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Southern Journeys Blog: Kathy Witt

Kentucky's Hills are Alive with Sounds of Music

 Sunday, November 06, 2011

Kentucky's Hills Are Alive With

The Sounds of Music 

"Country Music Highway" Celebrates Tunes & Stars 

Photo of guitar picker goes here; photo courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Travel. All rights reserved.*

Southern Journeys Blog* By Kathy Witt

The names are as storied as the music lilting from the hills and hollows of Kentucky.

The commonwealth's musical superstars range from Loretta Lynn to Wynonna and Naomi Judd, from Billy Ray Cyrus to Hylo Brown, from Tom T. Hall to Ricky Skaggs, Crystal Gayle, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, Larry Cordle, Keith Whitley and many more. 

Recognizing them all is the Country Music Highway, the genesis of one of the richest vocal gold mines anywhere in the country.

Stretching 144 miles, this National Scenic Byway winds through Kentucky’s Appalachian mountains -- running north and south along the eastern edges of the state and meandering in and out of seven counties along Route 23.

PattyLoveless Image used courtesy of Mike Robertson Management; all rights reserved.The Roots of Country Music 

Inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2011, Patty Loveless (shown in the photo at right*), said this “music of the hills” is what transformed her into the musical artist she is today.

“I was raised on it, through my family, my mother and my father, my brothers and sisters,” she said. “It was my first inspiration.”

At every bend and 'burg on the new Country Music Highway, visitors will discover places to hear toe-tapping tunes, see professional quality Broadway-style theater.

They'll also enjoy exploring music- and heritage-focused museums brimming with memorabilia from the biggest names ever to land on the country/bluegrass/Gospel music charts.

The entire region – from Billy Ray Cyrus’ former stomping grounds in Flatwoods in the north to Whitesburg at the base of Pine Mountain in the south – is steeped in musical history and traditions.

Visitors will not only soak up the music, but they'll learn about the imprints made by Native Americans, pioneers, frontier people, Civil War soldiers, coal miners, and certainly one of the most famous feuding families in history -- The Hatfields and the McCoys.

Photo of a Hatfield-McCoy Feud highway market. Photo used courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society. All rights reserved. (In the photo at left, a highway marker explains the Hatfield-McCoy Feud.*)

Other points of interest along the trail are Ashland, birthplace of The Judds; rural Blaine, hometown of child prodigy Ricky Skaggs; Van Lear, where Loretta Lynn and her baby sister, Crystal Gayle, came to full voice in a little cabin in Butcher Hollow (pronounced holler); and Pikeville, where both Dwight Yoakam and Patty Loveless were born.

And nearly every country mile is laden with scenic splendor by way of four state resort or recreational parks: Greenbo Lake, Yatesville Lake, Paintsville Lake and Jenny Wiley.

And so begins the journey . . .

More Than Music

“I’d like to invite you on a journey with me down Route 23 in Eastern Kentucky, my home territory,” says Ricky Skaggs in his opening narration of “More Than Music.”

That's the Country Music Highway's heritage driving tour -- with a guidebook, maps and a country music sampler with songs by Skaggs, Loretta Lynn, The Judds, Dwight Yoakam and others.

If you opt for the drive tour, this four-disk CD set is recommended for "setting the stage" along the way. Just take along in your car and play while driving. 

You may purchase the drive-tour CD set through the Kentucky Historical Society – and also at several venues along the driving trail. For more information, contact Bob Gates at bob.gates@ky.com.

Live Entertainment and Theater 

What you'll see and do along the driving trail isn't just a look back at history. The music comes alive in many spots in and around the hills of Kentucky.

Along the driving route, visitors may enjoy quality live theater and diverse music – from country to bluegrass, Gospel to rock ‘n roll and more.  

For example, Greenbo Lake State Resort Park stages summer entertainment at its outdoor amphitheatre. Expect to hear bluegrass, Gospel and rock-and-pop music or perhaps attend a play. 

Photo of Billy Ray Cyrus at the 1931-era Paramount Arts Theater; photo is used courtesy of the Ashland Area CVB. All rights reserved.Billy Ray Cyrus (shown in the photo at left*) put Ashland’s historic Paramount Arts Center on the map.

This 1931-era theater in Ashland, KY, gained fame after it was used to film Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” video.

Today, fans of live music and the performing arts will discover a diverse portfolio of acts year-round. 

Head to Paramount for the Kentucky Music Trail Show featuring such talents as Tanya Tucker, Wynonna, Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan. Or, enjoy Broadway productions, headlining musicians and lesser-known acts that cover the artistic gamut -- from symphony and ballet to tribal dance and folk music.

Prestonsburg is home to both foot stompin’ good music and the Jenny Wiley Theatre, tucked within the state park of the same name; it's lively throughout the summer.

Paintsville’s recently renovated Historic Sipp Theatre offer holiday programming and is busy year-round. 

The acoustically superb 1,050-seat Mountain Arts Center has hosted the likes of Skaggs, Loretta Lynn and The Temptations, and is the permanent residence of Billie Jean Osborne’s Kentucky Opry.

In The Pines Amphitheater, located at the Mountain Homeplace in Paintsville, KY, musical events are held year-round, including the two-day Memorial Day Gospel Sing.

Throughout the summer, Appalachian Community Theatre presents a family-friendly playbill.  

Highway Museums and Events

Museums along the Country Music Highway reveal other chapters within the commonwealth's musical heritage. 

Ashland’s Highlands Museum & Discovery Center shows off an interactive Music Quilt sound sculpture, a Country Music Heritage Hall and Judd memorabilia, including a bejeweled accessory wardrobe from one of Naomi’s concert costumes.

The Mountain Homeplace beckons with its collection of rustic buildings in a farmstead setting featuring ongoing demonstrations like weaving, quilting, woodworking and other pioneering tasks.

The Country Music Highway Museum  houses memorabilia of many singing sensations who trace their roots to US 23. This museum also features live bluegrass every Thursday night.

An added perk? The gift shop sells cookbooks by Loretta Lynn and Naomi Judd, hard-to-find musical CDs and lovely Appalachian crafts.

A number of headlining events take place annually along the Country Music Highway. Pikeville’s Hillbilly Days is held the third weekend in April, while the Summer Motion Festival in Ashland happens in July.

Herman Webb, Loretta Lynn's brother, is shown playing the guitar at Butcher Hollow. Photo by Janet Groene is used courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. All rights reserved.Kentucky's Apple Festival reigns over downtown Paintsville in early October and the Winter Wonderland of Lights illuminates the skies over Ashland in November/December.  

All along the Country Music Heritage Trail route visitors will come upon enticing "only-here" places -- unique spots that just aren't replicated anywhere else in the world.

Webb’s Stop and Shop, a.k.a. Mine #5, is famous for its bologna sandwiches.

In addition, Herman Webb, brother to Loretta Lynn, displays  memorabilia that pays homage to sisters Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle.

(At left, Webb plays guitar on the porch of Loretta Lynn's childhood home in Butcher Hollow, KY.*)

 In addition, the Kentucky Artisan Center boasts handcrafted artworks reflecting the region's culture.

Photo of quilts at David Appalachian Crafts in Prestonsburg, KY; Photo used courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. All rights reserved. Visitors also love to browse for one-of-a-kind artisan-made gifts at David Appalachian Crafts in David, KY, near Prestonsburg  in David, KY.

(Hand-made quilts from the shop are shown in the photo at right.*)

If You Go

Definitely take time to view and download the Country Music Highway map before heading out to explore Route 23.

In addition, good regional sources for Kentucky travel information include:  

To order an official Commonwealth of Kentucky state map and tourism guide, contact the Kentucky Department of Travel at www.kentuckytourism.com.

*This Southern Travel Tales Blog by Kathy Witt is the writer's "personal travel blog" about the sights and sounds of fun places to visit within the South. Reader opinions are welcome; submit your comments   

*Photography Credits: Photos used in this story are owned, copyrighted and used for editorial purposes courtesy of the following entities: Patty Loveless; Mike Robertson Management; Ashland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau; Kentucky Historical Society; and Kentucky Department of Travel.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

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