By Kathy Witt
If you think Kentucky is only about horses and bourbon, then make your way to the western part of the commonwealth to experience a whole other side: Bluegrass, Blues & Barbecue! You can hear, see, smell, taste and touch it all throughout the nine-county region that earns its name from two musical genres and a unique style of cooking that all have deep roots here.
The Three Bs
Bluegrass music didn’t exist before the legendary Bill Monroe came along and put it on the musical map in the 1930s. The “Father of Bluegrass” hails from these parts, from a place called Jerusalem Ridge in Rosine, where history was made inside a white clapboard house – the Bill Monroe Homeplace.
Monroe’s fascinating story and far-reaching impact on the world music scene are narrated at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, the only museum of its kind dedicated to preserving and showcasing bluegrass music. Walk along the Timeline of Bluegrass Music, see significant musical instruments and hear recordings from the earliest days of the genre.
The “Father of the Blues” – W.C. Handy – was influenced by the nearly 10 years he spent in Henderson. In fact, he said he “learned to appreciate the music of my people” in Henderson and “then the blues were born.” His life and legacy are celebrated every June at what has become one of the largest free music festivals in the nation, the W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival.
And that barbecue? It stretches back to the 1830s when churches held barbecues to build community where local farmers raised sheep. Today, the tradition of barbecuing mutton remains, as do church festivals and local restaurants that slow-cook it (along with chicken and pork) for hours on end over smoky hickory-wood fires.
Just as Kentucky is more than bourbon and horses, the Bluegrass, Blues & Barbecue region moves beyond music and mutton to surprise visitors with a number of hidden gems, including Greenville’s House of Onyx, with its vast collection of diamond jewelry, pearls and pearl jewelry, estate jewelry, colored gemstones and carvings, gold, platinum and sterling silver jewelry, Mexican Onyx, Cloisonné, beads and minerals and fossils. (Whew!) Equally impressive for its size and scope is Uncle Lee’s, Kentucky’s largest sporting goods store.
Other surprises include gorgeous Deer Creek Lodge, an award-winning hunting lodge in Webster County, and Ruby Lodge at Springlake Woods, a bed and breakfast comprising two estate homes and sitting on 70 park-like acres in Madisonville. Events you’ll come upon in the region include the Highway 60 Yard Sale – whose bargains and treasures, artisan and craftsman booths, live music and edibles sprawl out over 200 miles – and the Battle of Sacramento, re-enacted every May.
Bring your camera to snap breathtaking scenery and scampering wildlife. The John James Audubon Museum and Nature Center has 650 acres of wetlands. Inside, see Audubon’s art and personal memorabilia, a wildlife Observation Room and a Discovery Center with hands-on exhibits. Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park is known for its magnificent hardwood tree forest, pristine lake and nature trails, along with dazzling spring and fall color.
Play along the riverfronts of Owensboro and Henderson, both scenic spots for catching a concert or a beautiful sunset, splashing in waterparks or strolling along the Ohio River.
Hearty appetites were made for this region!
Longtime favorite barbecue hotspots, Moonlight Bar-B-Q and Old Hickory Restaurant, are both family-owned and operated. Cajun-flavored Feed Mill is tucked in a building that once stored feed and seed and now serves up barbecue, steaks, chops, quail, frog legs and gator tails. Commonwealth Kitchen + Bar dishes up small plates of pork belly hash and lamb meatballs. Difabio’s Casapela features classic Italian fare.
And the big daddy of appetite-worthy outings? The International Bar-B-Q Festival, held every May, when 20,000-plus pounds of mutton are slow-cooked over open pits before being gobbled up.
There’s always something wonderful to hear, see, smell, taste and touch in Kentucky’s region of Bluegrass, Blues and Barbecue. Festival fun, music, attractions and outdoor activities on the riverfront and in forested parks. From unexpected shopping and much-anticipated barbecue to tasty and diverse adventures everywhere you turn.
Start planning your own adventure today at www.BBBRegion.com!
Battle of Sacramento – May 16-18, 2014 in Sacramento, KY
W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival – June, 2014 in Henderson, KY
Highway 41 Yard Sale – June 29-30, 2014 in Henderson, Christian, Hopkins, Webster and Todd counties
Saturdays on the Square – Saturdays June 28-Aug. 16, 2014 in Greenville, KY
Everly Brothers Rock n' Roll Cruise-In – Labor Day Weekend 2014 in Central City, KY
International Barbecue Festival – May 9-10, 2014 in Owensboro, KY
ROMP: Bluegrass, Roots & Branches Festival – June 27-28, 2014 in Owensboro, KY
Bluegrass in the Park Folklife Festival – Aug. 7-9, 2014 in Henderson, KY
Highway 60 Yard Sale – Oct. 3-5, 2014 in Livingston, Crittenden, Union, Henderson, Daviess, Hancock, Meade and Breckinridge counties
Jerusalem Bluegrass Ridge Celebration – Oct. 2-5, 2014 in Ohio County
If You Go
Bill Monroe Homeplace, 270-274-9181, website
Commonwealth Kitchen + Bar, 270-212-2133, website
Deer Creek Lodge, 888-875-3000, website
Difabio’s Casapela, 270-825-1900, website
House of Onyx, 270-338-2363, website
International Bluegrass Music Museum, 270-926-7891, website
John James Audubon Museum & Nature Center, 270-826-2247, website
Moonlight Bar-B-Q, 800-322-8989, website
Old Hickory Restaurant, 270-926-9000, website
Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, 270-797-3421, website
Ruby Lodge at Springlake Woods, 270-821-5812, website
The Feed Mill, 270-389-1149, website
Uncle Lee’s, 270-338-5866, website