A weekend in Memphis, Tennessee – the city of Kings

written by @AnthonyTravelPhotos

by Guest Writer
a group of people walking on a street with motorcycles

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For May long weekend, I took a trip down to Memphis, Tennessee, a city with links to a few famous American “Kings” past and present. One of three reasons to visit the town was Graceland, the Home of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n Roll. Another was to visit the National Civil Right Museum in the Lorraine Motel and see Room 306, the site of one of America’s greatest tragedies, the assassination of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Finally, I also wanted to attend Memphis in May International Festival, which hosts the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest to crown a new BBQ King.

Weekend in Memphis – Getting there

Flights: I used 40,000 Aeroplan points to fly in Business Class, on a combination of Air Canada and United flights from Toronto (YYZ) to Memphis (MEM), via Chicago (ORD). Unfortunately, United has the most restrictive lounge access policy wherein even Domestic First Class passengers do not get United Club lounge access. My layover in ORD was unexciting, and the connecting flight to MEM was very basic. Thankfully, I did get lounge access on my return leg, as the ORD-YYZ is an international connection which allowed me access to the United Club lounge.

Hotel: For my weekend in Memphis, I stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites, booked as a cash stay via Aeroplan e-store during a 5X promo (fingers crossed I get the points). I also used Marriott gift cards bought at a 20% discount via Amex Offers. The hotel provided a free airport shuttle service and breakfast for my stay.

While the room and overall amenities were adequate, the hotel staff had no training in processing a Marriott Gift Card payment. I had to call Marriott Titanium customer support to assist a hotel staff in processing the gift card payment. Have you experienced similar issues at Marriott properties? Share with a comment below.

Getting around the city: For getting around Memphis, including airport transfers, I used Uber and offset the costs using my Scene+ points earned through Scotiabank Credit Cards.

Weekend in Memphis – National Civil Rights Museum

My first stop in the city was the National Civil Rights Museum, located in the Lorraine Motel. The museum offers a powerful and immersive experience that helps promote understanding, dialogue, and progress. It educates visitors about the history and struggles of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Among the many exhibits that moved me deeply, two stood out for significance and impact on the Civil Rights Movement in the US;

  • A wreath of red and white flowers hangs outside Room 306 of Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. As U2 poignantly said, “April Four, A shot rings out in the Memphis sky, Free at last, they took your life, They could not take your Pride.”The museum has preserved the room and its memories precisely as it was on the day. The description reads;

Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel is exactly the way it was on April 4th, 1968. The bed is made. The food tray is on the coffee table. The ashtray with a partially smoked cigarette is on the desk. As you peer into the hotel room, you see Dr. King’s surroundings during the final minutes of his life — frozen in time.

a white car parked outside of a building

Lorraine Motel – National Civil Rights Museum

  • The museum also houses the bus that Rosa Parks sat in – an African American woman who refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger, as the segregation laws of the time required. An iconic symbol of courage and resistance in the face of injustice, the incident sparked the broader Civil Rights Movement. It led to significant legal and social changes, including declaring segregation on public transportation unconstitutional.

a statue of a woman sitting in a bus

The tickets for the museum are timed to ensure all visitors enjoy their experience and are priced at $18. The tickets can be bought online and accept credit cards as payment.

Weekend in Memphis – the Music Scene

The Memphis music scene holds a legendary status, mainly due to the influential presence of Elvis Presley and its association as the birthplace of rock and Roll. Elvis, often called the “King of Rock and Roll,” emerged from Memphis in the 1950s, blending various genres to create a groundbreaking sound. His innovative style, charisma, and electrifying performances revolutionized popular music forever. Beyond Elvis, Memphis boasts a rich musical heritage, nurturing talents like B.B. King, Johnny Cash, and Otis Redding. The city’s diverse blend of blues, gospel, R&B, and Soul has made it a vibrant hub of creativity, leaving an indelible mark on the global music landscape.

I started with a self-guided tour of Sun Studio, regarded as The Birthplace of Rock’n’roll. It’s where artists like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley got their big break. The studio, to this day, is a fully operational music studio in the evenings once the studio tours end (as the tour explained). The 40-minute guided tour gives an in-depth look at the studio’s operation and the key players who worked there in the early days. The ticket cost $15.

I also visited Graceland ($75 after a CAA discount), the home of Elvis Presley. Graceland was impressive, even if you aren’t an Elvis fan. I also had the chance to experience the “Lisa Marie,” Elvis’s custom-built aircraft that he took across the country for concerts. No shower in the sky like the Emirates, but still an impressive luxury plane. It took about 4 hours to fully tour Graceland, including Elvis’s grave inside the mansion complex.

a grave stones with flowers and flags

Graceland – Memphis, TN

My other stop was the Rock N’ Soul Museum which highlights the history of Memphis music and the evolution of rock, gospel and soul music in Memphis from record labels such as Sun and Stax (who signed artists like Isaac Hayes).

Pro-tip: The “Backstage pass” saves you $23 on admissions to four of Memphis’ most popular music attractions, Graceland, Sun Studio, Stax Museum and, of course, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. The “Backstage Pass” can be purchased at the front desk of Rock’ n’ Soul for $98 each.

I also spent a night walking down Beale Street, an iconic destination with allure for music lovers worldwide. Steeped in history and vibrant energy, Beale Street is renowned as the “Home of the Blues.” Today, the street is a thriving cultural hotspot, lined with blues clubs, juke joints, and music venues that pulsate with soulful melodies. If you don’t mind a lineup, try to get into BB Kings Blues Café for dinner and a show.

Beale Street Memphis

“Beale Street Memphis, TN” via http://www.bealestreet.com/

Weekend in Memphis – World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest

No visit to Memphis is complete without trying some BBQ. Memphis in May is home to the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest, an annual event showcasing the rich barbecue tradition in Southern cooking. This year, the event was at the riverfront downtown Tom Lee Park overlooking the grand Mississippi River, with an entrance fee of $18 ( cash only).

Recognized by USA Today as the “Most Prestigious Barbecue Contest,” the four-day competition draws pitmasters, teams, and enthusiasts from around the globe. The Contest features championship pork categories of Ribs, Shoulder, and Whole Hog and the ancillary competitions of Hot Wings, Sauce, and “Anything But Pork.”

a large meat on a grill

I went on the last day, where the focus was everything pork. While there are vendors selling food, many of the participants vying for an award in the Contest are more than happy to give away their entries into the competition once the judges have tasted and graded their entries. While the website warns;

Remember that it is a Contest and not a Food Festival, meaning the barbecue being cooked here is only for the judges, the teams, and their friends, NOT the general public.

..there is more than enough food to sample once the judges have done their official visits. As I can confirm, the competitors are more than happy to give away their BBQ versus throwing it away. Though, as always… YMMV.

a group of bags of meat on a table

Walking around, I had every possible part of a pig from the rump, rack, back, shoulder, jaw and everything in between. And there was no shortage of free BBQ given away in zip lock bags, more than twice the size of the ones you put your liquids in at the airport 😲. I made two rookie mistakes at the festival – I should have skipped breakfast and brought a few takeout containers – ha!

Guests told me a 4-day “VIPit pass” costs about $500 per person, including access to many private tents and four days of unlimited BBQ and drinks at over 100 competing vendors. The guests I spoke with told me they visited about 20 food vendors daily, with many offering free drinks too. So if you consider yourself a BBQ lover get this VIPit pass, and your inner Homer Simpson will thank you. The VIP Passes sell out fast!

Winners of the competition were declared by 7 pm that evening, and the information can be found here.

Besides the festival, I also had a chance to visit the following establishments and enjoyed the local offerings;

  • BB Kings Blues Cafe – $10 cover charge for the live bands. Being all “porked out” from the festival, I tried the Southern Fried Platter with Catfish and Shrimp served with crispy and sweet onion hushpuppies and fries. Served with coleslaw, French fries, a trio of ketchup, tartar sauce and BB King’s signature “comeback sauce,” –  the portion sizes are ample, and you won’t leave hungry.
  • Gus’s Fried Chicken – I couldn’t leave Memphis without going to Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken. I got a two-piece platter with coleslaw, baked beans, and a slice of piping hot southern Chess pie for dessert. The bonus was that it was easy on the wallet (under $15). The chicken has a kick, and your lips will tingle after you are done. The coleslaw does help with cutting down the zing. The Chess pie was freshly baked and piping hot. Don’t leave Memphis without having a slice!

Weekend in Memphis – TakeAway

Memphis, Tennessee, is for everyone and offers various reasons to return for more. From live performances in intimate clubs to music festivals like the Beale Street Music Festival or down-home comfort food to upscale dining, the various cultural sites that offer a captivating glimpse into its history and creative spirit, Memphis ensures you will want to return for further exploration. I know I will.

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gary burhop July 7, 2023 - 10:14 am

I’m sorry the visitor did not make it to Sun Studio. Elvis recorded there first. Today it is still a recording studio and the same as then. It is authentic.

Anshul July 7, 2023 - 12:01 pm

Thanks for catching that, Gary – Anthony did visit Sun Studio, but I think it got dropped from the final edit. We have added it back to the list of tours he completed. Cheers!


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