Searching for Soul in the Southern States

As I made my way across the United States on the strength of my trusted rental car I couldn’t help but be consumed by music.  The only problem was that the music filling the small spaces of the car were on repeat.  Cursed by the radio’s constant rotation of the “Top Hits”, I couldn’t help but wish I had an iPod… or a hammer. The radio was slowly driving me crazy.  I hit the black button with the words “scan” written across the front in white block letters in hopes of being taken to a station that would mirror my mood, or at least change it.  Instead I was taunted by a series of religious programs, Bruno Mars, Katie Perry and some song that thinks saying “whatever” over and over again works as a chorus.  By the time I reached the music haven of Austin, Texas I was starved for music or any sort but the “hits”.

The South, I hoped, would bring me the musically fix I had been longing for as I shot across the country from Las Vegas to Miami.  This is the home of the blues, gospel and soul.  This is where the people inhale the warm air and exhale musical notes that dance on the humid waves of the atmosphere.  Music is a fabric of live in The South, and it can’t help but take hold of people.  From the fields of farms to the mom and pop shops to the dark clubs music is more than just a note or chord struck, it is a way of life.

In many ways, the cities of Austin, Nashville and New Orleans form a musical triangle in the United States.  Within that triangle you’ll find all the great American music groups from Bluegrass to the Blues and from Country to Soul.

As I walk into a dark bar in New Orleans and a group of big band musicians play inches from a bouncing crowd my heart races in the realization that this is what I have been looking for.  I have been searching for the soul of America.  I have been looking for that inspiration that moves the people.  I have been looking to find the heart of an American culture rumoured to have long since died.  I have been looking to find the America that so many people claim has been lost to the pop culture and mass media waves.  In the South people may be not be as wealthy, the unemployment levels may be higher, and the amount of despair in the region is evident.  However, what The South lacks in the wallet it doubles in heart and soul, and personally I’d take a rich soul over a full wallet any day.

Show at The Blue Moon in New Orleans

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. Glad you found some soulful music. On my road trips through the US South, I am also disappointed by the lack of authentic music. Sure, there are some nuggets, usually around 89 on the dial. Mostly, though, top 40, religious, country, and in season sports (college/pro football, basketball, and, baseball).

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  2. I too have experienced the dearth of music on the radio when traveling coast to coast in the U.S. The fact is there’s a whole lot of the U.S. that’s nowhere near an FM radio station. Even the relatively short five-hour drive from Phoenix to Las Vegas has dead spots with no FM radio. Sometimes it’s easier to give in, switch over to AM, and listen to news and talk for a while. At least it isn’t the same thing hour after hour. Or just turn the radio off altogether and enjoy the scenery, which is what I’m more likely to do nowadays.

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  3. I know the feeling. I’ve been driving back and fourth between Virginia and South Florida for months now without an Ipod (thank you ex-roomie for stealing that!). I have learned to become a great fan of NPR and have learned much more than I ever thought I would about football and baseball through AM radio.

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  4. My travels to the South have been limited; I’ve only been to Florida and Georgia (Atlanta, only) so far and need to see more of it. I love this line: “I’d take a rich soul over a full wallet any day.” Me, too.

    Glad you had an enjoyable experience…

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    • Lisa, you’ll have to make it there. The South gets a tough time because of stereotypes, but I love the vibe there in terms of arts and music.

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