Country singers like to tell stories. Sometimes, the stories are based in fact.
Sometimes they’re based in myth. Either way, these tales, myths and legends have a home. Here are eight places that hold a special place in country music lore.
Pigeon Forge/Sevierville, Tennessee – Dolly Parton
In her seminal hit “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” Dolly Parton conveys everything you need to know about her native Sevierville. Parton’s larger-than-life personality is embodied in Dollywood, an amusement park in Pigeon Forge, which is about seven miles south of Sevierville. In addition to a slew of rides, the park also features Dolly Parton’s Stampede, a four-course family dinner event filled with horse stunts, musical productions and comedy. The entire genre is celebrated at Country Tonite Theatre, which offers live country and comedy and dance performances.
A Dolly Parton statue in Sevierville’s downtown
Folsom, California, and Dyess, Arkansas – Johnny Cash Trail and Boyhood Home
The history of one of the Man in Black’s most well-known songs, “Folsom Prison Blues,” is told through the Johnny Cash Trail, which begins and ends with 7-foot guitar picks at Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park and Folsom Lake in the town of Folsom, about a half-hour east of Sacramento, California. One notable stop is the Folsom Prison exhibit – 15-foot bars with an image of a young Cash that can be seen from only one angle. More than 2,000 miles away, in Dyess, Arkansas, is Cash’s boyhood home, which was featured in the 2005 film “Walk the Line.” The home has been restored and preserved and is a must-see for any die-hard country music fan.
Exploring the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess, Arkansas
Jupiter, Florida – Square Grouper Tiki Bar
Jukeboxes in bars all over the USA play “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” a big hit by Alan Jackson featuring Jimmy Buffett. The tune refers to the idea that you can have a drink and relax at any time of day, a mentality in line with the oft-soothing strains of country music. The Square Grouper Tiki Bar is that “somewhere.” The hangout, on the Jupiter Inlet on the east coast of Florida north of Palm Beach, is the site of the video made for the song. There’s another location on the Fort Pierce Inlet, about an hour north near Port St. Lucie. Just as you’d expect, the open-air marinas serve delightful tropical drinks, great pub food and music on the water.
The Jupiter Inlet lighthouse, perhaps a view that inspired Jimmy Buffett
Athol, Kansas – Higley Cabin
“Home on the Range” is an icon of American music: It hearkens back to a more innocent time and an undisturbed western half of the country. It’s the seed that sprouted the roots of country western music. You’ll find the actual Home on the Range – Higley Cabin – near Smith Center, Kansas. It was there that Dr. Brewster Higley wrote a poem about the cabin and had it set to music. The cabin has since been restored and preserved for future generations to enjoy – you can visit the site seven days a week.
The wide-open tallgrass prairies of Kansas
Van Lear, Kentucky – Butcher Hollow
There’s no online RSVP or app for setting up a visit to Loretta Lynn’s family home in Butcher Hollow, a coal mining community in Van Lear, which is two hours east of Lexington. To learn more about where the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” singer grew up, visit Webb’s Grocery and peruse memorabilia. Head one state south, to Tennessee, and you’ll find Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, about an hour and a half west of Nashville. The ranch houses the Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum, which is dedicated to the singer, and also includes cabin rentals, outdoor activities, a doll museum and a simulated coal mine.
Gene Autry, Oklahoma – Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum
Gene Autry, an honest, righteous singing cowboy on TV and film, set the mold for what it meant to be one of the good guys while bringing country to the masses. The Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum, in his namesake town south of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, throws a lasso around all things Autry, and offers one of the largest collections of vintage entertainment cowboy memorabilia in the world. Visitors will also get a glimpse of what it was like to be a real cowboy.
Houston, Texas – Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon
If the walls of the Neon Boots Dancehall could talk, they’d tell you why Willie Nelson wrote the song “Crazy” in 1957. Strapped for cash, he tried to sell “Crazy” and other timeless tunes he’d written to Larry Butler, a house performer, back when the Neon Boots Dancehall was called Esquire Ballroom. Luckily, Butler let Willie keep the songs. Ultimately, Patsy Cline made the song famous while making a name for herself at the Esquire Ballroom. Stop in for line dancing or karaoke in the house where Willie and Patsy began their musical careers.
Meridian, Mississippi – Jimmie Rodgers Music Festival and Museum
The town of Meridian, which sits between Jackson, Mississippi, and Montgomery, Alabama, boasts an annual music festival and a museum dedicated to Jimmie Rodgers, an early pioneer of country music. The Jimmie Rodgers Music Festival sets up shop every May with a lineup of artists that jumps genres, just like Rodgers did when he blended country and blues to create the Mississippi sound. Plan about an hour in the Jimmie Rogers Museum, a small but stacked homage featuring memorabilia, artifacts, a gorgeous piano and several of Jimmie’s guitars.