U.S. Route 61 is more than just a road. It’s a highway engulfed with blues music. From years past until now, Highway 31 has remained as an inspiration to all blues artists. “Highway 61 Blues” by Roosevelt Sykes was the first song ever recorded about the road in 1932, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Today, Highway 61 continues to appear in an array albums, as it did Bob Dylan’s critically acclaimed album “Highway 61 Revisited” in 1965.
Highway 61 begins in New Orleans, Louisiana and stretches along the Mississippi River to as far as Wyoming, Minnesota. All along the way, the legendary highway symbolizes the genre of music best known as the Delta blues. From Muddy Waters to B.B. King, Highway 61 is deeply rooted in some of the greatest blues musicians’ albums and lives. Growing up in the Mississippi Delta often made for tough life. Music, especially blues, seemed to be a bit of an escape from the widespread poverty, as was the highway. Musicians from the area viewed Highway 61 as a way to find better opportunities, and ultimately bring their music to other parts of the country.
Take a drive down Highway 61, and you will see for yourself why this road has influenced musicians since its development. Anything from soul, gospel and R&B can be found playing in juke joints, churches, and on front porches. For the ultimate experience down Highway 31, be sure to stop in the bigger cities to see even more blues.
Starting off in New Orleans, truckers will find an array of ways to celebrate and pay tribute to the musical pioneers who helped shape American culture with their music. If you’re looking to pass the time away and grab a bit to eat, stop in the House Of Blues. The House Of Blues is a premiere New Orleans restaurant that mixes great food and live music with a causal atmosphere. World famous musicians, including Fats Domino and Eric Clapton, have even performed there.
If you happen to be in New Orleans on October 17-19, be sure to mark your calendars for the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival. This free event is hosted in Lafayette Square and will feature some of the most renowned blues artists on two stages. The headliners for this year’s show will include Bobby Rush, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Little Freddie King, Los Lobos and Mel Waiters.
It’s all right if you can’t park and stay in New Orleans for more than a few hours. Just by walking through the streets, you can experience plenty of soul-stirring music, thanks to the street performers.
Now, hop in your trucks because we’re headed northbound up Highway 31 and making our next stop in Memphis. This city is widely known for its distinct style of blues music that was created between 1910’s and the 1930’s. Since then, blues musicians have come from all around to perform under the bright lights of Beale Street.
As a trucker, you will find many places to pass the time away. For starters, you can grab a bite to eat at the Blues City Café. With quality Memphis style food and music to match, you won’t leave disappointed. Over the years, the Blues City Café music venue, the Band Box, has hosted many world-famous musicians, including B.B. King and Hank Williams Jr.
If time is not on your side, take a stroll down Beale Street and see where it all started for blues artist like W.C. Handy. Numerous shops and street performers will make you wish your down time was just a little longer.
Buckle up, lastly, we’re headed up Highway 61 to St. Louis. The style of St. Louis blues is a more piano-based and can easily be found throughout the city. While in St. Louis, don’t miss out on visiting the National Blues Museum. Here, truckers will find a museum dedicated to exploring and preserving “the historic significance of the Blues as the foundation of American music.” The museum also “celebrates the genres various styles and recognizes the musicians who created, sustain and advance the art form.”
With time permitting, drivers can purchase a single ticket to see the St. Louis Blues, the city’s NHL team, play. If you’re looking to experience the city’s blues firsthand, consider visiting one of St. Louis’s many blues clubs. BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups is often referred to as the city’s best blues club. Famous blues musicians such Willie Akins, Big George Brock and Boo Boo Davis have performed there.
While we’re only featuring three of the major cities on Highway 61, there are numerous blues attractions along the 1,400 mile route that can be found in both small town and big cities. With a quick Google search, no matter where you are on Highway 61, you can find something suiting for your down time. So next time you’re trucking down “The Blues Highway,” don’t overlook the history of the route that helped pave many blues musicians’ careers.