Music makes the world go round. From jazz and bluegrass to Appalachian folk and delta blues, U.S. songwriters and musicians continue to push the envelope when it comes to musical innovation and ingenuity.
Faith groups wanting to add a bit of musical adventure to their trips can arrange private performances, meet-and-greets and other experiences with musicians in destinations around the country. Here are a few to consider for your group’s next outing.
Many of country music’s biggest stars call Nashville home, so opportunities abound for groups to meet with songwriters and musicians as part of their visit to the city. One of the most popular experiences is the Nashville Studio Tour. Groups can go behind the scenes and enjoy a private acoustic performance with recording artist Meghan Linsey from NBC’s “The Voice” and record producer Tyler Cain. As part of the tour, groups have the chance to ask Linsey and Cain questions about the music industry and their careers, as well as record a group vocal with Linsey that they can take home as a souvenir.
Groups that want a music-themed tour of Nashville can visit the historic RCA Studio B, Nashville’s oldest remaining recording studio. The studio, founded in 1957, was the birthplace of more than 35,000 songs by artists such as Elvis Presley, Martina McBride and Dolly Parton. Visitors learn about the equipment in the studio used to record some of the most popular songs of all time before taking a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
For an intimate songwriting experience, Songwriter City offers the Hitmakers and Storytellers experience, where groups listen to hit songs from the songwriters who created them and learn how those songs made it into the repertoires of some of the greatest recording artists. The experience can include up to five songwriters that play along with their colleagues on their songs as they tell the touching and sometimes funny stories about how the songs came about. The Listening Room Café, founded by Chris Blair, a singer and songwriter, is a wonderful, intimate music venue that attracts some of Nashville’s top songwriters and entertainers.
Delta blues music was developed at the start of the 20th century by the descendants of former African American slaves who turned traditional chants, spirituals and praise songs into their own musical style using acoustic guitars and harmonicas. Chicago put its own spin on the 1950s Delta blues by adding electric guitar, bass, drums, piano and harmonica played in front of a microphone to the more traditional acoustic sounds.
Groups with a yen for Chicago blues can host a private event at the House of Blues Chicago with a local band, DJ or headlining artist. Small groups can tour Chess Records, the home of America’s greatest blues label, which produced records for such legends as Muddy Waters, Etta James and Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones not only recorded there but also memorialized the famous recording studio in their song “2120 South Michigan Avenue.”
Visiting groups can book private events with the Old Town School of Folk Music, hiring solo professional artists up to 11-piece bands, dance instructors and callers, workshop leaders and more for any type of event. The school has performers in nearly every musical genre, including traditional African percussion, jazz, blues, Cajun/zydeco and folk pop. The school also leads music and theater-based teambuilding workshops, and dance workshops and instruction in Latin dance, Middle Eastern belly dance, Hawaiian hula and West African dance.
Winter’s Jazz Club offers groups a cozy setting to enjoy jazz music. Kingston Mines, the largest and longest continuously operating blues club in Chicago, since 1968, has two stages that have played host to some of the world’s most popular blues musicians, including Magic Slim, Sugar Blue, Mike Wheeler and Junior Wells. The club hosts numerous shows on the weekends. Groups can come to listen to music, have cocktails and enjoy a meal from Doc’s Kitchen.
Austin, which bills itself as the live music capital of the U.S., has more than 250 live music venues in its famous downtown and hosts numerous music festivals throughout the year, among them the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the Austin Area Jazz Festival, the Austin Reggae Festival and Blues on the Green.
Groups that want to tap into Austin’s extensive musical scene can take in a live show at any of the city’s musical venues. They can also tour the venue from which the live music show “Austin City Limits” broadcasts. Founded by country music legend Willie Nelson, it is one of the oldest music performance television shows in the U.S., and it is still going strong on PBS and other radio and television stations across the country. Groups can tour the camera rooms and visit backstage.
Another musical experience, called Lyriculture, is run by female musicians who connect individuals and groups with great singer songwriters for a group bonding activity. They can write music for your organization, or all of the participants can create a song together and sing it at the end of the workshop. Arlyn Studios will organize album listening sessions or special minitours of the studio and then offer groups a private performance by a local musician. Visit Austin is happy to help groups organize more personal musical experiences.
To learn more about Austin’s music scene, groups can book a tour through Austin Detours, a tour group run and managed by musicians. Musicians are the tour guides, and they will take passengers to three or four live music venues a night. Musicians will also perform for the passengers between venues.
New Orleans is synonymous with jazz. Wandering the streets of NOLA, you can’t escape the cool sounds of jazz from local street musicians and second-line brass bands. Groups can learn more about jazz music by visiting Preservation Hall, the city’s iconic New Orleans music venue, which got its start in the 1950s in the French Quarter. It offers acoustic New Orleans jazz performances nearly every night of the year. The performances feature ensembles made up of 50-plus local master musicians.
Groups can book an event at Preservation Hall for a 45-minute performance from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, followed by a question-and-answer session with the musicians. A visit to the New Orleans Jazz Museum, also in the French Quarter, is a must for any group interested in learning how the musical style was born. Groups wanting to get away from the city and enjoy live music can enjoy a two-hour Mississippi River cruise on the riverboat City of New Orleans. Passengers will enjoy traditional live jazz music and craft cocktails onboard while learning about the history of New Orleans.
If jazz isn’t your group’s cup of tea, the New Orleans Opera, which has been operating since the 1700s, offers groups the chance to attend its dress rehearsals. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra offers a variety of musical selections every season. During its rehearsals, the conductor and guest artists will speak with the audience about concert preparation and what to expect during the final performance. Open rehearsals were canceled for the 2020-2021 series but will resume for the 2021-2022 season.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is rooted in bluegrass and Appalachian folk traditions, but the area is considered one of America’s top music cities, attracting musicians from every genre, who can perform for private groups. The owner of Skinny Beats Drum Shop works with groups by performing at private events or hosting groups of about 18 people at his shop for drum lessons or percussion sound experiences.
LaZoom Tours offers the Fender Bender: Band & Beer Bus, which takes groups to two or three local breweries a night while a band entertains guests on the company’s wacky purple converted school bus. The tours can accommodate 35 passengers and last two and a half hours.
The Moog Music Factory is uniquely Asheville. The plant, started by Bob Moog, inventor of the synthesizer and a longtime Asheville resident, is open for group tours daily. Groups learn about the history of the synthesizer and see how it is manufactured. At the end of the tour, groups can stick around and make music on the different instruments made there.
To learn more about Moog, travelers can visit the Moogseum, an interactive museum that honors Moog’s life and work. Groups of about 10 can learn how synthesizers were used to enhance popular songs in a variety of styles.
Groups interested in seeing how records are made can visit Citizen Vinyl, a record-pressing plant that opened in downtown Asheville in 2020. The third floor of the building was home to a radio station during the 1920s and 1930s and is where Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, played for a radio performance in 1939. Citizen Vinyl plans to offer group tours of the plant.