Renfro Valley, Kentucky – Southeastern Kentucky has a rich musical history. The 144 mile stretch of Route 23 has such a storied history of producing musicians it is actually dubbed the Country Music Highway. So it should come as no surprise that the Kentucky Music Hall Of Fame was placed near the Renfro Valley Entertainment Complex in Mount Vernon. Which sits just off of Interstate 75 in Rockcastle County, roughly twenty miles north of London.
Renfro Valley has a rich history as well, part of which is told within the museum. Formed in 1939, the Renfro Valley Barn Dance was the host to many stars on their way up. Stars like Hank Williams, Hank Snow and Red Foley all took the Renfro Valley stage. The show was broadcast on CBS Radio for many years and that is what solidified their place within our Commonwealth, as well as Country Music History. Be sure and take the time to delve into their history at the Hall.
Now, I will be the first to admit, that I didn’t have the greatest expectations going into the museum. I’ve seen the Country Music Hall in Nashville, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and I was expecting much less than what I actually experienced. In fact, I consider myself a bit of a musical history nut, so I was more than pleasantly surprised by the information available and especially the presentation of the exhibits. They have done a fine job, thus far, of being both fun and informative.
The first room you enter has exhibits featuring the newest inductees. Artists like the Backstreet Boys, Montgomery Gentry and songwriter Larry Cordle. Here you can see items used in the careers of the artists and learn a bit about them. You’ll also find large displays from two of my favorite inductees, The Kentucky Headhunters and Exile. Be sure and take a peek at the Headunters display, where you can see Fred Young’s raccoon skin cap!
You’ll then transition through the aforementioned Renfro Valley history, which includes many artifacts, radios, and wonderful exhibits that lead you into the main room that houses the exhibits of the inductees. This room is absolutely rich in musical treasures. Here you’ll find items like Loretta Lynn’s dress and guitar, Merle Travis’ sequined stage shirt and custom guitar, the signature skinny jeans and cowboy hat worn by Dwight Yoakam, Bill Monroe’s suit, an outfit worn by Grandpa Jones and even the famous rose-colored glasses made famous by John Conlee in the song of the same name.
One particular exhibit was by far my favorite. Not because of what it was, but for what it was able to teach in such a simple way. You can see a photo below, but bear with me as I try to explain it. Hanging from left to right are instruments used within Kentucky music or what is otherwise known as Bluegrass music. There is a banjo, fiddle, dobro, mandolin and an acoustic guitar. Beneath each, there is a sensor where you can place your foot and bring in the corresponding instrument, which shows how each instrument helps build the harmonies and melodies that make up a song. It’s captivating and a perfect way to showcase how things are added as layers to create such a beautiful structure.
There were perhaps four glaring omissions that weren’t included in the museum, Roscoe Holcomb, Gary Stewart, Chris Knight and Billy Ray Cyrus. Hopefully though, in time, the Hall can remedy those omissions. It may also be a good idea to include some displays of current music superstars as well. Artists like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Black Stone Cherry, Cage The Elephant and even Miley Cyrus could have a large impact on drawing in a younger and perhaps more diverse audience. Otherwise, I have to say that I was very impressed and proud of what the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame has created thus far. Be sure and stop by for a visit and tell ’em that Capture Kentucky sent ya!
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