- North Carolina
- West Virginia
More than any other American musical genre, the story of country music can be told through travel.
Performers and personalities blazed trails through the heartland of the USA. The following routes tell the tales of how legends made history, hits became timeless and landmarks were planted for future generations to visit.
Kentucky – U.S. 23 Country Music Highway
Travelers who want to mine the history of Kentucky legends should start in Paintsville at the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum, which spotlights artists born in the town two hours east of Lexington. Once versed in the history, you can visit the homes of Loretta Lynn, Dwight Yoakam, Ricky Skaggs and other all-time greats who grew up off U.S. 23. This is coal country, so if you want to learn about the world these stars grew up in, check out the Van Lear Historical Society’s Coal Miners’ Museum. For a made-from-scratch meal with friendly service, try the Pine Mountain Grill in Whitesburg.
A flower-laden country road outside Lexington
Mississippi Country Music Trail
This trail covers five regions across Mississippi. Learn about the Father of Country Music, Jimmie Rodgers, who swirled together country and blues in Meridian just outside of Jackson in the 1920s and ’30s. From Tammy Wynette in Tremont to Charley Pride in the Delta region, this state filled the country genre with superstars. Elvis Presley had a massive impact on country, and his roots can be traced at the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo, which includes the King’s childhood home and a museum with memorabilia and photos. Music meets muscle at the Dixie National Rodeo in Jackson, which features bull and horse riding as well as concerts over a week in February.
The Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo
North Carolina – Blue Ridge Music Trails
With 58 stops stretching across western North Carolina, this is not a one-and-done type of trail system. It’s so huge that there are multiple regional itineraries to discover. The Mount Airy itinerary, for example, includes stops at the WPAQ Merry-Go-Round, the second-longest-running live music radio show in the country; the Andy Griffith Museum, devoted to the popular actor and gospel singer; and, if you’re in the area in June, the Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention.
Bluegrass performers in Mount Airy
Oklahoma – Rhythm and Routes Oklahoma Music Trail
The Sooner State is home to at least a dozen country legends, including Conway Twitty, Toby Keith and Carrie Underwood. This trail will take you to their hometowns, venues where they cut their teeth and other landmarks like the Gene Autry Museum, in Gene Autry, Oklahoma, dedicated to the singing cowboy. You can get to know more about a star such as Underwood, visiting spots important to her and her career in her hometown of Checotah – Eufaula Lake, where she used to fish; the animal shelter she opened; and high school.
Virginia – The Crooked Road
This is one long road – 300 miles through 19 counties, four cities and 54 towns – that loops from the northwestern to northeastern parts of the state in a smile shape along Virginia’s border. Bristol claims the title of Birthplace of Country, a boast backed up in a museum of the same name that tells the story of the first country songs ever recorded. Traveling the trail will take you to venues, festivals and exhibits across the state. In Clintwood, a remote town near the Kentucky border, the Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center tells the story of one of bluegrass’ most revered artists. The trail also highlights many of the musicians who followed in Stanley’s footsteps, including musicians from the town of Galax such as the Church Sisters and Dori Freeman. Plan accordingly by visiting The Crooked Road’s website, which features a helpful interactive map.
West Virginia – Mountain Music Trail
One of the key moments in the development of Appalachian music, a subgenre of country built around the banjo, took place during the mine labor strife in West Virginia in the early 20th century. The torch has been carried by musicians who play at venues spotlighted on this trail. The American Heritage Music Hall in Ronceverte, a small town in the eastern part of the state along the Greenbrier River, hosts local acts playing old time, bluegrass and country and often features storytelling. The smaller Purple Fiddle in Thomas (on the Maryland line just north of Monongahela National Forest) rolls out a lineup of bluegrass, alt-country and celtic music.