A Tennessee guide that neglects to mention country music is about as complete as a honky-tonk band without a fiddle. After all, the Volunteer State is home to Nashville, the Hollywood of country music and the natural home of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Here, you'll find priceless artifacts such as Les Paul's early-model "log" guitar, and you can even tour RCA Studio B, where Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, and Elvis Presley recorded some of their most memorable hits. Performers still consider Music City the place to be, which is what makes it so exciting to stop by songwriter clubs such as the Bluebird Cafe and the Douglas Corner Cafe.

Of course, it’s called "country" music for a reason. The genre's characteristic pangs of lonesomeness (and its regard for rugged individualism) no doubt have something to do with the quiet countryside that stretches across much of the region. Take the vast and humbling Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for example. The Pigeon Creek Trail on the park’s border leads to Mingo Falls, a 120-foot waterfall that’s one of the tallest in the southern Appalachians. As it cascades into a dense grove of rhododendrons, the rushing water provides plenty of inspiration for a sentimental ballad.

Though it holds its own as a hotbed of country and blues, Memphis is the site where two great Kings fell. The first is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in 1968. A wreath marks the exact spot where he stood, but the real tribute to his memory is what the place later became: the National Civil Rights Museum, where exhibits explore the movement’s leaders and their effects on American society. The other fallen King is Elvis, whose Graceland mansion, with its eccentric Jungle Room and sprawling car museum, remains a shrine to the man who brought rock and roll to the masses.

Read More