I had a fantastic time on my 10 day road trip through Tennessee (and Mississippi and Virginia). I hadn’t taken a real road trip in about 7 years, so it was nice to get back to the freedom of the open road! Everything worked out perfectly, although I do wish I would have videoed my trip but I take lots of photos. I did everything I had planned, only skipping a few things on my original schedule. Over the 10 days and 2,408 miles I drove south through the entire state of Virginia and west through the entire state of Tennessee (then a bit into Mississippi), I virtually had no traffic and only had real rain the first few 100 miles and the last few hundred miles – and that one afternoon in Memphis.
Day1 Saturday May 19 – 500 miles to Pigeon Forge
Of course I didn’t sleep much the night before I left. I was so excited – I had been planning this trip since November. I got up early and packed the car with two suitcases, three coolers (I always travel with drinks and snacks), one purse, one chair, one raincoat, one hoodie and two hats – prepared for all weather occasions. Only I thing didn’t have traveling with me this time were my two dogs as they are seven years older now (almost 14 and 11) and are much happier at home with mom and dad – although I missed them terribly. I left my house at 9am in the pouring rain and it was still raining when I got to Winchester, Virginia so I did not stop at Patsy Cline’s house or grave as I had intended.
After eight hours (only stopping once – at Love’s) and 500 miles through the entire state of Virginia (I literally cheered as I drove over the state line into Tennessee), I was in Pigeon Forge. I had visited Pigeon Forge once before back in 2003 and loved it because it was so tacky like a little Las Vegas. But I forgot how terrible the traffic was! It took 20 minutes to go 4 miles – insane! I did enjoy my night in Pigeon Forge, but feel no real need to ever go back there again. I had fun at the Elvis and Friends show at the Memories Theater. It is the oldest show in Pigeon Forge – since 1990. I saw this show back in 2003 when Charlie Hodge (Elvis’ friend) worked there, and I was fortunate enough to meet him. The ‘friends’ portion of the show as ok. I didn’t know any Carrie Underwood songs and only one Conway Twitty song, but I was very excited for Cher and Buddy Holly – they were great. I screamed when Cher introduced “Walking in Memphis.” The Elvis (Eli Williams) was ok. His voice wasn’t the greatest, but he was a good performer with lots of fun interaction with the crowd. Before he took the stage they showed footage from Elvis on Tour, and I screamed when Jerry Schilling was on the screen. The people next to me thought I was nuts. To see all of my photos from my night in Pigeon Forge, please click here.
Day2 Sunday May 20 – 500 miles to Tunica
After a decent night’s sleep (surprising for me when I’m traveling), I woke up at 7am and was back on the road by 8am wanting to get out of Pigeon Forge before the traffic got me again. Seven hours and 455 miles later (after only stopping once – again at Love’s), I was at the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, Mississippi just about 30 minutes outside of Memphis (I cheered when I saw the signs on 40 West for Memphis). I originally had reservations at my favorite hotel The Guest House at Graceland, but Gold Strike made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – three free nights and the two other nights only $75 each plus a free buffet and free slot play. And they have a great rewards system – you play an hour and earn $20 in comp dollars to spend in food or souvenirs.
After resting for about an hour, I went down to the casino. I love Gold Strike Casino – it’s like a mini Vegas with all its big flashy slots. I played a bit and won then lost then won. I ate my free buffet then went back and played some more. I stopped at the Johnny Cash slot on my way out and won $200. I saved that ticket, since I knew I’d be back. I was up in my room by 5pm to unpack and rest up for the next fantastic four days in Memphis. To see all my photos from my night in Tunica, please click here.
Day3 Monday May 21 – Graceland
This was THE MOST PERFECT DAY! I spent the entire day (eight hours) at The Happiest Place on Earth, Graceland. After on my drive back to Tunica, I was smiling ear to ear because I had the best time at Graceland and at the same time almost crying because I already missed it. I was at Graceland by 9:30am taking the VIP tour. I had a few minutes by myself in the foyer / living room (my favorite room in Graceland) before tours started coming in and crowding the place. (Note – if you want to tour Graceland, go in the late afternoon when it’s not crowded – mornings are packed.) I spent time in my other favorite spots: Vernon’s office, the racquetball court and the Meditation Garden. In fact, I was relaxing in the Meditation Garden when I started talking to some folks and had to school them on what a great artist Lisa Marie is. I went to Vernon’s Smokehouse for lunch and had my usual five veggie plate (2 mac n cheeses, collard greens, mashed potatoes, bbq spaghetti) with sweet tea in the free refills souvenir cup and banana pudding for dessert. This year the souvenir cup is the 50th Anniversary ’68 Comeback Special. It costs about $12, but it is worth it because I can use it while I am at Graceland this week and when I come back in August for Elvis Week, so it really is a great deal. There are now TVs in Vernon’s playing Elvis performances. I stayed there and posted my photos from Graceland and around 12:30 toured all the museums in Elvis Presley’s Memphis.
First, I went to the new expanded Private Presley exhibit for the 60th Anniversary of Elvis’ Army Induction. The only real difference I saw were four big screen TVs playing four army related videos including Elvis’ pre and post army press conferences and the Welcome Home Elvis Frank Sinatra Special. I quickly walked through the Sam Phillips, Sun Studio, Presley Motors and Presley Cycles exhibits. New since I was there in January was the Cadillac Table from the old Chrome Grille. I spent about an hour in my favorite museum, Elvis the Entertainer. I enjoy spending time in the movies exhibit, in the ’69 Vegas exhibit and watching the 10 Outstanding Young Men video. Part of The Searcher is now playing in the theater. I spent about an hour and a half in the VIP lounge posting photos, relaxing and listening to the Ultimate VIP tour guide talk about some of the items from the archives. The lady in the VIP lounge recognized me from January. I learned they are playing Elvis movies in the Soundstage every day, but the same movie. It was Blue Hawaii all day that Monday. They may have been doing this in January, but I didn’t realize it.
Around 4pm, I went back up to mansion and it was empty. I got to stand alone in the foyer and living room as long as I wanted – I stayed for about a half hour. (Again if you’re a big Elvis fan, you must get the VIP tour at Graceland so you can go back up to the mansion as many times as you want that day – and go at the end of the day when it’s empty.) I leisurely walked through the rest of Graceland not taking photos, but just enjoying being there. I left Graceland around 5pm and went to Marlowe’s down the street for dinner. Marlowe’s is one of my favorite places to eat in Memphis. Elvis did not go there, but it has become a hangout for Elvis fans as well as a place for locals. There is an Elvis room and a great gift shop where many folks from the Elvis world work. I was lucky enough to again talk with JoCathy Brownlee, who dated Elvis in the 1970s. She is so sweet. My waitress was Estela, who is a big Elvis fan I know from facebook. I got my usual fried gouda sticks, sweet tea and the bbq beef brisket with mac n cheese and green beans – and brought half of it back to the hotel with me. I bought two books, a magnet and a pin from the gift shop (I had also bought a shirt at Graceland). Marlowe’s carries hard to find books, so I usually find something there I don’t already have, but it is getting difficult to find something I don’t have as my Elvis book collection keeps growing. I was back in my room in Tunica by 7pm after a nice, easy drive on back roads between Graceland and Tunica. To see ALL of my photos (and there are LOT more) from my most perfect day at Graceland, please click here.
Day4 Tuesday May 22 – Memphis Music Museums
I was the only one on my 10am tour of Jerry Lee Lewis’ ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi. Jerry still lives there and at another house about 20 minutes away, but unfortunately he was not there when I was there. I did meet his son and talked with him for a while. My tour guide Alex, who is a family friend and their photographer, was great. I got to see Jerry’s piano, his bedroom and closet, his cars, all his memorabilia that covered his walls and even got to pet his dog GiGi. I learned Jerry is a dog lover and great friends with Kris Kristofferson. It was a great tour! I bought Jerry’s autographed book, a poster from the show I went to on New Year’s Eve and a keychain. From there, I went to Elvis’ old Circle G Ranch in Horn Lake, Mississippi. I couldn’t get onto the property, so I just took photos from the road – as I circled it about 5 times. I went to my favorite Memphis restaurant for lunch, The Cupboard (a local joint), and had my usual four veggie plate (eggplant casserole, mac n cheese, fried green tomatoes, corn pudding) and sweet tea. After lunch, I drove down the street to my old house to find they finally finished the neighborhood and then saw the new Crosstown Concourse down the street. Then I went to Stax Museum that I hadn’t toured in almost 10 years. With my newfound obsession with Otis Redding, I had an all new appreciation for the tour. I bought a shirt, a magnet and two books.
After, I went to Sun Studio. I didn’t take the tour as I could give the tour, but I just hung out for a bit as I like to be in the building that gave birth to rock n roll (that’s Memphis, not Cleveland). I bought an Elvis record, but then realized I had to carry it around with me the rest of the day because it would have melted in my car. So I carried it through the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum, which I hadn’t toured in about 10 years. It is a great museum of all Memphis music, including both Sun, Stax, American and everything else. It even had an Elvis movie room, which I loved. I was hanging out on Beale Street at 4:30 – still carrying my record. I went into A. Schwab’s and two souvenir stores before settling in at the bar in Rum Boogie. It was too hot (and looked like it was going to storm) for me to sit out on the patio like I normally do. I got my favorite sausage and cheese plate and sweet tea and relaxed for a bit. I was back in my room in Tunica by 6pm. To see all of my photos from my day in Memphis (and there are a lot more of Jerry Lee’s house and all the exhibits in the museums), please click here.
Day5 Wednesday May 23 – Tupelo
I hadn’t been to Tupelo, Mississippi in almost 10 years. It is about a two hour drive from Tunica to get to Elvis’ birthplace and hometown until he was 13. The main street area is very cute, like something out of Leave It To Beaver, but the rest of the town is too out of it for me – but it was great to see all the Elvis sights. I arrived at The Birthplace about 10:45am. I toured the museum first, and I was all alone which is always nice. Then I toured the actual house where Elvis was born, and I again I was all alone with the guide. So I got to chat with her for a bit and got to just stand there and soak it all in. The furniture is not original (except for Glady’s friend’s sewing machine), but the walls, floors, doors, windows and structure is the the exact house where Elvis was born. I went into the church where the Presleys worshiped, and I went into the Memorial Chapel, which I prefer for some reason. The whole campus at The Birthplace is so serene and beautiful. I bought two books and a button. I left there and drove almost a mile to Elvis’ elementary school, Lawhon, which I had never been to before. And just about a block or so away is Johnnie’s Drive-In, which I ate at the last time I was in Tupelo almost 10 years ago. Elvis did used to eat there, so it is an attraction for Elvis fans but it is also a local joint. It is literally still a drive-in restaurant – you know where you sit in your car in the parking lot and they bring your food to you. But I went into the restaurant, which is tiny but so friendly and everyone knows each other. I sat down in a booth then realized I had sat in the Elvis booth, where Elvis used to sit – and it wasn’t even on purpose. I got a cheeseburger, which was fantastic, sweet tea and a pimento cheese sandwich to go – to have for dinner later.
From there I went to Tupelo Hardware, which I had visited the last time I was in Tupelo. This time I bought a t shirt, just like Jerry’s (Schilling). For those who don’t know, Tupelo Hardware is where Gladys bought Elvis his first guitar. I went to Fairpark, the Tupelo Fairgrounds where Elvis played as child and again as an adult. For the first time, I saw his statue there. Also for the first time, I drove by the Courthouse that used to be home to WELO where Elvis played on the Jamboree and then to Elvis’ junior high school. I was back in my room in Tunica by 4:30pm, relaxed for about an hour then went to play the slots in the casino. Using my $200 ticket from Sunday, I started where I left off playing the Johnny Cash slot that I had won on. I again won $200, then lost it all. I took out more money and played other slots throughout the casino. I came back to the Johnny Cash slot machine and lost, so I got more money out. And on the way back to the Johnny Cash slot I saw two Elvis slot machines right on the other side of Johnny Cash slots – not sure how I didn’t see them before. I won and then played down to $100, then switched to the Elvis slot next to it, won on it, then went back to the original Elvis slot. I spun and it came up 3xWild 2xWild Wild, which was the jackpot for $1800! It the attendant about 15 minutes to come over to me, meanwhile “Viva Las Vegas” kept playing over and over and over. I was paid out in cash – quite exciting! I played the win for a bit, then decided to leave with my winnings. I had $30 in comp dollars, so I got a pizza from Pickle and Jam and bought an orange travel cup from the gift shop. To see all of my photos from my day in Tupelo (and you really should because there are so many more of the birthplace with descriptions), please click here.
Day6 Thursday May 24 – Lauderdale Courts and Graceland
For the first time, I visited Lauderdale Courts the public housing project where Elvis lived as a teenager in Memphis from 1949 to 1953. They have since renovated the complex into Uptown Square Apartments, but have left Elvis’ apartment intact. It was amazing to be in the Presley’s apartment, and it was much bigger than I thought. It was surreal to be in Elvis’ bedroom, which was the larger bedroom by the way, imagining him sitting there looking out the window or playing his guitar or just thinking about life. I was on the 10am tour, and again on the tour by myself, which was nice to be in there all alone (with the tour guide). Of course none of the furniture was original, but the windows, walls, hardwood floors and bathroom tile was what was there when Elvis lived there. I drove down the street to Elvis’ high school Humes and Pop Tunes, the record store where Elvis used to hang out. I hadn’t been to either since they had put up the historical markers.
I drove over to the Loraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated and toured the National Civil Rights Museum. I haven’t toured there since I worked there in 2009. Since then, they have had a huge multi-million dollar renovation and it is completely different. I saw one of my old co-workers as soon as I walked in, which was nice. I walked over to the Arcade, the oldest restaurant in Memphis, for lunch. There is an Elvis booth there too as Elvis used to eat there, but it was occupied. In Elvis’ honor, I had the fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich with fries and sweet tea. I have never had it with bacon before, but it was yummy! As I was getting ready to leave the Arcade, it started to pour. And for the first time that week I did not have my rain coat or hat with me. I was tired of carrying it around every day and it never raining. So of course the one time I didn’t have them with me and I had a to walk a decent distance, it poured. So I waited until it slowed down a little then took off trying to stay as close to the buildings with little overhangs as possible, but I got sort of drenched. I had planned on doing some shopping at Burke’s Bookstore and Flashback, but it was such a nasty downpour I decided to skip it and head over to Graceland. I arrived around 2:30, and it had not rained there yet. I went to the Elvis the Entertainer Museum and hung out there for about an hour and then went up to tour the mansion. I had some peanut butter and banana and peanut butter and chocolate ice cream at Minnie’s before I left. I was back in my room in Tunica before 6pm. Spent the evening uploading photos and reflecting on my four fantastic days in Memphis. It went by so quickly. I had an amazing time, but was exhausted because unlike most vacations mine aren’t a time for me to relax but rather a time to go and see everything I can in my favorite city in the world. To see all of my photos from my day in Memphis (and again you really should to get the full story), please click here.
Day7 Friday May 25 – Carl Perkins in Jackson and Johnny Cash in Nashville
I woke up really early Friday, so I decided to beat the traffic and leave at 7am for Jackson – on my way to Nashville. I arrived at Carl Perkins’ house just before 9am. It was more like a compound with the main house, a rancher, and two small houses in the back. It is still owned and occupied by the Perkins family from what I understand. It was a neat house with guitars on either side of the front door. I had an hour to kill before the Rockabilly Hall of Fame opened, so I had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel right down the street from Carl’s house. After breakfast, I went to Ridgecrest Cemetary to visit Carl’s grave. It was easy to find as the mausoleum was in the back. I was at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame at exactly 10am when it opened. I had visited once before almost 10 years ago and knew it was a small place, so I figured I would be out of there before 11am and on my way to Nashville. But the owner Henry Henderson talked my ear off insisting to give me a tour and tell me about everything, which was nice and informative but I wasn’t expecting it since that is not how it was before. Henry grew up in Memphis and went to Humes High. He knew Elvis and Sam Phillips and Carl Perkins. He told me a bunch of neat stories, but then started repeating himself so I knew it was time to go. A little after 11am, I had to excuse myself and get back on the road.
I was in Nashville by 1:20 – traffic getting into the city was terrible. I checked into our downtown hotel, and my friend Sharon arrived about an hour later. We were at the Johnny Cash Museum just down the street by 3pm. This was my first time at the Johnny Cash Museum as it is new, and it did not disappoint. It was my favorite thing we saw while in Nashville. It is so well done and comprehensive covering both Johnny’s personal and professional life including handwritten lyrics, awards and the stone from his Hendersonville home that burned down. I bought a book, a record, a magnet and a button. We then went upstairs to tour the Patsy Cline Museum, which was also great but smaller. It was also my first time touring there as it is also new. It was great to see Patsy’s handwritten set lists and lyrics as well as the furniture from her house. I bought a record signed by Patsy’s daughter. We went to Ernest Tubbs Record Store, which is home to the Midnite Jamboree where Elvis played in 1955 as did many others over the years including Patsy Cline. I talked with the owners for a bit. I bought a book and a magnet. Sharon and I walked up and down Broadway noticing all the drummers playing in the windows with their bands. While trying to find a place to eat, we heard police sirens and saw them go down the street in front of the Bridgestone Arena where U2 was going to play the next night. So of course, we thought U2 was arriving a day early and ran down the street. Much to our chagrin, the police were just arresting some guy who had passed out on the sidewalk. We continued our search for a place to have dinner. Neither one of us are fans of current country music and just wanted a quiet, air conditioned place to have dinner. After several mis-tries, we decided to go back to the first restaurant we saw (not on Broadway) next to the Johnny Cash Museum – Luigi’s City Pizza Nashville. We made a great choice because it was air conditioned, quiet (no live country bands blaring) and the pizza was great – and we had enough to bring back with us for later. We also ordered some pasta to have after the U2 show the next night. We were back in our room just after 7pm. My Million Dollar Quartet tour was complete: visiting Graceland (Elvis’ home and grave), visiting Jerry Lee Lewis’ ranch, going to Carl Perkins’ house and grave and touring the Johnny Cash Museum (I have been to his house in Dyess and his grave in Hendersonville before). To see all of my photos (and there are SO many more of the Johnny Cash Museum), please click here.
Day8 Saturday May 26 – RCA Studio B, Country Music Hall of Fame, U2
I slept about five hours, which is pretty good for me when I have a roommate and it’s the night before a U2 show. We got up around 8am, went down to the crowded lobby for our free breakfast and was at the Country Music Hall of Fame by 9am. I had toured it almost 10 years before. We saw everything we wanted to see (including the Loretta Lynn exhibit, Elvis’ gold cadillac, all the gold records – many of which were Elvis’ and all of the inductee plaques) and were finished touring the museum by the time our RCA Studio B tour started at 10:30am. I had also toured it almost 10 years, but was SO excited to tour it again as it is the studio where Elvis recorded most of his songs. Last time I toured I did not go into the actual studio, but instead looked into it through the window. This time we got to go in and learn about everything in the studio and hear stories about Elvis’ recordings. I got to stand in the spot where Elvis stood while recording and touch his piano. I saw the microphone where he hit his head during “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” It was a great tour that I thoroughly enjoyed. After, we went into the gift shop in the Country Music Hall of Fame and then to lunch at the Omni Hotel next to our hotel. Again we walked around a bit trying to find an air conditioned quiet place for lunch before deciding on the Omni. Why are so many restaurants in Nashville not air conditioned?
We were back in our room by 1pm to rest up before the U2 show. It started pouring rain and when it died down, Sharon decided to walk over to the arena and wait for the band to arrive. Since it was still raining a little and Larry had not stopped once yet this tour, I wasn’t concerned about going over just to see them drive in. I wanted to conserve my energy for the show. That was the most relaxed I have ever been before a U2 show. Around 6pm, we walked over to the arena, talked to some folks and then got in the back of the ga line at 6:15. The doors opened shortly after. We got a spot on the rail of the runway toward the end near the e stage. It was a great spot! It is where Larry is for the opening song and Bono was there a lot! We were close enough to the e stage for that set and had a great view of the main stage. It is great to share the U2 show experience with my friend Sharon. And my oldest U2 friend Mike joined us on the rail for the show, and it’s always great seeing a U2 show with him again like we did 26 years ago. Before and after the show, I got to see a bunch of my friends from past U2 tours so that was really nice. It was great to hear “Acrobat” for the second time. It was the first time U2 played it in concert, but I heard them play it during the rehearsals in Hershey for the ZooTv Outside Broadcast Tour in 1992. My favorite song of the night was actually “Staring at the Sun” and “Pride” with MLK on the screen and Bono recognizing the 50th anniversary of his death. The show was exactly like the ieTour of 2015 with just different songs. For the first time, I do not feel the need to see it multiple times (as I saw 15 shows on the ieTour). To see all of my photos from my day in Nashville (and there are a lot more especially from the Country Music Hall of Fame), please click here.
Day9 Sunday May 27 – The Ryman and on the road to Wytheville
Of course I only slept about four hours after the U2 show. Sharon and I left around 10am and walked over to the Ryman, and we were exhausted. I toured it almost 10 years before. We did the self guided tour and skipped the movie because we both wanted to have lunch and get on the road to start our drive home. The Ryman is the original place of the Grand Ole Opry and still have concerts there today. I saw Lisa Marie Presley there in 2003. Elvis played there when he first was getting started. And anyone who was anyone in country music played on that stage, so it was great just to stand there and take it all in.
We met my friend Caroline for lunch at Barline’s at the Country Music Hall of Fame. We had a nice time. Sharon and I walked back to our hotel, checked out and went our separate ways. I drove by the Municipal Auditorium where Elvis played in 1973 – it’s now the Musicians Hall of Fame. I was on the road by 1:20 cst, stopped once to get gas and was at the motel in Wytheville, Virginia by 7:30 est driving through some pretty intense rain. I had an amazing dinner at Cracker Barrel – chicken and dumplings, green beans (like my grandmother used to make), mac n cheese, hash brown casserole and biscuits. Figured it was the last really great meal I will have until I return to Memphis in August for Elvis Week. To see all of my photos from my last day in Nashville (and there are many more of the Ryman), please click here.
Day10 Monday May 28 – driving home
I woke up early and was on the road by 6am on my 10th and last day of my fantastic road trip! I was home by 11am and glad to be reunited with my dogs. I had been gone 10 days and drove 2,408 miles and had the most amazing time! It was as great as I thought it was going to be! Something about the open road, the freedom of the open road.