Walking in Memphis, by Liz Cleere, finalist
In the Daily Mail’s Kensington offices, our afternoon presentation on the deep south reached Alabama. The opening bars of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s anthem thumped through my head.
“Sweet home Alabama” sang the band.
As David, our speaker, criss-crossed the state borders, my mental jukebox threw out songs. Chuck Berry asked long distance information for Memphis Tennessee, and Ray Charles put Georgia on my mind.
“Forty-seven venues play live music from 11.00am till 3.00am every day on Honky Tonk Row in Nashville,” said David. Charlie Watts tapped some cow bells, then banged his drum.
“I met a gin-soaked bar room queen in Memphis,” sang Mick.
Louisiana was next. I thought of Judy Garland singing “Meet me in St Louis“, unsure if St Louis was in Louisiana.
And there’s the rub. I wonder how many of us can name the southern states, let alone their capitals or tourist attractions (Baton Rouge is the capital of Louisiana, St Louis is in Missouri). Visitors to the US choose New York, the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas, occasionally New Orleans or Graceland. But the deep south is rarely at the top of the wish list.
Maybe it’s time to pile some tourist dollars into this neglected corner of America. Did you know that Alabama’s gulf coast consistently tops the best beach lists, or that you can soak up antebellum opulence in the millionaire mansions of Natchez? In Louisiana, they offer swamp tours that would intrigue David Attenborough. Mississippi has a “Blues Trail” app which lets you listen to the music as you explore. Chattanooga – green since the 70s – has reclaimed a fifteen mile trail, complete with free bicycles and electric buses. And Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain theme park, Dollywood, combines natural charm with exhilarating rides.
“The blues started in the cotton fields, down in Louisiana,” said David. “Then came jazz and rock ‘n roll. Nashville isn’t just country, it’s where modern day musicians like the B52s, Kings of Leon and Taylor Swift started.”
But I was back with Chuck … deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans.
“Go Johnny, go, go!”