A Bluegrass festival! Haven’t been to one since about 1968 in Galax, VA, when it was a tiny event compared to today. Since then, I opened my store (1969), closed the walk-in part of it (2017), and made one heck of a lot of friends and connections with both music makers and musical instrument makers in between. I was pretty hot over bluegrass music back in my teenage years, could not get enough of Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and all the others of the day and from before the day. I figured it was about time to re-visit a lot of that music and those who make it and so I set out, along with a great old friend, on……..a road trip! Yep, the old fashioned kind with only a final destination in mind, maybe one or two planned stops, and come what may along the way. And so……. Hotfoot to and overnight in Wheeling, WV and on the next day to Athens, Ohio, a must, to visit with Jay Hostetler and his lovely wife Cherri. Jay ran the Stewart MacDonald company since forever, when they sold mostly banjo parts in the 1960s-70s right up through all their expansions to become a premier supplier of luthiers’ tools, many of them unique, and supplies. Jay is another dearest old pal and catching up on this trip was a requirement for me. On through small, old, semi-defunct 19th-century coal mining towns, seeing parts of Appalachia I had never encountered before. Maysville, KY, right on the Ohio River, wonderful old buildings, and proud birthplace of Rosemary Clooney (for those of you old enough to know who she was). And finally on to Owensboro for Romp Fest, a most wonderful three-day festival with a nice large stage, a great sound system, what seemed like a zillion acts, workshops, food, all spread out over 150 acres and best of all, wonderful friendly people there for the music. We made so many new friends. For those of you who are into it, names like Sam Bush, Rhonda Vincent, Molly Tuttle, and Peter Rowan were some of the headliners, and getting to see Peter was major for me. We had personal connections back in the 1970s-80s and it was heart-warming to be able to see each other again. And to hear him sing!! None finer, only one of the reasons Bill Monroe hired him to be in his band years ago.
But wait, there's more. There is no way that I could help noticing all the great instruments being played, having been fortunate enough to start out with Martin guitars, Gibson mandolins, and Gibson banjos. It was like being back in my early days again, when I was able to get to know CF Martin III, who ran the Martin Guitar Company from the 1930s through the 1980s, and having musicians from that world like Doc Watson and Vassar Clements and David Grisman come into my store, along with so many others. Such great bands and great players at Romp Fest and such a friendly time in every way; I'd recommend it to anyone. And bonus: the Bluegrass Museum and Hall of Fame is right in downtown Owensboro in a wonderful new building and it is terrific! And it's right by the amazing, gorgeous Ohio River. And it went on from there! On the road home there was no way that we could not stop in Louisville to take the factory tour of Hillerich and Bradsby, makers of the world-famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats since the 1880s. So many baseball heroes represented there! You fans will know what I mean.
Last parts of the trip; driving all the way across Kentucky and through West Virginia, absolutely breath-taking views of the ever-changing landscape. And across Pennsylvania and through parts of New Jersey on I-78, sight of One World Trade coming up in the distance, straight into the Holland Tunnel and right into lower Manhattan. Home. Next road trip???