Bluegrass legends to celebrate Monroe Centennial

Virtually every active member of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame will be performing in Owensboro on Sept. 12-14 to celebrate what would have been Bill Monroe’s 100th birthday.

Monroe, “the father of bluegrass music,” was born on a farm outside Rosine on Sept. 13, 1911. He died on Sept. 9, 1996, and is buried in Rosine Cemetery.

The International Bluegrass Music Museum’s Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration at the RiverPark Center will mark the first time this many bluegrass legends have performed at one event, said Gabrielle Gray, executive director of the museum.

“I checked with Lance LeRoy (a Hall of Fame agent and manager),” she said. “He said there has never been a festival with a lineup like this. We’re going to have one enormous headliner after another.”

Earl Scruggs, whose banjo work in Monroe’s band in 1945 helped create the bluegrass sound, is scheduled to perform along with Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson, Jesse McReynolds, Mac Wiseman, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Osborne, Eddie Adcock, Tom Gray, Kenny Baker, Curly Seckler, Everett Lilly, The Lewis Family, Bill Clifton, Rodney Dillard, Melvin Goins and Paul Williams.

Other bluegrass pioneers and former Blue Grass Boys will also be performing at the three-day event, Gray said.

Tickets for all three days range from $100 to $175.

The festival will also see the premiere of a new Bill Monroe musical in the RiverPark Center’s Cannon Hall.

In February 2009, the museum staged “Lincoln in the Land of Bluegrass,” a bluegrass-based musical on the life of the nation’s 16th president, as a pilot project for the Monroe musical.

It featured a cast of more than 300.

Rick Miller, a local amateur historian, wrote the play as a series of vignettes about Lincoln’s life from his Kentucky birth to his delivery of the Gettysburg Address.

Randy Lanham, the museum’s education director, worked with students to write the music. Barry Lanham did with the choreography, and Teresa Wills, a local veterinarian and member of Theatre Workshop of Owensboro, was the director. Gray produced the show.

The same partners are involved with the Monroe musical, which will debut with a morning performance for students at the RiverPark Center on Sept. 12. An evening performance for the general public is planned that day as well.

Most of the performance times by Hall of Fame members are still being scheduled, Gray said, “but Ralph Stanley will perform on Sept. 12 just before the evening performance of the musical.”

A documentary about Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, is also scheduled to premiere during the festival.

The museum is producing the documentary and interviewing as many former members of the band as it can locate.

“We’re seeing the canonization of Bill Monroe,” Gray said. “He’s not just a saint. He’s the king of the saints.”

The interviews with former band members, she said, show that “they are canonizing him too. He was hard on his musicians until he got wanted he wanted and then they were good enough to go out on their own. They love him for it.”

Monroe, Gray said, “produced several generations of fabulous musicians.”

The Monroe Centennial will be the museum’s second festival of 2011.

The museum’s River of Music Party on June 23-25 at Yellow Creek Park will shift away from traditional bluegrass and explore the roots and branches of the genre, she said.

So far, that lineup includes Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Infamous Stringdusters, Tony Rice, Mountain Heart, Josh Williams Band, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Pete & Joan Wernick, Audie Blaylock & Redline, Trampled By Turtles, 23 String Band and the Kentucky BlueGrass AllStars.

Three-day tickets are $70 for the general public, $60 for senior citizens and the military, $55 for students and $50 for museum members.

Tickets for both festivals are on sale at the museum at 117 Daviess St. or by calling 926-7891.

The RiverPark Center has limited seating and tickets are expected to go fast, Gray said.

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