Photo by Jamie Alexander
On Friday, November 12, 2021, the City of Owensboro officially declared itself as the Bluegrass Music Capital of the World.
“The idea is to create a sustainable structure and utilize our bluegrass music presence to build out economic development opportunities and increase tourism,” Mayor Tom Watson said.
Mayor Watson noted that the announcement was about 15 months in the making, as those behind the project worked to raise money to fund the initiative. And with the generous support of a community of supporters, no taxpayer money was used as part of the process.
“Funds have been raised through the private sector,” Mayor Watson said. “This will not be financed by local government or taxpayers. There’s enough people so interested in it that we’ve raised a little bit of capital, and we won’t be dipping into the funds, because this is going to be freestanding and it’s going to last forever.”
Mayor Watson’s proclamation pointed to numerous factors giving legitimacy to the claim, including: the fact that Bill Monroe, the Father of bluegrass music, was born and raised just south of Owensboro; The annual ROMP Music Festival has become a nationally-recognized Bluegrass and Roots Music Festival, attracting more than 25,000 people to the community each year from nearly every state in America and over a dozen countries; Bluegrass Unlimited, a publication of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, is produced in Owensboro and is the most important print and digital media resource in bluegrass music; and Owensboro is the location of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Museum and is the only cultural center in the world dedicated solely to bluegrass music.
Mike Simpson, president of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), said bluegrass music is an odyssey.
“The odyssey of this original American art form started right down the road in Ohio County, and much of its history can be traced right here to Owensboro,” he said.
Simpson noted that Bill Monroe, known as the Father of Bluegrass, influenced other genres of music and other artists ranging from Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley to Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss.
Simpson said in the 1980s, Owensboro’s Terry Woodward saw a void of organizational structure and a home for the bluegrass music genre. So, the International Bluegrass Music Association was formed. Woodward was the first person from Western Kentucky to serve as president, and Simpson is now the second.
“Much of the history of this music can be traced back to here,” Simpson said. “We christened this beautiful building about four or five years ago. No one else in the world has a Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The history and the heritage are here. The roads of bluegrass music all lead back to here. So today the people, the culture, the history, the passion have all intersected right here to make a claim Owensboro can support. Years of passion, persistence, generosity and philanthropy have aligned today to give Owensboro the credence to make this claim.”