Eastern Kentucky is the birthplace and childhood home of a dozen major country music stars, with a history deeply entrenched in music. U.S. Route 23 runs through the steep, mountainous area, which is tied together by a network of creeks and rivers that makes up the Big Sandy Basin and its tributaries. Coal mining is a way of life in this area, as made evident in Loretta Lynn’s song “Coal-Miner’s Daughter”.
In 1997 the Kentucky Tourism cabinet designated U.S. Route 23 the “Country Music Highway”, and erected twelve signs, each posted in the home county of the major country music star they represent. Along the road you will find signs honoring Billy Ray Cyrus, mom and daughter duo Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Tom T. Hall, Dwight Yokum, Patti Loveless, Hylo Brown, and sisters Crystal Gayle and Loretta Lynn.
Despite the country music stars that hailed from the area surrounding U.S. Route 23 it is not the only reason to visit the famed roadway that winds through Kentucky during its stretch from Jacksonville, Florida to Mackinaw City, Michigan. In the fall of 2005 the Kentucky Folklife Program, which is a program produced by the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Arts Council, launched “More Than Music: A Heritage Driving Tour of Kentucky’s Route 23”.
“More Than Music: A Heritage Driving Tour of Kentucky’s Route 23” takes visitors through the towns of Ashland, Paintsville, Prestonburg, and Pikeville, as well as other small towns along the way. One of the main attractions on the tour is the short side-trip to Butcher Hollow the childhood home of sisters and country music stars Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gale. Their brother, Herman Webb, owns a general store nearby, and it is told that he is a talented musician himself, who will sometimes treat visitors to a song. He will also take visitors on a tour of the home for small donation.
The driving tour is based upon a four CD set narrated by Ricky Skaggs and a sixty page guidebook. The CD set features three CD’s that are chock full of the area’s history, telling the story of the Appalachian experience. More than sixty individuals were interviewed for the CD, and visitors will hear interviews with not only major country music stars like Loretta Lynn, Ralph Stanley, Patti Loveless, and Crystal Gale, they will also hear interviews with local artists and craftsmen, coal miners, and railroad workers. The fourth CD of the bunch contains music performed by the area’s most famous natives.
The cost of the CD set and guidebook is $24.99, and it can be purchased online from the Kentucky Historical Society’s website or from a variety of locations throughout Kentucky such as the Ashland Convention and Visitors Bureau, Greenbo Lake State Park and Resort, Mountain Arts Center in Prestonburg, Jenny Wiley State Park and Resort, Pike County Tourism, and the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea.