7 September 2016 Owensboro Kentucky
I was staying at Central City as it was the base for two important musical discoveries – one today and one tomorrow.
Today’s highlight was a visit to Owensboro, fifty minutes due north, across The Green River. Owensboro is on the impressive Ohio River and has a population of around 60,000. The River is unofficially part of the famed Mason-Dixon Line which, at this point, separates the South from Indiana in The Mid-West. The Museum is almost right on the river and close to a large, new foreshore redevelopment.
The Museum was launched by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in the early 1990’s but is now a separate organization with a separate Board of Trustees. However, both organisations remain aligned and work closely together as evidenced by the work to exhibit and market the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame…an institution owned by the IBMA in Nashville.
The Museum also runs the successful ROMP festival here in June each year. Here’s the great line-up for the 2016 event.
The Executive Director of the Centre is Chris Joslin and he was very helpful to me and enriched my visit here.
On site are a number of interesting permanent exhibits over 22,000 square feet (including office space) across two levels. The most prestigious is the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Bluegrass Hall of Fame, devoted to the recognition of noteworthy individuals for their outstanding contributions to bluegrass music. Founded in 1991, the Hall of Fame is the bluegrass music industry’s tribute to the pioneers of the music and the people who have made it great.
For the records, here is a full list of Hall of Fame inductees:
Original Seldom Scene
Lonesome Pine Fiddlers
“Cedric Rainwater” Howard Watts
The Lewis Family
J. D. Crowe
The Lilly Brothers
Micheal Burt “Bea” Lilly
Charles E. “Everett” Lilly
The Carter Family
Alvin Pleasant (A.P.) Carter
Peter V. Kuykendall
The Country Gentlemen
The Osborne Brothers
Jim & Jesse
The Stanley Brothers
Reno & Smiley
Arthur Lee (Red) Smiley
Other exhibits include the story of Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music (more on him next article). In addition to items from his estate, you can learn about Monroe’s early years and how he came to create this music. The Timeline of Bluegrass Music is very interesting, tracing the roots of bluegrass music, from the Scots-Irish string bands to camp meetings and gospel quartets, through fiddling conventions, the jazz era, and the folk music revival.
There are a variety of instruments available for viewing throughout the museum, including a showcase of historically significant instruments and the luthiers who crafted them – Pete Seeger’s banjo and Uncle Pen’s fiddle are but two. The cafe is used for live shows (the hardwood floor ideal for cloggers), which includes a jukebox featuring traditional and contemporary bluegrass songs. The museum presents several new exhibits annually in November and in June. Openings coincide with the annual Members Night in November and Opening Night of ROMP – the museum’s signature festival – held in June.
The special exhibits on show today were ‘Dixie and Tom T Hall’ and ‘A Celebration of Fifty Years of Bluegrass Festivals’. Also to be enjoyed is a lengthy film on the derivations of bluegrass, how music changed and evolved as the land was opened up by rail – how the banjo, which came with African slaves, began to be played with the ‘cowboy’ guitar, the romantic mandolin, the fiddle and the lap steel guitar.
The gift shop was terrific and, lastly the ‘Banjokes’ wall. Here were a few of my favourites:
Q: Why are banjos better than saxophones? A: They burn better
Q: What is the difference between a banjo and a chainsaw? A: A chainsaw can get louder and softer
Q: What is the range of a banjo? A: About 75 feet if you throw it real hard
Chris Joslin is a key player in the building of a new, more high-profile home for The Museum and construction has started on a site only three blocks away. The space and capability limitations of the existing facility has prompted this big venture which is due to open in the Spring of 2018.
‘There will be a lot more going on in the new building’ says Chris. ‘This will be the definitive place that’s dedicated solely to bluegrass music’. It will contain a 450-seat indoor theatre and an outdoor concert space to accommodate up to 2,000, enabling the venue to be a live music hub all-year round. There will be twice the exhibit space and be more interactive. Sounds exciting, but there is more – a large seminar space, recording capability, a research library and roof-top restaurant.
If you go the website, there’s a live web-cam, documenting the construction.
Chris Joslin has a vision that he is pursuing. I now have a vision too. It is not as grand as Chris’s, but just as tangible.
I want to come back to Owensboro to visit the new, state-of-the-art International Bluegrass Music Museum. And I want to bring some friends with me.