Awaken Your Senses in Owensboro, Kentucky

By: Craig Lamb

Bluegrass fans like me travel to summertime festivals to experience music in its purest form – live. That leaves us enthusiasts feeling a little deprived most of the year. We need a place to get our bluegrass fix anytime.

I have two other cravings: One is food from local roots served with hometown hospitality; the other is indulging in Kentucky’s native spirit, bourbon. Finding all three in one place is a tall order. Yet, I discover them and more in Owensboro. I soak up plenty of live bluegrass, savor signature dishes steeped in history and sip bourbon in a distillery more than 100 years old.

A Music Mecca

two musicians perform at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro, KYMy bluegrass fix comes in the most unlikely of places. At the Owensboro Music Center, a local music store, the passion for learning stirs my music soul. Students gather for monthly open jam sessions in the iconic store and the arrival of a grinning upright bass player reminds me of the welcoming, warming charm shared by bluegrass musicians.

Their passion and love for the music that defines Kentucky makes me want to grab an instrument and jump in. And someday, I just might.

At Friday After 5, a music festival held every summer weekend, I make friends and feel the welcoming nature of the city’s music scene at Smothers Park and the adjacent Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum. I toe-tap to rock ’n’ roll and then wander to another stage, one of six along the Ohio River, where bluegrass music reigns.

The Best Barbecue

Just as music is woven into the culture here, so is food. At Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, a smoky aroma wafts across the parking lot, stirring my taste buds with the sweet, tangy taste of barbecued mutton, a delicacy prepared the Daviess County way. Slow-roasting meat over open pits and mopping it with a tangy vinegar dip is the centuries-old process still used here.

Two men tend the grill at the International Bar-B-Cue Festival in Owensboro KYBetween Moonlite, Old Hickory Bar-B-Q and Ole South Bar-B-Q, and the annual International Bar-B-Q Festival each May, I taste-test burgoo, a hearty stew that originated with frontiersman who used whatever the harvest provided, from veggies to wild game. Mutton, pork and chicken fill my savory bowl of local goodness. After the last spoonful, I feel connected with Owensboro’s culinary past. I lose count of how many times I pause and say, “Wow.”

A Final Toast, or Two

My final surprise comes at The Miller House, a restaurant occupying a historic home built in 1905. Down in the basement, Spirits bourbon bar boasts 450 choices that boggle my mind. Just down the street is the revitalized O.Z. Tyler Distillery, a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®.

A taster glass of bourbon sits atop a barrel at O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro, KY

I toast the day and realize all my senses have been awakened in just one place. That’s Owensboro, where I can get my bluegrass, barbecue and bourbon fix anytime of the year.

You can, too. Start planning your getaway today at