JD Crowe at Bean Blossom. photo by Cindy Steele

36th Hall of Fame
& Uncle Pen Days
Bluegrass Festival
Sept. 22-25, 2010

by Mark Blackwell

I reckon most folks have somebody in their family that’s special; a favorite Aunt or Grandpa. I know I did. And so did Mr. Bill Monroe; it was his Uncle Pendleton Vandivier—or Uncle Pen for short.

Bill’s Uncle Pen took him in after Bill’s parents had passed on and his brothers had moved to Indiana to find work. They lived together, “batchin’ it” as Bill would say, in a tiny log cabin up on Tuttle Hill overlooking Rosine, Kentucky. Uncle Pen had been thrown from a mule and suffered a broken hip that never healed correctly but still made a living by tradin’ and his talent for music. Pen was a fiddler who was in high demand for local dances and parties. And Pen passed on his knowledge and repertoire of songs to his young nephew.

This was a major turning point in Bill’s life. Until his stint with his uncle, Bill’s main ambition was to farm and meet a girl and get married a raise a family. But Uncle Pen took Bill along on dance jobs to accompany him on guitar or mandolin. At the end of the evening Pen divided the money they made giving Bill an equal share. It was the experience of playing music alongside a seasoned musician, learning the tunes, and gaining acceptance for his own talent that gave young Bill the confidence to continue honing his skills.

It was a long hard road from Kentucky barn dances to inventing the original style of music known as Bluegrass. But Bill never forgot his beginnings and in 1950 he wrote and recorded one of his most beloved songs, “Uncle Pen.” And in the fall of 1975 Bill once again honored his uncle by inaugurating the first Uncle Pen Days festival. It has been combined with The Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame induction and it is one of the finest and longest running Bluegrass festivals.

This year the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame honors a guitar wizard who has been a performer for 57 years, has more than 60 albums still in print, and has received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy—Arthel Watson, better known as “Doc” Watson.
Along with the festivities of Doc Watson’s induction into the Hall of Fame there are four days of non-stop Bluegrass Music provided by more than 30 great bands. On September 25 the festival gets off to a rousing start with Audie Blaylock and Redline, Randy Waller and The Country Gentlemen, Karl Shifflett and The Big Country Show, Jeanette Williams, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road, The Wildwood Valley Boys, Wildfire, Monroe Crossing, and Summertown Road.

On Thursday, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out takes the stage with Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain, David Parmley and Continental Divide, The Expedition Show, Don Stanley and Middle Creek, Larry Effaw and The Bluegrass Mountaineers, and Glen Bonham and Southern Tradition all playing great tunes.

The good times keep rollin’ on Friday with Ronnie Reno and The Reno Tradition, Bobby Osborne and The Rocky Top Express, Larry Sparks and The Lonesome Ramblers, Ralph Stanley II, Time Graves and Cherokee, The Dry Valley Gamblers, The Reel Tyme String Band, and Frank Ray and Cedar hill.

Saturday is always a highlight with Dr. Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys, The Seldom Scene, J. D. Crowe and The New South, James Monroe and The Midnight Ramblers, The Grascals, Jesse McReynolds and The Virginia Boys, The Larry Stephenson Band, and Kenny and Amanda Smith.

Bluegrass Festival

Along with all this professional entertainment there are also music workshops including beginning to advanced Banjo, Fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass, mountain and Bluegrass harmony vocals, songwriting, Bean Blossom History, and more. Don’t forget to visit Uncle Pen’s Cabin and the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame— they’re included in the ticket price.

And ticket prices are very affordable, they are: $25 for Wednesday, $30 for Thursday, and $35 each for Friday and Saturday. But the really good deal is the combo pass for $105 that covers all 4 days. I worked it out and it comes to less than $3.50 per band. Where else can you see J. D. Crowe or The Grascals or Ralph Stanley for $3.50? Nowhere—at least since 1972.

But money ain’t all of it. There is the sheer joy of chuckin’ the 9 to 5 and hangin’ out in the woods with neighborly folks who just happen to be Bluegrass fans. And a lot of those fans are pickers as well, so if you have a hankerin’ to do a little jamin’ you don’t have to look too hard to put together your own parking lot band.

Camping at Bean Blossom runs the gamut from land-yachts to pup tents. They have 300 RV hook-up sites with 30 and 50 amp service available. These sell out fast so call ahead and reserve one.

And when you get the Bluegrass munchies…well, there are a whole slew of folks up on vendor row eager to serve you the best barbecue, fried green tomatoes, fish sandwiches, and more. And the portions are big, the vendors are friendly, and the prices are fair. So, come on out to The 35th Annual Bill Monroe Hall of Fame and Uncle Pen Days festival. I’ll be lookin’ for ya.
For more information contact 800-414-4677,
(812) 988-6422, the website <www.beanblossom.us>,
or e-mail <beanblossombg@hotmail.com>.