From mountain musicians to the King of Rock N’ Roll, artists from all over the world have found a home in the birthplace of country music. Students will love learning American music history and performing on a stage that hosted the Grand Ole Opry or at a theme park named after Dolly Parton.
Graceland Mansion in Memphis was home to Elvis Presley. Students will love walking in the footsteps of the King on an interactive guided tour that features commentary and stories from Elvis and his daughter Lisa Marie. Students will get a close look at the pop culture icon’s personal life with opportunities to see the most famous rooms of the Memphis mansion, including the Jungle Room and Pool Room. They will stand in awe of Elvis’ Grammys and platinum records in the Trophy Buildings and have a moment of quiet reflection in the Meditation Garden where Elvis is buried. Teachers can tour the mansion for free, and student groups are invited to perform at Graceland Plaza. A trip to Tennessee would be incomplete without a stop at Graceland to learn about the man that changed music and a poor boy’s journey to becoming the King.
Originally built as a center for worship, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium is now known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” It is most famous as the home of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 30 years, and students are welcome to tour the fully renovated space. They will learn about the history of the theatre and its role in the development of American pop culture. Behind-the-scenes tours allow students to stand center stage, record their own album and create a poster. The auditorium hosts concerts year-round, and in the winter the Opry returns to the Ryman for a few nights of nostalgia.
Tennessee Performing Arts Center
Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville hosts a variety of performances from major Broadway musicals to indie rock concerts. The space is available for groups wishing to perform on the famous stage, and it is known to accommodate performance groups of all sizes in any of the four theatres. TPAC offers performances and matinees for students including Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, A Raisin in the Sun and Our Town at an extremely affordable price.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum works to preserve and celebrate country music heritage. Students are immersed in music history through film and audio clips, interactive displays and trivia games. The museum boasts a large collection of glamorous costumes worn by a handful of famous pop stars, including Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, and students will marvel at the collection of worn musical instruments that have history written all over them. Students can record their own hit single and get inspired by a live performance. The museum even offers educational programs that allow students to work closely with a professional songwriter, record a song in a private session at RCA Studio B or showcase their talent at a public performance.
Spanning 150 acres in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood is an exciting destination for students of all ages. It offers more than 40 thrill rides, the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster and a waterpark. Dollywood is home to some of the biggest music festivals in the south, and daily performances will wow students. They can watch world-class musicians perform dizzying banjo solos or see a blacksmith at work. Bands and choirs are invited to perform in an outdoor public performance at the Park Plaza, and students can explore the park for free on weekdays.
Lost Sea Adventure
Located in Sweetwater, Lost Sea Adventure will take students into the depths of Craighead Caverns to explore America’s largest underground lake. They will learn about the rocks and minerals that make the caves unique on an educational tour that ends with a glass-bottom boat tour of Lost Sea. Wild Cave Tours allow adventurous student groups to spend the night in the caverns, but this excursion is not for the faint of heart. This adventure allows students to explore jaguar dens and saltpeter mines used by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, but it requires a lot of crawling, climbing and shimmying through cracks and crevices in undeveloped caves.
These Hills Sing
The Mountain Opry
The Mountain Opry is an authentic piece of Americana tucked away in the outskirts of Signal Mountain. Bluegrass, folk and mountain musicians gather every Friday night, as they have for decades, to perform at a small, family-friendly venue. Arrive early to see the musicians gather outside for a picnic and a pre-show warm up. Talented musicians from banjo pickers and upright bass players to old-time harmonizers and fiddlers perform for three hours. It is known as one of the best kept secrets in the Chattanooga area, and students will never forget this one-of-a-kind destination.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park. It offers endless views of forests and mountains, perfectly preserved artifacts from Southern Appalachian Mountain societies and historical sites that are worth the hike. Students will marvel at lush forests and gushing waterfalls and learn about the forest and its history in a ranger-led educational program. They can brave the famous Appalachian Trail for a day hike to Charlie’s Bunion for a jaw-dropping view and connect with the forest to hear the music of the earth.
By Sara Stokes