Sunday, 10 August 2008
Known as the Home of the Blues, birthplace of Rock n Roll, Memphis certainly lives up to its reputation. Other cities show off their skylines; this one shows off its sounds.
As an avid Elvis fan, it has always been a dream of mine to visit the King's home, the one and only Graceland. This was the main (okay, I admit, the only) reason I decided to go to Memphis, but once I was there I fell in love with the whole city.
Visiting Graceland is an experience unlike any other (surreal, I remember calling it) and thousands of people make the pilgrimage there every year. If you've ever, even for a second, entertained the idea of visiting - do it. Feel the magic of Elvis for yourself. I promise you won't be disappointed.
I paid for the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour so as well as all-day entry to the second most famous house in America (beaten by the White House), I was able to enjoy the benefit of jumping the queues and an enhanced tour including the grounds, Elvis’s two aeroplanes – Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II – and three museums: Elvis After Dark, Sincerely Elvis and Elvis’s Automobile Museum, home to 33 vehicles owned by the King including his pink Cadillac and the red MG from the 1961 film Blue Hawaii.
As well as all that, I was given a ‘backstage pass’ to wear so I could be identified as a VIP and to take home at the end of the day as a keepsake.
Shopping at Graceland is extremely easy due to the large volume of Elvis-themed stores. Good Rockin’ Tonight, Elvis Threads and Gallery Elvis are a few of the best but with such a wide variety of merchandise to choose from you may end up needing to buy an extra suitcase to carry it all home!
After Graceland, the next place on my checklist was - naturally - Sam Phillips' Sun Studio at 706 Union Avenue. It’s a small, plain building and would be largely unnoticeable if it wasn’t for the bright orange and yellow ‘SUN’ sign on the outside wall.
They say "The tour gives you goosebumps"; now I don't know who ‘they’ are but, well, they’re definitely not wrong! Standing on the very spot where Elvis recorded his earliest songs (an X is marked on the floor), listening to outtakes of recordings from the likes of The Million Dollar Quartet - Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash together - and seeing priceless memorabilia from the fifties is, quite frankly, breathtaking and not an experience you'll forget in a hurry.
You are allowed to touch the exact microphone that Elvis used – it’s still in the studio and the guide recommends having your photo taken with it, an opportunity most people don’t miss (except me, who had used up two whole rolls of film at Graceland and had no more left).
After the tour, I took advantage of the free shuttle service which runs every day from Graceland (and the Heartbreak Hotel, which is right next door) to Sun Studio and on to Downtown Memphis, the latter being where I ended my ‘Elvis journey’ at the world famous Beale Street. The street boasts three blocks of more than 30 nightclubs, bars, restaurants, shops and museums, including the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum (situated by the Fed-Ex Forum, which was hosting a WWE wrestling championship while I was there). The Rock n Soul Museum provides a two-hour tour back in time to the birth of Rock n Roll and Soul music, and entry cost me just nine dollars.
Another fantastic method of transport (and a great tourist attraction) I noticed while in Memphis was a thing called ‘Ride the Ducks’. You get picked up Downtown by a vehicle which looks like a perfectly normal sightseeing tour, but which then drives to the banks of the Mississippi and plunges in, where it turns into a boat and takes you on a 70-minute cruise down the river! An entertaining captain narrates the interesting and fun adventure.
All you shopaholics, be sure to go to Peabody Place Entertainment & Retail Center – the most famous shopping centre in Memphis, which features a wide variety of department stores, gift shops, restaurants and a 22-screen cinema.
For those with children, exciting attractions include Memphis Zoo (kids will love the zoo tram and the farm train just as much as they’ll love the animals), Mud Island River Park, Laser Quest and The Children's Museum of Memphis, where children get to learn through experience.
So, whether or not you’re a Rock n Roll fan, you are certain to find something to keep you entertained in Memphis, Tennessee.
Unsurprisingly, most events in Memphis feature a music or Elvis theme, and whichever time of year you go, there should be something happening. Here are some of the most popular annual events:
Elvis Birthday Week, held each January to celebrate the King’s birthday on the 8th.
Memphis International Film Festival, held in March and April.
Memphis May Festival, a famous music festival held throughout the month of May.
Arts in the Park Festival, featuring fine arts and performing arts displays, every June.
Choctaw Heritage Festival, with traditional Native American music and crafts, held each August.
Christmas at Graceland - Elvis's mansion is spectacularly decorated and lit up every December.