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Bluegrass and BBQ

Rollin’ on the Rivers

Bluegrass and BBQ

Owensboro is home to lightning-fast bluegrass banjo picking and the frenetic motorsports mania that spawned NASCAR greats like Darrell and Michael Waltrip and Jeremy Mayfield. Pair either of those pastimes with a sauce-smothered helping of the city’s famous barbecued mutton, and you’ll be smitten.

You’ll find both bluegrass and barbecue at the city’s annual International Bar-B-Q Festival, May 9 and 10 in downtown Owensboro. More than 10 tons of mutton are dished up each year during the event.

“For many people, not only from around Kentucky, but from around the United States and beyond, when they think of Owensboro, they first think of our barbecue,” says Owensboro-Daviess County Tourist Commission Executive Director Burley Phelan.

Rival grill jockeys vie for the title “Best Overall Barbecue Cooking Team,” or best mutton, chicken, or burgoo. If you’re not familiar with burgoo, try some–more than 1,500 gallons of the peppery, thick, meaty soup will be served there. The festival also features musical performances, baby pageants, arts and crafts, and sports events. For more info call (800) 489-1131 or go online to

While in Owensboro, visit the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn at 2840 W. Parrish Avenue, (800) 322-8989, where three generations of the Bosley family are celebrating their 40th year in business. A huge black burgoo pot sits in front of the building–it’s actually a motorized float used in the International Bar-B-Q Festival Parade, Marketing Director Pat Bosley says.

Barbecue gurus are a secretive bunch, unwilling to reveal their cooking methods and spice combinations, but Bosley revealed a few key elements.

“What sets Moonlite apart from many others is our dedication to traditional slow-cooking methods over hickory wood,” Bosley says. “Our barbecue sauce is tomato-based and added at the table. We baste the meat while on the pit with a vinegar-based cooking dip.”

In addition to the 10,000 pounds of mutton Moonlite serves in an average week, you’ll find barbecue pork, beef, and chicken, as well as burgoo, house brands of barbecue sauces, desserts, sandwiches, and side items. Don’t leave without helping yourself to some creamy banana pudding, piled high with meringue.

You can browse the gift shop, to the right as you prepare to exit, or visit Moonlite’s online store at

On September 26 and 27, English Park near Hanning Lane off U.S. 60 will be filled with live bluegrass music and fans at the annual Bluegrass Blast. Before attending, bone up on your bluegrass legends and lore at the International Bluegrass Music Museum, which opened in April 2002 at its new location of 207 E. Second Street. After a $3 million renovation, it contains thousands of items, including reproduction and original instruments owned by bluegrass greats like “King of Bluegrass” Kenny Baker. In The Concert area, lawn chairs and picnic coolers give an authentic bluegrass festival feeling to a continuous stage-screen performance from the 1999 Bean Blossom Festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana.

Executive Director Gabrielle Gray says the most popular items in the museum belonged to Bill Monroe, who was born in 1911 in Rosine, about 30 miles southeast of Owensboro.

“He is very much the beloved Father of Bluegrass Music,” Gray says. “People travel from all around the world to see a suit of his clothing, his date book, things we have here.”


Area Attractions

The International Bluegrass Music Museum is located at 207 E. Second Street, (270) 926-7891, . Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time)–until 8 p.m. during summer months–and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission for adults is $8, senior citizens (60+) $5, 16 and under $4, and 6 and under admitted free.

Friday After 5 offers weekly free concert series performances with top-name bands overlooking the Ohio River at the RiverPark Center patio area at 101 Daviess Street until 10 p.m., May 23 through September 12. In addition to music, the festival includes interactive events for families, crafts, and entertainment. Call (270) 683-2060 or go online at

Motorsports Festival: With a purpose of exposing the public to motorsports and the rich motorsports heritage Owensboro can claim, the 3rd annual Owensboro-Daviess County Motorsports Festival will be held June 20 through July 6 this year. Call (270) 685-6146 or go online at

Reid’s Apple Festival celebrates all things apple October 18 at Reid”s Orchard, 4812 Highway 144. Call (270) 685-2444 for details.

Lodging options

Sleep Inn at Bon Harbor Hills, U.S. 60 West at the Bypass, (270) 691-6200; and Executive Inn Rivermont at One Executive Boulevard, (800) 626-1936,

More BBQ

In Owensboro, where there’s smoke there’s barbecue, at Old Hickory Bar-B-Q, 338 Washington Avenue, (270) 926-9000; Ole South Bar-B-Q, 3523 Highway 54, (270) 926-6464; and George’s Bar-B-Q, 1346 East 4th Street (U.S. 60 East), (270) 926-9276.

Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

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Rollin’ on the Rivers

Kentucky’s back yard is best enjoyed from the decks of a paddlewheel steamboat. Augusta, Carrollton, Paducah, and other sleepy towns perched on the banks of a river welcome visitors to see a slice of yesteryear Kentucky.

As close as the boats appear to be to the river’s edge, the world and its attendant hubbub seem far removed from the cloistered yet festive atmosphere of the boats, many of which are decked out in mahogany bead-board paneling, vintage-look wallpaper, and brass fittings. The good cheer extends to the food and entertainment that are served up right alongside the romance, history, and nature that are part of every riverboat experience.

The recently renovated Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating river steamboat in the nation, sets sail from Louisville for daily sightseeing excursions from May through September, with special theme cruises throughout the year, like the Kentucky Derby Festival events Thunder over Louisville (April 12) and the Great Steamboat Race (April 30), as well as storytelling excursions to Corn Island and narrated trips through McAlpin Lock.

Another historic riverboat, the 55-foot 1890s-style riverboat replica Belle of Grand Rivers, cruises Kentucky and Barkley lakes in western Kentucky. Sign on for a lunch or dinner cruise or join a theme sailing: bird-watching, spring and fall color, sunset dinner party, Captain’s dinner, or holiday cruise.

According to Jennifer Cecil at Green Turtle Bay Resort, where the 49-passenger, turn-of-the-century boat is moored, a package is currently in development that could include an overnight in a condo, a cruise aboard the Belle of Grand Rivers, and dinner.

From its Covington dock, BB Riverboats’ Belle of Cincinnati offers a number of theme sailings, including Sunday jazz brunches and interactive theater (Joey and Maria’s Comedy Italian Wedding), excursion cruises to Augusta for antique shopping, and Rabbit Hash for browsing in the circa 1831 working General Store.

Several of Kentucky’s riverboats, including the Belle of Louisville, the elegantly upgraded Spirit of Jackson, and Queen City Riverboats’ Spirit of Cincinnati–as well as the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen, and others–will be participating in Tall Stacks Music, Arts and Heritage Festival 2003, which will take place October 15-19 at the Port of Cincinnati, a perfect time to see the new National Steamboat Monument with its calliope comprised of 24 columns that surround a replica paddlewheel. The calliope was designed by Lexington artist Christopher Janney.

If you can’t make it to the festival, just book passage on one of Kentucky’s many riverboats to relax and take a lazy float on a warm spring or summer day.


BB Riverboats, One Madison Avenue, Covington, KY 41011, (800) 261-8586, Lunch, dinner, sightseeing, and private charter cruises on the Ohio River.

Belle of Grand Rivers, 263 Green Turtle Bay Drive, Grand Rivers, KY 42045, (800) 498-0428, Special event cruises sailing Kentucky and Barkley Lake.

Belle of Louisville and Spirit of Jefferson, 401 W. River Road, Louisville, KY 40202, (502) 574-2992, Lunch, dinner, sightseeing, and private charter cruises on the Ohio River.

Queen City Riverboats, 303 O’Fallon Street, Dayton, KY 41074, (859) 292-8687, Lunch, dinner, and moonlight cruises from March through December aboard the authentic sternwheeler the Spirit of Cincinnati.

Tall Stacks Music, Arts and Heritage Festival 2003, toll-free (866) 497-8255, www. Tickets are on sale now.

Other Riverboat Cruises

Celebrations Riverboats Co., 848 Elm Street, Ludlow, KY 41016, (513) 931-6752, Dinner cruises, specializing in events and private parties with groups of 50 or more.

Cumberland Star Riverboat, 2001 Highway 90, Corbin, KY. Tickets and information at P.O. Box 1060, Whitley City, KY 42653, (800) 541-7238, Sightseeing, lunch, and dinner cruises on the Cumberland River and upper Lake Cumberland.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg, KY 40330, (800) 734-5611, Dixie Belle offers one-hour public excursions on the Kentucky River along the palisades from April 26 to October 31, with interpretation by the captain, who discusses how the Shakers used the river for access to their southern trade route, the flora and fauna of the area, and the 450 million-year-old palisades that rise 300-450 feet above the river.

Star of Louisville Cruise Dining, 151 West River Road, Louisville, KY 40202, (800) 289-7245, Dinner cruises and entertainment aboard a 130-foot yacht sailing the Ohio River.

Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

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