Kentucky Country Music Highway
U.S. 23 is a designated National Scenic Byway honouring country music entertainers who were born or lived along Route 23. The U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum was opened in April 2005, and is located next to the Paintsville Visitor’s Center off the Paintsville exit of U.S. 23 The Museum offers fans an opportunity to see displays created to honour many of the country music entertainers who consider U.S. 23 their home.
On March 1, 1994, a historic bill sponsored by State Representative Hubert Collins was passed in the Kentucky Legislature. This action transformed 144 miles of US Route 23 Highway in eastern Kentucky into “The Country Music Highway.” This was done to recognise the unusually high concentration of well-known country music stars that came from this region. In 2002, propelled by the vision and perseverance of Congressman Hal Rogers, the Country Music Highway was recognised as a National Scenic Byway in June of that year. This famous highway runs north and south along the eastern part of the state of Kentucky and covers seven counties.
The musical talent that has developed from these Appalachian hills includes Loretta Lynn, Wynonna & Naomi Judd, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam, Gary Stewart, Patty Loveless, Crystal Gayle and more. Visitors to this area will quickly realise that this entire region is steeped in cultural and musical history, celebrating the musical talents that people have heard on your car radio for generations.
There are many opportunities to hear the sounds of all types of music at venues along the Country Music Highway. Beginning with the northern part of the highway in Greenup County, you have a brand new amphitheater at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park. Then going south you come to Boyd County, home of the historic Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, Kentucky. This venue launched the careers of Billy Ray Cyrus and The Judds. Billy Ray’s famous “Achy Breaky Heart” video was filmed there. In Johnson County you have two venues, the Mountain Homeplace Amphitheater, and Country Music Highway Museum. Moving further south to Floyd County, in the city of Prestonsburg, you will find the Mountain Arts Center, home to the popular professional entertainment ensemble, Billie Jean Osborne’s Kentucky Opry. In Letcher County, the multi-purpose facility, Appalshop, with a quaint theater that features many appalachian and bluegrass concerts. We now have the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center, located in Pike County, designed as a multi-purpose facility that is available for concerts, conventions and special events. In addition to the above venues there are countless shows and festivals that feature the sounds and talents of the region.
The Country Music Highway is not only about country music. When you travel the Country Music Highway you can also learn about Native Americans, pioneers, the Civil War and the coal mining industry. The story of Eastern Kentucky has been influenced by those who, early on in the nation’s history, began searching for land west of the Appalachian Mountains. Not long thereafter, as a result of being a border state between the North and South, sections of the area became battlegrounds for the Civil War.