From birthplaces and boyhood homes to the Hall of Fame- the Bluegrass State has it all, and for a good reason. Kentucky has delivered some of the finest musicians and songwriters we know today- Bill Monroe, Keith Whitley, Loretta Lynn, The Judds, Tyler Childers, and Chris Stapleton just to name a few- and we have the state's rich culture and roots to thank. Country music is alive and thriving in the Kentucy and we've rounded up 10 places to experience its history — and the history in the making.
The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum - Renfro Valley
Located in the "Country Music Capital," The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum provides a fully immersive experience of Kentucky's sound. The museum's 2002 pioneer class of inductees featured names such as Loretta Lynn and Bill Monroe. The museum pays homage to country music legends and Kentucky natives alike: Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Kieth Whitley, The Judds and more. The Kentucky music culture is alive and thriving at KMHOF, where they still host concerts on the property and encourage visitors to interact with the instruments and history of the original John Lair property. They'll be celebrating their 20th anniversary and 100th anniversary of the launch of WRVK—the first licensed radio station in the state— with a new class of inductees this October. Tickets are available now for the public, and the museum is open to visitors daily from 10:00 am-5:oopm.
Loretta Lynn Birthplace - Van Lear, KY
Just north of Pikeville in Van Lear, you'll find "the cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler," where country music star Loretta Lynn and famous sister Crystal Gayle were brought up.
You can see how Lynn was raised before the coal miner's daughter was the music sensation we know her to be today. Lynn grew up alongside seven siblings inside the four-room cabin where her father provided the best he could on a coal miner's salary before she left home to be married at the age of 15 and then went on to become a country music legend.
Inside you'll find the cabin is set up the way Lynn remembers it. Her life story of success and perseverance told through photos and artifacts—even the original washboard their mother would use. If you find yourself in Johnson County, tours are available for just $5 — no reservations necessary — every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.—and are often guided by Lynn's family members.
Woodsongs: Old Time Radio Hour - Lexington, KY
Each Monday evening, a live audience gathers in the historic Lyric Theatre in downtown Lexington for a worldwide celebration of "grassroots music"—a tradition that's continued since 1988. What started with a cassette tape and a room that sat 20 people now airs on over 500 radio stations from the rolling hills of Kentucky to the highlands of Dublin, Ireland. Looking over the archives of recordings, you may notice some of your favorite names in country music from J.D. Crowe & John Michael Montgomery to Kelsey Waldon and local favorites Wolfpen Branch. Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour is produced 44 Mondays a year & tickets are available at the door. But plan to be seated by 6:45 pm for broadcast.
US23 Museum - Paintsville, KY
Amongst the talent that was brought up in the eastern Kentucky hills, one thing connected each of them—Highway 23. US Highway 23 was deemed "The Country Music Highway" in 1994 to honor those who were born or lived along the route. In Paintsville, stop along the quilt trail at the US23 Museum where 14 exhibits (and counting) are housed honoring not only the pioneers in Kentucky Country Music: Tom T Hall, Loretta Lynn, The Judds and Dwight Yoakam to name a few. But it also features those devoted to keeping the Appalachian sound alive today: Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers and Sundy Best. Along US23 there are countless opportunities to get a taste of that Kentucky sound, but you don't have to stray too far. Each Thursday at 7 p.m., the country music highway museum hosts an evening of "front porch pickin" with live bluegrass music and dancing.
US 23 Pitstop Museum — Louisa, Ky
As you follow the country music highway through American Idol winner Noah Thompson's hometown of Louisa, you'll stumble upon the more unorthodox of attractions. Hidden inside this Exxon/Baskin Robbins is its own country music museum. As you stop to refuel for your venture along US23, be sure to look up, or you may miss the signed Loretta Lynn guitar, George Jones & Tammy Wynette exhibit or the "Map of Stars" highlighting birthplaces of The Judds, Keith Whitley, Chris Stapleton and more along US23. On your way out, be sure to grab a photo with the painted 10-foot guitars honoring Townes Van Zandt & Hasil Adkins.
Muhlenberg Music and History Museum - Central City, KY
When we hear of Muhlenberg County, a country music fan's mind immediately goes to John Prine's"Paradise." To locals, it's the place "Where the music never ends." Not only is it the homeplace of Prine's father, but Muhlenberg county is also home to The Everly Brothers, the site of the annual International Thumbpickers Contest and the boyhood home of Merle Travis. The Muhlenberg Music and History Museum pays homage to each of them through its large collection of records, memorabilia and monuments, complete with a working jukebox playing the Muhlenberg county musician's tunes. Plan time to explore the town that inspired "Paradise." The museum is located just a block from downtown central city, and monuments are scattered throughout the county. There's no questioning how music shaped Muhlenberg county — or how it shaped its musicians.
Red Barn Radio - Lexington, KY
Red Barn Radio has provided a platform for artists in the region to not only share their songs, but also the stories behind them. Celebrating its 20th broadcast season of performing, promoting and preserving Kentucky's musical heritage, Red Barn Radio has served as a stepping stone for many musicians sharing the Kentucky sound. Many of those who have graced the Red Barn Stage have gone on to play much larger venues—such as The Grand Ole Opry and Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Serving as a landmark gig for many, you may recognize the name from some of Tyler Childers' earlier recordings. Recorded and broadcasted live each Wednesday evening in an intimate studio space, you can attend Red Barn Radio sessions for only an $8 ticket.
Bill Monroe Homeplace - Rosine, KY
There's only one homeplace of bluegrass music, and it's located in Rosine, Kentucky. Visiting Rosine, you get an in-depth look into the life and legacy of the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Visit his 1917 childhood home, sitting atop nearly 800 acres of Kentucky's rolling hills. Visitors are encouraged to bring instruments and pick on the legend's front porch and step inside for a look at Monore's upbringing. Restored in 2001, the home is now filled with Monroe's family belongings and memorabilia. Just down the road, you'll find Monroe's final resting place at the Rosine cemetery and see where his legacy continues to thrive: The Bill Monroe Museum. Bluegrass heritage is alive and well in Rosine, as locals continue to tell stories of the Monroe family and celebrate with free performances every Friday night at the Rosine Barn Jamboree.
Merle Travis Birthplace—Powderly, KY
Back to Muhlenberg County, we take a look into the life and legacy of Merle Travis. Travis, known for his unique style of guitar pickin' which became a rooted tradition in the county, is remembered at Paradise Park, where visitors can take a look inside the home where he was born and practice their thumb picking on his front porch. On the third Friday from June to September, The Merle Travis Music Center holds outdoor concerts on the grounds. Travis's love for music is undoubtedly alive in the Merle Travis Music Center, as concerts and events are still held year-round.
Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum - Owensboro, KY
The only facility dedicated to preserving the international history of bluegrass music is located on the western end of the bluegrass state. Beginning its mission in 1991, the museum has since has grown into a multimillion-dollar operation—to provide an immersive and interactive experience for visitors from all over the world. Within the 64,000-square-foot museum, you'll find exhibits honoring classes of inductees from as early as '91, with names from Bill Monroe and The Stanley Brothers to Alison Krauss. You'll even get the chance to create your own bluegrass sound through instrument demonstrations. There are endless opportunities to get involved at BMHOF, through music lessons or attending concerts and events. Every weekend, open bluegrass jams are held from 1:30-4:30 and each June they host their own music festival, ROMP & host names such as Ricky Skaggs and Sam Bush. Guided tours are available Tuesday-Sunday and tickets for tours and events are available on their website.
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