Country Music Highway draws tourists to Kentucky’s mountain region


Editor’s note: The 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention will hold its annual meeting this November in the heart of Appalachia. This article is part of a series looking at some of the things Kentucky Baptists might want to see and experience in the days before and after the annual meeting.

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Road signs along the County Music Highway through Kentucky’s mountain region tout the many Nashville stars with roots around here, including Loretta Lynn, Naomi and Wynona Judd, Chris Stapleton, Billy Ray Cyrus, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakum, Keith Whitley, Patty Loveless, Crystal Gayle and Tom T. Hall, among others.

Country music fans from across the nation travel U.S. 23 to see where some of the biggest stars in country music grew up.

“We’ve had so many great singers, songwriters, broadcasters come out of this state,” said Kentucky Music Hall of Fame Executive Director Avery Bradshaw. “I think it goes back to an older generation when music was a huge part of everybody’s lives.”

State officials designated a 150-mile stretch of U.S. 23 the Country Music Highway in 1994 because so many Nashville stars grew up in communities on or near the route. Visitors can do self-guided tours with brochures from the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum in Paintsville and other visitor centers along the hgihway.

One of the newcomers, three-time Grammy award winner Chris Stapleton, grew up in Paintsville, about a half hour north of Pikeville. The Judds’ roots are in Ashland. Yoakum was born in Pikeville. Loveless grew up in a small community outside Pikeville. Lynn and Gayle are from Van Lear. Cyrus is from Flatwoods. Skaggs grew up in Cordell. Whitley is from Sandy Hook. Hall is from Olive Hill.

Fans can tour the Butcher Holler property where Lynn grew up in Butcher Holler, made famous in her 1970s song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Tourists stream through a house on the property with memorabilia from Lynn’s music career.

Bradshaw said Lynn is the most admired woman of her generation and a member of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, which is open for tours at Renfro Valley.

In Prestonsburg, the Mountain Arts Center is keeping eastern Kentucky’s music tradition alive, providing a venue for local arts as well as Nashville’s top stars.

Inside area churches on Sunday mornings, visitors can hear relatives of the region’s biggest stars belting out gospel songs in vocals that can only be matched in Nashville.

It’s no wonder tour buses from as far away as Canada glide up and down Country Music Highway.

“Music from Kentucky is special,” Bradshaw said. “it’s heartfelt and it’s something that people can really relate to.”


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