Bluegrass is beginning to grow here

Back in the summer of 1985, what was then the Owensboro-Daviess County Tourist Commission decided to make Owensboro the world center for bluegrass music.

It seemed about as likely as John F. Kennedy’s plan to put a man on the moon before the 1960s ended.

But America did it.

And people like Terry Woodward, the commission’s chairman, believed that Owensboro could too.

It’s taken nearly four decades, but things are finally starting to happen.

This year, Rick Faris, a musician and instrument builder, opened his Kentucky Guitar Works in the old location of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

And he brought his friend, Shane DeWitt, an apprentice luthier, from Topeka, Kansas, to work with him.

About the same time, Scott Napier and his wife, Lauren Price Napier, moved to Owensboro.

He’s a musician and is now the program coordinator of the new Bluegrass & Traditional Music program at Owensboro Community & Technical College.

She and her twin sister, Leanna Price, perform as The Price Sisters.

She told me, “I’ve never seen a community as into bluegrass as Owensboro.”

I thought back to 1985 and that first festival.

They estimated that nearly 20,000 people came and went during that three-day free event.

I walked through the crowd talking to people that year.

They came from Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri.

But I found only a few local people who turned out.

There wasn’t much interest in bluegrass here back then.

The Osborne Brothers performed with the Owensboro Symphony that year.

A marquee on Frederica Street read, “Welcome Osmond Brothers.”

Bluegrass grew slowly in Owensboro.

But it’s finally living up to those dreams of 39 years ago.

Scott Napier said he hopes to attract international students to the OCTC program and have them perform around the area.

The program will add more teachers as it grows, he said.

And Napier said a local recording studio is in the works.

That’s one of the things they dreamed about in 1985.

ROMP, which replaced the original “Bluegrass With Class” festival, draws around 25,000 people a year in June each year.

Faris has already built his first guitar in Owensboro.

His goal is to hire more luthiers and build 30 to 35 guitars a year here.

The effort kicked into high gear in November, 2021, when Mayor Tom Watson signed a proclamation designating Owensboro as the “Bluegrass Music Capital of the World.”

And on Jan. 4, 2022, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell read into the Congressional Record a statement “recognizing Owensboro (as) the ‘Bluegrass Capital of the World’.”

In December that year, Steve Johnson was hired as the director of the city’s new Bluegrass Music Initiative.

And finally, things are finally starting to happen.

All because some folks had a dream back in 1985.

And never gave up on it.