One sure sign of the seasons changing is news of spring and summer music festivals that take place all over the world. Whether it’s Coachella, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Fuji Rock Festival, or any of the countless European jazz festivals, it is not hard to make music the cornerstone of any trip. If large crowds aren’t your scene, perhaps you’d rather meander through Liverpool and imagine the early days of the Beatles or explore Memphis and the origins of rock ‘n’ roll.
There’s another way that music can play into a trip, however, and that’s with the music you bring along to serve as your soundtrack. Of course, these days even the smallest MP3 players can hold a large number of songs, but those of us who love music will always fret over playlists and making sure all the right moods can be evoked depending on the destination. There’s a great scene in Jeff Greenwald’s Shopping for Buddhas where he is in the Himalayas, at an altitude from which he can look down on a thunderstorm passing through a valley. He puts on his headphones and plays a tape (remember those?) of the Grateful Dead song “Dark Star.” The song embodies the band’s improvisational music and it is no coincidence that Greenwald had a version of it with him on this particular trip.
Like Greenwald, I too have a soft-spot for the Grateful Dead when I travel, especially at the right moments, like rural sunsets. I often rely on Radiohead for urban locations, especially London, though frenetic jazz also captures the mood of cities. Gillian Welch and The Band resonate with me on long road trips.
How do you plan your travel soundtrack? Do you always go for your favorite bands and songs? Do you immerse yourself in the indigenous musical traditions of the place you’re visiting? Do you prefer to hear only the natural soundtrack of a place, whether the braying of farm animals or the rumble of traffic?