Emmylou Harris coming to ROMP

Emmylou Harris will join Steve Martin in headlining the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s eighth annual River of Music Party on June 23-25 at Yellow Creek Park.

“She’s the headliner we were searching for,” Gabrielle Gray, the museum’s executive director, said of Harris. “This is the biggest lineup for a bluegrass festival ever in Owensboro.”

Some might rank the 1988 International Bluegrass Music Association Fan Fest lineup here, which featured Harris (with Vince Gill, Carl Jackson, Jerry Douglas and Emory Gordy Jr. in her Angel Band) and Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys, in the same category.

But this year’s ROMP, which bears the new name ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival, is definitely the most eclectic of the festivals staged in Owensboro since 1985.

“It’s the strongest lineup we’ve ever had for ROMP,” said Terry Woodward, vice chairman of the museum board.

The lineup includes Harris, Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Pete & Joan Wernick, Audie Blaylock & Redline, Tony Rice, Mountain Heart, Trampled By Turtles, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, The 23 String Band, the Josh Williams Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, The Professors of Bluegrass and Sarah Jarosz.

Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers will top the Thursday night lineup. The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Harris will headline Saturday night.

“I had a call from a boy in Louisville who had heard that Steve Martin was coming,” Woodward said. “He said there’s a lot of buzz in Louisville about us.”

Gray said she’s still hoping to sign some international bands for the festival.

“We’re going wild on the lineup this year because the city has asked us to be the brand for Owensboro,” she said. “It’s incumbent on us to put on the best artists we can find.”

Woodward said: “We’re trying to bring some notoriety to the area. I think this lineup will be a huge success.”

Most of the acts appeal to demographics other than traditional bluegrass fans.

“We’re going to see a lot of people this year who have never been to ROMP,” Woodward said. “People from out of town had better make their hotel reservations early.”

It’s an expensive lineup, but, he said, “You have to spend money to make money. I think it will be a huge success. I’ve been talking to some sponsors, but I was waiting until we had the final headliner before I talked to them again.”

Gray said ticket sales are already “way ahead” of past years and ROMP is more than three months away.

The festival has attracted crowds of around 7,000 (spread over three days) in the past.

Tickets for all three days are $70 for general admission, $50 for museum members, $55 for students and $60 for senior citizens and active-duty military.

One-day tickets, which aren’t sold in advance, are $25 for all groups.

Three-day tickets can be ordered by calling 926-7891.

This will be Harris’ third performance in Owensboro. She also performed at the old Executive Inn Rivermont in August 1983.

Harris began her career as a folk singer in the mid-1960s, struggled in Nashville as a waitress in 1970, moved into West Coast country rock with Gram Parson’s Fallen Angel Band in the early 1970s and then became an established country singer in 1975.

While other country singers were crossing over into pop, Harris was moving the other way — toward a bluegrass sound, but still firmly anchored in country.

She has been nominated several times for IBMA awards in the past.

An estimated 2,000 people huddled under blankets, quilts and several layers of clothing that damp September night in 1988 to hear Harris and her Angel Band.

An inch of rain had fallen earlier in the day, and a cold breeze blew off the river.

“‘We have to do this more often,” Harris told the crowd. “I’m having fun.”

Twenty-three years later, she’s coming back to do it again.

The lineup doesn’t include traditional bluegrass musicians because the museum has created a second festival this year 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 Sept. 9, 1996, and is buried in Rosine Cemetery.

That lineup includes every active member of the IBMA’s Hall of Honor — Earl Scruggs, 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.

“Between the two festivals, Owensboro is going to get a lot of exposure this year,” Woodward said.

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