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Highway 67 from Bald Knob to Corning marks a stretch of road called the Arkansas Rock ‘N Roll Highway 67, filled with a musical past and history that forever changed the towns along the route. The towns along this drive were the first to see rockabilly unfold, a musical genre made by combining traditional blues sounds with Ozark mountain music.
Legends like Elvis, Sonny Burgess, Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash played many of their first gigs at bars, music venues, and hidden stops along the route.
No stop is more notable for residents of Walnut Ridge than Sept. 18, 1964, when the Beatles landed at the local airport and left their tour plane while they played a concert in Missouri. Fans donned their Sunday best to line up on the tarmac to see the colorful side of this rock group they had only seen in two colors on a living room TV.
Highway 67 runs through a large portion of Northeast Arkansas, and markers stretch as far south as Texarkana to note the connection of the Municipal Auditorium, where many artists played on the circuit between Shreveport, Wilson and Memphis. But no matter where they played, one thing was for sure: they would get a little Rock ‘N Roll mixed with a mountain sound and a solid danceable beat!
Corning is the opening corridor in Arkansas along the highway connecting the traditional route musicians used playing north to St. Louis.
Each fall, Pocahontas hosts the Rock ‘N Roll Highway 67 Music Festival.
In 1941, the Imperial Theater opened along Highway 67 and served as a live music venue in addition to a movie cinema. Additionally, the rooftop of the famous Skylark Drive-in Theater served as a well-known concert venue for emerging artists.
Down the road, Rand Theater gained its notoriety from local legend Bill Rice, the most award-winning songwriter in the history of ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Receiving the award six times, Rice wrote songs performed by Elvis, Sonny and Cher, Jerry Lee Lewis and Charley Pride.
Some might say that the local radio station KPOC launched Elvis’ career. In his early years, playing the Highway 67 circuit more than four times trying to share his songs, a “polite and shy” Elvis asked the radio station owner to play his songs. The exposure strengthened and expanded his listening audience.
Walnut Ridge is the town where Abbey Road meets the Arkansas Rock ‘N Roll Highway 67! Due to it being a World War II aircraft training facility and large enough for bigger planes, the Walnut Ridge airport served as host to the Beatles touring airplane. This fateful day forever connected the greatest Rock ‘N Roll band and this Arkansas town.
To commemorate the occasion, Walnut Ridge developed Cavanaugh Park into a guitar walk with a 115- foot concrete guitar. The walk shares narrated interviews with Sonny Burgess, describing the significance of the regional rockabilly history and the Beatles’ encounter with the small town. The walk takes the shape of the Epiphone Casino, a guitar made famous by Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison.
Beatles’ Park is another essential stop in Walnut Ridge. While the central feature is a life-sized sculpture of the Abbey Road album cover, an entire entertainment and shopping district pays homage to the musicians’ visit, with historical references and art galleries capturing the moment.
Each September, the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce hosts the Beatles at the Ridge festival to remember the weekend that changed their community and the band that made them famous. This year, the Liverpool Legends closed the night after a special viewing of A Hard Day’s Night at the local Malco cinema.
Swifton was home to Bob King’s King of Clubs roadhouse, a popular destination between Little Rock and St. Louis for emerging rockabilly artists.
Fun Fact: Nine months before Elvis debuted on the Ed Sullivan show, the same band played a concert in the Swifton High School gymnasium and later that night at the B&I Club. Many notable bands from the era mark these Arkansas high schools as dependable venues where they could always return.
Newport was home to Silver Moon nightclub, a popular music venue that emerged in the post-WWII economic boom in Newport. The club was known to attract strong performances by paying talent well and reserving a dress code for patrons.
Downtown Newport is also home to the Rock ‘N Roll Highway 67 Museum. The museum chronicles the history of the highway and many of the great musicians she hosted. In addition, the Depot Days Festival each year continues the tradition of celebrating local and regional talent.
Possum Grape was home to GB’s and the Lamplighter Club during the 40s and 50s.
Bald Knob is the Gateway to the Arkansas Rock ‘N Roll Highway 67. The Wagon Wheel restaurant was a local favorite spot of Elvis when he was 16 and 17. Since he didn’t drink alcohol in those days, he was known to bring lemons for lemon water and would chew on the rinds before he performed gracing the bar top in his signature tip-toe style.
The Texarkana Municipal Auditorium was a popular spot along the Louisiana Hayride Circuit, hosting notable artists from the jazz age through the 1970s.
Photos used with permission from Arkansas Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
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