Kentucky may be best known for bluegrass, but our country music traditions are just as deeply rooted. With a heavy footing in Appalachian folk music styles, country music originated in the rural South and West in the early 20th century. As broadcast radio popularized the new genre, shows like Kentucky’s Renfro Valley Barn Dance (premiered Oct. 9, 1937) gained immediate popularity and exposed country music to a nationwide audience.

Country Music Highway (U.S. 23)

The stretch of U.S. 23 from Ashland south to the Virginia border has produced more hit country stars per capita than any place in the world. Musicians who hail from this area of Kentucky include: Loretta Lynn, The Judds, Chris Stapleton, Billy Ray Cyrus, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, Crystal Gayle, Tom T. Hall and Keith Whitley. 

There are many places to stop and visit or take in a live performance on the Country Music Highway. Tour Loretta Lynn’s Homeplace in Van Lear. The Country Music Highway Museum in Paintsville displays memorabilia from more than 14 artists and hosts live bluegrass on Thursday nights. Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg hosts the Kentucky Opry, and many national country acts take the stage at Paramount Art Center in Ashland throughout the year. Explore the Country Music Highway  .

renfro valley barn venue

Country Music Festivals & Venues

Outside of Eastern Kentucky, there are several more places that country music fans should visit. Renfro Valley has been called Kentucky’s Country Music Capital, and is home to both the legendary Renfro Valley Entertainment Center and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum, whose country inductees range from Merle Travis to John Conlee to Skeeter Davis. Kentucky also plays host to numerous festivals focused on  music, including ROMP FestFestival of the BluegrassPoppy Mountain Music Festival and Manchester Music Festival.

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