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The University of Hartford

State of the Bluegrass
by Kevin Lynch, Host of UH Bluegrass Saturday
 9am to 1pm


~ The Dream Comes True ~

On April 11, 2002 Bluegrass music performers, Bluegrass fans, television news reporters, radio stations, the Mayor of Owensboro...and even the Governor of Kentucky [a lifetime fan of the music himself] converged on the city of Owensboro, KY for the opening ceremonies of the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM). It was unusually warm, beautiful sunny weather for this Bluegrass celebration. As the official opening was about to take place a crowd of close to 2,000 blocked the streets in front of the RiverPark Center on the banks of the Ohio River, where the main entrance to the museum is located. All events at the museum were free of charge on this day. There were no "stars" nor any hint of celebrity status in the crowd. For on this special occasion everyone considered himself or herself nothing more than a fan of Bluegrass music. However, if one stood outside the perimeter of the huge gathering, you might have recognized Bluegrass pioneers such as Jim & Jesse McReynolds, Sonny & Bobby Osborne, Curly Seckler, Charlie Bailey (of the Bailey Bros.), Kitty Wells & Johnnie Wright, and Art Stamper. Also seen mixing with the folks in line were noted performers Del McCoury with wife Jean, Ronnie & Rob McCoury, Tom T. & Dixie Hall, Rhonda Vincent, J.D. Crowe, Eddie and Martha Adcock, James Monroe, and many more as they eagerly approached the doors for the ribbon cutting ceremonies. There was an air of suspense and great anticipation as everyone awaited their turn to be among the first to tour the new state-of-the-art home for Bluegrass music's historic past and promising future.
Prior to the actual opening of the doors to the IBMM a special program was held in Cannon Hall at the RiverPark Center. Museum officials, celebrities, and politicians all took their places on the theater stage as speeches, presentations, and music took place. IBMM Board Chairman Steven P. Brechter (a former WWUH staff member & "U-H Radio Bluegrass" host) opened the event by introducing Sonny Osborne. Sonny stood alone under a single spotlight and played "America, The Beautiful" on his banjo, just as he did at the IBMA Awards Show last October. Steve Brechter then began the formalities by welcoming everyone and giving thanks for helping "The Dream" come true. Mr. Brechter recounted the monumental task of totally renovating the museum during the past two years to its current size of 22,000 square feet of space. "Forget about anything you may have seen in the original museum. The entire building was gutted and reconstructed. Our new museum, your museum [the IBMM Chairman gestures toward the audience], is second to none," Brechter said.
The Governor of Kentucky, Paul Patton, was next to speak from the podium. "It was the vision of the people in this community, the vision of people like myself who grew up listening to, and love, this American art form called Bluegrass Music...that brought this dream this far, and made this dream come true," said the governor.
Following the governors remarks the Osborne Bros. took the stage and performed the song "Kentucky". James Monroe then presented the IBMM with a suit and pair of shoes that the 'Father of Bluegrass Music', Bill Monroe, once wore in performance. There was a tribute to the current IBMM Hall of Honor Inductees and First Generation Bluegrass Pioneers in attendance. Tim O'Brien (guitar), Rhonda Vincent (fiddle), and Audie Blaylock (mandolin) performed the popular Bill Monroe song, "Uncle Pen".
There were some closing remarks and special acknowledgement of the Bluegrass pioneers in attendance, then IBMM Chairman Brechter invited everyone to walk over to the museum's main entrance for the official ribbon cutting ceremony. Gov. Paul Patton (in the company of IBMM officials and newly elected IBMA President Tim O'Brien) had the honor of cutting the bright red ribbon.
The anxious crowd immediately pressed toward the doors for their opportunity to take part in the museum experience. People had been waiting in line for hours.
Upon entering the museum's exhibition space the first thing you see is a festival ticket booth and a jam session taking place at a festival campsite in front of a full-scale motorhome. The "musicians" are life-size models of real people from a festival in New York. The detail in these figures is outstanding - you can even see the individual hairs on the fiddler's bow! Move on to the next room and you can sit in some festival lawn chairs, complete with ice coolers, and watch a Jimmy Martin performance video on the "stage".

"Jam Session"

Throughout the museum are sound domes located above your head at various exhibits. There you can listen to music and/or an oral history while viewing the exhibits. These domes are a masterful example of audio technology, which allows you the listener to stand beneath the dome and hear the music or narration, but no one else will be disturbed while you listen. As you proceed on your way you will find a collection of Bill Monroe's personal items on display, a "Legacy" room featuring artifacts and biographies of the original Bluegrass pioneers, and a mural of miscellaneous photos dedicated to the fans. Located in a separate room is the "Bluegrass Hall of Honor" where all the plaques and awards from previous (and future) IBMA Awards Shows are to be permanently displayed.

After a short elevator ride up to the second floor you enter a curved hallway with an exhibit entitled, "The Walls of Time". Here you find a timeline complete with detailed historical Bluegrass facts depicting cultural influences, the Folk Revival, the changes in Bluegrass music, women in Bluegrass, and a section featuring the history of Bluegrass publications. There is also a section called "The Walls of Time To Come" recognizing the undeniable changes taking place in the genre that have resulted in a growing interest in the music for the younger generations of today and, hopefully, in the future. "Bluegrass and the World" is an exhibit recognizing international countries and musicians who have made Bluegrass a part of their lives.
A Bluegrass cafe (with a working vintage "Rock-O-La" jukebox -- full of Bluegrass music) is also located on the second floor. It's reminiscent of 1950's era diners and is an actual replica of a local hangout in Kentucky. The walls are covered with reprints of vintage festival and concert posters made by the famous Hatch Show Print Company in Nashville since 1876. You will see Hatch Show posters throughout the museum, including many rare original prints in display cases.

The Bluegrass Cafe

One very impressive room on the second floor is a group of exhibits pertaining to music recording and production. There are six individual stations that allow you to record your own song using your choice of instruments and voices. Each station is complete with a mixing board and the ability to adjust volume levels, obtain the mix you want, "record" your final mix, and listen back to it. This was a very popular area that had an average waiting time of ten minutes per visitor on opening day.
Also on the second floor are two very large rooms. One area is known as the Changing Gallery which currently exhibits a very large collection of photographs by well-known photographer Les Leverett. Some of you may have seen Les' work in the Bear Family box sets, and numerous Country and Bluegrass history books. He donated this collection of his prints to the IBMM, some of which had never been developed and printed until now. The other large space called Educational Programs can be rearranged as needed to hold jam sessions, display traveling exhibits from other museums, and for various Bluegrass related educational programs.
Not a negative word was heard on this opening day. Many of the reactions to the museum were quite emotional. Some of the local visitors leaving the museum could be heard saying things like,
"I never thought it would be like this...it's amazing what they've done."
"I'm very touched by this place...seeing all they've done for Bluegrass makes me so happy."
"I need to come back again tomorrow and bring my family."
"This here museum makes me proud to be a Bluegrass hillbilly!"
"Bill Monroe never talked much, but I bet he'd have plenty to say about this place."
"My wife and I are overwhelmed by it all. What a great tribute to our Bluegrass music."
"My heart is in my throat...I loved the old museum, but this - this is a dream come true. It will be a great resource for the younger musicians," said Tim O'Brien, president of the IBMA.
Gerald McCormick, of the pioneering McCormick Brothers, said, "This is what Bluegrass needed for a long time. I think it's great, and we're going to donate our first old Sears & Roebuck Catalog guitar...and some of our original stage clothes to this fine museum."
Legendary Flatt & Scruggs sideman Curly Seckler was very excited about the day's events. "This is just unbelievable. It all makes me feel so proud and blessed to have been a part of this business. Bluegrass is a-really goin' places these days now, ain't it?"
IBMM Chairman Steve Brechter saw the museum on the eve of the grand re-opening for the first time since the work was completed. "I actually had tears in my eyes when I walked through last night...after all these years of planning, it really exceeds all my expectations. There's real emotion in here. These are people's lives in here."
Eddie Stubbs [Ed: former fiddler for the Johnson Mt. Boys] and Hairl Hensley, both Grand Ol' Opry announcers and radio hosts, were broadcasting live on 650 WSM-AM radio all day and night from the RiverPark Center. Eddie was very busy talking on the air with many of the pioneers who were in attendance for the dedication of the Bluegrass Pioneers Plaque. [Ed: WSM radio is also broadcast live on the internet at: wsm-amonline.com. Special artist tributes are archived as well.]

Eddie Stubbs (of WSM Radio/Grand Ole Opry) and Bluegrass pioneer Curly Seckler (formerly with Flatt & Scruggs and Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass) sitting in front of the Bluegrass Pioneers plaque.

An afternoon reception was held in the RiverPark Center where the 'Bluegrass Pioneers' plaque was dedicated in the presence of many artists whose names appear on the plaque, and family members of deceased performers as well. All gathered to reminisce and catch a short performance by Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. Following the plaque ceremonies, the IBMM sponsored a free evening concert in Cannon Hall with Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys and The Osborne Brothers. Both groups were in very rare form. Their performances sounded like vintage 1950s Bluegrass!
Naturally there were Bluegrass jams everywhere in the streets surrounding the museum as local musicians gathered for the weekend events. There were also some organized jam sessions on the stage of Woodward's Cafe that is adjacent to

'Queen of Country Music' Kitty Wells and husband Johnnie Wright (of country duo, Johnnie & Jack) at plaque ceremony.

the museum. The Osbornes were the first to hold an open jam. They invited any visiting Bluegrass artists to join them on the stage. The band David Peterson & 1946 performed their style of authentic vintage Bluegrass music at the Woodward's stage. They hosted jam sessions at the Woodward's Cafe stage throughout the remainder of the weekend with the help of Andy Owens (of the band Andy Owens Bluegrass Project and former IBMA Chairman of the Board of Directors). Veteran fiddler Art Stamper was on the sidewalk for several hours in front of the museum holding an impromptu seminar with some very young fiddlers. There was also plenty of jamming all weekend just two blocks away at the Executive Inn Rivermont (the former home of the International Bluegrass Music Association's "World of Bluegrass" week) The newly renovated hotel and conference center held their first annual three-day Bluegrass Festival following the museum's grand opening. The indoor festival was a total sellout for all three days.
Future IBMM plans call for a public research library of archived materials. This will include photos, video, sound clips, radio and newspaper interviews of performers. The possibilities are endless. Other objectives are to bring international attention to the region of northern Kentucky now known as "The Home of Bluegrass Music" (Owensboro is only 30 minutes north of The Bill Monroe Foundation and Bill Monroe's restored homestead on Jerusalem Ridge in Rosine, KY). The IBMM also hopes to establish various annual Bluegrass events. But for the immediate future the IBMM Board members must get the word out to the public. They hope to attract thousands of people each year to the museum. In his closing remarks at the museums opening ceremony IBMM Board Chairman Steve Brechter told the crowd, "We hope that Bluegrass musicians and fans from all over the world will consider the IBMM as a sort of 'mecca'. A place to learn about the art form, past and present. They need a place to revere those who have crafted the form, the place from which the mosaic of Bluegrass music continues to flourish and grow, and now they have that place in the International Bluegrass Music Museum. Experience the genuineness, the authenticity, the simplicity, and the lasting sense of community that makes Bluegrass what it is. Hold it tight. Honor it. Revere it. Protect it and bring it forth to others. Remember, Bluegrass is an oral tradition, so it depends on you to carry it forth."
On a personal note, this writer has witnessed many gatherings of Bluegrass artists throughout the years. However this was a very rare occasion. It was indeed a privilege to see so many of the pioneers of a single musical genre all in one place. Especially gratifying was the acknowledgement of the sidemen and women, and their family members, who made the sacrifices necessary in those early days to help define this great art form we call Bluegrass Music. The IBMM grand opening was a first-class celebration from start to finish.
There is so much more to be seen and heard at the International Bluegrass Music Museum, but I will leave those surprises for you, the visitor, to experience in person.

L-R: Items belonging to Don Reno, Jimmy Martin (his childhood guitar), Chubby Wise, and Josh Graves.

Vintage Concert Posters


International Bluegrass Music Museum visiting hours are:
Tuesday - Friday, 10:00am to 5:00pm; Sat. & Sun., 1- 5:00pm.

Admission for adults: $8.00, under 16 years of age: $4.00, children 6 years old & under: Free. Senior citizens(60+): $5.00.
Group rates are also available.

For more information please contact IBMM Executive Director Chuck Hayes or Administrative Assistant Sandra Henry at (270) 926-7891.

International Bluegrass Music Museum
207 East Second Street
Owensboro, KY 42303
(270) 926-7891

Article & photos by Kevin Lynch (WWUH Radio) and reprinted with permission from the magazine "Bluegrass Europe"®.

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2002


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