Tony Rice, J.D. Crowe, and Bobby Hicks in 2010.
photo by Cindy Steele

46th Annual
Bill Monroe Memorial
Bluegrass Festival

June 9-16, 2012

by Mark Blackwell

Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” That may be true in a lot of cases, however, this June Bluegrass fans from all over the country will come home again to the 46th annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival. In fact, there is a big ol’ sign up over the main stage that reads “Back Home Again in Indiana.” When you get to your campsite you discover that it’s a neighborhood of folks who have come together for love of the music. Bill Monroe used to greet the audience saying “Howdy, neighbors, howdy.” It doesn’t get any homier than that.

The Bean Blossom Festival got started back in 1967—the brainchild of Mr. Bill Monroe himself. The first couple of years were a little rough and rustic. The park consisted of a big ol’ primitive barn that was used for square dances and country music concerts on weekends. There was primitive camping and primitive privies. It’s come a long ways since the 1960s. The old barn is gone, replaced by an outdoor stage set in a natural hillside amphitheater. The campgrounds are large and accommodate RVs (with all the fancy hookups) although you can still pitch a tent or just sleep out under the stars if you want to. There are several little log cabins for rent if you get your bid in early enough. And there is almost always a doctor in the house—Doctor Ralph Stanley, that is.

Campground pickers

Campground pickers. photo by Cindy Steele

The good doctor, star of stage, radio, records, and the silver screen, is almost always in attendance with his Clinch Mountain Boys—this year is no exception. Along with Ralph there are over 60 bands signed up for the festival. Old timers like Jesse McReynolds, J. D. Crowe, and Bobby Osborne will be on hand, as well as a passel of exciting, contemporary acts such as the Grascals, David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, and the Tony Rice Unit. There isn’t room in this article to mention all the rest of the top-flight Bluegrass acts like Karl Shiflett and the Big Country Show, Russell Moore and III Tyme Out, Don Rigsby and Midnight Call, and the James King Band. And then there are the special highlights of the festival, like the J.D. Crowe and the New South’s 40th Reunion.

The reunion is scheduled for Saturday, June 16. It should be a humdinger. The New South band from 40 years ago consisted of J.D. on banjo, Ricky Skaggs, Red Allen, Larry Rice, and Tony Rice doing his guitar magic. You can throw in Jerry Douglas, Keith Whitley, and a slew of other top musicians as well.

The Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival nurtures and encourages the young folks in the Youth Bluegrass Boot Camp with 15 hours of professional instruction in banjo, guitar, fiddle, bass, and mandolin for all levels of young musicians—beginner through advanced. This year the festival has reduced the daily ticket price by $5 for young folks 13 to 16 years old. I think this is one of the best events at the festival. I am always amazed at the talent these kids display. The encouragement they receive practically guarantees greatness in bluegrass acts for many years to come.

Of course, one of the most important components of home is home cooking. There are plenty of food purveyors waiting to serve the bluegrass family at Bean Blossom. Among the delicacies offered are fried green tomatoes, roasted corn-on-the-cob, fish filets, several kinds of barbecue, steak sandwiches, kettle corn, and even exotic dishes from the Far East. And there is the Tuesday evening Bean Supper which is a Monroe Bluegrass Festival tradition. I’m already hungry just describing the menu.

There is commodious camping at a reasonable price—RV campsites for $20 to $25 per day, which includes water and electricity. Tent camping is $6 per person. Whatever type of camping you prefer you get instant friends and neighbors. The entertainment is first class and copious. The food is delicious and diverse. And the cost of time spent at Bean Blossom is better than reasonable. Every year I about this time I ask myself would I rather pay for a week in the south of France, maybe a Caribbean cruise, rent a villa in Tuscany, or would I rather just gather in with the home-folks at Bean Blossom.

I generally don’t have to think twice. I hear the food is good in France, the rest and recreation is supposed to be great on those ocean liners, and Italy has fine weather—but, I would just be another tourist and stranger there. And besides, I can spend eight days at the festival going first class all the way, for only a tiny fraction of what it would cost to go those places. I say keep it home, keep it real, and keep it cheap.

The Festival starts Saturday, June 9 and runs through Saturday, June 16. Tickets vary from $15 to $30 a day, $75 for a three day combo pass or the best deal $150 for all eight days when purchased before June 1. After that tickets run between $20 and $35 per day, $90 for the three day pass, and $195 for the whole she-bang. Camping is a little extra. You can get information and tickets by phone at (800) 414-4677 or on the internet at <>.

Come on home to Bean Blossom, neighbor, there’s a friendly welcome waitin’ for you.