Three Historic Cities Celebrated for Hands-on Culinary Adventures
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play chef for a day? I’m not talking about that meal kit that appears on your doorstep and contains exactly the right amount of saffron you need to make a gorgeously golden risotto. To really step into a chef’s shoes—or, Crocs™, in their case—you need an interactive, firsthand tutorial where you’re taught why there’s so much more to cooking than meets the plate.
Close the cookbooks, turn off the YouTube videos, and let a gourmet expert take you on a delicious adventure. No need to scan the internet to figure out where these one-of-a-kind culinary experiences exist. We’ve mapped out some of the Southeast’s most popular cooking classes set in historic cities. Each of these towns are brimming with fascinating background stories; not to mention an abundant number of restaurants where you can sip and sample the roots of the land. With a superior dining scene comes a magnitude of brilliant chefs, and many long to share their love for the kitchen by teaching you how to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
The best part? You get to eat the homework.
If you’re buzzing around Savannah’s historic landmark district and looking for a lively way to take in the city’s epicurean culture—700 Kitchen Cooking School has got to be on your list. They provide both individuals and groups with exclusive personalized opportunities to engage in gastronomic escapades. In case that wasn’t enough of a luxury, the school—and its state-of-the-art kitchen—is located inside of Mansion on Forsyth Park. This former funeral home turned whimsical hotel is praised for its architecture alone (a red-brick and terra-cotta 19th century structure that mimics Savannah’s classic Southern Gothic style).
The only problem at 700 Kitchen is narrowing down which course you’ll take on, as the colorful variety reflects a range of culinary delights. If you adore the vibrant sights, aromas, and flavors of local produce—the Farmer’s Market Tour has your name all over it. You’ll master how to select the freshest goodies from the Forsyth Park Farmer’s Market and then prepare a farm-to-table meal (mimosa in-hand) with your ingredients. If you’re looking to learn more about meat-free cooking, take the Plant Based Cuisine class for a spin. You’ll dive into the world of plant-based delights and bright flavors that make vegan dishes (like butternut squash and sweet potato silk soup) light and satisfying.
To get to the heart of authentic Savannah storytelling served with a side of comfort food, the Low Country Staples session is a fan favorite. Ever wondered how Southern chefs produce cheese grits so velvety you could nap inside of them? This is your chance. No matter what course you land on or whether you’re learning with a crowd or flying solo—the opportunity to explore the minds of the school’s culinary team (like Michelin Star Executive Chef Shahin Afsharian) is a treat in itself.
To discover what it means to “Cook Between the Lines,” Chef Darin’s Kitchen Table is another interactive, educational experience where the chopping is up to you. Chef Darin’s approach is all about immersing his students in preparation, teaching them how to demystify advanced techniques, and advising them on understanding common ingredients. He’s no stranger to teaching his way through Savannah’s food landscape—as his former position was 700 Kitchen’s Cooking School Director. He developed the programs that led to the establishment being named one of the city’s “Top Things to Do” on Tripadvisor.
A strong advocate of team-building, Chef Darin even provides private classes to corporate businesses to help them develop rapport and improve the work environment. But if you’re just looking to enjoy a social activity centered around food—he’s got plenty of lesson plans that encourage creativity and ease in the kitchen.
Wilmington, North Carolina
This town is a small enough town where most natives, particularly the food enthusiasts, know the top chefs on a first-name basis. When ranking the most exceptional eateries in Wilmington, you can always count on Pinpoint to make the cut. Run by Southern kitchen wizard Dean Neff, this Lowcountry restaurant opened in downtown several years back and immediately climbed its way to the top. Luckily, there are now more ways than simply dining at Pinpoint to connect with Neff’s gastronomic genius—as he hopped on board to instruct at Wilmington’s premiere cooking school—Seasoned Gourmet.
Get the hang of oyster shucking and rub elbows with a charming chef whose catfish and grits were featured on Cooking Channel? Yes, please.
You’ve strolled the Riverwalk, hit Front Street Brewery for an icy pint, and taken Wilmington’s famed walking tour of downtown’s historic district. What’s next? All signs point to Seasoned Gourmet. This staple has been offering cooking classes for over 20 years and is the proud home of the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club. Whether you’re a local looking to change up your typical date night or a visitor in town exploring the area, Seasoned Gourmet will indulge your every desire to nerd out in the kitchen. From learning classic techniques alongside Wilmington’s most proficient experts on regional cuisine to getting to know the world of wine pairing, there’s something to scratch every curious culinary itch.
Other worthy Wilmington chefs (like Keith Rhodes of Catch and Sam Cahoon of Savorez, to name a few) have raised their hands to guide folks through fun, interactive demos showcasing their signature cuisine. Rhodes gives insider tips on Asian specialties infused with a Southern twang, and Cahoon presents a bold perspective into spicy, fresh Latin American ceviche. All instructors share a similar mission of making chef-oriented food accessible so that students receive a genuine, thoughtful experience. Whether your goal is group bonding, weekend mingling, or basic education—Seasoned Gourmet is a one-stop-kitchen-shop where you’re always guaranteed to leave full and happy.
Charleston, South Carolina
Noted for encompassing one of the nation’s most energetic restaurant scenes, it’s no surprise that Charleston boasts numerous locations where you can pick up some slicing and dicing skills of your own. Chef Bob Waggoner’s In The Kitchen series was voted as one of South Carolina’s 10 best cooking classes, and it’s the perfect place to get schooled in seasonal tastings inspired by local farmers, fishermen, and artisans.
Food Fire + Knives (FFK) is another culinary Carolina mecca recognized for breaking down the process of creating a customized menu to fit your needs. They also offer an exclusive package where you don’t even have to leave the house. Picture this for your next party: a chef arrives at your door with ingredients, equipment, cleaning supplies, and aprons. It doesn’t get much easier than that. If your space isn’t ideal, FFK also has kitchen rental options. The hands-on workshops highlight everything from the fundamentals (where you’ll grasp universal cooking techniques and master the chef’s knife) to trickier fare like Thai food.
South Carolinians rave over the European-style boutique hotel Zero George for its eclectic vibe and lush courtyard locale—but it’s equally as sought-after for its ability to help aspiring chefs and cooks hone their skills. At Zero George, guests get a front row seat in the professional display kitchen watching master chefs (like Kristen Kish—Top Chef Winner) stage exquisite plates of food. Zero George’s cooking school isn’t hands-on, but rather focuses on teaching apprentices to “get tutored in good taste.” They also get to dine on the very creation that they saw come together from start to finish (not to mention walk away with an enhanced culinary repertoire).
Earlier this year, Callie White (namesake of Charleston’s legendary Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits) trained students in approachable methods of Moroccan cuisine. What says good taste more than learning about Moroccan fare from one of Charleston’s best-known biscuiteers? Hosted in their 1804 kitchen carriage house and taught around the signature Heston range, these two-hour intimate classes are an unforgettable way to chomp into Charleston.
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Eat Your Heart Out, Wilmington, NC
Your 3-day weekend guide to gobbling your way through the Port City
Fruity drinks on the water and enough crab cakes to build a fort. Foodies pair well with this coastal town.
Thanks to a Wilmington, NC, zip code, this may be my daily reality—but it’s not real life for everyone. I get that. Living in a vacation town definitely comes with its perks, and one of them is the multitude of visitors we receive looking to live it up Wilmington-style for the weekend. Opening our homes to our tourist and traveler friends of all ages comes with a responsibility, though. Being a coastal native means that it’s your job to show these folks a good time—especially when it comes to food. But, with every versatile group having different dining destinations in mind, how do you map out your Friday, Saturday, and Sunday itineraries to please your friends?
This is where I come in (No, seriously, can I come?). With Wilmington offering so many restaurant styles that speak to the masses, I decided to split things up and lay out three (three-day) eating excursions. Whether you live riverside and happen to be hosting guests or are a tourist yourself in town for a long weekend—pay attention. I’m about to show you how to seamlessly cruise your way through the Port City’s cuisine.
The Wilmington Food Scene Caters to Crustacean Cravings
Let’s start with the obvious. Wilmington is a water town, after all, so the hunt for seafood is strong with this crowd. The biggest problem is knowing how to avoid the tourist traps and finding the hot spots locals actually frequent. Shellfish for breakfast? Oh yes, we do. This coastal community loves its crab cakes so much; we even bring them to the breakfast table.
1 Eternal Sunshine on Eastwood Road has benedicts for days, and if you’re feeling something fishy on a Friday, this is your jam. Get a load of hand-pattied blue crab claw meat a la croissant or sample the Smoked Salmon Benedict on parmesan peppercorn bread.
2 Going light for lunch? Look no further than NOFO’s Savorez. Also look at their Yelp status because it’s impressively impeccable. The Brooklyn Arts District has been blowing up in the past few years, and Sam Cahoon’s luxurious Latin fare has only made the homey neighborhood that much more of a draw. Pop in just before noon, snag a seat at the bar, and start with a Black Cadillac featuring Hornitos Plata tequila, agave, fresh pineapple and lime juice, and a Grand Marnier Floater. In the non-liquid lunch department, everyone in your party will be fighting over who gets to lick the plate of the Langousta Y Coco (lobster ceviche in an inexplicably addictive citrus-coconut ginger marinade spiked with habanero).
It’s been a filling day. Scratch heavy dinner plans, and catch the sunset at 3 Anne Bonny’s on the Riverwalk where baller buffalo and blue cheese shrimp meet frozen rose, and live music is always on deck.
Wakey, wakey. We’re headed to the shore. Start your Saturday off at 4 King Neptune on Wrightsville Beach’s main strip. This Lumina Avenue longtime gem runs from sunrise to late night and offers coastal southern cuisine that will cure you from the night before. Set your sights on the Crab Bowl—a delicate mixture of egg whites, citrusy pico de gallo, guacamole, and crab meat. King Neptune’s take on shrimp and grits also gets high marks from regulars.
Thanks to a lighter morning meal, lead your mounting appetite to 5 Cape Fear Seafood Company (with three locations, I might add) for a lowcountry lunch. Get your spread on by sharing the bubbly Crab Dip—a rich hybrid of crab, spicy horseradish, cheese, and spices served with dippable pita points. If a downhome southern dish is what you’re after, the seafood platters—which come broiled, grilled, or fried—are a comforting bite of the coast.
Finish your Saturday seafood finale by following 6 Joe Loves Lobster Rolls food truck wherever it rolls for a seriously succulent, seriously loaded handheld with lobster meat straight from Maine.
Take it easy (like a Sunday morning) and treat yourself to some extra sleep. Roll into 7 Shuckin’ Shack around 11 AM, and belly up to their epic Bloody Mary bar where you check off your choice of spirit, mix, rim, and garnish—and they take care of the rest. This recently unveiled masterpiece is brimming with booze and cream-cheese stuffed snacks. Cover breakfast and lunch here by pairing your tomatoey concoction with a pile of chargrilled oysters.
For a superior Sunday night seafood feast, hit up…
8 Catch on the busy end of Market close to Gordon Road. Global twists on regional seafood is the sweet spot of this Asian-southern fusion restaurant, and celeb chef and James Beard nominee Keith Rhodes is always on his game. Go for the soft shells if the season is right; otherwise get after the signature North Carolina Lump Crab Cakes in Lobster Cream and 1/2 Pound “Hong Kong” Tempura Lobster Tail with a citrusy ponzu reduction.
Brews & Chews
Gastropubs have become a Wilmington specialty, and there’s no shortage of these beer havens doling out topnotch homemade bar food. The majority of our area’s well-known breweries (Wilmington Brewing Company, Flytrap, New Anthem, and Waterline to name a few) specialize in superb hops, but only carry food in the form of food trucks out front. For those brewpubs that are kicking it in the kitchen, here are some of your stops.
9 Bill’s Front Porch is kind enough to include Friday in their morning menu lineup, and regulars rave over the brewpub’s Sunday-Fil-A (an open-faced fried chicken biscuit sammy with pimento cheese, a fried egg, and sriracha). The Breakfast Stout has your name all over it.
Once mid-day hits, a sandy-toed walk by the ocean (in any weather) is always a treat. When you’ve crossed exercise off your list, treat yo’self to a flight of suds and a fiercely good bowl of greens at Wrightsville Beach’s…
10 Waterman’s Brewing. Head Chef Andrew Stanley is an artist when it comes to vibrant presentations and the Berry Salad with goat cheese, candied walnuts, and berry-beer vinaigrette is a healthy mouthful. The Po’ Boys—boasting flawlessly fried seafood, tart pickle, and tangy remoulade—are a meal made for two. Pair one with the Abundant Sunshine IPA with lingering piney resin and notes of mango, grapefruit, lemon, and coconut.
Stick around WB and hit the bustling patio of…
11 Poe’s Tavern for dinner. Though they’re not brewing in-house, the craft lineup is impressive at this lively eatery. Chomp down on Edgar’s Nachos: mounds of multicolored tortilla chips layered with a generous amount of creamy jack cheese, hoppy booze-infused chili, pico, guac, and spicy jalapenos. The tavern also prides itself on making a mean burger, and the brilliantly cooked, smothered beef (and veggie) sammies exceed every expectation. Taco-wise, the Buffalo Shrimp with Marinated Bacon-Blue Cheese Cole Slaw hits the spot.
With a brunch menu served Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., you can’t pass up…
12 Fork n Cork to fire up the day. This quaint, artisanal burger and beer bar has always been locally famed for its enormously satisfying creations, but received a national nod when Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives crew popped in for chef/ owner James Smith’s confit duck wings and beef wellington bites. If you’re in the mood for a hearty breakfast, the Brisket Biscuit (14-hour smoked brisket, two sunny side up eggs, and a creole mustard cream sauce) is your one-way ticket to food coma land.
13 Skytown Beer + BBQ on New Centre Drive is tapping righteous housemade brews and dishing out smoky specialties. Taste familiar? Their sister restaurant is popular Princess Street taco joint.
14 Beer Barrio. Still full from Fork? Share the deep-fried sausage gravy bites (Yeah, you read that right!) and a round of Dreamsicle Milkshake IPAs.
Wilmington’s food truck scene is rapidly expanding, so you’ll want to hit as many as you can in a short amount of time. Look for 15 CheeseSmith Co. at whatever brewery or bottle shop parking lot this grilled cheese mobile has pulled into Saturday night. Their eclectic lineup—like the Buffalo Baby with creamy Havarti, braised buffalo chicken, buttermilk ranch, and quick pickled carrot and celery slaw—is nothing short of divine.
Yesterday was a pants popper. Skip breakfast and swing into downtown staple 16 Front Street Brewery (the first of its kind around here) for lunch. Known for epic pulled barbeque chicken nachos and a double happy hour, any time of day is a good time at FSB.
Nothing says late Sunday afternoon like pizza, and 17 Wrightsville Beach Brewing Company is a beach go-to where the crackly pie crusts are made with beer-infused dough and the draft list boasts crushable crafts. Ask owner Jud Watkins for a flight of his favorites or tap into the classics like the seasonable Puppy Drum Pale or the Orange Krush Kölsch permeated with fragrant orange peel and hints of vanilla. Get your veg on with the flash fried Tempura Cauliflower tossed in your choice of sauce, or pop a few of the Kimchi & Fried Oyster Bites whose acidic punch of vinegar and chili cut the fat from the fryer.
Flip Flops & Bowties
While Wilmington certainly offers its fair share of fine dining establishments, we’re a comfortable coastal town where board shorts are almost always acceptable. That being said, enjoying a fancy meal or craft cocktail in your flip flops around here is the norm. Hey, you made it to Friday! You deserve something frothy. Pop into 18 Bespoke Coffee & Dry Goods on Princess Street where the chic Counter Culture Coffee baristas doodle hearts in the dirty chai lattes. Locally baked goods are great for grab-and-go.
Since the portions at…
19 Indochine are typically large enough to ensure leftovers, split an early lunch here so you don’t fill up before dinner. Favorites from this oriental far East café include classic sweet-and-sour Pad Thai and light Vietnamese Pork Meatballs loaded with citrusy lemongrass.
There’s no better prescription for satisfying your hunger than a Southern, locally-inspired feast at 5th and Castle Street’s 20 RX Restaurant. Known for being one of the first eateries to bring genuine farm-to-table dining to the Wilmington food scene, RX stole our hearts years ago and still steadily wows regulars with their seasonally-changing menu. Many items are pork-tastic (like the wonderfully quirky Buffalo Pig Ears with funky Bleu cheese), but RX is equally praised for their cocktails and thoughtfully-prepared seafood.
Superstar chef Jessica Cabo (a season 1 competitor on Hell’s Kitchen) runs 21 East Oceanfront Dining inside Wrightsville Beach’s Blockade Runner. Her globally-influenced seafood and vegetarian dishes are explosive, and her a la carte breakfast menu is just as refined. I vote for the Exotic Mushroom Omelet with peppery arugula and goat cheese. This upscale, yet relaxing restaurant is famed for their gorgeous canopied garden deck which overlooks the beach. Stick around for lunch.
Am I biased about…
22 PinPoint Restaurant? Yup, and I have no problem admitting it. I consistently pick Pinpoint as the top eatery in Wilmington thanks to head chef and co-owner Dean Neff’s ability to work magic with anything edible. Their menu is slammed with local seasonal offerings from Wilmington’s farmers, fishermen, oystermen, and crabbers. Raw oysters here are an absolute must and come with spicy chilled cocktail sauce, yuzu-cucumber granita (spa water meets crushed ice), and a tangy shallot-based mignonette. For dinner, the Crisp Smoked North Carolina Catfish crusted in cornmeal and bathed in lemon brown butter is the best thing I ever ate. Don’t believe me? Google “PinPoint + Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
Okay, I know I just went googly eyed for PinPoint—but here’s my P.S. I love you too…
23 Love, Lydia Bakery & Café. This charming coffee shop (owned by Lydia Clopton—PinPoint’s head pastry chef—not to mention, Dean’s wife) recently opened on South 3rd Street to rave reviews. The building is a lovely re-furbished house, and you’ll want to cozy up with a cappuccino, a book, and one of Lydia’s crispy bacon, egg soufflé, and smoked gouda biscuit sandwiches and never leave.
I made you carb-load for breakfast (and will again for dinner), so I’m sending you straight to…
24 Steam Restaurant & Bar—one of downtown’s newest eateries tucked inside The Embassy Suites. The hotel’s classy coastal demeanor and style parallels the restaurant’s vibe, and though you can get smothered Southern things like creamed leek and béarnaise fried oysters, I’ve sent you here for the salads and waterfront view. I’m a sucker for the Riverside Caesar: bright chilled hearts of romaine, shaved parmesan, white anchovies, and a luxuriously creamy garlic dressing.
Get out your stretchy pants; we’re off to…
25 Tarantelli’s where familiar Tuscan fare sprinkled with live arias and a splash of Montepulciano is the epitome of Italian spirit. Beautifully crafted dishes like the Sicilian Braciole—thin rolled and stuffed beef tenderloin with loads of garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and prosciutto—tastes like home to those who grew up with traditional Italian cooking. It’s rare to dine at Tarantelli’s without spotting a group wow-ing over the Spaghetti al Formaggio Parmigiana prepared tableside in an enormous oversized wheel of Parmesan cheese (doused in whiskey and lit on fire). What better way to end the weekend?
Wilmington Area Communities
When you are checking out the Wilmington cuisine, you’ll also want to see the welcoming communities and experienced builders who will work with you to design your dream home on the North Carolina coast.
1 Bill Clark Homes is a family business that has been building top-quality residences in Wilmington and all over the Carolinas for more than 40 years. Among their newest neighborhoods are The Landing at Mill Creek, located just three miles from North Topsail Beach, and Channel Watch, an intimate community of 36 homes off River Road in Wilmington. BillClarkHomes.com
2 The Bluffs on the Cape Fear offers large riverfront home sites and move-in-ready homes. Amenities include a private Beach Club on Oak Island and a resort-style clubhouse with a pool. The two-acre Riverfront Park & Boat Launch opens soon, to be followed by a new fitness center with pickleball courts. TheBluffsNC.com
3 Brunswick Forest has residential offerings that range from low-maintenance patio homes to estate-size home sites. The Villages commercial hub now includes the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Recreational amenities like the Cape Fear National golf course, a complete fitness center, and kayak/canoe launches keep active residents happy and healthy. BrunswickForest.com
4 Cambridge Village of Wilmington makes independent retirement living a reality with spacious one- and two-bedroom apartment homes. The Optimal Living Center has a wellness director to customize every resident’s fitness plan, a life enrichment director to plan social events, and pampering professional services at the Salon & MedSpa.
5 Compass Pointe offers resort-style living in an award-winning master-planned community. The golf club is home to one of the best new courses in the Carolinas, while other fitness amenities include a wellness center, tennis/pickleball courts, and miles of hiking/biking paths. The Grand Lanai Amenities Center hosts community events.
6 Landfall is a family-oriented residential community with playgrounds, playing fields, and walking trails in 320 acres of conservation land. In addition to the Cliff Drysdale Sports Complex, The Country Club of Landfall is a member-owned golf club with two challenging championship courses by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye.
7 Logan Homes is the leading name in coastal living with unique residential designs in premier Carolina locations like Wilmington. Their signature Build Smart program includes personal service at state-of-the-art design studios, the latest energy-efficient features in every home, and a complete warranty program for lasting peace of mind. LoganHomes.com
8 Palmetto Creek, perfectly situated between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach near Southport,features a beautiful boardwalk trail through a natural Palmetto preserve. One of the community’s preferred builders is Horizon Homes, a family-run business that provides quality homes at affordable prices. PalmettoCreek.com
9 River Bluffs features single-family homes and choice home sites along the North Cape Fear River. Lifestyle amenities include Davis Square events, boat/kayak launches, walking trails, a fitness center, tennis/pickleball courts, and an elevated riverwalk. Lunches at Porches Cafe can include produce from the 10-acre community farm. RiverBluffLiving.com
10 River Lights is a residential destination for young professionals to active retirees with traditional single-family, maintenance-free town homes, and age 55+ neighborhoods. The Marina Village is a hub of shopping and dining, while the wellness-centered lifestyle is enhanced by seven miles of trails, four community parks and a 38-acre recreational lake. RiverLightsLiving.com
11 St. James Plantation offers single-family residences and low-maintenance town homes in an unspoiled coastal setting. Golf memberships feature access to four championship courses and clubhouses. Also on-site are four fitness centers, an Intracoastal Waterway marina, and 36+ miles of walking trails. The private Beach Club on Oak Island and the seaside town of Southport are just minutes away. SJPLife.com/Living
12 Summerhouse on Everett Bay is a private residential community near the popular oceanfront destinations of Surf City and Topsail Island. Move-in-ready homes and customizable floor plans from leading builders are available. Community amenities include a clubhouse with pool, fitness center with tennis courts, and boat/kayak launches with direct Intracoastal Waterway access.
The Tennessee Music Scene Attracts Visitors of All Ages
Tennessee was made for music. The Tennessee Music Pathways program illustrates this best.
Perhaps it’s the singular geographical breadth of Tennessee – a 500-mile span that sees the Volunteer State remarkably sharing a border with eight brethren (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina) – that literally make it a crossroads, a geographical confluence of culture, cuisine, dialect, and maybe most importantly, an enduring and profound crossroads for American music.
For it is in Tennessee where seven genres of music – country, gospel, bluegrass, soul, blues, rockabilly, and rock – found a home, were nurtured and have flourished, from Memphis and Nashville to Chattanooga and Bristol. And, all of that enriched musical history can be explored through a new program from the State’s tourism folks called Tennessee Music Pathways (www.tnvacation.com/tennessee-music-pathways).
Tennessee Music Pathways
Tennessee Music Pathways is a state-wide driving tour program that identifies, interprets, and preserves a broad perspective of Tennessee music events, locations, and stories, some great and well known, and some less so, yet equally intriguing. Working with the state historian and through internal research at the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, more than 500 locations, including birthplaces, resting places, hometowns, high schools, churches, and locations of first-known recordings or performances of the musical pioneers and legends, are being incorporated into the driving tour.
“Tennessee Music Pathways connects fans to the people, places, and genres that make Tennessee the Soundtrack of America,” says Tourist Development Commissioner, Kevin Triplett. “From the largest cities to the smallest communities, this state-wide program identifies, explains, and preserves the legacy of music in Tennessee.”
In addition to the seven genres that have found a home in Tennessee, the state has more musicians per capita than anywhere in the world and is home to world-renowned music attractions such as Beale Street, Bluebird Cafe, Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Dollywood, Graceland, Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, and the historic Tennessee Theatre.
The State also has partnered with Rolling Stone to offer a program called Six Degrees, a custom online search tool that allows users to enter an artist’s name to see their ‘pathway’ to Tennessee in six degrees or less.
For instance, enter the name Frank Sinatra and you’ll discover that he was inspired by the rhythmic swing of Billy Holiday, who considered legendary Chattanooga native and Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, as her mentor for musical phrasing. Look up U2, and you’ll see that the band from Dublin recorded the hit song “When Love Comes to Town,” featuring legendary blues performer B.B. King, at historic Sun Studio in Memphis.
Additionally, for those looking to relocate or retire, the state has designated 22 rural and urban locations as Retire Tennessee Communities, all of which either include or frame some of the iconic landmarks of the Tennessee Music Pathways, and all provide the resources and amenities needed to be a viable retirement community. You can discover these communities online at www.tnvacation.com/retire-tennessee/communities.
So, how did Tennessee come to be the home of seven distinct, yet intricately related musical expressions? For the country and bluegrass genres, we can look to the thousands of Scotts-Irish immigrants who moved to the southern Appalachian Mountains in the 18th and 19th centuries, bringing their fiddles and folk music with them. Over the decades their lyrical immigrant music evolved, often in isolation, hidden on mountain cabin front porches or in humble churches across North Carolina, Virginia, and east Tennessee.
That is until 1927 when Ralph Peer, a record executive in New York City for the Victor Talking Machine Company, was scouting for recording talent in the southern states. Peer set up a makeshift recording studio in Bristol, in the very northeast corner of Tennessee, and put the word out he would pay $50, a fortune in those days, for individuals or groups to record their music. Peer’s groundbreaking efforts there are reverently known in the music world as the Bristol Sessions.
The Birthplace of Country Music
Roughly 30 miles away, in the shadow of Clinch Mountain in Virginia, A.P. Carter got the word, and he, his wife Sara, and her sister Maybelle drove to Bristol to make a record. You could do a Ken Burns documentary on the colossal impact of the Carter family on American music, but on the afternoon of August 2, 1927, the three sang “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” with Maybelle on scratch guitar and Sara on autoharp. That afternoon marked the birth of commercial country music in the United States. Fittingly, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is located in Bristol, with Mother Maybelle Carter as its matriarch. Bristol is a Retire Tennessee Community.
The popularity of country music was growing in pockets around America in the 20s, largely through the local radio broadcasts of Saturday night barn dances: staged performances of music, square dancing, and other entertainment. Even Chicago had the WLS National Barn Dance radio show.
But, the granddaddy emerged in 1925 when the WSM Barn Dance in Nashville – renamed the Grand Ole Opry in 1927 – became a sheer gravitational force for country, gospel, and bluegrass talent in 1932. That year, the station boosted its signal to 50,000 Clear Channel watts, allowing most of the eastern and central United States to tune in to the Opry. So important is WSM that in 2001 the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville incorporated the unique diamond shape of the WSM radio tower into its logo.
It’s a bit harder to pinpoint the genesis of gospel music in Tennessee, as the genre covered the southern states like dew, born largely from the music emanating from evangelical revivals. We can, however, look to 1871 when an African-American a capella choir from Fisk University in Nashville first began touring and performing Negro spirituals and gospel music…and they still do today. The Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum is located at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN, just down the road from Ms. Parton’s home town of Sevierville.
As Nashville was emerging as the country music capital, Memphis, tucked on the banks of the Mississippi River in far west Tennessee, was doing the same as a home to the blues. Its gravitational force was Beale Street, where blues clubs and juke joints sprouted like wildflowers in the early 1900s. B.B. King moved from Arkansas to Memphis in 1948 and became the acknowledged crowned head of the city and undeniable international ambassador for the blues. The original B.B. King’s Blues Club is located in the heart of vibrant Beale Street. King is also acknowledged as one of the founders of the R&B and soul genres.
From the Tennessee Music Pathways website, “They say Country and Blues had a baby, and they called it rock ‘n’ roll. Stand in the delivery room at Sun Studio and watch it grow throughout Tennessee.”
Indeed, The King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley’s first hit recording had the African-American blues song “That’s All Right Mama” on the A-side and the classic Bill Monroe bluegrass song “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the other. But, the tempo and virility of each song was vastly increased from the original, and therein, Elvis took a giant step in blurring genre lines on his way, along with others, to create a brand new one.
We’ve only scratched the surface here of the vast depth of Tennessee’s musical legacy, iconic landmarks, songwriter inspirations, countless performing arts sites, and renowned music festivals. The 500-mile breadth of Tennessee awaits to share with you and your family the Soundtrack of America.
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