Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
May 26, 2009
If you want to draw tourists to a potential vacation area that currently lacks any popular established attractions, you can always start by renaming a generic and innocuous stretch of highway. That way you have a theme to work with and updated signage that reminds speeding motorists that something once happened here.
On March 20th, Arkansas governor Mike Beebe signed legislation that designated U.S. 67 from Newport to Pocahontas as “Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway 67.” This re-branding of asphalt will point out the importance of northeastern Arkansas rockabilly roadhouses to the careers of performers such as Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.
So what if all of the venues that once rocked and rolled are gone now (except for Bob King’s in Swifton—now a private club with karaoke nights)? There will be signs! And a rockabilly music festival is in the works, featuring still-living, not-nearly-as-famous-as-Elvis musicians such as Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley.
Sadly, the story of this boastful bill is one tinged with ambivalence. There was a bit of a tussle over the initial proposal to call the road “Rockabilly Highway.” Representative J.R. Rogers (D-Walnut Ridge), who sponsored the final “Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway” bill, felt that “the Arkansas people didn’t want to be put into a group with hillbillies. We have enough of that.”
(In contrast to Mr. Roger’s fear of rockabilly stigma, Tennessee legislators did not give into such musical self-hatred last year when they renamed a 55-mile stretch of U.S. 45 the “Tennessee Rockabilly Highway.” With no qualms about celebrating the twangy genre, they also have an International Rock-a-Billy Hall of Fame in Jackson.)
So, quite honestly, there’s nothing much going on along Arkansas’ “Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway.” At least for now. But you can always visit Johnny Cash’s economically depressed childhood town of Dyess, about 80 miles to the east, where you can stare at the run-down exterior of the his family home. A sign out front asks shutterbugs to pay five bucks for the privilege of snapping a photo. The town wants to build a museum and is currently seeking funding. And not surprisingly, the recently renamed Johnny Cash Highway runs right through town! [Post by Anne D. Bernstein]