I Love Los Angeles!
When most people think of Los Angeles, they think of the things that Woody Allen focuses on in his film Annie Hall—the weather and the stars. But LA has so much more going for it than that. Which is not to discount the weather and the stars—or Annie Hall. The weather is consistently comfy, just to Goldilocks’ liking—rarely too hot or too cold. And if you find it thrilling to see famous people doing regular-people stuff, LA is the place for you. You might see Ashton Kutcher buying a cucumber or Miley Cyrus rocking out to her iPod. But the stuff to do in the City of Angels doesn’t stop there. Not by a long shot!
Hermosa Beach is the best place in the country for singles, according to Money magazine. So if you’re looking for love, or you’re just looking to soak up some rays on a beach that is not packed with families, this is the place for you. There is a classic beach-boy/beach-girl vibe here. There are enough shaggy surfers and fun-loving volleyball players to make it feel like you’re hanging out in a Saved By the Bell episode. Indeed, hanging out in Hermosa Beach, you begin to feel like you’re in a TV show. As on a lot of TV shows, many people seem like they don’t have jobs. Despite the fact that a lot of Hermosa Beach residents have high-pressure finance careers, they seem to be living the good life without a care in the world. That’s how powerful the laid-back vibe is here.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, is a space that is stunning both inside and out. Outside, the building looks, in typical Gehry fashion, like something you’d see on the horizon in a dream. Inside, the Yasuhisa Toyota-designed acoustics are truly cathedral-like. Angelinos hope and pray that when their favorite musicians come through town, they play this venue, because it is here that musicians can realize their full live potential. Just as Walt Disney was a perfectionist about the look and sound of his animated films (famously drawing far more frames than his competitors or experimenting with stereophonic sound not long after the invention of talkies), there is an obvious perfectionism about the Walt Disney Concert Hall—which was built with money donated by Lillian Disney, Walt’s wife. The young and exciting music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, will be conducting a program of Tchaikovsky and Carl Nielsen, played by the much-praised pianist Lang Lang.
LA Loves Food!
If you’re looking for great food at a casual LA restaurant, I recommend Food. Their no-nonsense name is indicative of the seriousness with which they take their craft. If you’re looking for upscale dining, look no further than Patina—the last word in fine French dining in LA. Conveniently located in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Patina offers the finest wines, cheeses, chocolates, meats, vegetables, fruit, and caviar in Los Angeles. It is appropriate that the restaurant is in the building where the Philharmonic plays, as its plates are simply symphonic.
At the end of your wonderful LA day, you’ll be ready to kick back. I recommend a hotel with everything you’ll need on-site (like a kitchen and laundry), so you won’t have to run out for anything.
Philadelphia Is an All-American City
Philadelphia is foundational for our country. It was a center of learning and progress before the Revolution—largely because of the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, who founded the country’s first lending library and fire department in Philadelphia, as well as societies for the promotion of civic and intellectual virtues. There is a staggering amount of history and culture in Philadelphia—a city whose grid layout provided the blueprint for a number of other great American cities. Its historical charms, though plentiful, are not its only features. You can really feel the love in Philadelphia. There is a lot of hometown pride, and Philadelphians love to show their city off to visitors. It is not for nothing that Philadelphia translates to “the city of brotherly love.”
Philadelphia is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation, with a sizable African American community. Forty-three percent of the residents of the city are black. Philly has a long history of vibrant black culture—particularly music. From John Coltrane and Sun Ra to the Philly soul of the 1970s through the Philly neo-soul of the ‘90s and 2000s and the city’s vibrant hip-hop scene spearheaded by The Roots, Philadelphia has contributed to black music as much as any American city. Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection is an exhibition that concerns the importance of African American music in American culture at large. Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes, has curated this exhibit—making it a very personal exploration of a very public phenomenon. Somewhat like the film The Runaways (which was about the band The Runaways and about the coming of age of a member of that band, Cherie Currie), this exhibit chronicles both the rise of The Supremes (notable for hits like “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”) and Wilson’s coming into her own. Through The Supremes’ clothing (which is stunning), photographs, 1960s news articles, and obscure film footage, the story unfolds with the grace of a top-notch biopic.
You’ve got to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the “Rocky Steps”—the iconic steps that Rocky Balboa runs up in Rocky, the song “Gonna Fly Now” seemingly impelling him. The metal likeness of Rocky that was featured at the top of the steps in Rocky III, to symbolize the fact that Rocky was no longer an underdog, is now located at their bottom (perhaps symbolizing the fact that Rocky will forever be our underdog hero). After you pose for a photo with the brazen Rocky and run up the stairs singing “Gonna Fly Now” to yourself, it’s worth checking out the museum.
The exhibit The Art of Golf is timely and unique. Timed to coincide with the U.S. Open, which takes place in Ardmore, Pennsylvania this year, this exhibition can only benefit from the excitement over the return of Tiger Woods to the top of the game. The central work of art in the exhibition is Charles Lees’ painting The Golfers, which depicts the sport as it was played in the mid-nineteenth century in Scotland (which is the land of the sport’s birth and development).
After a day soaking up all of Philadelphia’s cultural and historical wonders, you’ll likely be ready to indulge in some family time. The ideal place for that is an Extended Stay Hotel—where every suite has, free of charge, a kitchen, a flatscreen TV, and Wi-Fi.
Nashville, Tennessee: The Country Music Capital of the World
Country music is music of the world now. What started out as the favorite sounds of rural Southerners is now loved the globe over. No matter how far and wide country music roams, though, its heart will always live in Nashville, Tennessee. Country music’s 1927 birth (nicknamed its “big bang”)—the first recording sessions for both Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family—took place in Bristol, Tennessee, 300 miles west of Nashville (and there is a museum being built there to commemorate country’s very early years). While country music was not born in Nashville, it most certainly did grow up and learn the facts of life there. Just as aspiring actors go to Hollywood, aspiring country musicians go to Nashville. It is the heartbeat and lodestar of American country music.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
This is not just your average, moldy museum. It’s the living record of a music that is very much alive and kicking (in its cowboy boots). There is currently an exciting exhibit on Patsy Cline’s brief but quite popular and influential career called Patsy Cline: Crazy for Loving You. Rocketing to fame on the strength of now-legendary recordings like “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy,” Patsy Cline was a glamorous country star who had it all—gracefully balancing the fast-paced world of recording and touring with married life and motherhood. This exhibit takes you into Cline’s world through her letters, her clothes, photographs of her, and—of course—her amazing songs.
Another exhibit not to be passed by is The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country. In the 1950s and ‘60s, a vibrant country music scene sprung up in California’s Central Valley—the result of the influx of migrants from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas during the Dust Bowl years. The Bakersfield country sound was raw and propulsive—akin to the music of Johnny Cash and the “outlaw” country sound of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. This exhibit tells the story of how Merle Haggard and Buck Owens turned their lives around with music. Haggard’s troubled youth ended in a stretch in San Quentin Prison. While in prison, he saw Johnny Cash perform, and he made a pledge to turn his life around. Buck Owens grew up in a poor sharecropping family but determined that he would not stay poor long. Jumping into the Bakersfield country scene in 1951, he quickly achieved success—first as a session guitarist then as a solo artist.
Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is the most venerable, legendary country venue in the country. The weekly radio shows that were broadcast from the venue starting all the way back in the late ‘20s documented the beginnings and evolution of country music. Everybody who’s anybody in country music history has played at the Opry—Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Brad Paisley, and on and on and on.
After your day deep in the heart of country music is through, you’ll likely want to head back to a casual, comfortable hotel where you can discuss the day’s events. At Extended Stay Hotels, you get a world-class suite with kitchen, flatscreen TV, Wi-Fi, and a grab-and-go breakfast all for an affordable price.
Phoenix Is a Great Museum Town!
I’m just guessing that if I conducted a survey and asked people what comes to mind when they think of Phoenix, Arizona, lots of folks would tell me that they associate the city with stuff like nightlife, sports, and desert hikes. It’s true that Phoenix has all of that in spades. It’s a great town for eating, drinking, and dancing, for watching and playing sports, and for experiencing the arid wonders of the Sonoran Desert. What I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t hear in response to my survey question is that Phoenix and world-class museums go together. People generally don’t find out what a great museum town Phoenix is till they are drawn there by other extracurriculars.
The Musical Instrument Museum pays tribute to the long and venerable history of the musical instrument craft, as well as the new and exciting history of pop stardom. In the museum’s five geographical galleries, the visitor can travel the globe via the world’s instruments and music. Hear Chinese music played on a variety of stringed instruments, and see the instruments (one of which is quite similar to the guitar). Hear the music of West Africa, and marvel at its similarities to American blues. These exhibits are not all about difference and exoticism. The discerning listener will notice similarities between different music of the world.
The Artist Gallery is all about our modern-day mania for musical superstars. The newest exhibit is dedicated to Taylor Swift, a superstar who became a superstar by singing about how big a fan she is of another superstar—Tim McGraw. Her exhibit features the guitar and boots she wore in the “Tim McGraw” video, as well as her handwritten lyrics for the song. Also featured in the Artist Gallery is the piano that John Lennon composed “Imagine” on. Here’s a surprise: It’s not the iconic white grand piano made by Steinway you’re imagining right now. Lennon actually wrote “Imagine” on a much humbler, more workaday instrument than the one featured in the song’s video—still a Steinway, but a brown upright model rather than the majestic white grand piano. You’ll learn quite a lot at the Musical Instrument Museum, but you won’t realize you are—since you’ll be having so much fun.
Any museum town worth its salt has something for the little ones in the family. At the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, kids learn in a hands-on, playful way. Children are encouraged to relate to the exhibits however they would like to. The folks at the Children’s Museum trust that kids’ intuition and curiosity will guide them right. In the Art Studio: Creative Expression exhibit, children learn about the how the art world works by making art. There are “Playologists” and studio assistants who will help your kids have the most rich and fun learning experience they can. In the exhibit Market: Role-Play Paradise, children get to do one of their favorite things: play make-believe. Parents rarely stop to think that children are actually learning quite a lot when they are acting out the roles of grownups and experimenting with social situations. This role-play is in a food market and will exercise your children’s minds and bodies.
After a day experiencing the riches of Phoenix’s museums, you’ll be ready to head back to a hotel that measures up to the museums. There’s only one hotel that is as family-friendly as Phoenix’s museums—Extended Stay Hotels. Every suite has a kitchen, a TV and free Wi-Fi.
The Beat Goes On: On the Road with the Beat Generation
America’s mid-twentieth-century rebel writers, the Beat Generation, the group who spawned the pop-culture phenomenon known as the Beatnik, left an indelible mark on American art and culture. Their let-it-all-hang-out artistic ethos had a lot of influence on the work of figures like Bob Dylan and Hunter S. Thompson and on the attitude of the hippies. The Beat Generation’s canonical texts, chief among them Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” are still popular with the young, hip, and bookish today. Like The Catcher in the Rye, these texts speak across generations. This is why both “Howl” and On the Road have recently been turned into films starring popular youth-oriented actors. Howl stars James Franco, and On the Road stars Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund.
The Beat Museum: San Francisco, CA
The Beat Museum is located in the heart of San Francisco’s North Beach, one of the Beat Generation’s spiritual homes. The first floor is the bookstore, where you can buy any Beat Generation book you’ve ever heard of and many that you haven’t. The second floor is the proper museum, where you will find many Beat artifacts (such as one of Kerouac’s favorite jackets and the typewriter he used to write many of his opuses) and learn quite a lot about this literary and cultural movement. As you enter the museum, you discover the key fact that the term “Beatnik” was coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen as a glib contraction of the words “Beat Generation” and “Sputnik.” The museum has many different editions of On the Road in many different languages on display—each edition’s cover design bearing the mark of the time and place it is from. This museum is such an authority on all things Beat Generation that Walter Salles, the director of On the Road, did much of his research here. You can benefit from his relationship with the museum not only by watching his wonderful film; Salles also donated the car driven by the central figure in the movie (Dean Moriarty—played by Hedlund) to the museum. This classic late-‘40s Hudson now sits in the museum bookstore—bringing the road into the museum.
City Lights Bookstore: San Francisco, CA
City Lights Bookstore, which is right across the road from the Beat Museum, was started by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953. A few years after opening the store, the shop’s publishing operation published Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. It would go on to publish many other Beat Generation classics—such as Gregory Corso’s Gasoline and Ginsberg’s Kaddish and Other Poems—keeping the Beat flame alive and serving as a sort of Beat Generation shrine for many visitors from around the world. The store, which seems little changed in appearance from its Beat Generation glory days, remains current. It still sponsors regular readings and sells works by up-and-coming writers alongside the work of Beat Generation standbys.
After a day checking out the history and work of the Beats, you’ll surely want to pull off the road for the night and take it easy. It doesn’t get any easier than an Extended Stay Hotel—the most comfortable and convenient hotels around.
Catching Up with Some Musical Road Warriors
Musicians are like mailmen in some ways. Neither snow nor rain, nor much else, will keep a touring musician from getting out on the road. All winter long, hard-working musicians are crisscrossing the country in order to deliver for their fans. A touring musician is the whole package—spending some time in the studio making records and some time out on the road promoting the records. While the winter may not boast the blowout festivals of the summer, it gives fans a chance to see their favorite performers and bands in more intimate settings.
Leo Kottke, who popularized solo fingerpicked guitar in the seventies, will be touring from coast to coast this winter. Once considered cutting edge and now considered adult contemporary, Kottke’s chops have matured as he has matured. And he has remained as funny a storyteller as ever. While Kottke does not have a brand-new album he is supporting, his last studio effort, Try and Stop Me (from 2004), was a sure-sounding return to form—and return to a major label (RCA Victor) after many years away. Kottke is one of the most joyful and idiosyncratic musicians around and is not to be missed.
Jonathan Richman, the charming troubadour who began his career fronting the legendary proto-punk band the Modern Lovers, is embarking on a rare tour this winter. He is bringing his earnest, witty, cosmopolitan song stylings to the world outside of the San Francisco Bay Area (which he calls home) during the month of February. This inscrutable musician, once seen as the second coming of Lou Reed, and now seen as no one other than himself, will embark as a two piece with his drummer, Tommy Larkins. The two-piece setup really works for Richman. His guitar playing has evolved greatly since his days in the very Velvet Underground-influenced Modern Lovers, and he is as animated as a whole four-piece band himself.
Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American group who plays old-time American music—reminding us that much of it is African-American in origin—is embarking on a winter tour. The group uses traditional string band and jug band instruments (mandolin, guitar, banjo, bones, kazoo, harmonica, fiddle, etc.) to craft an old sound which is, nonetheless, new to most.
The group does make some nods to contemporary music—gestures which do not stray from their old-time music’s charming homemade quality. There is, for example, occasional beatboxing—a bricolage technique developed in hip hop, which does not sound out of place in a jug band’s rag-tag sound. In the band’s cover of RUN-DMC’s “You Be Illin’,” they bridge a hundred years of African-American music with complete ease.
Carolina Chocolate Drops are touring in support of their new record, Leaving Eden, a rollicking tour through an old-time America of raucous juke joint parties that we can only dream about. But hearing this album makes it much easier to dream—and seeing the band live makes it easier to dream still.
When musicians are through with the show, they often have to get on their bus or in their van and drive for hours to the next show. Luckily, you can drive straight to a hotel that gives you a taste of home on the road. It’s a good thing there’s an Extended Stay Hotel in most major towns and cities.
All That Jazz in New York City
Jazz has been called America’s classical music. It was born in the US, and it evolved in the US. It has its great Mozart-caliber composers (like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus) and its great Liszt-caliber performers (like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker). Like European classical music, it is a very sophisticated music based in part on folk forms (mainly the blues). Jazz began in New Orleans, but it evolved into the music we know today in a number of American cities.
Different cities gave birth to different schools of jazz. New York City was by far the most influential. It was the cradle for Duke Ellington’s ultra-sophisticated swing, Dizzy Gillespie’s frenetic bebop and Ornette Coleman’s beautifully anarchic free jazz. New York City is the perfect place to explore America’s jazz heritage. And the perfect way to explore New-York-City jazz is with Big Apple Jazz Tours. Big Apple currently offers three very comprehensive tours for the jazz aficionado. I can tell you this: You will get an education in the history of jazz and an education in having a good time on these tours.
The Harlem Juke Joint Tour
The Harlem Juke Joint Tour introduces you to the current hot spots for jazz in Harlem—the neighborhood in New York City with the deepest jazz roots. Your tour guide will take you to all sorts of places you are very unlikely to find on your own—places like a private jazz club that was started during the days of Prohibition, a club that serves up heaping portions of jazz and soul food and a 1940s-style lounge built around an electric organ. When you’re finished, you’ll have a new appreciation for jazz and for Harlem.
The Great Day in Harlem Jazz Tour
The Great Day in Harlem Jazz Tour takes you to some of the most happening jazz clubs in Harlem and fills you in on Harlem’s rich jazz history. The tour is named for a famous photograph of jazz greats that was printed in Esquire magazine in 1959. The Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington was the house bandleader for many years, is visited, and you will learn about the club’s famous floor show. Also visited is Minton’s Playhouse, where bebop was invented during after-hours jam sessions in the 40s. You, too, will be visited—by the spirit of jazz.
The Greenwich Village Jazz Tour
The Greenwich Village Jazz Tour is both a history lesson and a listening session. Jazz landmarks from the bygone days of the village are pointed out and explained. You will get to see where the Café Society and the Café Bohemia once were. The Café Society is the club where Billie Holiday began her career. The Café Bohemia, as its beatnik name suggests, was the hippest of the hip jazz clubs in its day. Cutting-edge jazz composers and performers, like Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Charles Mingus, debuted their newest, most important compositions at the Bohemia. There is ample evidence of this on the 1955 album Mingus at the Bohemia.
When you’re through jazzing it up for the day, you’ll need a hotel where you can kick back and compare notes with your travelling companions. If you want a casual hotel with all the amenities a jazz fan could ask for, at a reasonable price, look no further than Extended Stay Hotels.
Folk Music Is Back
Folk music is sweeping the nation! That may sound like a joke to some people. But it’s true. Folk music has made a comeback in a big way. From A Prairie Home Companion to the yearly San Francisco, California, festival Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, folk music has been drawing giant-sized crowds who are very psyched about it.
This historical music has surged back to prominence as people have been looking for a connection to the traditional in our rapidly-moving world. From bluegrass to traditional country music to the blues to Celtic music, traditional acoustic songs are exciting the most attention that they have had since the folk craze of the 1960s.
Traditional Folk Music in San Francisco, California
While New York and Boston were the centers of the 1960s folk craze, the West Coast is the center of the folk craze going on now. A great place to start on your folk music journey in the city by the bay is the San Francisco Folk Music Club. Every Friday night, the club hosts a jam. At these events, you are put in touch with the original meaning of the word “jam.” It’s short for “jamboree”—an old-time word associated with old-time music.
These are casual events—the sorts of jams that you imagine happened at Almanac House in the 1940s. Almanac House was the nickname of a residence of folk music revivalists and leftists, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, for a time in the 40s. Other legends, like Lead Belly and Cisco Huston, frequently came through.
Many people credit the 1940s excitement with folk music with eventually giving birth to the 60s folk revival. And the 60s folk revival has a hand in the current folk revival. The folks at the Folk Music Club are connected to both the 40s and the 60s folk revivals. The club was originally founded in 1948, as a positive protest against the Cold War, and it was re-organized in 1959—right on the cusp of the folk revival.
Old-Time Country Music in Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles is not really associated in the popular imagination with traditional country music, but it should be. Bands like the Byrds, who released a very important country record called Sweetheart of the Rodeo, as well as Graham Parsons, were based out of LA in the 60s.
There are plenty of country musicians keeping that tradition alive in LA today. There are even a few bars in the city dedicated to nothing but country music. The Cowboy Palace Saloon does the honky tonk tradition proud. This intimate club has real country bands on its stage every night of the week. Local groups like Debra Lee and Trigger Happy regularly appear, and on occasion, big names stop by to pay their respects.
Johnny Paycheck has played the club, as have the Dixie Chicks. This is the sort of bar that would make Hank Williams, Sr. and Hank Williams, Jr. happy. That is to say, there’s something at the Cowboy Palace Saloon for the lover of traditional and tradition-based country music.
When you’re all done with music for the day, you’ll want to keep the day harmonious. The best thing for that is a hotel with all the amenities of home—like a kitchen and free Wi-Fi.
Oktoberfest: A German Tradition Alive and Kicking in America
For many people (people interested in German culture and German food, beer drinkers, and people who just appreciate a good party), the end of September and beginning of October means Oktoberfest. This long-running festival, which was first held in 1810 in celebration of the wedding of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, has continued to bring joy to Germans and non-Germans alike for over 200 years. Today, though the festival retains the German spelling of its name and it is still held in Theresienwiese—the meadow in Munich where it was first held—Oktoberfest is a worldwide celebration. It is no longer just the camaraderie of the German community of Munich that is celebrated, but it is also the camaraderie of the people of many cities, towns and villages, and of the global village generally.
Oktoberfest by the Bay
San Francisco’s Oktoberfest by the Bay (held Friday, 9/28 through Sunday, 9/30) is about as authentic as an American Oktoberfest gets. This is the real thing. You’ll see plenty of dirndls and Tyrolean hats spinning around on the dance floor to the beat of the best oom-pah music around. The oom-pah sounds are provided by the excellent Chico Bavarian Band. Since Chico, California, was the stopping place for many German immigrants in the 19th century, the roots of German culture are deep there.
The event is held in Pier 48, which is right on the San Francisco Bay and affords wonderful views of the water and of beautiful AT&T Park—home of the San Francisco Giants. It just so happens that back in 1810, Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese picked the ideal time of year to throw Oktoberfest in San Francisco. September marks the beginning of San Francisco’s warm season, when the fog lifts, and the days are warm and clear.
Oktoberfest Denver (held on two consecutive weekends—9/21-23 and 9/28-30) attracts 450,000 visitors. This is not an intimate festival, but it is a very festive festival. There are all sorts of things to see and do, even if you’re not there for the beer. However, if you are there for the beer, you’re in luck (more on that momentarily).
The Sea of Accordions is a perennial favorite. If you think a few accordions played together is captivating, try many, many, many accordions played together. The blend of sound that they get is truly heavenly. As you sway to their German sounds, you will find yourself asking whether the angels actually play accordions and not harps.
If you’re a fan of cute dogs and of races (and who’s not a fan of at least one of those things?), the long dog derby is for you. This race, which takes the festival home on Sunday, 9/30, is a celebration of wiener dogs. This very unique-looking dog, also known as the dachshund, is of German origin. Watching a dachshund race is kind of like watching Greyhound busses race Mac trucks (that is, if busses and trucks were super-cute). It’s not to be missed.
Also not to be missed is the German beer. Make sure to bring your own beer stein (so you don’t have to pay $20 for a stein at the festival) and enjoy all the reasonable (just $7) refills you need to make your Oktoberfest optimally festive.
The perfect thing after a long day of festivities is a long night of rest and relaxation. The perfect place for R and R is a hotel with those little touches that remind you of home—like a kitchen where you can make your own dinner and free in-room Wi-Fi. Oktoberfest during the daytime and family time at night: Now that’s a recipe for a perfect vacation!
A Great Road Trip for the Guitar Geek
If you are a serious rock fan, your interest in the music likely goes deeper than the musicians who play it. (Fan is short for fanatic, remember.) You’re likely a fan of the instruments, too. There are a number of shrines where you can worship legendary rock musicians—the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the EMP Museum in Seattle spring immediately to mind. While these museums have displayed the instruments of famous musicians, like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, the guitars took a back seat to their players’ personalities. Guitar-playing songwriters, of course, deserve a lot of attention. Without them, there would be no classic albums and no generational anthems.
However, as every great player knows, a well-crafted instrument—one that’s comfortable to play and has a great tone—makes writing that classic song much more doable. Classic songs tend to be played on classic guitars—that’s just the way it works. The following are places for the die-hard rock fan to visit, places where the instruments, not the players, take center stage.
Even the casual rock fan knows that Fender is the Cadillac of axes. Virtually all of the great players have used Fender electric guitars: Clapton, Hendrix, Townsend, Harrison and the list goes on and on. Through the Visitor Center’s very compelling interactive exhibits, you get the whole story—from Fender’s early days, when the company was Leo Fender’s baby, through the sixties and seventies, when the brand became the king of electric guitars, up to Fender’s status as a classic today.
Famous Fender models are on display paired with photos of iconic players who used them on famous records. A Bruce-Springsteen clear-finish Telecaster is paired with a giant reproduction of the Born in the USA album. It is a great feeling knowing that in addition to the Boss being a Fender devotee, Fender is a Bruce Springsteen devotee.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a guitar craftsperson, the Fender Visitor Center gives you the opportunity to realize your dream. You get to mix and match Fender bodies and necks in their “Wood Vault,” putting together your dream axe. The pros at the Fender factory will do the final assembly for you; then, your very own guitar design will be shipped to your home.
After learning about Fender’s storied history at the Visitor Center, you will get a guided tour of the factory. You’ll get to see every stage of the meticulous and magical process that gives the world Fender guitars. Rock on!
If Fender is the undisputed king of rock guitars, Gibson is the crown prince. Many legendary guitarists, like Jimmy Page, Marc Bolan and Keith Richards, have produced some sublime, dirty tones with their Gibsons (oftentimes running into Marshall amps turned up to eleven—Spinal Tap-style). How awesome is it that Gibson’s factory tour, the Gibson Beale Street Showcase, is located in Memphis—the city that gave us Elvis, Ike Turner and B.B. King? While you’re in Memphis, why not stop by Graceland (the King of Rock and Roll’s mansion) and Sun Records (the studio where the King recorded his first records)?
On Gibson’s forty-five minute tour, you’ll get to see every step in the creation of Gibson’s electric and acoustic guitars. And, if you’re an aspiring guitar craftsperson, you might even be able to chat up some of the guitar makers (who are called luthiers) and get some tips.
After rocking hard in Memphis and California, you’re going to need some home-style R&R (which is rest and relaxation, not rock and roll). Why not check into an Extended Stay Hotel, the best place for the comforts of home away from home?