Music capital

Owensboro officially proclaims itself the bluegrass music capital of the world

On Friday, the city of Owensboro officially declared itself the bluegrass music capital of the world. A committee of community members has also been formed to help use this title to generate economic development. The project was fully funded by private funds.

“The idea is to create a sustainable structure and use our bluegrass musical presence to create opportunities for economic development and increase tourism,” said Mayor Tom Watson. “In short, attracting new businesses that manufacture or provide services that are consumed outside of our community related to bluegrass music and attracting people to Owensboro, the epicenter of bluegrass music.”

Watson said the announcement has been in the works for about 15 months. He said it was important to note that no taxpayer money was used in the process.

“Funds have been raised through the private sector,” he said. “It will not be funded by local government or taxpayers. There are enough people who are so interested in it that we have raised a little bit of capital, and we will not be dipping into the funds because it’s going to be stand-alone and it’s going to last forever.

Watson’s proclamation highlighted many factors giving legitimacy to the claim, including:

  • Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, was born and raised just south of Owensboro;
  • The annual Romp Music Festival has grown into a nationally recognized bluegrass and roots music festival, drawing more than 25,000 people to the community each year from nearly every US state and over a dozen countries;
  • Bluegrass Unlimited, a publication of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, is produced in Owensboro and is the premier 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 began right here in Ohio County, and much of its history can be traced here as far as 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 that in the 1980s, Owensboro’s Terry Woodward saw an organizational structure void and a hotbed for the bluegrass music genre. Thus, the International Bluegrass Music Association was formed. Woodward was the first person from western Kentucky to serve as president, and Simpson is now second.

Simpson said “things didn’t go so well” for Owensboro when the IBMA left. The World of Bluegrass Festival moved from the Owensboro Riverfront to Louisville then to Nashville and is now located in Raleigh. The World of Bluegrass Festival is now Raleigh’s largest convention.

He said it all started in Owensboro, however.

“Much of the history of this music dates back to here,” said Simpson. “We named this beautiful building about four or five years ago. No one else in the world has a Hall of Fame and Bluegrass Music Museum. History and heritage are here. The roads of bluegrass music bring us all back here. So today the people, the culture, the history, the passion have all come together here to make a claim that Owensboro can support. Years of passion, perseverance, generosity and philanthropy have lined up today to give Owensboro the credibility to make this claim.

Chris Joslin, Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, added that those involved are embarking on the “next phase of our journey” with the proclamation.

He also highlighted the rise of bluegrass in Owensboro in the early 1980s – concerts that drew national attention to the founding of the IBMA.

“I think it showed that bluegrass music can be a differentiator for this community, creating something unique, creating something that no other community has,” said Joslin.

Woodward and others led the effort to eventually help establish the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. The new, state-of-the-art Hall of Fame building opened on the corner of 2e and Frederica streets in 2018.

Joslin said that despite the challenges of the pandemic, the Hall of Fame continues to innovate.

” We launched Unlimited Bluegrass Magazine, who is truly the most important media voice in both print and digital bluegrass music, ”he said. “Next month will unveil the first season of My bluegrass story, a nationally broadcast television show filmed right here in Owensboro.

Joslin noted that the Hall of Fame created these two media brands by working closely with local business partner Tanner + West, a full-service agency known for advertising, branding, graphic design and production. video.

“This is just one example of how we can grow the bluegrass music industry by leveraging Owensboro-based talent and innovation to help establish our reputation as the bluegrass music capital of the world.” , Joslin said.

He said the opening of the Hall of Fame in 2018 was a signal to the world that they were serious and that it was part of a larger economic strategy.

“I believe most communities like ours want to be known for something, something that matters, something authentic and compelling, something that has a positive and tangible impact on their community,” said Joslin. “I contend that if the news of this something spreads beyond the city limits and the county line, there is an opportunity there. And the opportunity attracts people, it attracts investment, entrepreneurs and industry to our community. I maintain that it is our time. This is our opportunity, and we are claiming it today as the bluegrass music capital of the world.

This opportunity to attract businesses and visitors was one of the main reasons why a “working group” was formed. Watson said he called them the “guardians of bluegrass music.”

The committee is chaired by David Johnson. The task force also includes Jimmy Staton, Candance Brake, Brittany Johnson, Claude Bacon, Sarah Ford, Randy Lanham, Jason Tanner and Keith Sharber.

“These people are going to pick up this thing and move forward so that we can continue doing what we’re supposed to be doing in Owensboro,” Watson said. “It’s to ensure economic development and a community of which we can be proud.