From Chicago to Nashville to New Orleans, the music and the must-eats.
Turn on the radio anywhere in the country and the sound emanating from the speakers is likely informed by musicians in Chicago, Nashville or New Orleans. It was in these highly influential cities where legends were born and culture took shape. In that same vein, the flavors of the south and America’s original doorstep dinner delivery gained prowess on a national scale. Whether it’s a slice of cheesy deep-dish pizza and blues on the Navy Pier, piping hot fried chicken and a cowboy with a set of pipes at open mic, or a heaping bowl of gumbo enjoyed with jazz in the French Quarter, choose your own adventure: food, or music, and buckle up for a thrilling ride.
MUSIC: The Windy City has produced a number of chart-topping artists from Styx to Kanye West and beyond. But perhaps the sound most closely tied to Chicago’s rich musical history is blues, which acted as the soundtrack to the Great Migration. When millions of African Americans moved north in the early 1900s, they brought with them traditional blues music of the South but they incorporated into it electric guitar, drums and piano. Blues was a major inspiration to rock and roll, too. Today, the city is alive with music of both classic and new genres, performed in an estimated 225 music venues.
FOOD: It’s a question that can inspire heated debate: Is Chicago or New York style pizza best? Unlike the thin crust, traditionally topped NYC style of ’za, Chicagoans exalt their pie for its deep-dish crust and inverted toppings — sauce on top of cheese. In addition to the pizza, BBQ from this part of the country is smokeless and sometimes referred to as “boilbecue” for its preparation in what is called an “aquarium pit.” And don’t miss the jibarito sandwich. Inspired by Puerto Rican culinary technique, this sandwich uses plantains in place of bread.
MUSIC: The fiddle is one of the earliest instruments to take center stage in The Music City, a name the Queen of England allegedly bestowed upon Nashville. Davy Crockett is remembered as the first celebrity visitor and his fiddle playing led to buck dancing. What’s recognized now as Ryman Auditorium was deemed in the 1800s the “Carnegie Hall of the South” and has attracted artists like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and, in more modern times, Dolly Parton and Chris Stapleton. Though country reigns king here today, Nashville also has a strong jazz scene. The songwriter clubs and talent showcases are a great way to enjoy up-and-coming new acts before they sell out major venues later on.
FOOD: Home to much more than the famed Nashville hot chicken, this city boasts Instagram-worthy brunch with bloody Marys and fluffy, buttery biscuits that can be made sweet or savory. Speaking of sweet, no visit to Nashville would be complete without trying a donut or two … or three. Fox’s Donut Den is preferred among locals while Five Daughters Bakery offers layered donuts like the donut-croissant love child called “cronut.” Don’t miss out on a sip of Tennessee whiskey, the state’s liquid gold, which is filtered through sugar maple charcoal chips in the Lincoln County Process before going into casks for aging.
MUSIC: Universally referred to as the birthplace of jazz music, New Orleans hosts one of the nation’s biggest and original music festivals — Mardi Gras. Along the French Quarter, music clubs are alive with the sounds of musicians inspired by New Orleans products such as Louis Armstrong, Allen Toussaint and contemporary acts like Trombone Shorty. Soak up the tunes of an eight-piece band, complete with trumpet, trombone and saxophone performing everything from jazz to reggae to blues and rock. Cajun dancing is popular here and the music practically forces visitors onto the dance floor.
FOOD: French and Creole influences are ever-present in the cuisine of New Orleans, where gumbo and jambalaya are nearly a separate food group. The New Orleans muffuletta — an Italian sandwich of cured meats (ham and salami), provolone cheese, olive dressing and bread — and the Po Boy, which is so popular it earned its own festival, were both invented here. For dessert, the beignets and bananas foster are favorites any time of year, while the purple and green King Cake is a near requirement at Mardi Gras time.