Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Musical Road Trip

Hi there Jamie,

I had some questions! For a couple of years I am having this idea of travelling through the US to visit some birthgrounds of (traditional) American music. My interest is quit broad, ranging from Bluegrass (Bill M.), Southern Gospel (Chuck Wagon Gang), music from the more broad Folk tradition (Carter Family) and Hank Williams. All this culminating in Bob Dylan. You might get the picture!

So I wanted to visit the following States: Texas, Oklahoma (Woody), Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia. Next to that I would like to visit family in Utah and a friend in Chicago. So I was thinking of flying to LA (I have been there before, so dont have to see that again), from there travelling through Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and than up north to Chicago. Maybe ending in Duluth...

So, my question now is, since I can only get a visa for 3 months (from The Netherlands), if those three months will be enough, haha!

I was thinking of buying a car for transport! What would that cost me on petrol, more or less?

I understand these questions might be difficult to answer, but maybe you could give an indication?

Many thanks in advance,


(A Student from the Netherlands!)


Hello Kees --

Thank you for writing in to Road Trip USA, and I hope I can help you plan a fantastic road trip around the USA. Music is a great theme around which to organize your trip -- I have to think that the music you describe is perhaps the best thing America has brought to the world. Fortunately for you, there are many others who share your interests, and all over the US there are museums and historic sights (and festivals!) dedicated to music and and the musicians who made it.

Personally I find the Deep South to be the most satisfying pat of the US to do a "musical road trip" like you propose. From a city like Memphis, which has dozens of musical sights to see -- not only about Elvis but Stax Soul and Sun Records (Johnny Cash et al) and everything in between. Food, hotels, most everything seems cheaper down there, and people seem to have more inclination to talk to visitors.

South of Memphis is the Mississippi Delta, "Land of the Blues" -- I describe quite a lot about this area in my Great River Road trip, along old US-61 (Route 4 on the website, and covered more recently in a book: Road Trip USA: Great River Road.

200 miles south of the Delta, you're in New Orleans, which is probably the most musical city in America, and a lot of fun to visit. As far as I know some of the music-oriented museums have yet to re-open after Hurrricane Katrina, which is appalling, but even just walking the streets you definitely get a great sense of how important music has been, especially to poorer, less privileged folks.

West of New Orleans is another musical land: Cajun Country, a rural region where there are vibrant clubs and bars all over.

Another great place to visit in the Deep South is the town of Macon Georgia, which has a very good "Hall of Fame" and a cemetery holding graves of local rockers Allman Brothers -- it's also a low-key, enjoyable little city. Little Richard and Otis Redding both came from Macon. Athens Georgia is pretty fun, too -- a college town, birthplace of pop bands like B52s and REM.

And in between Louisiana and Georgia you can pay respects to Montgomery, Alabama, home and final resting place to Hank Williams.

Along with everything else you mention, you can have a great -- and 3 months should be plenty of time to see it all, and to discover some new things you never expected (which is the best thing about traveling, in my opinion!)

(OH yes, before I forget: Duluth is pretty interesting too -- even better is the small old mining town of Hibbing Minnesota, where Bob Dylan grew up!)

Buying your own car could make sense financially, but because of legal issues (like insurance) it can be a hassle. Is there any way you could persuade your family/friends in Utah or Chicago to find a car for you, and make it street legal?

Driving in the US is pretty inexpensive, less than half the costs of driving in Europe -- fuel runs around $3 a gallon, which is 3.75 liters. Is that 60 Euro cents a liter? My math may be a little off -- but we American refuse to pay taxes, so everything is cheap! Cars are pretty cheap, too -- you could get a reliable, old Toyota-type car for around $3000, and maybe sell it back at the end of your trip (or loan it to your friends, until you come back next time? !)

OK, hope this all helps -- keep in touch, and let me know how it works out.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA


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