'Monroe Country' planning for bluegrass icon's centennial in 2011

by Keith Lawrence

Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer (MCT)

25 June 2007


When William Smith Monroe was born on Sept. 13, 1911, few people other than the neighbors of James Buchanan “Buck” and Malissa Vandiver Monroe knew about it.

After all, the baby, named for two of his uncles, was the eighth child born into the farm family on Jerusalem Ridge in western Kentucky’s Ohio County.

It was hardly news that Malissa Monroe was having a baby.

But on Sept. 13, 2011, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bill Monroe is expected to make Jerusalem Ridge a tourist mecca.

And bluegrass fans from around the world are expected to flock to “Monroe Country,” a 265-mile trail stretching from Nashville, Tenn., where the “father of bluegrass music” found fame on the Grand Ole Opry, to Bean Blossom, Ind., where he launched what is now the world’s longest-running bluegrass festival 41 years ago.

Rosine, Monroe’s birthplace and burial site, and Owensboro, Ky., home of the International Bluegrass Music Museum, are right in the middle of the trail.

And bluegrass fans already know where both are.

Last fall, 9,000 fans from at least 41 states and four other countries came to Ohio County for the four-day Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration.

And 22,000 fans visited the bluegrass museum.

“We need a commission to work on this,” said Gabrielle Gray, executive director of the bluegrass museum. “This has enormous potential for Kentucky - if we’re unified in our approach. In one short weekend, you could walk the paths Bill Monroe walked as a boy, visit his boyhood home and grave and explore the whole history of bluegrass music at the museum.”

“I strongly suspect it will be big,” said Dan Hays, executive director of the Nashville-based International Bluegrass Music Association. “Some folks are already talking about what needs to be done. It is, and rightly should be, a big deal. We’ve got it on our long-range planning agenda.”

“We hope to have a good part of Jerusalem Ridge preserved by then, the barn built back and cattle in the fields,” said Campbell Mercer, executive director of the Ohio County-based Monroe Brothers Foundation.

“We’re planning a seven-day festival with 100 bands,” he said. “We want to see signs at the state line recognizing Bill Monroe’s birthday in 2011. And we want to get some of his memorabilia on display - including his Cadillac.”

September is a major month for bluegrass fans because Monroe died on Sept.

9, 1996 - four days before his 85th birthday.

His 100th birthday is more than four years away - but the celebration could start sooner.

The national bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth on Feb. 12, 1809, is a two-year celebration beginning a year before his birth and ending a year after.

If Monroe’s birth is celebrated the same way, the start would coincide with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010, which are expected to bring half a million people from more than 60 countries to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., between Sept. 25 and Oct. 10, 2010.

And Jack Kelly, chief executive officer of the organization, says the goal is to create more side trips in the state to get visitors to spend more time in Kentucky.

Western Kentucky’s Bluegrass, Blues & Barbecue Region is already advertising nationally on “Into The Blue,” a bluegrass radio show heard on more than 200 radio stations and SIRIUS Satellite Radio.

And the Owensboro-Daviess County tourist commission and bluegrass museum have formed a partnership with the Grand Ole Opry and Nashville’s legendary radio station, WSM.

“A variety of things could come about,” Hays said. “Concerts, events, recordings and compilations. There’s a group trying to get a Bill Monroe postage stamp. I would hate to think that it will take that long, but this might give it impetus.”

The Monroe centennial will attract attention from outside bluegrass circles, he said.

“Anytime you’ve got a major milestone, it attracts attention,” Hays said.

“Centennials are good hooks to get the attention of people outside the fan base. Monroe is a media icon. I suspect a lot of different genres will honor him.”

Mercer said Monroe’s restored family home is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Signs about it have been added to Kentucky parkways.

The Bill Monroe Bluegrass Trail follows U.S. 60 from Owensboro to Hawesville, then swings down into Ohio County along Kentucky 69, where it connects with U.S. 62 through Monroe’s hometown of Rosine.

“We hope to have signs along the trail by then,” Mercer said. “I certainly hope the focus will be on the Homeplace. I’d like to see the proper recognition given to Mr. Bill.”

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