Got back yesterday evening from a trip to Wide-Spot-in-the-Road, where Clan Mondo visited my in-laws. It was a short trip — less than 72 hours all told, but with the Spawn’s new job and such, we have to squeeze our travels in as we can.
While I’ve made this trip a slew of times over the past 27 years or so, I did something this time that I hadn’t done before, chiefly because I didn’t know the opportunity existed. As I approached the Wide Spot exit on Monday evening, I noticed a new highway sign, informing me that the same exit would conduct me to the US 23 Country Music Highway Museum. While I was aware of the region’s connection to country music (various roadside signs list the better known musicians of each county as one passes through), I hadn’t known there was a one-stop shopping opportunity of this sort. Turns out it has been there for a bit over ten years, and I resolved to check it out the next day while Mrs. M and her mom did some family stuff and the Spawn hung out with her cousin who will enter college in a few weeks.
The ladies dropped me off at the museum, which is in an attractive building behind the local tourism board.
It was 1 p.m., and the Interwebz had informed me that the museum was open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Consequently, I was somewhat surprised to go to the door (at the picture’s left edge) and find it locked with a sign saying it was closed. I flagged down Mrs. M, who was pulling out of the parking lot, getting ready to abandon me to the elements for an hour or so. Fortunately, a very sweet young woman chose that moment to emerge from the tourism building. “We haven’t changed the sign, but normally Mondays and Tuesdays are only open by appointment. But since you’re here, I can go ahead and let you in. And when you’re done, you can just visit in the tourism building til your wife comes back.” Mrs. M and I agreed that seemed more than reasonable, so she headed on her way, I handed the lady my four dollars, and she conducted me through the gift shop to the museum proper.
The exhibit space isn’t overly large — about the size of my classroom at the college — but there were numerous exhibits celebrating the musicians who had come from the region, from old timers like Hylo Brown to current country hit king Chris Stapleton, whose exhibit is the first one visitors encounter.
Of course, the biggest exhibit was dedicated to local girl Loretta Lynn, with a video presentation and a variety of memorabilia, stage outfits and the like. But other exhibits commemorated such past and present stars as Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, the Judds, and even Billy Ray Cyrus — I was pleased to see his exhibit mentioned his role in one of my favorite movies as well.
I probably spent the most time lingering at the exhibit of a singer/songwriter whose work provided some of the soundtrack of my youth at when I’d visit my grandparents in Nashville:
All told, I had subjected everything to scrutiny after about half an hour, and adjourned to the gift shop where I chatted a bit more with my friendly tour guide. A family drifted in, contributing another $14 to the museum’s coffers, and I took that as my cue to head back outside. Fortunately, Mrs. M and her mom had already returned, so I got in the car and headed back to the hotel.
In a way, the museum reminded me a bit of the history of the genre it recognizes. It’s a little bit old fashioned and not terribly sophisticated. Doubtless Nashville offers many more slick and polished displays of memorabilia. But this museum is simple, straightforward, and honest, and Paintsville takes justifiable pride in it. It seems much more real than the more touristy fare one might find elsewhere. And since I find that to be true of the best country music as well, the Country Music Highway Museum seemed absolutely appropriate, and I’m glad I went, even if it took me a decade to find it. And here’s a little lagniappe, from the abovementioned Hylo Brown.
See you soon!