Steve Martin to headline ROMP

Steve Martin — yes, that Steve Martin — will headline the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s eighth annual River of Music Party next summer at Yellow Creek Park.

“It’s extremely exciting,” Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director, said Wednesday. “It’s going to be an amazing event. He’s going to draw a lot of people.”

But she said Martin won’t be the only big name next year.

“When people hear that Steve Martin is going to be at ROMP,” she said, “they say, ‘Really?’ We’re going to have several ‘Really?’ bands. It’s going to be big.”

Martin, who’s best known as a comedian and actor, won this year’s Grammy for best bluegrass album for his 2009 album, “The Crow: New Songs For The Five-String Banjo.”

It was his second Grammy for music — to go along with two for comedy albums. In 2002, Martin shared the Grammy for best country instrumental with Earl Scruggs and others for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

He will be backed by the North Carolina-based Steep Canyon Rangers, an 11-year-old group that formed after a stairwell jam session at the University of North Carolina.

The Rangers were named emerging artist of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2006.

Gray said the June 23-25 festival will see a major change from past years.

“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,” she said.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a 5-year-old North Carolina-based band, is part of both the roots and branches of bluegrass.

The three young musicians have revived the black string-band tradition that began in the 18th century but nearly died out in the late 20th century.

Bluegrass bands — and audiences — are primarily white. But more blacks have been coming into the music in recent years.

“We will always be a bastion of traditional bluegrass music,” Gray said. “But we’re going to be much more youth oriented this year and in the future. In the past, we’ve focused on traditional music and haven’t covered the full scope of bluegrass.”

The museum is adding a second bluegrass festival at the RiverPark Center in September 2011 to coincide with the centennial of the birth of Bill Monroe, the “father of bluegrass music.”

The museum’s Pioneers’ Gathering, an event that features musicians from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and the Blue Grass Boys Reunion, with former members of Monroe’s band, will move from ROMP to the September festival in 2011, Gray said.

That festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 12-14, will feature “a full line-up of traditional bluegrass artists,” she said.
Another change planned for 2011 is a rain site for ROMP.

In the past, crowds have sometimes sat in the rain during performances. But if thunderstorms with lightning rolled in, acts were often canceled.

Gray said she couldn’t say yet where the rain site will be. But if rain is likely, the festival will be able to move indoors, she said.

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