Kentucky Scenic Drives: Country Music Highway

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Tracing the length of eastern Kentucky, the Country Music Highway unveils the rich musical heritage of a region that produced such country music stars as Loretta Lynn, Wynonna Judd, and Dwight Yoakam.

Running almost the entire length of eastern Kentucky, the Country Music Highway is a byway devoted to the rich heritage and history of the region. You will be immersed in the traditions of eastern Kentucky mountain music since this byway has been home to over a dozen well-known country music stars, including Naomi Judd, Billy Ray Cyrus, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam, and Patty Loveless.

Cultural Qualities of Country Music Highway

The quality of the musical heritage of the byway is exhibited by its famous musicians; however, it is also exhibited through the continued commitment to the arts by current residents. The best evidence of this is at the Mountain Arts Center (MAC) in Prestonsburg. This seven-million-dollar facility houses the Kentucky Opry, a nationally recognized group of local musicians who perform regularly and work to preserve the tradition of eastern Kentucky mountain music. In addition to the Opry, the MAC also sponsors a wide variety of country music performances.

And, of course, music can be heard in a variety of venues along the route including the historic and beautiful Paramount Theater in Ashland and the Mountain Arts Center. Jenny Wiley State Resort Park offers a Broadway performer-staffed summer theater program that features five different shows running concurrently on their outdoor stage, and Appalshop is an award-winning film and music documentary and preservation organization in Whitesburg.

In addition to these sites, music can be heard at numerous small venues such as the coal camps of Seco and Carcassone and at a long list of festivals such as the Seedtime Festival in Whitesburg and the Apple Festival at the Mountain Home Place in Paintsville.

Qualities of Country Music Highway

Before settlers called eastern Kentucky home, Native Americans lived and hunted in the region. The history of these early American Indians is depicted in the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center in Ashland.

The American Indians' lands were soon encroached upon by early settlers. The life of early pioneers is documented in Paintsville at Mountain Home Place. This facility consists of a reconstructed 19th-century pioneer farm, complete with oxen and an award-winning film on the settlement of eastern Kentucky narrated by local native Richard Thomas (best known for the role of John Boy in The Waltons).

The discovery and mining of coal in this region has been influential on the history of eastern Kentucky. The Van Lear Coal Miners' Museum explains the importance and history of this resource. Coal also affected the community by creating rich coal barons. John C. C. Mayo was one such person. The elegant Mayo Mansion and Mayo Church in Paintsville provide visitors with details about Mayo's rags-to-riches story.

A more well-known story from the region exemplifies the influence of these industrial barons who exploited the resources in small areas such as eastern Kentucky. The Hatfield–McCoy feud has become a well-known story about feuding families. The legendary feud from the mid-1800s has no singular cause, rather it developed over several years with real and imagined grievances and very real and tragic events.

The Hatfield-McCoy feud is an example of how the Appalachian people sought to deal with outside barons who purchased much of the land in the region and then mined it for coal and lumber for generations without allowing the locals to gain much profit from the enterprise.

Qualities of Country Music Highway

The beautiful nature and scenery along the Country Music Highway is evident in the many state parks and rivers. In fact, the Kentucky State Park System's motto is "The Nation's Finest."

Jenny Wiley State Resort Park is the premier state park in this area. The park rests on Dewey Lake and is situated in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Because of its location in the mountains, Jenny Wiley State Resort Park was once an area of coal mining. Another park is Yatesville Lake State Park. Yatesville Lake State Park offers visitors another chance to enjoy the unique natural qualities of eastern Kentucky. This mountain reservoir is an impoundment of the Big Sandy River, and here you can find a variety of fish, such as bluegill, bass, crappie, and catfish.

Near the byway is Breaks Interstate Park, one of two multistate state parks in the nation. This site features a 1,600-foot-deep gorge. The area in this park is 250 million years old and was carved by the Russell Fork River.

The Lilley Cornett Woods is another site of natural significance. It is part of the largest stand of old-growth forest with the greatest ecological diversity in the mid-South region.

Find more useful information related to Kentucky's Country Music Highway:

  • Kentucky Scenic Drives: Country Music Highway is just one of the scenic byways in Kentucky. Check out the others.
  • Ashland, Louisa, Prestonburg, Pikesville: Find out what there is to do in these cities along Country Music Highway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Kentucky? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.