Plug in the earphones, fire up the iPod and get ready for a round-the-world journey like no other. From good old rock'n'roll to the might of the Mersey Beat and naughty German cabaret, this globe-spanning trip will get your toes tapping to a different tune. April is the best time to kick off if you want to hit a few festivals en route.
Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, USA
Look beyond the sequinned suits, outsize collars and other 70s fashion foul-ups, and you’ll find that a visit to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, is a surprisingly moving experience (I heard of one visitor jumping in Elvis’ pool at the end of the guided tour; don’t do that). While in town don’t forget to check out the famed Sun Studios, where folks like Johnny Cash got their start.
After mooching around Memphis, hit Highway 61 for a drive down into the Mississippi Delta. The fabled ‘crossroads’ where early blues legend Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul to the devil is in Clarksdale, a cracked-sidewalk kind of town with some real-deal blues bars (including Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Club). Arrive in mid-April for the Juke Joint Festival, when those sidewalks are filled with wandering blues bands and visitors feasting on the world’s best ribs.
Havana’s music scene doesn’t care much for politics and is far funkier than just the Buena Vista Social Club (the cherished 1999 documentary on Cuba’s son music scene) – you’ll find music everywhere, but spend a couple of nights checking out the dozens of options in Havana’s Vedado quarter. The pre-revolutionary glitz of Vedado might have faded, but it’s still the heartbeat of Cuban music.
Housed in a beautiful rose-colored mansion, Casa de la Amistad (Paseo No 416) is a son spot that Buena Vista Social Club luminary Compay Segunda played until his death in 2003. Socialist celebs tend to hang at El Hurón Azul (on the corner of Calles 17 & H), enjoying the jazz and Afro-Cuban rumba shows, while Copa Room (corner of Paseo & Malecón) is a 50s-styled cabaret that looks like it’s straight out of The Godfather Part II. Check out our tips for Americans traveling to Cuba.
It’s clear that Liverpool knows its main appeal as soon as your flight lands at John Lennon International Airport. The Mersey Beat sound of early 60s bands, but chiefly the Beatles, will forever be the barometer of pop music. And though the ‘Cavern Quarter’ - which surrounds the reconstruction of the hallowed Cavern Club - is more than a touch kitsch, who cares?
Darker and more sultry than the Parisian version, Berlin’s cabaret of the 1920s was a hybrid in which music and dance became satirical, political and a reflection of the horrors of warfare. Times have changed in Berlin, but cabaret here still offers the opportunity to transport yourself back to a point when art actually mattered.
Admiralspalast is a beautifully restored 1920s party palace that hosts many musical shows, the more intimate Chamaleon Varieté is sassier and less conventional, while the post-modern Kit Kat Club is just outright naughty. If you’re feeling dazed the morning after, consider paying homage to Berlin’s ‘Red Elvis’: Dean Read, an obscure Marxist American pop singer who died here in 1986.
End your trip with a wildcard: Yakutsk, one of the most unique cities in the world. This remote Siberian outpost is built on the permafrost and cut off by an absence of rail lines or any real road - but each June it hosts the local Yakut people’s surreal festival of Ysyakh, where you can wander fields of teepee-like structures and enjoy stages full of traditional music, drums and – in particular – throat-singing contests.
Take a hat - you’re far more likely to suffer heat exhaustion than frostbite in Siberia’s toasty summers. And don’t forget your appetite. You’re likely to be offered a few skewers of horse meat – the local fare – and stay up to meet the midnight sun with everyone. After this musical odyssey your favorite playlist will probably seem very dull indeed.
This article was updated in June 2012.