Arkansas may be famous for being home to the Razorbacks, Walmart, and Bill Clinton but did you know that a small Arkansan town was the site of a Beatles visit in 1964? “The Natural State” was actually a popular spot for musicians to play in local bars and nightclubs before going on to greater things in nearby cities such as Memphis and Nashville. Dubbed as the Rock and Roll Highway, a stretch of 111 miles from Bald Knob to Corning, this route is home to a number of iconic landmarks that create such a historic drive.
Where is the Rock and Roll Highway?
If you are going to be a true ‘rockabilly’ along US Highway 67 you better learn how to appreciate the heart of “rock ‘n’ roll” and head on down from the ‘hills’ of Arkansas and drive this iconic road.
Passing through a number of smaller towns, Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway is an interesting drive that you can easily experience in one day. Much of the drive is along open roads with very little to see but there are a few spots that offer an opportunity to appreciate the history in this part of Arkansas.
We actually started our route in Walnut Ridge given that it is the closest spot from our hometown of Jonesboro. In reality, this is not the ideal starting point as this is located in the heart of Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway.
We recommend starting at either Corning (if you are heading south from Missouri) or Bald Knob (if you are heading north from Little Rock) to fully experience the route that Elvis or another budding rockstar would have taken.
The Beatles in Walnut Ridge
For a brief few moments, Walnut Ridge was transformed from a small town in Arkansas to a global hot-spot as the Beatles landed here en route from once concert to another. On September 18, 1964, the Beatles finished a concert in Dallas, Texas and immediately boarded a plane destined for a retreat in Missouri prior to their final concert in New York City.
Walnut Ridge Airport was a training facility during World War II and its ability to handle large aircraft made this a perfect connection point for the Beatles to board a smaller plane to reach Missouri.
Of course, this was a secret landing and just after midnight the Beatles left their large aircraft in Walnut Ridge. But given the scarcity of landings in Walnut Ridge at night, a few individuals made their way to the runway and immediately gasped as they recognized the infamous quartet.
The rest of the weekend was spent trying to figure out when the Beatles would make their return trip to Walnut Ridge to board their plane for New York. A large gathering was rewarded when a small plane arrived with John Lennon and Ringo Starr on board.
What the Walnut Ridge locals didn’t realize was that Paul McCartney and George Harrison had already arrived about an hour earlier and were sat in a truck watching the spectacle.
Today, the airfield is famous for having an old Southwest Airlines plane transformed into a restaurant which is a unique experience for visitors. Unfortunately, we visited on a Sunday when the restaurant was closed but hopefully, we will have an opportunity to visit in the future and sample the cuisine here.
For many of the Walnut Ridge fans, it was their only chance to see the Beatles in person. To this day, it is a huge claim to fame for this small Arkansan town and it’s no surprise as you leave Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway that there is an intersection devoted to Abbey Road.
We enjoyed exploring the memorial and looking at the various stores that have been renamed to represent the Beatles landing here, even though it was only for a few moments.
But it’s not just the Beatles that have made their mark in Walnut Ridge. In fact, the town has constructed a gorgeous memorial known as the Walnut Ridge Guitar Walk located close to the Amtrak train station in Cavenaugh Park.
It is designed in the shape of an electric guitar and this colorful walkway has a number of stations with recordings devoted to iconic musicians that shaped the rock and roll era.
Country artists such as Johnny Cash are featured here so this is a great opportunity to learn a little more about your favorite artist, especially before they became the famous musician that we all know them as today.
A short drive north of Walnut Ridge is another important town on the Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway. Pocahontas is home to the infamous Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway 67 Inn where legendary musicians such as Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis among others have both stayed and performed.
Pocahontas may not have the same history as nearby Walnut Ridge but today, it is home to the Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway 67 music festival that takes place annually to celebrate the history that has occurred along this very route.
The festival is held in historic downtown Pocahontas which is actually a pretty cool area to walk around.
The Randolph County courthouse is a key focal point in the heart of downtown along with a veteran memorial dedicated to those lives that were lost in World War I, World War II and Vietnam War.
Located just outside of Pocahontas along Rock and Roll Highway is an iconic radio station that played an important role in the development in Elvis’ success. Perhaps this is Pocahontas’ claim to fame!
In the mid-1950s, after Elvis finally had some success at Sun Studio in Memphis, he made his way along Highway 67 and stopped at the KPOC radio station. After meeting local KPOC announcer Bill Nicholson, they agreed to play one of Elvis’ records on the local station. Nicholson described a young Presley as follows
He was a shy, polite young man
Although this one radio station didn’t necessarily make or break Elvis, it certainly helped get his name out to a much wider audience.
Other Landmarks Along Highway 67
Whether you choose to drive the full 111 miles or alternatively visit just a couple of the iconic landmarks along Highway 67, you will likely want to experience Bald Knob, Arkansas simply because of the name. Bald Knob was named as such from a prominent ridge that served as a landmark to pioneers exploring the region, but it’s no surprise to hear that this town is frequently on lists of unusual town names around the nation.
Restaurants such as Who Dat’s, serving delicious cajun cuisine and the Bulldog restaurant are both attractive options for visitors driving along Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway. The vibrant colors of the veteran remembrance mural is another landmark that you should experience if you plan on spending a little time in Bald Knob.
Meanwhile, towns such as Swifton and Corning are other alternatives along Highway 67 though apart from a couple of chain restaurants, there is not likely to be much that inspires you to spend time exploring here.
Newport, Arkansas is home to the official Rock and Roll Highway 67 Museum and provides more detailed history on everything you can expect to see on this route (alternatively, you can take our word that everything highlighted in this post are the main spots you cannot afford to miss).
Even if you are not a fan of rock and roll music, taking a ride down memory lane and visiting some iconic spots where music legends performed is certainly a rewarding experience.
From Elvis to Johnny Cash, Arkansas’ Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway has been privileged to see a variety of music legends, so to be able to spend some time learning about this history is a memory we will both cherish.