Have you ever had a stopover on your travels that you didn’t expect much from? Well for me, that place was Memphis, Tennessee.
But let me tell you, all expectations I had of this City boring me to tears completely vanished the second our tour bus pulled in.
Our first stop was, of course, Graceland. How could it not be?
With my mother being a bit of an Elvis freak (I’m talking photos of Elvis around the house, memorabilia on every shelf, films on repeat, I could go on…), I was aware of the allure of Graceland from a very young age. But not only did I never expect to go there, I never thought I’d actually care! And yet, there I was, standing outside the door of the second most-visited house in the United States (only to the White House), with butterflies in my stomach, a smile on my face, and the sweet, sweet sound of John Stamos’ guided tour in my ears. As it turns out, the name Elvis Presley is synonymous with Memphis for good reason!
Walking inside the house, you’re greeted with nothing but old-timey class. The mixture of elegance and downright kookiness makes you anxious to see more, and dare I say it, if it weren’t for the slow-walking hoards of tourists in front of me, I would have skipped through those halls like a giddy school-girl.
From the giant custom couch of the downstairs living area with its three side-by-side TVs, to the absurdity of the Billiards room and Jungle room (which I will one day emulate in my own home, mark my words), I bloody loved that house. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a grown man whose favourite food was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich filled with a pound of bacon and bananas – timeless and classic with just a hint of ‘what the fuck’.
You then walk outside past the paddocks of horses and fountains before being ushered into what’s known as the ‘Hall of Gold’. Why is it called the Hall of Gold, you may ask? Well, because everywhere you look, there’s awards, gold records, and cabinets full of priceless memorabilia that put even my mother’s collections to shame. It’s really something you have to see to believe.
It’s then time to view the gravesite of the King himself, laid to rest next his parents, his Grandmother, and Elvis’ own twin brother, Jessie Garon. Remember how I said earlier that I didn’t think I’d actually care? Well, this stone-hearted gal may have shed a tear or two…
Our next stop was Sun Studio, which any history-lovin’ music fan would recognise as being the place Sam Phillips signed and recorded the likes of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and of course, Elvis Presley. Unfamiliar with the story? Go watch ‘Walk the Line’ once or twice and you’ll be an expert.
Sun Studio was another one of those places that I always knew existed, but honestly, didn’t really give a crap about. Until I stepped inside, that is. Though there was unfortunately no narration from Uncle Jesse this time, we were treated to a guided tour by an enthusiastic young employee whose love of the history of the Studio was infectious.
Did I all of a sudden care that Howlin’ Wolf was a big hit? You bet I did! Do I know who that is? Nope!
But stepping into that old recording studio and standing in the same spot as some of the greatest music artists in the world, something comes over you. I’ve always loved Johnny Cash’s music for example, but to actually touch and dance around with a microphone he once used? Just look at that big smiling idiot! I was ecstatic.
Then came the real stand-out… the nightlife on Beale Street. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into by agreeing to spend a night there, but from the little I can actually remember, I really enjoyed myself.
Beale Street is a major tourist attraction in Downtown Memphis that’s 3km long and littered with restaurants, shops, and night clubs. It’s often regarded as the birthplace of the Blues, and has seen performances from music legends such as Louis Armstrong and B.B King.
Just try and picture the neon lights of Vegas with a smaller (albeit just as rowdy) version of a New Years Eve crowd and you’ve got a typical Saturday night on Beale Street. With no open container laws, tourists flood the street – alcohol in hand, and sing and dance from night club to night club. The fact that you’re not even allowed on the street on busy Friday/Saturday nights unless you’re 21+ years old (the U.S legal drinking age) should give you a good idea of what to expect.
As a mostly non-drinker and in-bed-by-9pm-with-a-cup-of-tea party pooper, that’s a description that would usually have me saying “No, thanks. That’s not for me!”. How very mistaken I was! Second only to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street had a vibe that was impossible to ignore, and just as impossible to not participate in.
If I remember correctly (and I do), I believe I even won a dance competition at B.B King’s Blues Club that night. And yes, I will continue to remind every dang person that will listen that that once happened, until the day I die.
That should be it for the main tourist-y highlights of Memphis, right? Wrong. This at least deserves an honourable mention.
On the way back to our hotel after Sun Studio (probably for a nap if I’m honest, I’m exhausted just thinking about how busy this day was), we stopped by what we assumed was just a little hole-in-the-wall fried chicken shop. Turns out, this fried chicken shop was actually the original ‘Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken’, and oh lordy, was this the best fried chicken we’d ever had. It’s even been featured on TV shows like ‘Man v. Food’, and ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’.
There’s not much else to say about Gus’s, other than if you ever find yourself in Memphis, do yourself a favour and try it (and send some my way!). It’s forever ruined KFC for me. Okay, stop talking about food, Jenna, you’re drooling…
So, what’s the point of sharing all of this?
Try not to discount a City just because you’re not expecting it to be as exciting as your other stops. It might surprise you! And you just may end up having one of the best days of your life.