From birthplaces and childhood homes to the Hall of Fame – the Bluegrass State has it all, and for good reason. Kentucky has produced some of the finest musicians and songwriters we know today – Bill Monroe, Keith Whitley, Loretta Lynn, The Judds, Tyler Childers and Chris Stapleton to name a few – and we have the state’s rich culture and roots to thank. Country music is alive and thriving in Kentucy, and we’ve rounded up 10 places to learn about its history — and history in the making.
Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum – Renfro Valley
Located in the “Country Music Capital”, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum offers a fully immersive experience of the sound of Kentucky. The museum’s pioneering class of inductees in 2002 included names such as Loretta Lynn and Bill Monroe. The museum honors country music legends and Kentucky natives: Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Kieth Whitley, The Judds and many more. Kentucky’s musical 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 will celebrate their 20th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the launch of WRVK – the state’s first licensed radio station – with a new class of inductees in October. Tickets are now available to the public and the museum is open to visitors daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Birthplace of Loretta Lynn – Van Lear, KY
Just north of Pikeville in Van Lear, you’ll find “the cabin on a hill at Butcher Holler”, where country music star Loretta Lynn and famous sister Crystal Gayle were raised.
You can see how Lynn was raised before the coal miner’s daughter became the musical sensation we know today. Lynn grew up alongside seven siblings in the four-room shack where her father provided as best he could on a coal miner’s wages before leaving home to marry at the age of 15 years and then became a country music legend.
Inside, you’ll find the cabin is set up just as Lynn remembers it. Her life story of success and perseverance told through photos and artifacts – even the original washboard their mother used. If you find yourself in Johnson County, tours are available for just $5—no reservations required—daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.—and are often led by members of Lynn’s family.
Woodsongs: Old Time Radio Hour – Lexington, KY
Every Monday night, a live audience gathers at the historic Lyric Theater in downtown Lexington for a worldwide celebration of “popular music” – a tradition that has continued since 1988. What began with a cassette tape and a room that can accommodate 20 people is now broadcast. over 500 radio stations from the hills of Kentucky to the highlands of Dublin, Ireland. As you browse through the recordings archive, you might notice some of your favorite names in country music, from JD Crowe and John Michael Montgomery to Kelsey Waldon and local favorites Wolfpen Branch. Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour is produced 44 Mondays a year and tickets are available at the door. But plan to be seated at 6:45 p.m. for the broadcast.
US23 Museum – Paintsville, Kentucky
Among the talents who were raised in the hills of eastern Kentucky, one thing connected them: Highway 23. U.S. Highway 23 was dubbed “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 Kentucky’s country music pioneers: Tom T Hall, Loretta Lynn, The Judds and Dwight Yoakam, to name a few. But it also features those dedicated to keeping the sound of Appalachia alive today: Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers and Sundy Best. Along US23 there are countless opportunities to sample that Kentucky sound, but you don’t have to stray too far. Every Thursday at 7 p.m., the Country Music Highway Museum hosts a “pick on the porch” night with live bluegrass music and dancing.
US 23 Pitstop Museum — Louisa, Kentucky
As you follow the country music highway through american idol Louisa, the hometown of winner Noah Thompson, you’ll stumble upon the most unorthodox attractions. Hidden inside this Exxon/Baskin Robbins is its own country music museum. When you stop to refuel for your adventure along US23, be sure to look up, or you might miss the Loretta Lynn guitar, George Jones & Tammy Wynette signed exhibit or the “Star Map highlighting the birthplaces of The Judds, Keith Whitley, Chris Stapleton and more along US23. As you exit, be sure to take a photo with the painted 10ft guitars honoring Townes Van Zandt and Hasil Adkins.
Muhlenberg Museum of Music and History – Central City, KY
When we hear of Muhlenberg County, a country music fan’s mind immediately goes to John Prine’s “Paradise.” For the locals, it’s the place “where the music never stops”. Not only is it the home of Prine’s father, Muhlenberg County is also home to The Everly Brothers, the site of the annual International Thumbpickers competition and the childhood home of Merle Travis. The Muhlenberg Museum of Music and History pays homage to each of them through its large collection of records, memorabilia, and monuments, with a working jukebox playing the tunes of the county musician Muhlenberg. Plan time to explore the city that inspired “Paradise.” The museum is located just one block from downtown, and monuments are scattered throughout the county. There is no doubt that music has shaped Muhlenberg County – or how it has shaped its musicians.
Red Barn Radio – Lexington, KY
Red Barn Radio has provided a platform for local artists to not only share their songs, but the stories behind them. Celebrating its 20th season of broadcasting performing, promoting and preserving Kentucky’s musical heritage, Red Barn Radio has served as a springboard for many musicians who share the sound of Kentucky. Many of those who graced the Red Barn stage went on to perform at much larger venues, such as the Grand Ole Opry and Red Rocks Amphitheater. Serving as a historic concert for many, you might recognize the name of some of Tyler Childers’ earlier recordings. Recorded and broadcast live every Wednesday night in an intimate studio, you can catch Red Barn Radio sessions for just an $8 ticket.
Bill Monroe’s House – Rosine, KY
There’s only one home for bluegrass music, and it’s located in Rosine, Kentucky. Visiting Rosine gives you an in-depth insight into the life and legacy of the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Visit his childhood home from 1917, located atop nearly 800 acres of Kentucky hills. Visitors are encouraged to bring instruments and play on the porch of legend and step inside to experience the upbringing of Monore. Restored in 2001, the house is now filled with the personal effects and memorabilia of the Monroe family. Just down the road, you’ll find Monroe’s final resting place at Rosine Cemetery and see where her legacy continues to thrive: the Bill Monroe Museum. The Bluegrass legacy is alive and well in Rosine, as locals continue to tell stories about the Monroe family and celebrate with free performances every Friday night at the Rosine Barn Jamboree.
Birthplace of Merle Travis – Powderly, KY
Back in Muhlenberg County, we take a look back at the life and legacy of Merle Travis. Travis, known for his unique style of guitar picking that has become a county-rooted tradition, is recalled to Paradise Park, where visitors can peek inside the home where he was born and practice picking them on his porch. At the third On Fridays from June through September, the Merle Travis Music Center hosts outdoor concerts on the grounds. Travis’ love for music is undoubtedly alive at the Merle Travis Music Center, as concerts and events are always held year-round.
Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum – Owensboro, KY
The only establishment dedicated to the preservation of international The history of bluegrass music is located at the western end of the bluegrass state. Beginning its mission in 1991, the museum has since grown into a multi-million dollar operation – to provide an immersive and interactive experience for visitors around the world. In the 6,000 square foot museum, you’ll find exhibits honoring classes of inductees as far back as 1991, with names ranging 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 countless opportunities to get involved with BMHOF, through music lessons or by attending concerts and events. Every weekend there are open bluegrass jams from 1:30-4:30pm and every June they have their own music festival, ROMP and guest names like Ricky Skaggs and Sam Bush. Guided tours are available Tuesday through Sunday, and tickets for tours and events are available on their website.