Home #WHERETONEXT USA Kentucky’s Rich Cultural Heritage: A Journey Through Bluegrass State

Kentucky’s Rich Cultural Heritage: A Journey Through Bluegrass State

Photo by Steve Drake

From Daniel Boone and bourbon whiskey to the eponymous Kentucky Derby and Bluegrass music, the Commonwealth of Kentucky is steeped in a rich history as old and varied as the Appalachian mountains that call it home.

While it may not receive the same level of attention that New York or Los Angeles brings in, Kentucky’s heartland charm helps tell the story of the United States and its culture. Here are some of its defining features.

Beginning With Boone and Before

Whether in the Mississippi River floodplains or the foothills of the mountains, rich and diverse Native American cultures called the land that comprises Kentucky today home for thousands of years before European settlers reached the region: among them the Cherokee, Shawnee, Chickasaw and Osage peoples.

Unfortunately, with more than eleven millennia of Pre-Columbian history (and the efforts of European settlers to erase and amalgamate indigenous cultures into their own, much of that tradition has been lost to the ages. What remains today has been kept alive and recorded for posterity thanks to oral traditions as well as endangered written languages (many of which were outlawed by early American settlers). Indigenous cultural elements ranging from storytelling to unique artisanship like pottery and blowgun making (amongst the Cherokee Nation) define the start of Kentucky’s human story, even before the advent of recorded history.

Kentucky’s settlement by Europeans began with legendary explorer and frontiersman Daniel Boone, who blazed a trail through the Cumberland Gap in Virginia’s Appalachian Plateau, leaving the original Thirteen Colonies behind for what soon became Kentucky. A folk hero, tales of Boone’s accomplishment are often myth as much as fact these days, but his role in the beginning of westward expansion can’t be overstated.

Sports: Horses and Hoops

Image by Clarence Alford

One of the next major impacts of Kentuckian culture is what they’ve done for sports in the United States. The Kentucky Derby is the oldest continually running sports event in the nation, decades older than the World Series or Stanley Cup playoffs and almost a century older than the Super Bowl.

The tradition of going to Churchill Downs and sipping a mint julep as you watch the most exciting two minutes in sports is an experience like no other: even if you aren’t a sports fan, it’s a classic American activity and one that everyone would do well to visit at least once.

While sports organizations have long had a tense relationship with bookies and others who endorse placing wagers, that isn’t the case at the Kentucky Derby, where betting on the races is a way of life.

Even during the 1990s, when a federal ban on sports betting outlawed the pastime on a nearly unilateral basis, horse races like the Derby were one of the few places that managed to continue operating as usual with the endorsement of the law: a tradition so entrenched that even a betting ban steered clear.

These days, sports betting is back in vogue, and you can use a BetMGM Kentucky Bonus Code to get in on the action, whether it’s the races or another Kentucky sporting institution like college basketball.

The University of Kentucky is one of the best programs in the history of men’s college hoops, while the University of Louisville has done their best to match the Wildcats in recent decades. Sports, particularly at amateur levels like high school and college, are a way of life in the south, and in Kentucky it’s basketball that reigns supreme: what they are in college hoops is equivalent to the success of the University of Alabama in college football.

Bourbon and Bluegrass

Last but not least are a pair of cultural institutions in Kentucky, those of bourbon whiskey and bluegrass music. Bourbon dates from the mid 1800s and has become inseparable from the brand image of the commonwealth: it’s the officially-endorsed beverage of the state, and 95 percent of world supplies are produced in Kentucky. With that said, the history of illicit moonshine stills deep in mountain hollows gives just as much, If not more of an Appalachian flair when it comes to Kentucky libations.

The banjo-laden bluegrass themes, on the other hand, exhibit the indomitable will of the people who live in Kentucky: they and their families have called Appalachia home for generations, and they’re going to keep doing things their own way regardless of what others have to say.  The best music is that which has something to say about the human experience, whether it’s life or society, and the quick playing—and even quicker wit—of anti-establishment themed bluegrass makes it a genre like no other.