Love Him Tender, Alongside Other Hound Dogs
By Hope S. Philbrick
My first visit to Memphis, Tennessee happened to coincide with Elvis Week.
Elvis Week is an annual series of events honoring the life and career of ‘The King of Rock n’ Roll.’ The weeklong celebration is comprised of festive events, like a tribute artist (aka, impersonator) competition, trivia tours, movie screenings and special exhibits, as well as somber ones like a candlelight vigil on the anniversary of his death (August 16, 1977) held at Graceland, his former home and burial site.
Given the timing of my trip, it made sense to incorporate some key Elvis stops into my itinerary. This meant dealing with massive crowds—friendly folks, for the most part, who’d traveled to Memphis from around the world to join with likeminded fans and curiosity seekers—but if you visit these same sites any other time of year odds are you’ll get to see them without anyone stepping on your blue suede shoes.
The Graceland tour begins with a bus ride through the gates. As you board the bus you’re handed an iPad and headphones; click and swipe to begin and the first discovery is that your virtual tour guide is actor/musician John Stamos (“Uncle Jesse”!) Even if you generally scoff at pre-recorded tours, give this one a chance: Stamos’ voice is pleasant to listen to, the pacing is well timed, plus the programming is interactive so you can get more specifics if you’re curious, fast-forward if you want to skip some details. The multimedia program is tied to GPS so relevant information like photos, documents and videos pops up based on where you are on the property. If you’re likely to dive into the full content, plan to spend several hours at Graceland.
The tour takes you from Elvis’ front door to his burial plot. A visit is a chance to peek at how the superstar lived—his home décor seems gauche, but to be fair most everybody’s taste has evolved since the ‘70s; Elvis didn’t get that opportunity.
Especially if you’ve visited Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, this stately colonial revival-style mansion where he lived for 20 years is a testament to his vision of the American Dream, a realization of his childhood promise to one day earn a lot of money and buy the finest house in town.
In addition to the house there are several other buildings included on the property and in the tour, such as a recording studio, trophy building, racquetball building, horse stables and gardens. You’ll see costumes, gold records, art, photos, trophies, posters, baubles and more.
Across the street from the home is an Elvis themed strip-mall-like megaplex with Elvis’ automobile collection, two custom jets, the Elvis’ Live From Vegas exhibit and Elvis’ Hawaii exhibit, several gift shops where you can buy just about anything emblazoned with Elvis’ name and/or likeness, and much more.
That’s All Right…
Billed as telling “the story of musical pioneers who, for the love of music, overcame racial and socioeconomic barriers to create the music that shook the entire world” and created by the Smithsonian Institution, the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum pays tribute to musical pioneers, including Elvis. Exhibits in seven galleries offer a comprehensive overview of Memphis music history via photos, costumes, placards, audio-visual programs, plus interactive audio recordings and music selections. The museum’s digital audio tour is packed with information, including over 100 songs. Be prepared, because you’ll likely (re-)discover a few tunes you’ll want to later purchase and download to your device for ongoing enjoyment.
The first time that Elvis auditioned at Sun Studios, he was 18 years old and producer Sam Phillips wasn’t impressed. He sent the kid away. A year later Elvis returned, sang his heart out on “That’s All Right Mama,” and got the response he’d been hoping for. This is just one bit of music history revealed on the tour of what ultimately became the most famous recording studio in the world, the place that launched the careers of Elvis plus Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B. B. King, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and many others. Guided tours through this birthplace of rock n’ roll include outtakes from recording sessions, the chance to pose holding Elvis’ first microphone, listen to significant songs, and more. Even if you think you don’t care about music history, you’re bound to enjoy this tour.
Anchored by the Orpheum Theatre and Hard Rock Café at each end, Beale Street is one of the nation’s most iconic streets and the most visited attraction in the state of Tennessee. Stroll along it and you’ll pass clubs, restaurants and retail shops while breathing in barbecue aromas and feeling the pulse of blues, jazz, rock n’ roll, R&B, soul and gospel. Stop to snap a selfie by the Elvis statue.
Elvis Week comes around once a year, but the Elvis legend lives in Memphis year round.
Can’t Help Falling In Love…
@21plusTravel Tip: A Sun Studio shuttle offers free transportation between the Memphis music attractions. The driver loops from Sun Studio to The Rock N’ Soul Museum, Beale Street and Graceland; hop on at whichever location is most convenient, hop off to tour, then board again to ride to the next stop. For more information, call 912.521.0664.
Odds of Encountering Children: Varies based on time of day/year and the youngsters’ parents’/grandparents’ taste in music. As with any self-guided tour, you can easily wander away from any annoyances.
– Photos courtesy the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau; Elvis statue photo by Vasha Hunt.
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