The Shoals, Alabama
The Shoals, defined as the area comprising Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield, is home to Helen Keller, famous fashion icons and a house designed by America's most famous architect, but music is what makes The Shoals a must-see destination. Actor/musician Kiefer Sutherland, who recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in May 2017, explains it best - "If you're into something like auto racing, you go to the Indy 500. If you're into music, this is an absolutely necessary destination".
48-hours in The Shoals
Day 1 - Afternoon
Check out two of the greatest figures in blues and rock in the same afternoon, W.C. Handy and Sam Philips. Handy earned the title "Father of the Blues", not just because he wrote some of the most famous blues standards, but because by transcribing blues music to sheet music, he shared what had been little-known Southern music with musicians around the world. The W.C. Handy Birthplace, Museum and Library, housed in the log cabin in which Handy was born in 1873, holds a wealth of memorabilia, including his trumpet, much of his handwritten music and the piano on which he composed the classic "St. Louis Blues". Phillips founded Sun Records and revolutionised rock and roll. Credited with recording the first rock-n-roll record - "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats - Phillips shaped music history by discovering and recording Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Little Milton and others. A historic marker for Phillips stands in front of Florence's Big River Broadcasting, headquarters for the radio stations he owned. Step into the lobby to view rare photos of him and to see other memorabilia from his time.
Day 1 - Evening
Be seduced by the smell of hot bread as it comes from the oven at Ricatoni's Italian Grill in Florence, and then delight in its taste after drizzling it with olive oil and herbs. That preamble prepares your taste buds for what follows!
Day 2 - Morning
In downtown Florence, savour brunch at Odette, a restaurant with a cool vibe, well-stocked bar and a great menu of farm-to-table favourites. Afterwards walk up the street to internationally renowned fashion designer Billy Reid's shop. Even if it's your first time there, you've probably seen his clothes before, worn by Europe's most fashionable and by stylish spy James Bond on the big screen. A short drive away, Alabama Chanin's Factory and Cafe showcases world-renowned, heirloomm-quality hand-sewn pieces for home or body. Each item is made from 100% organic-cotton jersey. Equal care is given to the delights served in the cafe, where the menu, which changes frequently, might highlight baked Brie, mini Southern biscuits with bacon jam or dessert crepes.
Day 2 - Afternoon
Hit a few more high notes by visiting The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which honours more than 1,200 Alabama musicians, from Hank Williams and Sun Ra to Emmylou Harris and the Commodores. Check out the Sun Studio equipment Phillips used to record Elvis Presley, then view the country group ALABAMA's tour bus and a 15-foot jukebox and 17-foot guitar that play songs by Alabama artists. Tour FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, where Rick Hall created a blend of Southern soul music, which eventually became known as the Muscle Shoals Sound, with Wilson Pickett's 'Mustang Sally', Percy Sledge's 'When a Man Loves a Woman' and Aretha Franklin's 'I Never Loved a Man'. According to the Alabama Music Office, the still-active studio has recorded more than 80 'Top 10' records in it's history.
Spend the rest of the afternoon at some non-musical attractions, Florence's Rosenbaum House is the only structure in Alabama designed by architectural giant Frank Lloyd Wright and one of the only such houses in the South-east open to the public. Ivy Green in Tuscumbia is the birthplace of Helen Keller, who inspired millions by transforming herself, with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan, from a deaf-blind girl unable to communicate into one of her generation's greatest women. See the living quarters she shared with her teacher and the famous well where they had their communications breakthrough.
Day 2 - Evening
Hungering for a unique dining experience? Tuscumbia's Rattlesnake Saloon has been featured on the Food Network's "Craziest Restaurants in America" for its unique setting. Built under a natural shelter, the cave-like watering hole looks like the set of an old Western. Conclude your Shoals pilgrimage by listening to live music. Swampers Bar and Grill at the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa hosts some of the area's best musicians on its stage.
Day 3 - Morning
Tee off at one of the country's best golf courses, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals. Then visit the restored Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, half of the Black Keys, was the first to record at the revamped studio in March 2017.
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