Bluegrass Music in Kentucky
Bluegrass music was born in Kentucky, and still rings as strong and true as it did when “Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe pioneered the sound in the 1930s and ’40s.
An offshoot of early country music, bluegrass is descended from the traditional ballads brought to America by Irish, Scottish and English settlers, and traditional African American blues and jazz. The genres share many of the same instruments (such as the banjo, mandolin and fiddle), but bluegrass is epitomized by fast tempos, high-pitched tones, virtuosic plucking, soaring vocal harmonies and offbeat, sometimes improvised rhythms – a style dubbed the “high lonesome sound."
The Father of Bluegrass
William "Bill" Smith Monroe grew up in a musical family and took up the mandolin at an early age, influenced by his Uncle Pen, a talented fiddler. Monroe's band, The Blue Grass Boys, gave the genre its name, and was the first bluegrass act to break through nationally.
Monroe grew up near Owensboro, Kentucky, and his family home has been preserved as a memorial to his life and achievements. Bluegrass fans from around the world come to the Bill Monroe Homeplace to pay their respects, take guided tours and listen to music at the Rosine Barn Jamboree.
At the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro, you can explore the music and legacy of Bill Monroe – currently the only musician to be inducted in three halls of fame: bluegrass, rock and country!
While bluegrass music sticks close to traditions, several new bands began creating a more liberal interpretation of bluegrass in the 1970s, incorporating elements from genres like rock and jazz. This progressive bluegrass became known as “newgrass” after one of the genre’s most successful bands, The New Grass Revival. Kentucky native Sam Bush was one of the founding members of the group, and played with them for more than 18 years before they disbanded at the peak of their popularity in 1990. Today, Bush continues his Grammy-winning solo career and draws big crowds around the world.
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Experience Bluegrass & Newgrass Music in Kentucky
Bluegrass and newgrass music have attracted a large and diverse following worldwide, and many travel to Kentucky to attend authentic jamborees or visit the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro. Each summer the museum hosts ROMP Fest, an all-ages festival that celebrates the roots and branches of bluegrass music. A short drive away is the Rosine Barn Jamboree, where you can catch live bluegrass music and dancing every Friday night (seasonally). The granddaddy of them all is the Festival of the Bluegrass, held the first full weekend in June at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Elsewhere in the state, visitors can easily stumble upon bluegrass concerts and impromptu jam sessions on a wide range of stages – from churches to BBQ joints to venues like Renfro Valley Entertainment Center and the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum, which hosts Front Porch Pickin’ every Thursday night.