Every music fan worth his Salt (Creek) knows that 2011 is the Bill Monroe 100th Birthday Celebration, a tribute to the Rosine-born Father of Bluegrass Music and his contributions to the homegrown musical genre that musicologist Alan Lomax called “folk music in overdrive.”
The series of events, a lively observance of the influence bluegrass has had on the music world, is also a yearlong excuse for bluegrass jamming in every corner of Kentucky.
“Bill Monroe’s 100th has been in the planning stages since 2008,” says Renetta Romero, executive director of Ohio County Tourism. “We wanted to give him the recognition he deserves and to spotlight bluegrass music as an art form.”
Think of the development of bluegrass as a tree. Its roots are in Scots-Irish and African music, jazz, black and white Southern gospel, and blues. These were combined into the traditional sound of bluegrass—the tree trunk—from which have grown musical branches such as progressive, old-time, and jazz bands.
Bluegrass is one of only a handful of musical genres original to America. The influence of its “high, lonesome sound” on today’s primarily acoustic music is phenomenal.
Now dozens of countries claim established bluegrass music cultures with tens of millions of fans worldwide. And it all began in western Kentucky’s hill country where, come September, a slew of the best bluegrass performers will gather to honor Monroe, who died in 1996.
“Bill Monroe is the only person in our nation’s history that an entire genre of music can be traced back to,” says Gabrielle Gray, executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro’s RiverPark complex, about an hour from Rosine.
A Bill Monroe exhibit and a Monroe-inspired art exhibit are already open at the museum.
From June 23-25, its annual ROMP festival features bluegrass “roots and branches” music, including recent Grammy winner Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile.
The museum’s yearly mandolin camp ushers in the September festivities with a concert on the 10th. From September 12-14, its Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration rocks RiverPark Center. The celebration includes The Life & Lively Music of Bill Monroe, an original musical with bluegrass songs by area elementary school students, with professional actors, dancers, and musicians.
In a documentary premiering at the museum September 13, the Blue Grass Boys, former members of Monroe’s band—Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys—tell stories about him, and an exhibit of their memorabilia opens.
“Over time, at least 155 musicians played in his band,” Gray explains. “He trained three generations of outstanding musicians, although many, like Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, were already established professionals.”
Events at Rosine—Homeplace Life Day, a gospel service, and the Bill Monroe birthday party—will be interspersed with the above events (see Destinations sidebar), so fans can do it all.
“There’s so much history here in Rosine,” says bluegrass musician Campbell “Doc” Mercer, executive director of the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation. “It’s what made Bill Monroe the talent he was—the hill country lifestyle, the music his mother, uncle, and neighbors all played while he was growing up.”
But the heartstopper is September 12-14, the Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration at RiverPark, where every active member of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and their bands will perform. Elite guests include many bluegrass pioneers and the Blue Grass Boys.
“If you want to meet all the living bluegrass greats at one time in one place,” Gray says, “this is it.”
Homeplace Life Day
A trip back to Monroe’s days at the family farm. Costumed guides make butter and soap, shoe a horse, and offer old-fashioned snacks.
A reverent afternoon tour of the Rosine Methodist Church, site of Monroe’s funeral, followed by a gospel service and music at Rosine City Park.
Birthday Party on the Lawn
Share a piece of bluegrass birthday cake at the Homeplace with a side of bluegrass jamming.
BILL MONROE SITES TO SEE AND PLACES TO BE
Bill Monroe Homeplace
6210 Hwy. 62 East (Blue Moon of Kentucky Highway), Beaver Dam
Open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m. Free admission.
September 27-October 2
Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration
Annual bluegrass music festival
Bill Monroe 100th Birthday Web site
Information on Bill Monroe’s history, Kentucky 2011 bluegrass festivals
Rosine Barn Jamboree
8205 Hwy. 62 East (Blue Moon of Kentucky Highway), Rosine
Live music every Friday. 6 p.m. (Closed after second Friday in December until first Friday in January.) Free admission.
(270) 274-9744 weekdays; (270) 274-5552, evenings and weekends
Blue Moon Weekend at the Rosine Barn
Friday Night Jamboree, Saturday performance by some of Monroe’s original Blue Grass Boys.
Free admission. (270) 274-5552
INTERNATIONAL BLUEGRASS MUSIC MUSEUM
Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration
207 E. Second St., Owensboro
For tickets, call (270) 926-7891.
ROMP (River of Music Party) Roots and Branches of Bluegrass
Yellow Creek Park, 5710
Hwy. 144, Daviess County
Three-day pass (until June 16): adults $70, museum members $50, students $55, seniors and active military $60. One-day ticket (at gate): $25. Children under 13 free. For tickets call the museum at (270) 926-7891.
Ohio County Tourism Commission
100th birthday events, songwriting contest (through March 13), Mandolin Trail contest
Owensboro Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Area events, food, lodging