Hop into your best pair of jeans and cowboy boots and head to where country music is king. From Virginia to Missouri, here are eight destinations that celebrate all that is country music.
1. Nashville, Tennessee
They don’t call Nashville the Country Music Capital of the World and Music City for nothing. The city is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the annual four-day CMA Music Festival and the famous Grand Ole Opry, to name a few. At the museum, visitors can check out a two-story wall decorated with every single gold and platinum country record, get a glimpse of Elvis Presley’s solid gold 1960 Cadillac, and tour the historic Studio B. About a mile from the museum is Lower Broadway; a street brimming with honky-tonk bars and live boot-scooting country music. Don’t forget to stop by the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, where you will find an impressive collection of rare country music CD’s, DVD’s and books. For those who prefer live performances, the Grand Ole Opry hosts a slew of live country music concerts and shows.
2. Branson, Missouri
In the 1980’s, Branson gained prominence in the music industry when big name country singers, such as Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings, performed in the city. In 1991, when the TV show “60 Minutes” aired a segment on the musically inclined city, tourism boomed. Today, Branson hosts over 100 shows and concerts and attracts nearly 8 million tourists yearly. Although Branson offers a variety of shows, many of them revolve around good ole’ country music. Some popular country shows include the original “Presley’s Country Jubilee” and the lively “A Country Legacy – Fountains of Country” show, which incorporates 36,000 gallons of “dancing” water. Also popular is “Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express,” a high-energy performance led by comedic host and singer, Clay Cooper.
3. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Not far from the Great Smoky Mountains you'll find a 150-acre theme park just as lively as its peppy, vivacious Grammy-winning, country-singing owner. In 1986, Dolly Parton opened Dollywood, a theme park that now features roller coasters, a water park and a variety of live entertainment. During the summertime, Dollywood hosts “The Great American Country Show,” a 40-minute live show featuring six country singers backed by a six-piece band and a performance by a distinguished country music star. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see Parton perform.
4. Dyess, Arkansas
Fans from around the world travel to Dyess to catch a glimpse of the house that legendary country singer Johnny Cash once called home. Cash and his family moved to the 20-acre farm in Dyess when Cash was just three years old. At the time, Dyess was a planned community designed to give those affected by the Great Depression a new start. Today, Cash’s boyhood home is under restoration and is scheduled to reopen as a museum in 2014.
5. Memphis, Tennessee
Although deemed the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley also reigned in the world of country music. Presley fused country with R&B to create many of his masterpieces, such as “That’s All Right” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” His distinctive style of music led to his popularity and eventually, his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Today, fans have the opportunity to tour Presley’s mansion and 14-acre estate. Graceland, as it is called, exhibits Presley’s custom jet (with gold-plated seat belts and suede chairs), 33 of his beloved vehicles, his personal videos, his memorabilia and some of his performance costumes.
6. Winchester, Virginia
Located in northwestern Virginia, the historic city of Winchester is the hometown of beloved country singer Patsy Cline. At the age of 16, Cline, Cline’s mother and Cline’s siblings moved to a modest house in Winchester on South Kent Street where Cline lived until age 21. Although a few different tenants have occupied the home since, the non-profit organization, Celebrating Patsy Cline, managed to acquire the house and track down some of Cline’s possessions. Today, the house is open for tours. Visitors can also stop by the WINC-AM radio station where Cline began her music career, the drugstore where she worked as a soda jerk and the cemetery in which she is buried.
7. Hurricane Mills, Tennessee
Take a trip to the Loretta Lynn Ranch, located in Hurricane Mills, for an in-depth look at the life of the revered Loretta Lynn. The ranch chronicles the life of the Grammy-winning country singer, who is well-known for hits such as “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “After the Fire is Gone.” The ranch includes Lynn’s current home and previous home (the first floor is open to tours), an RV Park, a replica of the log cabin she grew up in and a handful of museums. The 18,000 square-foot Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum displays Lynn’s tour bus, personal vehicles, memorabilia and awards while the Fan and Doll Museum displays the mass amounts of dolls and gifts fans have sent to Lynn over the years.
8. Meridian, Mississippi
Although his recording career lasted only six years (from 1927 to 1933), Jimmie Rodgers set the precedent for future country music singers. Born in Meridian, the “Father of Country Music” told stories of heartbreak and travel through his music and often incorporated yodeling, earning him the nickname, the “Blue Yodeler.” Today, Meridian pays tribute to Rodgers with a museum as well as an annual festival. The museum, designed after an old train depot, features some of Rodgers’ memorabilia and instruments. The Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival puts on live country music, a talent show, a parade and a wreath-laying ceremony at Rodgers’ gravesite.