar (736 South Broadway). More blues can be found in the historic Soulard neighborhood just south of downtown. But the blues is just one musical style to enjoy while in St. Louis, the Gateway City to the West.

For rock at its finest, a stop at nostalgic Blueberry Hill (6504 Delmar Blvd.) is a must. That’s where Chuck Berry still performs in the Duck Room each month.

During June and July, enjoy free music under the stars on Wednesday evenings at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Whitaker Music Festival. Thousands of music-lovers take their lawn chairs, blankets, wine and cheese into the garden and relax to a different band or type of music each week.

Fans of Broadway tunes flock to The Muny in Forest Park, the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor amphitheatre.

A newer festival in St. Louis, Live on the Levee concerts on the Arch grounds, will be on consecutive weekends from July 14–Aug. 12. Also on the Arch grounds on July 4th weekend will be Fair St. Louis, featuring big-name entertainers on several outdoor stages. The summer will wind down with Twilight Tuesdays, featuring free concerts on the lawn of the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. Go to www.mohistory.org for dates.

Whether you decide to take a two-week vacation or four weekend trips, the music of America, coupled with delectable regional foods served in a vast array of summertime venues, will put this quartet of cities at the top of your chart.

Pat Lindsey is a new contributor from St. Louis, Mo.


Above: Elvis Presley made his professional debut in October 1954 in Shreveport. Shreveport-Bossier City Convention and Tourist Bureau photo

Below: The beat goes on in Memphis on Beale Street. Memphis CVB photo


Before You Go
For more information, contact:

St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, 1-800-916-0040, www.explorest louis.com;

Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-888-633-9099, www.memphistrav el.com;

Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-214-3661, www.explorebranson.com;

Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, 1-800-45-VISIT (458-4748) or visit www.shreveport-bossier.org.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

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