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A love letter to my teenage self: 5 of the most rock n roll cities in the USA you must visit!

Photo by Magnus Andersson via Unsplash

When a city is given the mantra of being classed as a musical city a lot goes into it. The city must have an embodiment of cool that can inspire young creators to create. The music scene must be booming and have a mix of all different musical styles. The scene must have a list of musical venues from small to large so audiences can experience the musical movement. All of the above are perfect ingredients to create a melting pot of culture. Many cities can claim to have this mantra, However, it takes a special type of city to embrace the noise around it. Since I was a teenager and began to appreciate what makes a music scene. a music scene. I started to daydream about what it would be like to be a part of these fantastic movements in popular culture. I started to create a list of cities I must visit. A music city bucket list if you will. Many made this bucket list as a teenager From Liverpool and Beatlemania to Manchester’s mix of British music legends Oasis, The Smiths, and the Stone Roses. The London anarchist punk scene of the 70s which included the likes of The Clash and The Sex Pistols eluded me greatly and I wanted to visit them all. Once I had reached the age of 23, I visited most of the music cities in the UK, but across the Atlantic, there were music cities that I could only dream of visiting, Once Covid restrictions were lifted in 2022 and it was safe to travel I decided to start making my journey to the USA. Here at the Circular I list and share my overview of 5 of the most Rock N Roll cities in the USA, that I have visited.

5. New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is said to be the birthplace of jazz music. The music’s roots can be traced back to the early 1900s. Many different cultures highly influenced the music. Musical historians have suggested that the main reason was the influx of mass immigration in the late 19th century to the city. The music roots can hear influences from many different cultures including the enslaved African population and the mass immigration from parts of central Europe, Ireland Italy, and even in later years the Caribbean, Cuba Mexico, and Central America. This style of music began to be known as Ragtime music and became the soundtrack to young Americans during the Second World War. Popular artists emerged from this scene Including Louis Armstrong and Buddy Bolden. These 2 artists began experimenting with the sound of the genre and thus became known as Hot Jazz. Hot Jazz began to be played first in all the cool jazz clubs in the French Quarter in New Orleans, with new artists like Fat Domino starting to crop up and entertain audiences with his performance of his boogie-woogie and Blues style. With this subtle change, we were to see the roots of Rock N Roll emerge a few years after this movement rock n roll Musical legend Little Richard recorded many of his hits on the French Quarter. New Orleans brings in a vast amount of tourism for being a part of Rock N Roll history. In my opinion, anybody visiting New Orleans should avoid tourist traps like Bourbon Street and Visit the French Quarter to experience authentic Jazz it truly is like time stood still.

4. San Francisco, California

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”. Is a Line from the 1967 song San Francisco by Scott McKenzie. This song encouraged young people to flock to San Francisco and join the Hippie Counterculture that was happening in the city at the time, When visiting San Francisco you can expect an extravagant beatnik vibe throughout this fantastic period in music history. During the early 1960s, the popular music scene was founded in Britain called The British Invasion. By the mid-60s there was an influx of music groups gaining mass popularity in America. Bands including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks were records found in the homes of many young Americans. This began to influence the youth of America to start creating music, dressing differently from their parents, and having different political ideologies. One of the cities that was a melting pot for this was San Francisco. By the mid-1960s the city began to have emerging bands come through, this motivated other famous musicians to make the city their home. Bands like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead were given the title of having the San Francisco sound. The San Francisco sound was music that was performed and recorded by Rock N Roll groups in San Francisco, The sound took a lot from many musical acts of the time but was mixed with particular political messages from the Beat Generation of the previous decade.
The Beat Generation was a subculture of writers who condemned and criticized political views and actions of the American government and these messages were prevalent in the music of San Francisco including the criticism of the Vietnam War. Many young people traveled across the Golden Gate Bridge to take part and live in the community of Haight- Ashbury a suburb full of many hippie communities. Residences of this suburb included famous musicians Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin most notable members of the 27 Club. A sad reality of the community’s excess of heavy drug taking. The community was encouraged by American psychologist Timothy O’ Leary who told 30,000 hippies in 1966 in Gold Gate Park San Francisco to ‘Turn on Tune in and Drop Out’ encouraging young people to drop out of college tune in to what is going on politically and expand their minds by taking LSD. This would end up being the downfall of the scene as the illicit behavior overtook what the scene stood for freedom, expression, and creativity. I traveled to San Francisco back in July 2023 and would encourage any Rock Roll fan to do so. Be sure to rent a bike follow the path of the hippies crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and visit neighbouring town Sausalito. Take the ferry across the Pacific Ocean and view the incredible Alcatraz prison stop off in the beautiful parks that are on offer and finally get your Rock N Roll Fix by visiting the beautiful hippie community of Haight–Ashbury to truly experience the San Francisco sound. In 1967 Rolling Stone Magazine stated that San Francisco was the most Rock N Roll city of the ’60s, this is why it is a true contender on our list.

Photo Outside Jimi Hendrix House By Michael MacNamee Via The Circular
Image by Dave Noonan from Pixabay
Image by jools_sh from Pixabay

3. Nashville & Memphis, Tennessee

To decide on these 2 cities would be extremely difficult Nashville and Memphis are separated 3 hours on Interstate 40. But you can’t have one city without the other. Both cities are synonymous in Rock and Roll history and they go together like Ben&Jerrys Ice Cream or Fish and Chips. Am I cheating by having them together maybe? But if you visit the great state of Tennessee you must visit the home of Country and the home of Rock N Roll. When Visiting Nashville you will be amazed at how dedicated the city is to music. Nashville’s nickname is Music City and for good reason. being the home of country music Nashville has many major labels based all in one location. Artists such as Johnny Cash, Elvis Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon Dolly Parton and Chris Stapleton are some of many artists throughout the years to made their name in the Nashville music scene. The most famous venue in Nashville is of course the Grand Oul Opry. Grand Ole Opry was started in 1925 it was a live radio show featuring the best country musicians from around the country. The radio station WSM gathered a large audience from around America and became a stable to many people’s week. The Grand Ole Opry has had many locations but it settled in Ryman Auditorium in 1943. Artists would perform and be heard in the local honky tonks that night. When visiting Nashville make sure to check out Broadway a vibrant strip full of all different music styles and make sure to get lost in the history of the music city with all the museums and venues you can explore.

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

Memphis and Nashville are inherently linked by 1 musician. Elvis Pressley. Elvis’s dream was to perform in the Opry, and that dream would come through for teenage Elvis in 1954 when he performed his rockabilly rendition of Blue Moon of Kentucky to a packed audience. Interestingly enough the country audience did not accept Elvis being involved in the Nashville music scene Elvis would go back to Memphis and record many hits in Sun Studios when it was all said and done Elvis would have 55 billboard country hits on the top 40. Elvis would famously move himself and his family to Graceland in Memphis where he lived until his death a fantastic place to go when traveling to Memphis. With a true insight into who The King of Rock N Roll truly was. Other than Graceland, Memphis is officially the home of the Blues with artists like BB King being just as important as Elvis to the people of Memphis. Many other genres are hugely popular in this city including Soul, gospel, rhythm, and blues, Make sure when you visit to take a trip down Beale Street and check out some of the talent in the many bars on display. Other notable tourist attractions are the many music museums available like the Blues and Soul museums and sadly you can visit the location where Martin Luther King was assassinated. Memphis has many attractions for any Rock N Roll Fan, just remember to wear suncream.

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

2. New York, New York

New York is the mecca for many musical movements. Venues including the likes of Carnegie Hall to punk and indie underground venue CBGB, the illustrious Radio City Music Hall, and the groovy disco club of Studio 54, New York City have been the epicenter of numerous musical movements in popular culture. From the birth of the 19th century, New York Opera and Broadway ruled the interest of New Yorkers. by the 1920s, and probation in full emergence, a new music scene needed to be the soundtrack of this rebellious time. Jazz Music was the answer jazz in ways changed the city into the gritty Rock N’ Roll city that we know today. Music was listened to in underground speakeasies and this would be a common occurrence to how music would be formed in the world’s most famous city. musicians like George Gershwin changed the sound of jazz from the classical sound to the new popular style of jazz that would go on to influence other styles of music. With the new styles emerging music began to change and jazz morphed into swing and then rhythm and blues, and finally Rock N Roll. By the mid-1960s the Beatles performed on the New York flagship show the Ed Sullivan Show. This influenced many young people across the country to begin to learn instruments and form bands. Young working-class people started to emerge with post-counterculture messages, they decided to reject the old establishment and begin to debut a more do-it-yourself attitude. By the early 1970s, an underground scene began to develop which would be known today as Punk Rock. Bands and artists like the Ramones, Blondie, and Patti Smith started playing in venues like CBGBS and Max Kansas City a true rebirth of the Rock N Roll sound. Oddly enough history would repeat itself almost 30 years later in New York City with a similar scene surfacing which would be known as the Indie scene bands like The Strokes and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs started playing in similar venues to their predecessors. Other Music scenes going on in the Late 1980s was the overly popular Disco movement playing hits in clubs across the city. By the 1980s Disco had become unpopular but street parties began to surface in African American neighborhoods with DJS starting to use turn tables from the disco movement as an instrument that would lead to the genesis of hip-hop. New York has always been the center of musical movements and songwriters. When Visiting there are many places to see in New York that are not just music-related, CBGB unfortunately from my experience last July 2023 is no longer standing, venues like Carnegie Hall and Radio City are still viewable today but perhaps the biggest recommendation is to see the mural of rock n roll great John Lennon who tragically lost his life in 1980. John Lennon was killed in New York outside the Dakota building. You can see this dedication to a music great in Central Park and be embellished in all things Beatles and John Lennon. You may also take many private tours and view historic buildings and venues in rock n roll history, New York is your oyster a truly mesmerizing city in Rock N Roll History that you need to visit more than once.

Photo By Michael MacNamee Via The Circular
Image by Ronile from Pixabay

1. Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles has always been labeled as the city where dreams are made. This cliche doesn’t stop for the numerous music scenes that emerged through LA over the years. The city has been strongly associated with the Hollywood movie industry but the gritty music sector has had many successes over the years. From my experience, visiting Los Angeles last year, Rock ‘n roll is ingrained in every fiber of the city. When discovering LA you will witness the fabulous Art Deco architecture on exhibition around the vast suburban area. The character and history of these buildings have brought a defiant arrogance to the attitude of the city making the music ambitious and celebratory. The roots of the LA music scene can be interlinked with the movie industry and in some ways the New Orleans Jazz scene. LA wanted to identify a different sound from their New Orleans counterparts and musicians Miles Davis and Chet Baker started creating an alternative version of jazz that became known as Cool Jazz. By the time Rock N Roll emerged in the 1950s the vast amount of recording studios in the city from Hollywood past meant there were many places musicians could go to record their music. Studios including Gold Star and Capitol. These studios started to release hit after hit in the 1950s and by the late 50s the Rock N Roll music scene was fully established. Music group The Wrecking Crew, a collective of studio musicians would support successful artists like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin on some of their greatest tracks. However, When you begin to analyse Los Angeles music it’s the 1960s that truly gave the city its sound. Groups and artists like The Beach Boys, The Byrd’s, Joni Mitchell, and even the Mama and Papas had the California sound with beautifully arranged melodies and jangly instrumentation. These artists can be said to be part of the soundtrack of the Hippie Counterculture. But ultimately The band The Doors can be said to be the epicenter of the LA music scene entirely. The group had it all the LA attitude and sound, their music would inspire many groups going forward in LA. If you truly want to discover where these artists got their start check out the vast amount of music venues across the city including the illustrious Sunset Strip. Venues on this strip include the likes of the incredible Viper Rooms and the Whiskey A GO GO. Los Angeles didn’t just have one decade of music emergence, after punk exploded in the late 70s LA had its share of punk bands including the Go-Gos, and Black Flag, and by the 80s LA probably had some of the most successful rock groups. Bands packed into all the venues across the Sunset Strip including Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crüe, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. In other areas of the music genres West Coast Rap and Hip-Hop scene was booming in the 1990s with acts including NWA, Ice T, Dr Dre, and Snoop Dogg. Los Angeles truly has been a melting pot of creativity across the years. When visiting Los Angeles it is like New York there is so much you can see that isn’t just about music go visit Venice Beach and take in the Hippie vibes while discovering the origins of surfing and skateboarding. Walk the strip of Santa Monica and have a pint in Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood where Jim Morrison of the doors would socialize. Los Angeles Is a truly spectacular city for rock n roll and it is hard to do it all with the vast urban sprawl of the city. My recommendation is to take Jon D’Amico Rock and walk tour. It is a long tour so wear your walking shoes on Jon’s tour he walks you through the history of LA’s Rock N Roll history in particular the West Hollywood Sunset Strip, he will bring you to the venues and places Including many of the venues that I have discussed above. He will also take you to the hottest hotels including the Hyatt Hotel where British rock legends Led Zeppelin had several debauchery events occur including the stereotype of throwing the TV out the window. Finally, the venue will finish in a private venue that you will have to take the tour to discover. However, this venue is synonymous with LA rock n roll history and you will be shocked to hear some of the stories when visiting this venue. when you enter the elusive building you may be lucky to see some famous faces. Los Angeles has so many options and places to discover if it is Rock N Roll you want this is the city for you.

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