24 FEB 2014: It’s sooo hot outside the cicadas are screaming but I don’t care. I made it to Elvis Presley’s hub and it ain’t Tennessee. It’s Shreveport Louisiana.


Standing in the audio control room of this shrine nicknamed The Muni with its leftover wall scribblings doodled like hieroglyphics from some musical greats and not-so-greats it occurred to me that I had entered the Holy of Holies.

Shreveport Municipal Auditorium

Only a few microphones commanded the iconic sounds blasting off the stage for some of the great musical talents to hit the Louisiana Hayride, a popular radio programme.

I signed up for a tour for the insights, the gossip and the back stories that helped define The King of Rock’n’Roll and other musical legends who defined America in the short 12 year span of the Louisiana Hayride which ran from 1948 to 1960.

The programme format was so different it even eclipsed the ever so huge Grand Ole Opry. “They called the Louisiana Hayride ‘The Cradle of the Stars’ because so many stars got their start here,” says my tour guide Johnny Wessler in that oh-so fine Louisiana drawl, listing legends like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Johnny Horton as some other HUGE names.

He says, “They (the hayride) were the first ones to allow drums on the stage - the Grand Ole Opry was staid. They didn’t allow that kind of thing.” Johnny says the Louisiana Hayride folks were also the ones who brought in Elvis Presley.

Talk about a bad business decision for the Grand Ole Opry. “Elvis Presley auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry before he came to the hayride. (The Opry) said ‘Go back and drive that truck,’” snickers Johnny.

Elvis Wows them at the Muni

If you couldn’t dole out the 60 cents or get yourself to the Muni you did the next best thing: listen to the radio. Fingers across America tuned in their radio dial to the CBS station on Saturday nights.

That was October 16 1954 the premiere, intro and the beginning of Elvis’ super stardom. Elvis was so loved – the mayor of Shreveport made Presley an honorary citizen in 1975.

For a fascinating glimpse into the world of Elvis before he made it big you have to check out this city auditorium now listed as a US National Historic Landmark.

Film is also a big deal in Shreveport-Bossier

Many celebrities have embraced the city's laid-back charm as an alternative to the paparazzi-infested Hollywood. Dubbed "Hollywood South," on any given day you might encounter Kevin Costner, Katie Holmes, Ted Danson or Denzel Washington. Holmes likes the cupcakes at Julie Anne's Bakery.

Shreveport-Bossier has a self-guided film trail e-brochure that can be downloaded at shreveport-bossier.org. Film stops include locations for Mad Money, Beyond A Reasonable Doubt and 19 other locations featured in more than 10 famous Hollywood movies.

Gaming

The city also has six permanently docked riverboat casinos. The one I visited - Diamond Jacks Casino and Resort - has a captain and full crew on board. It's a fun place to look for lady luck.

For more on Shreveport-Bossier, visit shreveport-bossier.org.

The Municipal Auditorium is set to reopen in April. For Muni tours advanced reservations are needed.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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