‘Huge’ Monroe centennial celebrations planned
Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010 8:01 pm
By KEITH LAWRENCE
ROSINE, Ky. (AP) — When William Smith Monroe was born on Sept. 13, 1911, few people other than the neighbors of James Buchanan “Buck” and Malissa Vandiver Monroe were aware of it.
After all, the baby, named for two of his uncles, was the eighth child born into the farm family on Ohio County’s Jerusalem Ridge.
It was hardly news that Malissa Monroe was having another baby.
But the 100th anniversary of the birth of the man known as the “father of bluegrass music” will be a major event in Rosine, his hometown, and Owensboro, where an emergency appendectomy in 1921 saved Monroe’s life.
“I think it’s going to be very big for us,” Karen Miller, executive director of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said recently.
“We’ll have events that are focused on Bill Monroe and a reunion of his band members. I think we’ll see a lot of bluegrass fans coming to the area. I hope it creates a sense of excitement about bluegrass.”
Monroe died on Sept. 9, 1996, and is buried in Rosine Cemetery. His grave is a major stop for bluegrass fans visiting the area.
Renetta Bratcher-Romero, executive director of the Ohio County Tourism Commission, said Monroe’s home county is making big plans to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday.
There’s a “Come Home to Bluegrass” songwriting contest and a “Come Home to Bluegrass” Mandolin Trail, along with a variety of events at Monroe’s boyhood home on Jerusalem Ridge.
The Ohio County Tourism Commission is planning a Homeplace Life Day for Sept. 10 with costumed guides showing tourists what life was like on the Monroe farm a century ago.
On Sept. 11, there’s a gospel concert in Rosine City Park, along with tours of the United Methodist Church where Monroe, known for his tenor singing, once sang bass in the youth choir.
And on Sept. 13, a birthday party is planned in Rosine with “the biggest Bluegrass Birthday Cake ever.”
Blue Grass Boys reunion
In Owensboro, the International Bluegrass Music Museum is planning a three-day bluegrass festival around Monroe’s birthday with a reunion of members of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and other bluegrass pioneers.
This year, 30 pioneers and 31 former Blue Grass Boys came for the museum’s River of Music Party in June.
Museum executive director Gabrielle Gray expects more next year because of the Monroe birthday celebration.
“We had about one-third of the living Blue Grass Boys this year,” she said. “Lots of people said they couldn’t come every year, but they wanted to be here for the centennial.”
The birthday bash includes a Legends Concert.
“We hope to have several acts who played with Bill Monroe, but we’re not excluding others,” Gray said.
On Sept. 12, “The Life & Music of Bill Monroe,” an original musical, will be staged at the RiverPark Center. And on Sept. 14, a documentary, “The Story of Bill Monroe, as told by his Blue Grass Boys,” will have its premiere at the RiverPark Center in Owensboro.
Both are sponsored by the International Bluegrass Music Museum.
But all of next year’s events aren’t centered around Monroe’s actual birthday.
ROMP on June 23-25 will feature its most eclectic lineup yet — headlined by Steve Martin, the actor-comedian who recently moved into performing as a bluegrass musician.
“For the first time, ROMP will feature the roots of bluegrass — acts representing the many cultural influences from whence bluegrass came — and the branches of bluegrass — the worldwide bluegrass community, including progressive and jam bands,” Gray said recently.
“It’s going to be the biggest lineup we’ve had.”
In Ohio County, the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration is expanding to six days to take advantage of the Monroe centennial.
“We’ve always felt that every festival is big enough to be a 100th birthday celebration,” said Campbell Mercer, executive director of the Jerusalem Ridge Foundation.
“This year, we’re expanding to a six-day celebration with more bands and more square dancing,” he said. “We’re trying to tie in with Bean Blossom (the Indiana festival Monroe once owned). It ends on the weekend, and we start up the next Tuesday.”
Jerusalem Ridge will be ‘huge’
The Sept. 27-Oct. 2 festival at the Monroe Homeplace “is going to be huge,” Mercer said. “This year’s festival was a dry run for next year. We had 15,000 people from all 50 states and seven or eight countries. It’s hard to improve on something that’s a success, and this one is.”
All the other activities around Monroe’s birthday “will whet people’s appetites for the festival,” he said. “It will be one of the biggest festivals in the world in terms of the number of bands. We’ll have more than 60. We’ll unveil some memorabilia that we purchased last year, including the last mandolin he played.”
Mercer said the foundation hopes to have the one-room Excelsior School House moved to the Monroe Homeplace in time for the festival.
Monroe and his uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, played for dances in the school in the late 1920s.
“We’ll probably have workshops and dances in it,” Mercer said.
Monroe memorabilia — including the bill from Owensboro-Daviess County Hospital for his 1921 emergency appendectomy — will be on display in the school, he said.
“We may have a barn raising during the festival if we can get a grant,” Mercer said.
The Owensboro CVB spent $15,000 for a 15-second ad that will run 18 times a day for 48 days on the CBS Spectacular digital billboard on New York City’s 42nd Street through Jan. 1.
The ad promotes the CVB’s new website — www.BillMonroe100birthday.com — which advertises events celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Naysayers question whether people will really come to the area for the Monroe anniversary.
But Miller points to a contest the CVB recently promoted on the “Into the Blue” radio program on the Bluegrass Radio Network.
The contest offered listeners a chance to spend next weekend in Owensboro attending the Holiday Stroll, “The Nutcracker” and Winter Wonderland as well as visiting the bluegrass museum
The prize included a two-night stay at the Courtyard by Marriott and meals at Bee-Bops, Colby’s and The Miller House along with $300 in spending money.
16,000 vie for trip to Owensboro
“The contest generated more than 16,100 entries from every state in the union and Canada,” Miller said.
The winning family lives in Charlotte, N.C.
“I’m hoping more (Monroe centennial) events will be announced during the year,” Miller said. “I really think it’s going to be great. Bluegrass is big. We have a Facebook page for people to send birthday wishes to Bill Monroe.”
Bratcher-Romero of the Ohio County Tourism Commission hopes for more events too.
“I would love to see a bluegrass baseball tournament with music,” she said.
In the 1940s, Monroe toured with his band and a semi-pro baseball team. He played shortstop in games against local teams in the towns where he performed.
“I’d like to see an old-fashioned hoedown, but we’re still working on plans,” Bratcher-Romero said. “I think this will be a really big event. The state recognizes this too.”
Ohio County’s Mandolin Trail has 12 mandolins now, “but we expect to have more next year,” she said. “Most are in Beaver Dam and Hartford, and there’s one at the Rosine Barn.”
Businesses buy the mandolin signs that stand 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and artists paint them. The tourism commission supplies a story board with each of them.
“We’re just doing it in Ohio County,” Bratcher-Romero said. “We’ve had some interest from Owensboro, but the (tourism) board decided to just do it in Ohio County.”
The songwriting contest is searching for songs that “instrumentally and lyrically … represent the traditional bluegrass music style of Bill Monroe.”
Information about both the Mandolin Trail and the songwriting contest is available at www.visitohiocountyky.org.
“I expect this will be our biggest year so far for the museum,” Gray said. “I think in a certain way this validates all the work that everybody is doing in bluegrass. And at the same time it energizes us. It proves that bluegrass has lasted long enough to be celebrated all over the world.”
The museum’s current Bill Monroe Exhibit includes Monroe’s 1964 Gibson mandolin; the fiddle his uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, played at Ohio County dances; the damaged headstock veneer from Monroe’s 1923 F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin; and other memorabilia.
Also on display at the museum is the Bill Monroe Centennial Art Exhibit, which features artwork inspired by Monroe’s music.
Published in The Messenger 12.23.10