Owensboro, Ky., is most famous for its huge annual International Bar-B-Q Festival. It’s a lesser-known fact that Owensboro also celebrates its Kentucky bluegrass heritage as the home of the International Bluegrass Museum. The place not only boasts a series of exhibits about many legends of bluegrass music, but also puts a great deal of time and effort into the community to help preserve bluegrass’s storied history, as well as continue its legacy with various projects. Bluegrass in the Schools (BITS), for instance, features hands-on instrument instruction and performances by bluegrass musicians; the Free Saturdays program provides free lessons each Saturday to anyone interested; and the Video Oral History Program (VOHP) is a series of documentaries chronicling the lives of hundreds of the most important and influential “First Generation” bluegrass musicians.
The most recent project by the museum is the River of Music Party (ROMP), a four-day festival taking place both in Owensboro’s Yellow Creek Park and at the museum itself, with free shuttle service back and forth. The long weekend will include performances by bluegrass legends and relative newcomers alike, including Doc Watson (see page MM for info about his Louisville appearance), Bill Clifton, The Dillards, Cherryholmes and Blue Moon Rising, among others on three stages.
Additionally, there’s a Bluegrass Masters Educational Forum, where bluegrass veterans will be telling stories and discussing their music. There will also be several workshops on how to play various instruments, dance lessons and songwriting sessions with some of the performers. Also, several of the documentaries from the VOHP will debut, with the filmmakers and featured artists present for discussions after each screening.
The party even includes an extensive arts and crafts fair, a trade show, and an old-time square-dance complete with a string band and caller. And the museum will unveil several new exhibits, including the Bluegrass Hall of Honors, which will have new inductees added each year.
For those with the kids in mind, the museum has arranged for Yellow Creek Park to provide free camping for anyone purchasing a multi-day pass. The park has several playgrounds, volleyball courts and other common park amenities open for attendees’ use. And children 12 and under get in free.
Though the planners of the festival have made sure to provide all sorts of diversions, ultimately this festival is about the music. There are over 40 bands whose citizenships spread throughout five nations. The real kicker, though, is “The Legends Concert,” which is Thursday night and will be a sort of pick-up band of bluegrass’s most important innovators coming together for a jam session. Imagine Martin Scorsese and The Band’s The Last Waltz, but with bluegrass music. Also, on Sunday, the performances will all have a slight gospel lean to them, so you can still feel like you’ve gone to church. In between, there will be two whole days of almost non-stop bluegrass music.
Oh, and yes, there will be barbecue.
On a recent Sunday night, jazz was literally behind the 8 ball at Diamond Pub & Billiards, as New York City jazz chanteuse Gail Wynters and her trio — pianist Todd Hildrith, bassist Brian Vincent and drummer Tripp Branton, her son — held forth in a small room in one side of the restaurant while pool players bent over green felt tables competing in a 8 ball tournament in an adjacent room.
It might sound like an odd wedding, but for the past month local jazz fans have had a Sunday night entertainment option that can be found in few large cities outside of New York: Fine cabaret and jazz singing. The only difference is there’s no cover at Diamonds. Deal!
Wynters is a veteran song stylist who was born in Ashland, Ky., the daughter of a Nazarene preacher who honed her singing chops touring with her family’s gospel group. In the 1970s, she moved to New York City and began working at some of the city’s best jazz clubs alongside the likes of Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald.
New York jazz singer Rosanna Vitro, who recently made a Derby week appearance at the Jazz Factory, said, “Gail Wynters is hallowed in New York. Everyone there loves her.”
The audience at Diamond’s got the full treatment, as Wynters moved through a blistering set of jazz standards. Diamonds recently added a 1,200-foot outdoor deck and will be moving Wynters and her trio outside for Sunday Night Jazz Under the Stars. To use an old jazz slang phrase, “Be there or be square!” —Danny O’Bryan
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