Last month I attended a wedding in Western Kentucky in a hamlet that some optimistic soul had named Central City. It is neither. On the day between the rehearsal dinner and the nuptial ceremony, my parents and I set out to explore the region. We headed to Owensboro and the International Bluegrass Music Museum. I know, I know, this isn’t Tennessee, but a bluegrass hall of fame by definition will contain many people from the volunteer state, so it’s worth a look.
The Museum occupies two floors of the RiverPark Complex, a new building extending an optimistic face toward the Ohio River with a dead downtown behind it. We entered the Museum on Saturday morning and, except for one employee, we were the only people there. The Museum has very good images–a large photo of Bill Monroe when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs played in his band. Perhaps the funniest photo is one of Monroe, always a clothes horse, wearing jodhpurs.
The Museum interprets bluegrass well, but there are precious few artifacts on display. The most interesting ones I saw were some of Bill Monroe’s clothes and a Dobro that once belonged to Josh Graves. A wide selection of music is dispensed from overhead plastic hemispheres to visitors standing underneath. I imagine that this works best when the Museum is full of bodies to dampen the sound, but if the three of us played more than one selection at a time, the result was cacophony.
Some of the more interesting exhibits looked at how Europeans, Japanese, and home grown hippies have taken up bluegrass music. I always find it fascinating to hear someone from Kyoto singing “Dark Hollow” or a person with a Czech accent hitting the high notes on “Mule Skinner Blues.” As for the hippies, I vividly remember buying Will the Circle Be Unbroken back in 1972 and listening as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played with Roy Acuff, Mother Maybelle, and Merle Travis.
Bottom line: would I recommend driving to Owensboro to see this Museum. By itself, no. If you combine it, however, with Bill Monroe’s birthplace in Rosine and the Moonlite Bar-B-Q, it’s well worth the trip.
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