Given our love of music, Memphis has been on our short list of places to visit for several years now. From the birth of the blues in the early 1900’s to the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and soul in the 50’s, Memphis has long been a music mecca.
We strolled down legendary Beale Street, enjoying the sensory overload: neon lights, blues tunes spilling out of the bars and cafés, and the enticing aroma of smoky barbecue. We spent hours exploring the history of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll in the excellent Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum at the corner of Beale and Highway 61, also known as the Blues Highway.
We had a blast on a high-energy tour of tiny Sun Studio, reliving the day when 19-year old Elvis Presley walked through the door and cut his first record. Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, basically didn’t give a rip about Jim Crow laws—all he cared about was the music and providing equal opportunities for musicians. His work helped to break down racial barriers in the music industry. Phillips introduced not only Elvis, but also Howlin’ Wolf, B. B. King, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis to the world—and music has never been the same.
We took a break from our music immersion to spend an afternoon at the superb National Civil Rights Museum. Poignantly housed in the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, the museum takes an unflinching look at the struggles and victories of black Americans. Alternately heartbreaking and triumphant, the Civil Rights Museum is one of the most inspiring museums we’ve visited.
Memphis has had a difficult past, rife with economic problems, racial issues, and most tragically, the assassination of Dr. King. Many people say that the racial lines are still strongly drawn here. Memphis consistently ranks as one of the poorest big cities in the country, as well as one of the most crime-ridden. There’s an abundant police presence in the downtown area (including Beale Street), which is both disquieting and reassuring.
As for our personal experience, we found Beale Street to be clean and remarkably well behaved (we were there mid-week, which undoubtably contributed to the mellow vibe), we loved the music, the downtown area is attractive and clearly on the upswing, and the museums are some of the most interesting we’ve visited anywhere. We’re looking forward to a return visit to catch the things we missed our first time around—and we’re still in search of the perfect barbecue. For those who might be wondering, we bypassed Graceland—it’s ridiculously expensive and painfully tacky, just like Elvis’ sequined jumpsuits. However, we did stop by his modest birthplace in Tupelo on our way out of Memphis.
About the campground:
In Memphis: T. O. Fuller State Park is convenient (about 10 miles from Beale Street) and attractive. The sites are large, level, and paved, with electric and water hookups. Extras include several hiking trails, a coin laundry, and an ice machine. Verizon coverage is decent. Here’s the best part: Tennessee State Parks offers a senior discount in the late fall and winter, so our site was a mere $11 per night ($22 if you’re not old, haha).
In Tupelo: Just five miles outside of Tupelo, Mississippi, Tombigbee State Park was a perfect stop as we headed south. It’s a lovely small park with only 20 sites. Full hook-ups, excellent Verizon, and $14 per night with the senior discount ($20 otherwise).
Next Up: Making a Beeline South