On March 1, 1994, an historic bill sponsored by State Representative Hubert Collins was passed and little-known US Route 23 Highway in eastern Kentucky became "The Country Music Highway." This was done to recognize all the well-known country music stars that came from this region. Only eight years later and with the vision and perseverance of Congressman Hal Rogers, the Country Music Highway was recognized as a National Scenic Byway in June, 2002. This 144 mile stretch of highway runs north and south along the eastern part of the state of Kentucky and covers seven counties.
The musical talent that has devedloped 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 realize that this entire region is steeped in cultural and musical history.
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.
As the area began to develop and grow, coal mining became an essential chapter in Kentucky, and still is. This area is well know for a very notable feud - The Hatfield-McCoy Feud, which became a nationally known event. The two families have recently formed a working relationship and have collectively developed the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion on the second weekend of June in Pike County.
While on the trail of feuders, pioneers, or miners, the area along Country Music Highway is full of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. The region is blessed with six beautiful State Parks from Greenbo Lake State Resort Park in Greenup County to Kingdom Come State Park in Letcher County. Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Floyd County also features Broadway type musicals at Jenny Wiley Theatre.
Welcome to one of the most beautiful and historic places in the nation. As you travel along the Country Music Highway, and meet the friendly folks of this Appalachian region, you will quickly realize that you have found a hidden treasure. We know that you will enjoy the music and crafts that abound here. The key to a successful visit in this region is to make sure you have enough time to see and hear it all!