We explore the route of the ‘blues’ from New Orleans to Chicago

If you are an inveterate music lover and you enjoy driving, without a doubt, you should take the tour of Highway 61. On this road you will enter the heart of the United States to carry out what is known as the route of the blues. This journey will take you from New Orleans to Chicago on an adventure with its own soundtrack.

Some interesting data about the route of the blues

Although this itinerary is known as the route of the blues, perhaps it is more correct to refer to African-American music. This is so because you will go through the places that saw the birth of the jazz and by the places considered the origin of the blues until you get where it mixes with the country and it begins to emerge rock and roll.

To make this journey we will use US Route 61, a federal highway that stretches 1,400 miles from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Wyoming, Minnesota. As most of the trip follows the course of the Mississippi, in many sections this road is known as the Great River Road.

The route of blues It has several essential stops on the way from New Orleans to Chicago along some 1,700 kilometers. So turn up the volume on the radio and let yourself go. We discover the places that you cannot miss in this roadtrip only suitable for true music lovers.

New Orleans, start of the route of the blues

If there is a place that everyone should make a pilgrimage to at least once in their life, it is New Orleans. It is the city where jazz flood every cornerwhere music really lives on thanks to the immense number of spaces that fight for its conservation.

The hometown of the incomparable Louis Armstrong is the best place to kick off our adventure. With hundreds of different festivals throughout the year, the rhythms in the streets of New Orleans are heard 24 hours a day.

It is a picturesque mix, but the spirit of jazz lives on in numerous Bourbon Street venues, Decatur Street and Frenchmen Street. Do not forget to have a beer in bars as special as Spotted Cat. And let yourself be seduced by the southern joy, as well as taste its Creole and Cajun cuisine to the rhythm of trumpets or guitars.

towards the authentic delta blues in Clarksdale

The route of blues continues through Greenville, Holly Ridge (where Charley Patton’s grave is located) and the mythical Dockery plantation, a true temple of this musical style.

a little later we will arrive at Clarksdale, the historical capital of the blues. But first, don’t forget to stop at the crossroads between highways 49 and 61. There, some huge guitars mark the exact spot where Robert Johnson, the ‘king of the delta blues‘, he sold his soul to the devil to be the best guitar player.

In Clarksdale, Be sure to go to the Riverside Hotel, an authentic museum what they have been through bluesmen like Duke Ellington or Muddy Waters. You can also stay at the Shack Up Inn, an old plantation where the spirits of music are still very present and which today is an austere hostel that retains all its charm.

To hear the real blues you must enter Red’s Juke Joint or Ground Zero Blues Club (whose co-owner is Morgan Freeman himself). On the other hand, the Museum of delta blues It also has to be on your list of essentials, which contains valuable information and objects that will fascinate any fan.

Memphis, between BB King and Elvis Presley

The next fundamental pause in the route of the blues takes us to the state of Tennessee. In Memphis you will come across one of the cities that most attracts attention on the tour, due to the large number of musicians who lived in its streets. The blues begins to mix and we also listen to other styles such as soul either rock and roll.

Artists like Johny Cash, BB King or Elvis Presley are the clear protagonists. The latter bought his famous Graceland mansion here and is buried there. Also, the queen of soul Aretha Franklin was born here.

There are countless places of interest in this city: Stax Records, where Ottis Redding recorded; Sun Records, known worldwide for being the recording studio for Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis; the Civil Rights Museum; or even the famous Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Continuing with the musical culture of the route, one of the main streets of Memphis is Beale Street. In its day it was known as the ‘blues street’ and in it the master BB King played the guitar, in addition to having a club that today is one of the most visited.

Another of the tourist curiosities that gathers large crowds in Memphis takes place at the Peabody Hotel. In this elegant establishment they have a curious custom since the 1930s: every day a family of ducks is taken down by elevator and crosses a red carpet to reach a fountain in which they bathe.

Saint Louis, home of the blues in missouri

Our next stop on Route 61 is in the largest city on the Great Plains, St. Louis. This metropolis has seen the formation of numerous legends of the musical scene, like Scott Joplin, Miles David, Chuck Berry or Tina Turner. In addition, it has more than 100 parks and green spaces that will add attraction to your visit.

Next to the Mississippi River stands the mythical Gateway Arch, more than 190 meters high. But you also have to take a moment to visit the National Blues Museum. Likewise, you can try some of the best Italian restaurants in The Hill neighborhood.

But above all, enjoy a beer while live music plays at venues like BB’s Jazz Blues and Soups. In The Loop district you will find the ‘walk of fame’ of St. Louiswhich commemorates the musicians he saw grow up.

Chicago, last destination of the route of the blues

Robert Johnson sang Sweet Home Chicago and this is how our tour of Highway 61 ends. It is the largest city in Illinois and is, without a doubt, a place of pilgrimage for any music lover.

Chicago is defined between the blues and the jazz, because since the 1920s a strong record industry was created. This made a large number of clubs and venues flourish, in many cases controlled by the mafia.

Today, that spirit lives on and you can experience it by visiting the museum where the iconic Chess Records studios were located. Musicians like Benny Goodman developed the well-known ‘Chicago style’a kind of jazz less impetuous and more subtle.

The icing on the cake is a wide selection of venues where you can listen to live music. One of the best known is Green Mill, which is still charged with the atmosphere speakeasy of Prohibition and has corners dedicated to special clients, such as Al Capone.

In Chicago you can’t miss Buddy Guy’s Legends either, where the guitarist still performs. Thus put the finishing touch to this musical route with which Bob Dylan baptized one of his albums, Highway 61 Revisited.

The blues it is a state of mind, you have to feel it, and there is nothing like a tour to soak up its culture. You will travel the same journey as the pioneers of blues did oncewhen they migrated north to Chicago and brought their music with them.

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