The bluegrass HOF and museum
Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum
GrassRoots Music Tour
Words: Rob Dickens
Images: Jim Jacob
We have been travelling the bluegrass trail as part of our GrassRoots Music Tour. The Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood VA and a day at the home of Bill Monroe are just two of our recent activities. Where better than to close off our investigation into this uniquely American music style than here in Owensboro, Kentucky.
The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum was originally launched by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in the early 1990’s (it is now a separate organization with an independent Board of Trustees). Both the Museum and IBMA remain closely aligned and work together as evidenced by the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame being an integral part of this facility.
Located on the Ohio River in downtown Owensboro, the Museum relocated to its new site on October 18, 2018. The first event in the new building took place in the state-of-the-art, 450-seat Woodward Theatre (Listening Through The Lens will review Mandolin Orange‘s show there in a later article).
The tour starts in the Pickin’ Parlour (see photo above) where you can get to know and play some top-notch bluegrass instruments – for those that have never played, say, a Martin guitar, here’s your chance.
The first floor of the building is divided into five sections that take you through the history of bluegrass:
SOURCES OF BLUEGRASS MUSIC – discover the creative sources that shaped bluegrass music, including gospel, jazz and blues.
DAWN OF THE BLUEGRASS ERA – learn about Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and many more pioneers as they formed the bedrock of this great American art form.
STARVING OUT – the impact that Elvis Presley and Rock n Roll had was immense, drowning out just about every other music form, including bluegrass. Here you will get a sense as to how bluegrass artists survived through this epoch.
FESTIVAL ERA – The first bluegrass festival occurred at Roanoke, Virginia in 1965. Quickly, these events gained popularity which has never subsided.
MODERN ROOTS & BRANCHES – here is an overview and introduction of several contemporary artists and sub-genres considered “branches” of traditional bluegrass.
An astounding amount of material is contained within the Video Oral History Project. In partnership with a local foundation and the University of Kentucky, the Museum has captured video interviews with over 225 important bluegrass musicians. So many stories reside here – this a treasure trove.
The Hall of Fame is the pride of the Museum. In the inductee room, the exhibit honors the most important artists who shaped this music form. Since 1991, these pioneering artists have been recognised as pivotal contributors. You can find the list HERE.
Two large temporary galleries exist on this floor for use as special exhibits.
The outdoor stage at the back of the building provides a great jamming space across a beautiful green and expansive lawn overlooking the Ohio River.
The Saturday Lesson program is designed to make bluegrass music more accessible (at a discounted rate) to all who are interested in learning to play an instrument – lessons are for all ages, abilities and across multiple instruments.
With sweeping views of the Ohio River, the third floor offers a unique venue space – conferences and receptions for events large or small.
After my visit to the old Museum in 2016, I was anxious to return to see the new facility. It has memorabilia you won’t find anywhere else – Uncle Pen‘s fiddle, Mother Maybelle Carter‘s autoharp and Josh Graves‘ 1935 dobro, to name three. There are five videos, interactive displays, a wealth of information presented creatively. As well, it is a live music venue, both formal concerts, jams and lessons which will ensure that this exciting musical form will be kept alive.
Special thanks to Deb Fillman from the Museum for a behind-the-scenes introduction.
The Museum also organises the annual ROMP festival held in downtown Owensboro (the 2020 dates are June 24 to 27).
The bluegrass HOF and museum