The Bluegrass Music Connector

Southwestern Indiana enjoys close proximity to the birthplace of this burgeoning genre

Explosive acoustic guitar solos. Hard-driving banjo picking. Powerful fiddle playing. Lightning-fast mandolin licks. Intense, high harmonies. And lead singers with a lonesome ache in their voice. These are some of the hallmarks of the American-made music known as bluegrass. Born in the hills and hollers of the Appalachian Mountains, the genre has influenced countless popular musicians, from The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia to Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

Bluegrass music’s roots are planted in Evansville’s back, and front, yards. Rosine, Kentucky, 40 miles south of Owensboro, is the birthplace of Bill Monroe, considered the father of bluegrass. Monroe moved to Brown County, Indiana, at 18 and later developed “Bill Monroe’s Music Park and Campground” in Bean Blossom, Indiana. On that site, in 1967, he founded the very first multi-day bluegrass festival – Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festival, an event still taking place each June.

How great is bluegrass music’s impact on the region? We asked these folks who are at the forefront of the genre.

Terry Woodward, executive committee member at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and founding organizer of ROMP, the nation’s premier bluegrass festival held each June in Owensboro

EL: Owensboro has been called the center of bluegrass music. How did that distinction come about?

TW: Back in the 1980s, I was on the board of the Owensboro Tourism Commission. We were studying the things that make our city unique. I presented the idea that we are the nearest bigger city to Rosine, Kentucky, where Bill Monroe was born. I thought we should celebrate the origin of bluegrass music here in Owensboro. The idea was well received, so we created the IBMA – the International Bluegrass Music Association, which years later relocated to Nashville, Tennessee. Next, we broke ground for the bluegrass museum, and about a decade later, we added ROMP as a fundraising element for the museum. I was involved in creating all three.

Photo of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum by Greg Eans

Chris Joslin, outgoing Executive Director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum

EL: Talk about some of the ways the museum gets youth excited about bluegrass music.

CJ: We are a music-centric, nonprofit organization intentional about presenting bluegrass music to the community and to the world. We offer educational programs, both in group settings and with individual lessons, on various instruments: banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle … we even offer dance. There are special curricula for kids, arts and crafts workshops, and a big part of our recruitment comes during ROMP with our Kids Zone. We take a holistic approach to building connections within our groups, fostering friendships among students, and encouraging them to take those musical relationships further. Some of the students actually form bluegrass bands. The fruition of this vision can be seen with The Bluegrass Brothers, a trio of young musicians, all multi-instrumentalists, who have come up through our program. These kids are getting booked to play professionally.

We also provide opportunities for students to play in the community: our student showcase at ROMP, our Jingle Jam during the holidays, and our students perform at nursing homes, in hospital lobbies, and at other places in the community where people gather. The best place to learn about what we do is on our website: bluegrasshall.org.

Erinn Williams, teacher, Eastern Kentucky native, Owensboro resident, and facilitator of Kids Zone at ROMP

EL: How does Owensboro fit into this resurgence of bluegrass music today?

EW: What Owensboro does well is provide cultural awareness of Appalachian music to people from all over the world. It makes us [Eastern Kentuckians] appreciate where we come from and excited about where the genre is going.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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