Thursday, July 1, 2010

Support the International Bluegrass Music Museum

 Display Case at International Bluegrass Music Museum

ROMP (The River of Music Party and Bluegrass Festival) just ended in Owensboro, KY after another successful run.  Sponsored by the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, this event and the museum represent one of the most important contributions being made to bluegrass today.  While we are not able to journey to Kentucky at this time of year, I want to take some time to examine the festival and the museum to explore why they are important and deserve your support, either through membership or contribution.

Bill Monroe Wardrobe
Jamming - A Key to the Love of Bluegrass

Last year Irene and I visited the Museum in early October, combining our trip to Owensboro with a pilgrimage to Rosine, KY to visit the boyhood home of Bill Monroe at Jerusalem Ridge.  We were unable to spend any time with Museum Executive Director Gabrielle Gray, who was out of town at the time, but during our visit there I became increasingly aware of the degree to which the Museum, through its programs and collections was ever so much more important than the exhibitions on display for visitors.  In fact, the visit helped me to understand the way in which the International Bluegrass Music Museum has become the single most important repository for the vast, and largely unrecorded, history of bluegrass music.  The direct connection between the Musuem and its festival ROMP adds to this importance.

Eddie Adcock and Mr. Oashi - Bluegrass Pioneers
 Photo by Katy Daley

The Museum's Masters Program has several components.  Perhaps first is the ongoing challenge of identifying and contacting the Bluegrass Pioneeers.  These people are defined as those bluegrass musicians who were active before 1954 and had a significant impact on the development of the music.  As you can imagine, the youngest of these people is approaching 70 years of age, and many are much older or already gone.  You can help the museum by looking at the link above and helping to find people on the still to be contacted list.  The list of pioneers already contacted is impressive, of those already deceased sad, and of those to be contacted challenging.  Every bluegrass fan can help respond to the challenge.

Pete Wernick, George Shuffler, and Tom Grey
  Photo by Katy Daley

The IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Organization) Hall of Fame is located at the International Bluegrass Music Museum.  This sister organization nominates individuals or groups to membership each year.  A bronze plaque is erected in the IBMM in their honor.  Historian Fred Bartenstein has completed brief biographies of these bluegrass greats, which can be found here.  (Be sure to scroll down to the links.)  Having completed the Hall of Fame bios, Bartenstein is now extending the bios to the list of Bluegrass Pioneers at the rate of 1 - 2 per month.  Look for these to be added to the Museum's web site in the future.

Jim Smoak (Former Blue Grass Boy) Interviewd by
Ernie Evans and Becky Buller Haley on WWB Radio 
 Photo by Steve Leatherwood
The third leg of this three-legged stool is the Video Oral History Project.  Building on the compilation of the list of Pioneers and the Hall of Fame, this project seeks to compile oral histories on video of the remaining pioneers.  It sees this project as being of the utmost importance and urgency; urgent because so many of the pioneers are aging and must be contacted and interviewed soon.  Each interview is conducted by a skiled interviewer and recorded by a professional videographer.  Long term, one can only hope the list will continue to grow, providing an invaluable set of links to the history and growth of bluegrass music. 

Legends Jam
  Photo by Steve Leatherwood

An important link between these three important projects lies in what has become an annual component of ROMP which it calls The Pioneers Gathering.  Each year a number of people designated as Pioneers of Bluegrass is invited to attend ROMP, where they meet and are recognized, have a chance to enjoy a reunion or meet for the first time, reminisce together and play for the audience.  This year a number of former members of Billl Monroe's Blue Grass Boys came together in Owensboro as well as other luminaries, including Doc Watson.  There is a Legends recognition and dinner along with performance opportunities.  When I talked with Museum Executive Director Gabrielle Gray about this part of the project, she brimmed over with enthusiasm and warmth about the responses of these aging icons, many of whom have received no recognition in a generation.  Their joy at being together is exceeded only by their generosity, as many have given or willed their bluegrass memorabilia to the museum, extending the treasure trove in its collection and necessitating the hiring of new archivists and catalogers.  Wonderful!  Pioneers Gathering and the Legends of Bluegrass integrate well with the more varied lineup offered by ROMP designed to appeal to traditionalists as well as fans of more contemporary sounds.  The 2010 ROMP lineup can be found here

Claire Lynch Band Performs at ROMP
Photo by Sam Satler

Roland White Band on ROMP Stage
 Photo by International Bluegrass Music Museum

Doc Watson and Phil Leadbetter
Photo Courtesy of Phil Leadbetter 

Another significant element of the Museum's international outreach is the annual Monroe Style Mandolin Camp, to be held this year from September 10 -12 at the Museum in Owensboro.  Directed by Mike Compton, unquestionably the premier proponent and teacher of Monroe style mandolin playing today, ably assisted by Richie (Dr. Richard) Brown with faculty members Bobby Osborne, David Harvey, and Skip Gorman, this mandolin camp has been widely praised.  Registration materials for the 2010 camp may be found here

Mike Compton

Richie (Dr. Richard) Brown
While seeking to preserve the contributions of the early pioneers in bluegrass and expose adherents to newer musical ideas, the Museum does not short change a narrower and, perhaps, equally important educational responsibility to its region and state.  Through its Saturday Lessons Program and its Bluegrass in the Schools program, the International Bluegrass Music Museum engages insignificant outreach to the Owensboro area and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  The Saturday Lessons Program serves many students from ages 6 - 80 in the Owensboro area at a modest price, meeting every other Saturday in the Fall and Spring, and culminating with a performance at ROMP as the Kentucky Bluegrass All-Stars.  Group instruction in all bluegrass instruments is provided by professional instructors.  Instruments on loan are available. 

Gabrielle Gray Introduces Kentucky Bluegrass All-Stars


The Museum accomplishes additional outreach through it Bluegrass in the Schools Program.  Each year the Museum reaches out to over 18,500 students in twenty-three area schools with performances and hands-on experiences with bluegrass music, introducing students to part of the regional musical heritage reaching back beyond Bill Monroe.  As a part of Valerie Smith's commitment to bluegrass in the schools, her band Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike has made a significant contribution of time and effort to this important program.  This year, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike made 21 appearances at public schools in Owensboro.

Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike

Time to Give Back: The International Bluegrass Music Museum is an invaluable resource for a musical genre that, while important, fits into a pretty small niche.  A museum is a much bigger enterprise than its exhibits, although the IBMM exhibits function on many levels, giving pleasure, entertainment, and education to those just being introduced to bluegrass while offering many moments of recognition and joy to knowledgeable fans wishing to reconnect with the invention and growth of the music.  But beyond its exhibits, a fine museum serves as a vast repository, a reservoir, if you will, of the accumulated experience and knowledge of the culture it seeks to represent.  The Museum, through its programs, collections, archives, displays, educational outreach, and performances is an invaluable resource.  In order to continue its growth and maintain its viability, the Museum needs contributions from the bluegrass community.  These contributions can be in cash or in time, but they are necessary.  Recently, a program coordinated by Ernie Evans has sought to bring bands through Owensboro to give performances at the museum as a fund raiser.  These contribution from bands can form a significant source of income.  The Pioneers, hardly people of means, have contributed stacks of memorabilia to the Museum, but, in the end, all the archives and programs must float on a sea of cash.  The first, and most common way to contribute to the Museum is to join it.  As you can see, there are a number of levels of membership befitting each individual's ability to contribute.  Beyond memberships, people can become donors, contributing to the general expenses or to specific programs they wish to support.  To consider ways to contribute, prospective donors should contact Gabrielle Gray to discuss the Museums needs with her. Regardless of how you wish to give back, there are ways within your means which will help the Museum.