Americana Music Triangle: The Nashville to Muscle Shoals Trail
NASHVILLE TO MUSCLE SHOALS TRAIL
From the big machine of the music industry to the unlikely rural studios that helped launch some of the biggest music careers in the world, the contrast between Nashville and Muscle Shoals, the endpoints of this Gold Record Road drive, gives you a fascinating look into the historic commerce of American music. Nashville is known worldwide as Music City, but not because the music itself sprung organically from the land and the water here. Instead, Nashville is the magical, magnetic spot where stars were and are born; it’s the legendary place where labels, studios, producers, writers and artists built a booming business polishing the rural acts of the Triangle and packaging them for the public.
Most famously, it’s where the Grand Ole Opry put country music on the map—literally—as an advertising vehicle for life insurance; today, the Opry is an American institution with a membership roster that reads like a family tree of music royalty. The city’s music reputation knows no genre boundaries—artists and producers come from all over the world for a chance to perform and record in Nashville. Head south on the Gold Record Road for an authentic small-town experience in Franklin and Leiper’s Fork, where rural living, celebrity status and big music business live in harmony. You’ll follow the Natchez Trace for a scenic drive through history, traveling the legendary road that brought people to the area, and connected the communities—and the music—along the way.
Make a stop in Lawrenceburg, and visit the hallowed ground of Southern gospel music, a major influence on the young Elvis Presley and countless others. End up in the Shoals, which feels like the yin to Nashville’s twang: a clutch of small Alabama towns with a laid-back, no-frills Southern culture that contrasted sharply with other “Music Cities” like Memphis and Nashville in the 1960s. That isolated magic bred a funky new blend of R&B, rock, country and gospel music, and made its tiny, underdog studios a hot spot for one big artist after another, popularizing what became known as the Muscle Shoals sound and changing music history forever.
In many rural areas, restaurants and other stops are open and ready for business on the weekends only; in other areas, attractions close on Sundays and Mondays instead. Be aware that hours of operation may vary, especially in smaller communities, and lodging options can be few and far between. We encourage you to visit websites, make phone calls and prepare in advance in order to catch these sites—small businesses and small towns in particular—at their best.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a linear National Park; you won’t find gas stations, convenience stores or other quick stops on this scenic route unless you jump off the Trace and into one of the corridor communities along the way. Be sure to start with a full tank of gas, and keep your speed in check—the 50-mph limit on this scenic drive is actively enforced.
The rural South is economically diverse, with pockets of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, which can raise safety questions with travelers. Our advice is to behave as you would in any urban area—keep car doors locked, keep valuables with you and don’t flaunt jewelry or cash.
This information was accurate when published but can change without notice.