Auckland couple love making musical pilgrimages to the USA.

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    Auckland couple love making musical pilgrimages to the USA.

Aucklanders Tracey Fox and Ron Fielding might be the ultimate groupies: In 15 years they estimate they've seen more than 500 bands live in concert all over the world.

That's an average of around one every 10 days.

"It's an all-consuming passion for us," says Fox. "We've got friends who are big foodies, but for us it's about booking tickets to concerts and events wherever they are in the world."

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Since 2007 the couple have spent much of their spare time and money travelling the globe - especially the United States - to gigs across multiple genres in clubs, bars, stadiums, festival venues and street corners, many of them performed by music's biggest names.

They've even been known to up sticks on a whim and head overseas for a weekend to catch an act – like the time they flew to Los Angeles to see English guitar legend Jeff Beck playing at the Hollywood Bowl.

"It was a show marking Beck's 50th year and I'd never been to the Hollywood Bowl, so we thought 'why not?'," says Fox.

Their story has come to light as Brand USA - the official destination marketing organisation for the USA- has produced a roadmap to America's music, part of a campaign to showcase the musical diversity between American cities.

For Fox and Fielding, this diversity is one of the attractions of visiting America – a country they consider a mecca, a place where much of the music they love has originated.

They've been there about 10 times now, yet their trips started because of Fielding's passion for guitars. He is an avid collector (he has around 60 mainly American-made instruments, among them a prized 1955 Fender Stratocaster he calls 'Blondie') and for his 60th birthday Fox organised a surprise trip to the States.

"I originally wanted to take him to Nashville so he could visit two of the most iconic guitar shops in the world, Gruhn Guitars and Carter Vintage Guitars," says Fox.

At the same time they decided to go to the New Orleans Jazz Festival; their American music odyssey had begun.

"The USA and music – that's fundamental," says Fielding. "It's ingrained in their culture and ours, you can't separate it.

"There is a lot to see and hear, even on street corners, and it's good while you are there to mix and match the big stadiums or festival events with seeing bands in local clubs and bars," he says. "It's a great place to go for music."

The pair has had their share of serendipity moments in the US – like the time they bumped into members of The Who rock band outside their hotel in Nashville, or the night they ended up partying with a saxophonist from Rod Stewart's band.

A special highlight for Fox was driving the Blues highway from Chicago to New Orleans (along the way stopping at Blues legend Muddy Waters' birthplace) and visiting Elvis Presley's mansion Graceland in Memphis.

"I've always been an Elvis fan, still am, and going to Graceland is one of those things you have to put on your list, it has to be done," she says. "It was funny, when we were there I felt like I already knew all about it; it seemed very modest, but it would have been extravagant in its day."

Both Fox, a creative director and Fielding, a freelance writer, were born in England and have lived in New Zealand since 2007. For Fielding his desire to play the guitar began when aged nine during the time the Beatles were exploding to stardom.

"I wanted a guitar for my ninth birthday," he says. "My parents, thinking it was a five-minute wonder, refused but by my 14th birthday I was still asking for one and they finally relented, paying 12 pounds for an old Spanish guitar."

Fielding learnt how to play and during the 1970s and early 1980s played lead guitar in a couple of rock bands, coming close to making the big time.

"I played professionally for a while and at one point we had a recording contract at Abbey Road (the studio in London where the Beatles recorded most of their music) but nothing came of it and the band eventually fell apart."

These days he and Fox are content to follow the music. They rattle through a who's who of the music scene, names they've seen on stage often more than once – Bowie, McCartney, The Who, Kate Bush.

But it's not just the big names they love to see: In Tauranga recently they listened enraptured to an American bluegrass band, the Lonely Heartstring Band, who were in New Zealand to play at the folk festival in Kumeu in north west Auckland.

"We are not heavily into any particular genre," says Fox. "We'll listen to it all from country, to hip hop, to the blues or whatever. We just love live performances."

Music has done much to showcase America's cultural diversity. Its great musical cities - New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, Nashville, Miami and New York among them - have been the birthplace of many musical styles including jazz, blues, country, soul, rock and roll and hip hop, styles that remain vibrant and alive today.

For a closer look at this heritage go to www.americasmusicaljourney.com