Kentucky is more than bourbon and horses…

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by Chris Chamberlain  January 28, 2020 

Tennessee is a state steeped in musical history, from the cradle of bluegrass, Appalachian and early country music in the mountains of East Tennessee to Nashville, the home of modern country to Memphis, which was significant to the birth of several musical genres including soul, R&B, jazz and the blues. But our neighbors to the north have a rich musical heritage as well.

In fact, our friends in the Bluegrass State have declared 2020 as “The Year of Music in Kentucky” and are reaching out to potential visitors to consider making a pilgrimage to discover that the state is about more than just bourbon and horses. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

No musical genre is more closely associated with Kentucky than bluegrass, named after the azure fields that cover the rolling hills of the state. Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, was born in Rosine, KY, and one of the more modern stars of the “New Grass” movement, Sam Bush, is from Bowling Green. One stretch of highway along the Big Sandy River in the eastern part of the state has given rise to so many country legends that it is called the “Country Music Highway.” Listing U.S. 23 as their home address at one time or another were Loretta LynnChris Stapleton, Dwight YoakamBilly Ray Cyrusthe JuddsRicky SkaggsKeith Whitley and others.

Photo courtesy of KentuckyTourism.comPhoto courtesy of

Kentucky recently published a new Visitor’s Guide highlighting their musical heritage. Popular Nashville musician and Kentucky native J.D. Shelburne graces the cover of the useful guide which you can order here or view online if you don’t want to wait for a printed edition.

“Music plays such a vital part in our state’s history that it is only fitting we highlight the Year of Music and feature many Kentucky artists, including J.D. Shelburne, in this year’s Visitor’s Guide,” said Mike Berry, Secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. “The passion J.D. has for Kentucky is infectious and we are thrilled to have him as our partner in celebrating music across the Commonwealth!”

Photo courtesy of KentuckyTourism.comPhoto courtesy of

Shelburne was excited to be included in the new campaign: “As a native of Kentucky, words can’t describe how honored and humbled I am to be selected for the cover of Kentucky’s Official Visitor’s Guide,” he said. “Growing up on my family’s farm, my love of this land stems from the values they instilled in me: a strong work ethic, a love of family, and having a passion for what you do. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of many milestones throughout my career, and this is certainly one of my proudest moments.”

Another way that Kentucky showcases their role in the world of music is through multiple music festivals held all over the state. From ForecastleLouder than LifeBourbon and Beyond and Hometown Rising in Louisville to Somerset’s Master Musicians festival to the ROMP Bluegrass Roots and Branches fest in Owensboro, Kentucky offers music from just about any genre you can imagine. If crowds aren’t your thing, great music can be discovered in churches, tiny bars and outdoor pavilions all over Kentucky.

The Kentucky state line is less than an hour north of Nashville, so if you want to discover a whole new world of music, head to the Bluegrass State for a whole lot more than just bluegrass. (Plus they still have all that bourbon to enjoy, too!)