Archive for June 2011

ROMP attendance probably topped 15,000

June 28, 2011

 Last weekend’s ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival at Yellow Creek Park sold 13,693 tickets to 8,807 people — not counting children — over the event’s three-day run.

Nearly 2,500 people bought tickets for all three days.

“And there were a boatload of children out there,” Gabrielle Gray, executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum, said Monday.

Total attendance for the three days probably topped 15,000, she said, when children are factored in.

Children 12 and under were admitted free with a paying adult.

The festival, sponsored by the bluegrass museum, was easily the largest of the 27 bluegrass festivals Owensboro has had since 1985.

It was 44 percent larger than the previous record of 9,500 total tickets sold for the International Bluegrass Music Association Fan Fest at English Park in 1995.

“That’s just phenomenal,” Mayor Ron Payne said Monday. “It reinforces what we’ve believed all along. They’re in town eating in our restaurants. Some of them are staying in our hotels. It’s no telling what the economic impact of that festival was.”

To Payne, ROMP’s success means “we need to move forward with turning the state office building into the International Bluegrass Music Center where we can have something going on all the time. It’s exciting to think where this can go.”

“It was a good crowd,” Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said. “It was a young crowd. That’s what surprised me.”

The IBMA’s website says the median age of bluegrass fans is around 48-50 today. But the median age of the ROMP crowd was probably a decade or more younger.

By including the roots and branches of bluegrass and not booking strictly bluegrass musicians, ROMP became more eclectic than it’s ever been. And that appealed to a younger audience.

Mandolin, guitar, banjo, fiddle and bass with sometimes a resonator guitar are the traditional bluegrass instruments.

But ROMP saw drums, electric guitars, keyboards, accordions, cellos, violins, a jug, bones and a variety of instruments not usually found at bluegrass festivals. 

The crowd and the musicians loved it.

“I know I can speak for all of the Mountain Heart gang when I say “ROMP ROCKED”!!!,” fiddler Jim Van Cleve wrote on Facebook.

“We had an absolute BLAST!,” he wrote about his band. “Thanks for having us and our buddies Tony Rice and Terry Baucom on Friday! Hopefully we will be back to ROMP it up with you again next year.”

Ross Leigh, county parks director, said 440 camps were set up in the park, ranging from expensive recreational vehicles to pup tents. They housed more than 1,000 people.

This year, ROMP added “after parties” in Pioneer Village with bands there playing into the early morning hours and fans jamming into the pre-dawn hours.

The parties were a big hit, Gray said.

“They went on until 3 or 4 a.m. every day,” she said. “We had more than 1,000 people the first night, about 750 the second night and then back up on Saturday night. It was very exciting.”

Saturday afternoon, a thunderstorm delayed the festival for about an hour. But those in the park stayed and, when the rain stopped, large numbers poured into the park for the night’s concerts. The weather was cool and dry for the rest of the lineup.

Then, another wave of thunderstorms rolled through the county starting at around 2 a.m. Sunday.

‘Dancing in the rain’

“People were out dancing in the rain,” Gray said.

“People I talked to were just floored by the hospitality of the community,” Leigh said. “I think we’re already at the next level. It doesn’t get much better than Steve Martin.”

Martin’s performance on Thursday night was considered the festival’s main draw. But Terry Woodward, museum board chairman, said, “Our gate Friday night was almost as large as Thursday. We had big crowds all three nights.”

Emmylou Harris, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers and Trampled By Turtles also brought in large followings as did several other bands.

“So many people said it was the best festival they had ever been to,” Gray said. “I’ve never been to one I liked as much as this one and I’ve been going to festivals since I was 20.”

She said: “It was such a great mix of different styles of music. It was a beautiful venue and people’s attitude was so great. Everyone I saw was so happy.”

The crowd came from at least 42 states plus Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, England, Japan and The Netherlands.

“One woman got out of a cab with a backpack,” Woodward said. “She was from London, had flown to Richmond, Va., and ridden a bus to Owensboro.”

More diverse than ever

“This was a much more diverse audience than we’ve ever had before,” Gray said.

“To have that many people from all over the world, we had no problems at all,” Woodward said.

Leigh said the only complaint he heard was about people drinking beer and wine during the festival.

“Alcohol is not permitted in county parks,” he said. “We had complaints and I wasn’t happy about it. We’re going to need more security at ROMP as it grows. But there were no real problems, no arrests. We’ll be talking with (County Attorney) Claud Porter and ROMP officials. I don’t want to react to this year. I want to be proactive for next year.”

“We were fortunate with the weather,” Mattingly said. “That (Sunday morning) storm traveled along the river and it hit eastern Daviess County hard. We had three- to four-foot (diameter) trees just broken in pieces and barns down. If it had had hit Yellow Creek Park with all those campers, we’d have had big trouble.”

The damage was less than 10 miles from the park.

“It scared the hell out of me,” Leigh said. “We had people camping all through the woods at Yellow Creek Park. That storm could have caused some serious injuries there.”

As it was, the 1.37 inches of rain that fell during the storm left the campgrounds so muddy that several RVs were still stuck Monday when another series of storms rolled through.

“We had a bunch of people stuck in the mud out there and the tow trucks couldn’t get to them,” Mattingly said. “We had to bring in a big tractor to pull them out.  But I heard no complaints other than the mud.”

What about next year?

“We’re going to have to get our heads together and start planning,” Woodward said. “We could get another 2,000 to 3,000 people in there. We could look at having two stages. But obviously, you can’t see all the acts that way.”

MerleFest in Wilkesboro, N.C., drew more than 80,000 this year. Its website says it had 90 artists performing on 14 stages.

“There is room for expansion,” Leigh said. “There were places where we could have parked cars that we didn’t.  This festival has a major economic impact on the community.”

Gray said collection boxes circulated in the crowd brought in $2,500 to help the museum complete a documentary about Bill Monroe. The Kentucky Arts Council also announced a $5,000 grant for the project.

“We still need more money,” Gray said.

Donations can be sent to Monroe Documentary, International Bluegrass Music Museum, 207 E. Second St., Owensboro, KY 42303.

JOHN DUFFEY, “The Rebel Years: 1962-1977,” Rebel. 15 tracks.

June 27, 2011

It’s hard to believe that John Duffey has been dead nearly 15 years now, felled by a heart attack on Dec. 10, 1996, at age 62.

He’d only be 76 now, still within the prime years of many bluegrass acts.

Duffey sang with a passion that few musician could equal.

Now, an entire generation has almost grown up without hearing his amazing tenor vocals and mandolin playing.

But Rebel Records has compiled 15 of Duffey’s solos with his two fantastic bands — the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene — into an album that’s sure to be a hit with fans of those two classic bands.

The album comes with a very well-researched booklet written by critic Geoffrey Himes.

Included in the collection is “Bringing Mary Home,” the only Gentlemen song to reach Billboard’s country charts (in 1965). Duffey co-wrote the classic hitchhiking ghost story with Joe Kingston and Chaw Mank.

He also co-wrote “Reason For Being,” which is included here.

The compilation also includes “The School House Fire,” a very graphic song about children dying in a school fire (“You could hear those children screaming,”), recorded in 1963 by the Gentlemen but never released until now.

Duffey was known for searching for songs from other genres to bring to bluegrass.

There’s the folk of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” as well as “500 Miles,” “The Young Fisherwoman” and “I’ll Be There Mary Dear”; the pop of Dean Martin’s “Small Exception of Me,” the country of Grandpa Jones’ “Falling Leaves” and the gospel of “Heaven” and Lester Flatt’s “I’m Working On A Road.”

But it’s all bluegrass here.

A must have for fans of the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene.

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AUDIE BLAYLOCK AND REDLINE, “A Bill Monroe Celebration: I’m Goin’ Back To Old Kentucky,” Rural Rhythm. 12 tracks.

June 20, 2011

William Smith “Bill” Monroe, “the father of bluegrass music,” was born 100 years ago on Sept. 13. And the bluegrass world is marking the centennial of his birth with a variety of projects.

Audie Blaylock, who spent nine years working with former Blue Grass Boy Jimmy Martin, has assembled an all-star cast for a dozen songs either written by or associated with Monroe.

Ronnie McCoury plays mandolin, the instrument associated with Monroe, on all 12 tracks.

Lou Reid sings lead on Monroe’s “I’m Goin’ Back To Old Kentucky.”

Former Blue Grass Boy Del McCoury joins Blaylock for Monroe’s “On The Old Kentucky Shore.”

Bobby Osborne lends his voice to “In Despair” and “Mighty Dark To Travel.”

Carl Jackson joins Blaylock on “When The Golden Leaves Begin To Fall.”

Former Blue Grass Boy Glenn Duncan and veteran fiddler Jason Carter join with Redline fiddle player Patrick McAvinue for some triple fiddling on “You’ll Find Her Name Written There,” “Cry, Cry Darlin’ ” and “Tall Timber.”

But really, Blaylock doesn’t need all that help.

He’s a powerful vocalist and his band is one of the best in the business.

A tribute worthy of Monroe.

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ROMP ticket sales top 4,200

June 14, 2011

Thursday is the last day to buy cheaper advance tickets for next week’s eighth annual ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival at Yellow Creek Park.

Adult tickets for all three days of the June 23-25 event are $70 now. They go to $75 on Friday.

Single-day tickets are $25. That price will be the same at the gate.

Children 12 and under are admitted free with a paying adult.

Gabrielle Gray, executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum, which sponsors the festival, said 4,258 tickets had been sold through Sunday to people in 48 states (including Alaska) and the District of Columbia.

That’s up from 654 tickets a year ago.

Most ticket sales in past years have been at the gate.

Bluegrass fans have already bought tickets this year from four other countries — Australia, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands.

Steve Martin and Emmylou Harris are the biggest names in the lineup, and they are accounting for a lion’s share of advance ticket sales locally.

But bands like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Infamous Stringdusters and Minnesota-based Trampled by Turtles are also attracting a wide fan base to the festival, Gray said.

The rest of the lineup includes the Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Tony Rice with Mountain Heart, Pete & Joan Wernick, Audie Blaylock & Redline, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, Sarah Jarosz, Josh Williams, The 23 String Band, The Professors of Bluegrass, Loose Cannon, Fade 2 Blue, Travis Chandler & Avery County, County Line Bluegrass, Harpeth Rising, Bawn in the Mash, Howard’s Creek, Kentucky BlueGrass AllStars and King’s Highway.

“This year’s lineup has created quiet a buzz,” Gray said. “We’ve heard from people who have attended festivals in Florida, Michigan and California this year. And people there are talking about ROMP.”

But the lineup isn’t the only thing drawing fans from around the world, Gray said.

ROMP’s prices are among the lowest in the country, especially among those with big names in the lineup.

“It’s an attractive package,” Gray said. “Affordability is a big factor. Most places Steve Martin is playing this year have ticket prices of more than $100, just for him and The Steep Canyon Rangers.

“Once people know this is the go-to place for great music, a beautiful park, the museum and great food, they’ll keep coming back,” she said.

With the larger crowds expected this year, the festival is adding more food options. Famous Bistro, The Miller House, Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn and Colby’s will have food booths at Yellow Creek Park.

Gray said a vegan/vegetarian concessionaire is coming from Asheville, N.C., and Starbucks will also be available.

Other concessionaires will sell lemonade, kettle corn, roasted ears of corn, roasted nuts and ice cream.

The park will also see an explosion in tent camping this year.

People who buy three-day passes can camp free in the park. Many festivals charge for camping.

More than 250 campsites have been reserved this year, Gray said.

“They’ll have between two and 10 people each,” she said.

That means more than 500 people will be camping in the park.

“We’ll have more primitive camping than RVs this year,” Gray said. “But most people will be staying in hotels.”

She said camp shower tents will also be available at the park — without hot water.

“They’re filling up fast,” Karen Miller, executive director of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Monday. “There is definitely a shortage of rooms this year.”

This year, ROMP is adding an after-hours party each night in the Pioneer Village at Yellow Creek Park.

The Farewell Drifters and Coralee & the Townies will perform the first after-hours show. The Vespers are scheduled for the second night, and the 23 String Band will end the festival, performing from midnight June 25 into the early morning hours of June 26.

After the bands leave the stage, Pioneer Village will be open for jamming as long as people want to pick, Gray said.

She said instrument workshops will be offered at the park on June 24-25.

At 1 p.m. on June 24, Paul Kowert and T. Martin Stam will lead a bass workshop

Gabe Witcher and Scott Moore will lead a fiddle workshop at 2 p.m.

At 3 p.m., Chris Thile and David Howard will conduct a mandolin workshop.

The 4 p.m. banjo workshop will be led by Noam Pikelny, Tony Wray and Cody Looper

And at 5 p.m. Chris Eldridge and Tony Wray will conduct a guitar workshop.

On June 25, Becky Buller and Randy Lanham will lead a fiddle workshop at 1 p.m.

Jason McKendree will conduct a banjo workshop at 2 p.m.

At 3 p.m., Spencer Strickland, Nick Keen and Sarah Jarosz will lead a mandolin workshop.

And at 4 p.m., Kenny Smith and Roy Curry will conduct a guitar workshop.

On the Web

To purchase tickets, go to or call 926-7891.

For a complete ROMP schedule, check

THE McPEAK BROTHERS, “Yesteryears: The Best of the McPeak Brothers,” Rebel Vault Masters. 14 tracks.

June 13, 2011

The Virginia-based McPeak Brothers — Udell, Dewey and Larry — began performing in 1963. A couple of years later, Udell left to work with Red Smiley and younger brother, Mike, stepped in.

That’s the lineup most fans remember.

Their peak years were between 1977 and 1983, when the trio cut three albums for the County and Rebel labels.

Their voices blended in a way that made audiences sit up and take notice.

There was a lonesome quality to their singing that brought out the best in sad songs like “The Last Time,” a story-song about a Confederate solider coming home to his family and pregnant girlfriend in a flag-draped coffin.

Songs like a bluegrass versions of Merle Haggard’s “Shelly’s Winter Love” and “Living With The Shades Pulled Down,” their classic “Simon Crutchfield’s Grave” and Michael Martin Murphey’s “Lost River” captured the ears and hearts of a lot of fans.

But Dewey and Mike didn’t want to quit their day jobs and the band began traveling less and less in the 1980s.

There was a brief resurgence, starting in 1992, but the McPeaks had a lot more talent than success.

In the liner notes to this compilation of 14 tracks culled from the three albums of 1977, 1978 and 1983, Mike McPeak says he regrets not following his dreams. “If I had it to do over, I’d do it (go full time into music) in a second,” he says.

Fans can only wish that life would give the McPeaks a do-over.

Other songs on the album include “Back To Dixie,” “Bend in the River,” “Steel Rails,” “Kentucky Road,” “Preachin’ Up A Storm” and Larry McPeak’s “Yesteryears.”

Musicians featured on the cuts include Jim Buchanan, Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs, Rickie Simpkins, Paul Gazell, Gene Elders and Jeff Midkiff.

A great collection by a great band that deserves more recognition than it’s had.

Can’t find it in stores? Try and click on “Rebel Records Catalog.”

BILL EMERSON, “Eclipse,” Rural Rhythm. 14 tracks.

June 6, 2011

At 73, Bill Emerson has had the kind of career most bluegrass artists can only dream of — and he’s still going strong.

Emerson, one of the most influential banjo players this side of Earl Scruggs, has been performing for 56 years now in a career that began with Uncle Bob & the Blue Ridge Partners in 1955.

Two years later, he joined with Charlie Waller, John Duffey and Larry Lahey to create The Country Gentlemen, one of the top acts in bluegrass.

In 1959, Emerson began moving around.

First, the Stoneman Family. Then, Bill Harrell, Red Allen, Jimmy Martin and Cliff Waldron’s New Shades of Grass.

It was with Waldron in 1968 that Emerson’s banjo turned Manfred Mann’s folk-rock song, “Fox on the Run,” into a bluegrass classic.

He returned to the Gentlemen in 1969 for four years and then began a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy, leading the Navy’s bluegrass band Country Current.

These days, Emerson is back heading his own band, Sweet Dixie.

“Eclipse” is his seventh solo album.

It’s primarily a showcase of Emerson’s instrumental compositions. He wrote nine of the 14 tracks.

Marshall Wilborn sings lead on the traditional “Jesse James,” with his wife, Lynn Morris, singing harmony.

Jenny Leigh Obert provides vocals for “Don’t Come Around,” a song she wrote.

And Tom Adams sings the traditional “Poor Rebel Soldier.” It’s the album’s first single.

Instrumentals include “New San Juan,” “Coast to Coast,” “Chilly Winds,” “Espanol,” “Bed and Breakfast,” “Ride It Out,” “Tex Mex Shindig,” “No Streering — No Brakes,” “Dickerson County Breakdown,” “The Grey Ghost” and “Old Cane Pole.”

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