Nothing warms the heart and soothes the soul like music, and Eastern Kentucky has a terrific musical destination waiting for you just down I-75 at Exit 62.
Any country music fan knows that stop as the home of Renfro Valley, “Kentucky’s Country Music Capital.” If that down-home brand of tunes is your favorite, you’ll want to visit this year from March through October as the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center celebrates its 70th birthday. While there, every member of the family can revel in country, bluegrass and gospel music in concerts by legendary performers and at variety shows featuring superb singers, pickers and grinners who keep alive the “barn dance” tradition begun years ago by visionary founder John Lair.
The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened in 2002, preserves the commonwealth’s generations of music, honoring its performers, songwriters, publishers, promoters, managers, broadcasters, comedians and other industry professionals who have made significant contributions in the Bluegrass state and around the world.
“A lot of people come here for Renfro Valley’s history, for the barn dances and for the headliner shows, and they don’t realize what we are all about,” said the museum’s executive director, Robert Lawson. “They think we’re totally about country music because we’re in the hills of Kentucky. Our state has a rich music heritage in all kinds of music, and that’s what we celebrate.
“At his induction, Boots Randolph said that being in the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame was the greatest honor he had ever achieved because it put him up there with such a variety of Kentucky music greats like Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Dottie Rambo, the queen of gospel music.”
Every two years the Hall of Fame selects new inductees – there are 29 to date – and the diversity is impressive.
In 2002, honorees included Blue Lick native Clyde Julian “Red” Foley, an outstanding vocal talent in country, gospel and pop; Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass”; the rock’n’rollin’ Everly Brothers; Fulbright Scholar, mountain dulcimer performer, folk singer and songwriter Jean Ritchie; and Maysville’s beloved Rosemary Clooney, the pop, jazz and blues crooner extraordinair.
In the well-laid-out museum, each inductee’s photo looms large as background to a musical time line, with exhibits and dioramas showing the pioneer cabin beginnings of Kentucky music, the first WHAS Radio studio in the 1940s, and a “ballyhooing” vintage automobile, in which musicians traveled to promote bluegrass and folk concerts on courthouse steps, town squares and ball fields across the commonwealth. Billboard-type displays feature video bios of all the Hall of Fame’s shining stars and cases are filled with fascinating music-related artifacts, all donated by the honorees and their families.
A music room affords the opportunity to see, touch, hear and perform with five interactive exhibits.
Resident musicians knowledgeable in all sorts of musical genres are available to travel to any Kentucky county to present programs in country, rock, traditional, classical, bluegrass and multicultural music on a variety of instruments. A teacher’s study guide developed to broaden the museum’s educational message is available on the Web site.
Anyone can call ahead of time to reserve space in onsite workshops pertaining to songwriting, singing or playing a particular instrument.
“People come here and see the roots of Kentucky music,” said Lawson. “You know, Texas has a lot of country and western. Alabama has a lot of rhythm and blues. But as for variety, Kentucky has it all!”