Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Uncle Pen Days Festival
September 21–24, 2016
Do you remember being on the losing end of some little dust-up as a kid and lying there with your face in the dirt with some big bully on top of you twisting your arms like pretzels, telling you to say “Uncle”? Did you ever wonder why they wanted you to say “Uncle”? I did, but I never found out why. I have asked everybody I know and even consulted the internet but nobody has come up with a very convincing theory. However, come September I will be crying “Uncle” for the Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Uncle Pen Days Festival.
Pretty much everybody who has spent any time listening to Bill Monroe’s music has heard his song about his Uncle Pen. The song answers the question of why Bill wanted to honor his uncle with a festival—but what about this Hall of Fame business?
Well, Mr. Bill, the father of Bluegrass music, established his Bluegrass Hall of Fame back in 1992 here at Bean Blossom as a tribute to the musicians who helped to develop and disseminate the music that he originated. This year’s inductee is a former “Bluegrass Boy” and banjo picker extraordinaire, Mr. Butch Robins.
Butch was born in Virginia in 1949. He took up the banjo as a youngster, and starting in 1965, he was winning banjo competitions at various fiddle gatherings and some of the very first Bluegrass festivals. His association with Bill Monroe and the music park go back the 1967 when he took a job with Bill. Butch hired on as a banjo player but found himself doing as much day-labor and clean up as he did pickin’.
Throughout his fifty plus years as a musician, Butch has played with bands such as Jim and Jesse, the Newgrass Revival, toured with Leon Russell, and worked as a session musician for what seems like everybody who was alive in Nashville, Tennessee back in the 1970s. He was the banjo player for Bill Monroe from 1977 to 1981. Butch has recorded three CDs under his own name, written a book about his life and experiences as a musician, and recently produced a series of videos, entitled Butch Robins presents —Bluegrass Music, Its Origin and Development as a Unique and Creative Art Form.
Butch will be further immortalized as an honoree in the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame. You can be a witness to this occasion and visit the Hall of Fame and Museum as a ticket-holding attendee of this year’s festival. But free admission to the museum is not the only extra you get with a ticket—there are also workshops on various instruments and performance techniques that go on throughout the four days of the festival.
Another benefit of the festival is that you can get up close and personal with some of the greatest musicians in Bluegrass music like Jesse McReynolds, Little Roy Lewis, Bobby Osborne, Ronnie Reno (they will all be there this year), and more at the shelter on top of the hill. I always enjoy getting say “Howdy” and having a little conversation with some of my Bluegrass heroes. Just about anybody who plays good Bluegrass is a hero to me.
Some of the “heroes” showing up this year, besides the one I’ve already mentioned are: Russell Moore and IIIRD Tyme Out, Raymond Fairchild and the Maggie Valley Boys, The Wildwood Valley Boys, Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time, Karl Shifflett and the Big Country Show, The Grascals, and many more.
In addition to talking to my favorite performers, I also enjoy saying “Howdy” to the folks I meet at Bean Blossom. It’s always good to meet new people and it’s pretty easy to make new friends—we already have music in common.
Speakin’ of makin’ new friends, I highly recommend staying at the campground. Brown County has some very nice hotel and motel accommodations, but the fun doesn’t stop just because the last band of the day has left the stage. If you play a guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, or bass it’s not hard to find an impromptu “parking lot” or camp-site band to jam with. And if you don’t play an instrument, the bands are happy if you just show up with a pair of ears and a little enthusiasm.
I think that a lot of the improvements to the campgrounds over the years were done just to make it a little easier on the “jammers.” I mean after you have been up all day listening to top tier Bluegrass from the concert stage, attended a few workshops, eaten your way down Vendor’s Row, and then played “Blue Moon of Kentucky” with a pick-up band until the wee hours, you shouldn’t have to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. No, it makes more sense to just climb into your tent, camper, or RV knowing that you can get a hot shower right there in the campground when you wake up.
Tickets are $25 for Wednesday, $30 for Thursday, and $35 apiece for Friday and Saturday, or you can come for the whole four days for $105. Camping is extra. You can give ’em a call at 800-414-4677 or go online at <beanblossom.us> to make your reservations. I know you won’t regret it.