Top 10 Music Attractions in Tennessee - Rolling Stone
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Musical Volunteers: Top 10 Tennessee Spots for Music Lovers

From Dolly’s theme park to Elvis’ mansion, the best places for music-loving tourists in Tennessee


Dolly Parton rides a rollercoaster at Dollywood in 2000.

Ron Galella, Ltd/WireImage

Traveling east to west (or vice versa), a trip from one end of Tennessee to the other will take about six hours. Musically, however, that same journey through the Volunteer State will take you through centuries of a rich, colorful history that's been captured in some of the most iconic tourist destinations in the entire country. From state-of-the art museums and performance venues to legendary recording studios and a massive theme park founded by one of the world's most famous entertainers, we take a closer look at 10 of Tennessee's most can't-miss destinations.

Exterior shot of Cumberland Caverns

Christie Love

Cumberland Caverns

Travel some 70 miles south of Nashville to the small town of McMinnville, Tennessee, (birthplace of country legend Dottie West), then make your way below ground for one of the state's most magnificent natural landmarks. More than 32 miles of caves can be toured today, including spots where saltpeter was mined during the Civil War. For music lovers, however, Cumberland Caverns form the unique backdrop for a music series called "Bluegrass Underground." The monthly program of acoustic music recorded live at Cumberland Caverns airs on PBS stations, Nashville's 650 WSM radio and streaming at WSMonline.

Exterior shot of the Ryman Auditorium

Courtesy Ryman Auditorium

Ryman Auditorium

Emmylou Harris once famously said the Ryman Auditorium was full of magical "hillbilly dust," thanks to the 30 years this former church (built as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892) spent as home to country's live Grand Ole Opry radio show. But prior to the Opry, in addition to a religious meeting place, it was a concert hall and theatrical stage that hosted such legendary performers as Charlie Chaplin. Once targeted for demolition, the venue was restored to its former glory has since been the site of concerts by hundreds of acts from Mumford and Sons to Willie Nelson.

Exterior shot of Dollywood

Courtesy Dollywood


Pigeon Forge
In 1986, globally recognized entertainer (and beloved east Tennessee native) Dolly Parton became part owner of the former Silver Dollar City theme park, after which the attraction was rechristened Dollywood. Today, the sprawling complex, which employs more than 3,000 locals, celebrates the music and culture of the state as well as the iconic Parton herself. On-site attractions such as Splash Country and the singer's treasure-filled Chasing Rainbows museum are among the most-visited in the state. In 2011, the park and its star attraction were featured in the award-winning documentary film, Hollywood to Dollywood.

Exterior shot of Stax Museum of American Soul

Courtesy Stax Museum of American Soul

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

When it comes to American soul music, Stax Records played runner-up to Motown in terms of sales and historical significance, but that's not to say the label's influence on popular culture has been less than phenomenal. What began as a tiny record store inside an old downtown movie theater soon became one of the world's most important recording companies, with Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett and dozens of others gracing its roster. Stax Museum highlights include hundreds of vintage records, classic costumes and instruments, and a cool recreation of Stax Studio A.

Exterior of the Johnny Cash Museum

Jarrett Gaza

Johnny Cash Museum

One of just six Nashville attractions to earn the prestigious GEM rating from AAA, Forbes and National Geographic have also bestowed special honors on this museum that's a heartwarming and inspirational tribute to the hardscrabble upbringing and meteoric career of the Man in Black. Handwritten letters, song lyrics and numerous items that held special significance for Cash, his wife June Carter Cash and their entire family are housed at the Johnny Cash Museum, and there are several vintage film and TV clips to enjoy as well.

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