A Vision for Recognition
“One of the things that make this such an incredible story is that it really starts back in the mid-80’s, when Terry Woodward was chair of the board of the Tourist Commission, and was working with elected officials, business leaders and others to try to generate some ideas that might drive tourism here,” started Joslin. In fact, one of those ideas was to create a bluegrass festival, like what we now know as ROMP, in Owensboro. To achieve the goal of increasing tourism through Bluegrass, Woodward met, early on, with a group of people in the Bluegrass music industry. That group worked to create a professional association for Bluegrass music, similar to the Country Music Association, to both bolster and galvanize the industry.
“Terry is quite a visionary, and he put together a proposal and a strategic plan on behalf of the City of Owensboro. If this new Bluegrass association were to be established in Owensboro, Terry would help them with the business aspects,” Joslin continued. Part of that plan was to create a Bluegrass museum. That plan gave birth to both the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum here in Owensboro. Now Bluegrass, like country music in Nashville and rock and roll in Cleveland, had an official home.
Since its inception, the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum has occupied different physical spaces in town, residing at its former location since 2001. Now, with a brand new building, including the museum, theatre, hall of fame, and event space, the group is beginning an exciting new chapter.
The Bluegrass Experience
Leave your preconceived notions of Bluegrass at the door. If your only reference to the music is Hee-Haw, or you’re not a fan of “sleepy” museums, prepare to have your misconceptions blown away.
The Hall of Fame will provide visitors with a dynamic experience that lets them fully encounter the history of Bluegrass music. From the first-generation musicians like Bill Monroe and Doyle Lawson, to the rich culture surrounding the genre, the museum has left no stone unturned.
Upon entering, guests will be welcomed by a wall of musical instruments that can be plucked from their stands and played by professionals and amateurs alike. The idea is to allow someone to hold the guitars, mandolins and fiddles so that they truly get a feel for the tools of the trade.
From there, visitors can interact with other exhibits throughout the museum, including a series of video interviews with the famed musicians themselves. Says Joslin, “For the past 15 years, we’ve been conducting video oral histories on a lot of the first generation bluegrass artists, working closely with the Nunn Center at the University of Kentucky to digitize and index all of the videos. There are touch screens where you can dive into an interview with someone like Earl Scruggs, hearing his story in his own words.” In fact, for the hardcore Bluegrass fan, there are seven hours of Scruggs video interviews that you can view in their entirety.
In addition to items you might expect, like the instruments and stage clothes of famous musicians, the museum will also feature some unexpected items. Say, for instance, a baseball signed by Bill Monroe. Even the most avid Bluegrass enthusiast may not know that Monroe was quite the athlete. And to increase publicity for his shows, Monroe would contact local baseball teams, play a game against them with his band in the afternoon, and perform a concert that same night. Exhibits like these are sure to make the museum an experience like no other, appealing to fans of all music and history buffs, too.
On the music side, the Hall of Fame and Museum is poised to make a big splash. Starting with opening weekend, October 19-20, the Hall of Fame will host Bluegrass legend Sam Bush, along with performances by groups like High Fidelity, Front Country, Town Mountain, and Yonder Mountain String Band. “We anticipate having 70-75 live music events annually in the theatre, and the short-term vision is to have something awesome on the stage every Saturday night,” said Joslin.
The Right Place and the Right Time
For the Hall of Fame and Museum to succeed, Joslin appreciates that the building cannot stand alone. He stresses the importance of several factors, including the City of Owensboro and downtown specifically, in bringing this project to life. “If this were just a great concept,” said Joslin, “but not the right place or not the right time, it might struggle, but the place is right and the time is right.”
Owensboro is thriving, and the Museum and Hall of Fame looks to be a valuable new part of the city’s success. Their goal is to provide a unique addition that will help draw larger groups to the area. When someone is choosing where to hold a convention, the local attractions are often the deciding factor. By partnering with other organizations like the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Owensboro Convention Center, O.Z. Tyler Distillery, and local restaurants, they want to bring tourists the total Owensboro experience, and reinforce the city’s brand of bluegrass, bourbon and barbecue.
Speaking to the culture that Owensboro has cultivated, Joslin says, “This is very authentic. We’re living out more fully what’s already true about this community, and building on the momentum that Owensboro has going.” And as the newest addition to our burgeoning downtown, The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum hopes to be the piece of the puzzle that puts Owensboro over the top.