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Destination Spotlight: Walnut Ridge

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Beatles at the Ridge Festival
Beatles at the Ridge Festival

With its downtown revitalization in the Grill District and its rich musical heritage, including a stopover by The Beatles, Walnut Ridge is a one-of-a-kind destination with unique attractions, good eats and fun shops that make it a great stop for an hour, an afternoon or a weekend in the Upper Delta.

Located in the northeast corner of Arkansas, about half an hour west of Jonesboro, or two hours north of Little Rock, Walnut Ridge is a farming community deeply rooted in the Delta soil and the sounds that originated here.     

Three major highways cross through its city limits: Highway 67, Highway 63 and Highway 412. Highway 67, designated as the Rock ’N’ Roll Highway, runs through the heart of town. Back in the day, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and other popular musicians would hit this stretch of highway to play juke joints, honky tonks and dive bars.

Beatles art installation in Walnut Ridge
Beatles art installation in Walnut Ridge

Stopover of the Beatles

However, the most popular moment in Walnut Ridge's history was a stopover by the Beatles. On September 18, 1964, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had just finished playing a show in Dallas and were on their way to Missouri where they had planned a brief respite before their final stateside gig of the year in New York City. The Fab Four were coming off many a hard day’s night, famously performing 32 shows in 34 days on this tour, and it was time for a little R&R. En route to Missouri, they landed at the airport in Walnut Ridge. It just so happened a few local teenagers saw the plane at Walnut Ridge Airport and word spread.

The band’s plan was to return two days later, with no one realizing that they had come and gone. But when they returned to Walnut Ridge this time, the town was waiting with 200 to 300 screaming fans. That stop became the only town in Arkansas that the Beatles ever visited together. Walnut Ridge celebrates this little-known fact in a big way. In fact, USA Today released a list of the 10 best places to visit in the world for Beatles history, and there, along with Abbey Road itself, was Walnut Ridge.

Local Beatlemania

Your first stop in Walnut Ridge must be the Beatles Sculpture, it will get you in the perfect music mindset for the rest of your journey. The piece, entitled “The British Invasion of the Rock ’N’ Roll Highway,” depicts the group as they appear on the iconic Abbey Road album cover. Take a selfie with the Liverpool lads then head to Cavenaugh Park, a few blocks away, to find Guitar Walk, a 115 foot-long by 40-foot-wide guitar, is based on an Epiphone played by John Lennon. The guitar features nine plaques dedicated to some of the country’s musical legends, including Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley and other famous acts that played this circuit. The intro plaque features audio from Gov. Mike Beebe discussing growing up along Rock ’N’ Roll Highway and the importance music has played in the history of Arkansas.

Check out the Lawrence County Library next, which houses the Argenta Collection, a large exhibit containing nearly 100 rare photos of the Beatles. Visit the airfield where the teens saw the Beatles back in the day at the WWII Wings of Honor Museum. If you can, plan your trip around the Beatles at the Ridge Music Festival, held each September, it has become one of the fastest-growing events in the region featuring musicians ans authors from all over the world.

Argenta collection at the Lawrence County Library
Argenta collection at the Lawrence County Library
Guitar Walk
Guitar Walk

What’s Downtown

After dealing with your Beatlemania, make your way downtown to visit the Grill District. The latest development in the area is Citizen’s Vault, a lunch place and night spot with live music located in a historic bank building. There are plenty of places to cure your cravings downtown including: Main Street Pizza, where you can grab a slice and a cold drink; Adriana’s, a popular Mexican restaurant; The Dark Side, a coffee shop with a Beatles-themed menu; and Moni’s, known for its down home cooking. Looking to do a little bit of shipping? The Spider's Webb is a funky/cool bookstore and gift shop. Maybe you're so obsessed with the Beatles you want to host an event in Walnut Ridge? Then The Studio, a world-class space ideal for private events, is ideal

Walnut Ridge stays young with Williams Baptist University, a four-year Christian university. Stroll through the campus' tree lined corridoes or cheer the Eagles on in baseball, softball or basketball.

In the mood for a weekend in Walnut Ridge? Stay at The Hotel Rhea. Renovated into historic suites, it resembles the design of the original Rhea of the early 1900s and is located 1/2 block from the Grill District. Another fun place to stay is the Callahan Hotel, also a recent renovation project. The former 50s-era Phillips Hotel features a motorcourt with 14 rooms, which have been updated with new amenities but the nostalgia remains intact – much like Walnut Ridge itself with the mix of old and new things to discover.