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Sights and Sounds of Tennessee

From its northeastern corner to its southwestern tip, Tennessee resounds with some of America’s best music.

Groups love traveling through Tennessee, and for good reason: The state lays claim to some of the most popular tourist destinations in the American South, and music plays an integral part in that appeal. Beyond all else, Tennessee is the undisputed home of country music, with the genre starting in the hills near Bristol before making a permanent home in Nashville. And while country music was establishing itself in middle Tennessee, Memphis was brewing its own soulful sounds that have become an indispensible part of the American musical repertoire.

A tour through Tennessee can incorporate these highlight destinations, as well as some great entertainment in the Smoky Mountains and nearby Knoxville. This itinerary begins in Bristol and moves west to Memphis but could just as easily be traveled from west to east.

Making the most of these music and entertainment destinations throughout Tennessee takes at least five days; plan a full week for a robust experience.



Straddling the border between northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia, Bristol is known throughout both states as the birthplace of country music. It was in Bristol that a recording executive set up a makeshift recording studio and captured the sounds of the Carter family and other local performers in 1927, sparking the country music movement.

Today, visitors to the city can learn about the Carters, the Bristol Sessions and their role in American music at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Housed in a historic building downtown, the museum tells the stories of early country music in the area through recordings, art, artifacts and other displays. It also features stories from famous country music performers who talk about how the Bristol Sessions influenced their careers.

Groups that have a special interest in music should plan their visits to coincide with the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, a three-day celebration of American music that takes place each September.

While you’re there: The Bristol Motor Speedway is a favorite destination of NASCAR fans. More than 200,000 spectators visit for annual races in March and August. Visiting groups can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the track at any time of year.


Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge (and nearby Gatlinburg) first became tourist destinations thanks to their proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which sits between the two towns. Over the years, a whole entertainment industry has sprung up to serve the influx of visitors to the Smokies, and groups can find a variety of shows to enjoy while in town.

Dolly Parton grew up near Pigeon Forge, and her Dollywood theme park has become famous for both its handmade crafts and its high-caliber live entertainment. Visitors can enjoy a variety of authentic country, folk and Americana shows during a day at the park.

Several theaters in Pigeon Forge present musical revues popular with groups. The Smith Family Dinner Theater offers traditional music and Southern-style food. Memories Theater features tribute artists performing hits by such legends as Elvis Presley, Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson. And the Smoky Mountain Opry is a classic variety show with music, comedy and other performances.

While you’re there: The Titanic Museum Attraction gives visitors a chance to dive into the legend of the Titanic. This museum features hundreds of artifacts rescued from the site of the shipwreck, as well as compelling interactive exhibits that draw visitors in to the Titanic story.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.