There are, perhaps, as many kinds of music in Kentucky as there are people. Always strong individualists, Kentuckians are known for knowing what they like. They are also noted for musical talent, producing outstanding performers in every musical field.
Mason County’s Rosemary Clooney is respected worldwide in popular music; W.C. Handy, the great blues musician, was born in Henderson; the Everly Brothers, of Central City, blurred the lines between country, rock ‘n’ roll, and popular music with their close harmony; folk singer Jean Ritchie continues music that echoed in the homes of Kentucky pioneers. And then there’s the host of bluegrass and country music performers-Bill Monroe, of Rosine; the Judds, of Ashland; The Osborne Brothers, from Hyden; John Michael Montgomery, of Nicholasville; Steve Wariner, of Russell Springs; Ricky Skaggs, from Louisa; Lexington’s J.D. Crowe; and Loretta Lynn, from Butcher Hollow, are but a few who come to mind.
Each summer, numerous outdoor festivals celebrate Kentucky’s music, with instruments ranging from horns to dulcimers, and styles from blues to barbershop. There are more than two dozen festivals devoted to bluegrass music, which has its roots in Kentucky.
In addition, there are venues, such as Renfro Valley, where music may be heard year-round, and concert series that present music on a more-or-less regular basis throughout the year.
Here are some of the best places to discover the variety of Kentucky music.
Call ahead to confirm dates.
Kentucky Friends of Bluegrass club presents 25 shows each year at Meadowgreen Park in Clay City, beginning in October and running through April. Performances on Saturday night (and occasional matinees) feature nationally known bluegrass music performers as well as Kentucky bands. Tickets are sold at the door; for information call (606) 663-9008.
The Kentucky Opry at Prestonsburg’s Mountain Arts Center has a resident troupe of adults and “Junior Pros” age 5 to college age. Shows, on an irregular schedule, are Friday nights, beginning April 21 with a gospel program, with some Saturday and Sunday matinee performances. Many are sold out early; for information call (888) 622-2787.
Renfro Valley Entertainment Center hosts, since 1939, country music acts, featuring its own resident troupe with concerts by touring performers. Twelve shows a week of traditional country, gospel, and contemporary country music are presented on a complex schedule; call (800) 765-7464 for information.
The Historic Sipp Theatre, in Paintsville, was built in 1932 as a vaudeville house. Its rescue and restoration, beginning in 1994, has resulted in a series of 15 concerts a year, ranging from “Bluegrass at The Sipp” featuring nationally known bluegrass bands, to performances by the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra. For schedules and information, call (606) 789-9014.
Stephen Foster: The Musical, Bardstown, features songs of the beloved composer in a colorful outdoor production. Evening performances, June through September, depict idealized 19th-century life in Kentucky. For information, call (800) 626-1563.
The Troubadour Concert Series presents 10 concerts a year, on Thursday nights, at the Kentucky Theatre in Lexington, and a repeat performance on Friday nights at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland. Artists from various genres are brought in to the state by this all-volunteer, community-run series. Call the Kentucky, (606) 231-6997, or the Paramount, (606) 324-3175, for information.
Woodsongs radio broadcast is recorded at the Lexington Public Library theater on Monday nights, 50 weeks a year. Musicians and songwriters from all over the world perform at the free concerts, which air over 161 radio stations worldwide. Reservations are required and the audience must be in place by 6:30 p.m. For information, call (606) 231-5555.
22 Somerset, Pulaski Bluegrass Fire Fest, bluegrass and gospel music to benefit the County Fire and Rescue Association. (800) 642-6287.
27-30 Wilmore, Icthus Christian rock music, in its 30th year. (606) 858-4411.
5-6 Campbellsville, Dayle Eskridge & Changing Times Homecoming Bluegrass Festival. (270) 465-0670.
12-14 Berea, Celebration of Traditional Music. (606) 986-9341, x5140.
2-3 Owensboro, Yellowbanks Dulcimer Festival. (800) 489-1131.
7-11 Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, Festival of the Bluegrass, bluegrass music, in its 27th year. (606) 846-4995.
10-11 Danville, Great American Brass Band Festival. (800) 755-0076.
10-17 Henderson, W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival. Famous blues musician is honored in his hometown. (800) 648-3128.
14-17 Gray Hawk, Stringbean Memorial Bluegrass Festival. Country humorist/banjo player Dave “Stringbean” Akemon is honored. (606) 287-0600.
17 Ashland, Brass Band Festival. (606) 325-4250.
24 Hopkinsville, Blues/Jazz Festival. (270) 887-4015.
24 Russell Springs, Singing under the Stars Gospel Festival. (270) 866-7370.
4 Versailles, Magical Musical Fourth, Lexington Philharmonic plus fireworks. (606) 873-8864.
15-16 Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, Kentucky Shaker Music Weekend. (800) 734-5611.
20-22 Somerset, Master Musicians Festival, all genres. (606) 678-2225.
20-22 Olive Hill, 10th Annual Carter County Shrine Club Bluegrass Festival. (606) 286-6351.
21-22 Falls of Rough, The Official Kentucky State Championship Old Time Fiddler’s Contest. (270) 259-3578.
21-23 Carrollton, Carroll County Open Class Battle of the Bands, various genres. (800) 325-4290.
28-30 Campbellsville, National Civil War Band Festival. (270) 789-5211.
4-6 Hyden, 7th Annual Osborne Brothers Homecoming Festival. Bluegrass festival honors Grand Ole Opry stars Bob and Sonny Osborne. (606) 266-1991.
5 Renfro Valley, All Night Gospel Sing. (800) 765-7464.
26-27 Hardin, Hot August Blues Festival and 5K Run. (800) 325-0143.
26 Hopkinsville, Picnic with the Pops. (800) 842-9959.
2 Central City, Everly Brothers Homecoming Festival welcomes duet Don and Phil Everly. (270) 754-2360.
7-9 Clay City, Meadowgreen Park Bluegrass Festival. (606) 928-2121.
12-16 Morehead, Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival. (606) 784-2277.
22-23 Pineville, Great American Dulcimer Festival. (606) 337-3066.
22-24 Owensboro, Bluegrass Blast Music Festival. (800) 489-1131.
30 Maysville, Rosemary Clooney Festival. Twelve hours of music honors the singer who also performs; proceeds benefit restoration of historic Russell Theatre, where she premiered in 1953. (606) 564-9411 x322.
20-22 Louisville, International Bluegrass Music Association Fan Fest, Galt House East. (888) 438-4262.
27-29 Renfro Valley Fiddlers Festival. (800) 765-7464.
Kentucky’s music on TV
Russell Farmer, producer/director of KET public television’s popular JUBILEE series, has to know about Kentucky’s music. In putting together the program, now in its sixth season, he and his crew cover the state to record performances and interviews with all kinds of musicians.
“A lot of folks argue that it’s a bluegrass program,” Farmer says. “But that’s probably because there are more bluegrass festivals. We have to weigh the quantity and the quality of musicians against the cost of production, and we have to have new artists each year.
“Some people are closed-minded about ‘their’ music, whether it’s bluegrass, blues, western swing, or rock ‘n’ roll; I really enjoy the diversity, and hope that people might tune in long enough to be exposed to something they might enjoy.”
You can watch JUBILEE at 10 p.m. eastern, 9 p.m. central time, Thursdays on