42nd Bill Monroe
by Mark Blackwell
“Howdy, howdy folks.” That’s the way that Bill Monroe always greeted the audience at Bean Blossom. It has been 12 years now since Bill left us but the spirit of the Father of Bluegrass and founder of the oldest, continuously running, Bluegrass music festival is still much in evidence at Bean Blossom—in the music, the hospitality, and the neighborly atmosphere of the Bill Monroe Memorial Music Park.
The Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival started in 1967 at the old barn that used to grace the area directly behind the current Hall of Fame. During the following year, Bill’s Bluegrass Boys helped clear the land and erect a stage in a natural amphitheater for the park’s first outdoor festival.
The park, today, is 55 acres of performance space, modern camping facilities, and vendor areas. It is also home to the Bluegrass Hall of Fame where the achievements of many of the musicians who helped shape and advance the music are enshrined. Just outside and to the south of the Hall of Fame is the cabin where Bill Monroe, as a youth, “batched” with his Uncle Pen. Uncle Pendleton Vandivier was Bill’s mother’s brother who is memorialized in the classic song “Uncle Pen” and the fall “Uncle Pen Days Festival.”
But it is Bluegrass music that continues to draw thousands of people to Bean Blossom every year.
Bluegrass music is as traditional as Ralph Stanley and as up to the minute as the Grascals. Both will be at the festival this year along with fifty other top Bluegrass bands. The 42nd annual festival includes big name acts such as, J. D. Crowe and the New South, David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, Special Consensus, the James King Band, III Tyme Out, Cherryholmes, and the Seldom Scene (in a premiere outing at Bean Blossom). Gid-R-Done from Canada and G2, Europe’s number one Bluegrass band, makes this year’s festival truly international.
And for those who think that Bluegrass is strictly a male dominated musical genre, Alecia Nugent, Michelle Cupit, and Lizzy Long and Friends will be on hand to prove that playin’ Bluegrass ain’t just for good ol’ boys. In fact Bean Blossom appeals to just about everybody, even young folks.
One of the highlights of the week is the Youth Bluegrass Boot Camp. This is a series of small group workshops taught by professional instructors to help the next generation of Bluegrassers get a head start. The Boot Camp covers topics such as basic instrument care and handling, vocals and harmony singing, stage presence, song writing, and more. All of it aimed at youngsters six to eighteen years old. The only catch is that the boot camp is so popular that it is limited to the first 50 applicants and you have to register before June 1 to get a spot. If you don’t make it this year you can register early for next year.
There are also workshops for adults to hone their skills on banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, and fiddle. And performers, when they are off stage, are generally available at the shelter house or just hanging out with the crowd, to answer questions or make friendly conversations. It’s like moving into the best neighborhood in the world for a week.
And speaking of the neighborhood, it doesn’t matter what degree of comfort you require, Bean Blossom can accommodate you. You can have your choice of luxurious RV camping with over 300 sites with electric and water hook-ups to one of 13 log cabins scattered about the grounds. Or just bring a tent and pitch it on one of the 400+ primitive sites. Any way you want to go there are laundry facilities and hot showers to keep you fresh.
With these great accommodations, friendly folks, big name performers, a family friendly attitude, and fascinating side attractions, Bean Blossom is the perfect get-away. Whether you stay for a day or a week a trip to the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival is a unique and unforgettable experience.
Tickets for the festival run from $20 to $30 dollars for a day or you can stay a whole week for just $165. Children under 12 get in free with an adult. RV sites are available for $21.50 with 30 amp electric hookup or $31.50 for 50 amp service. Primitive tent sites run $6.36 per person. And whatever you discover that you forgot to bring can be got up at the camp store adjacent to the Hall of Fame.
I hope to see you there so I can say, “Howdy, howdy folks,” welcome to Bean Blossom.