I recently wrote a book called The Ultimate American Music Bucket List. The book is a collection of the best music attractions in America and noteworthy stops like grave sites or statues dedicated to famous musicians.
Any road trip for music fans should include at some of the places on this list. In addition to the many American music attractions and sites laid out in my book, these are some of my favorites that are sure to be special to you as well.
1. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
The tiny building certainly doesn’t look like much from the two-lane highway in Sheffield, Alabama. But, it’s one of the most important music attractions in America. Inside the sound proofed walls of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is where countless classic and instantly recognizable tunes, were conceived and recorded.
From Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock & Roll to the timeless Percy Sledge ballad, When A Man Loves A Woman, so much musical greatness occurred here in the 1970s. Everyone from The Rolling Stones and Paul Simon to The Staple Singers, Lynrd Skynard and Cher spent time making amazing music with the Swampers at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
2. Motown Studios
So many of America’s most beloved songs came out of Detroit in the 1960s. Motown (A play on “Motor City” – where America’s three biggest car manufacturers called home) started in a small house owned by founder Berry Gordy, Jr.
Visit the original recording studio where songs like My Girl, Dancing In The Streets, Where Did Our Love Go, and so many other hits were recorded. You’ll be walking through the same halls as music icons like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and Smokey Robinson.
Picture it. 460,000 attendees singing, dancing, and living the good ol’ hippie life on a pig farm in upstate New York. In 1969, Bethel Woods was the original site of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. Woodstock is one of the most famous music attractions in the U.S. and still welcomes visitors from all over the world.
If you’re pressed for time, you can simply take a walk around the historic grounds and see where the Woodstock stage was set up. If you have plenty of time, explore the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Museum.
4. Sun Studio
There aren’t many music attractions that can claim they discovered artists that wound up changing the world. Sun Studio was where a young, unknown kid from Tupelo named Elvis Presley auditioned for a record deal with Sam Phillips.
Not only did Elvis record he in his early years, so did Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The studio itself is very small but big on historical significance. Along with Graceland, Stax Records, Aretha Franklin’s birthplace, and the Memphis Soul Museum – Sun Studio is a must during a visit to Memphis, Tennessee.
5. Johnny Cash’s Ranch
When you’re known all around the world it’s hard to find a quiet place to escape the noise. Johnny Cash would sneak away to a large ranch in the town of Bon Aqua in Tennessee. As Johnny grew older, he spent more and more time at the Hideaway Ranch along with his wife, June Carter Cash.
Visitors can explore the ranch along with the modest home where the family would spend their time. You’ll have a chance to see Johnny’s favorite leather chair where he’d sit and look out the window; the famous “one piece at a time” car; and the outdoor stage where he occasionally filmed TV specials.
Don’t miss out on all of the music attractions in nearby Nashville as well. Here’s a list of all of Music City’s top attractions.
6. Allman Brothers Big House
One of the most popular southern rock and roll bands of the 1970s lived in Macon, Georgia. The Allman Brothers Band owned “The Big House” where the guys lived and wrote many of their most popular songs.
Today, visitors can tour this authentic music attraction and see it set up exactly as it was when the guys lived there. Walk into Duane Allman’s bedroom and the living room – now covered in memorabilia and awards. Tours are currently offered Thursday-Sunday, but check their website for updates.
7. Louis Armstrong House
Another house you can tour is the former home of music legend, Louis Armstrong. Armstrong, known for classics like What A Wonderful World and Hello Dolly lived in Queens, New York.
Visitors will get to see the jazz icon’s bedroom, his den, kitchen, and bathroom during a home tour. The Louis Armstrong House Museum is full of the musician’s personal artifacts and items he collected while traveling all over the world.
8. Surf Ballroom
One of the most important venues in American music history is the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Most of the top performers of the day held concerts here. It’s most famous as the place where Buddy Holly performed his final concert before dying in a plane crash along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.
Visitors can still see concerts at the Surf Ballroom or simply pop in during business hours for a self-guided tour. You’ll see a wall of fame along with the original stage where music legends performed, including Holly.
9. Buddy Holly Gravesite
Speaking of Buddy Holly, one of the top music attractions in Texas is Holly’s gravesite in the town of Lubbock. You’ll notice the grave stone says “Holley” – but it’s not a mis-spelling. A mix up on an early recording contract led the singer to change the spelling of his name professionally.
After visiting the cemetery, stop by the Buddy Holly Center to visit the museum, take a photo with the huge oversized glasses out front, and of course Buddy Holly’s statue across the street.
10. Gateway To The Blues Museum
The Mississippi Blues Trail has dozens of incredible sites tied back to the origins of blues music in America. You could spend weeks trying to visit all of them. A good place to start is the Gateway To The Blues Museum in Tunica.
The museum perfectly lays out the history of blues music and sets the stage for all of the sites you can explore in the state along the trail. It also doubles as the Tunica Visitors Center.
Want More Great Music Attractions To Explore?
Check out my latest book, The Ultimate American Music Bucket List! It’s full of places all over the U.S. that tell the story of American music history. From the childhood home of Little Richard to Willie Nelson’s statue, and the plane crash site where Patsy Cline died — you’ll learn about music attractions all over America. The book includes photos, trivia questions, and an index by state to find places near you!