Thursday night’s opening of The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum felt like a large family reunion; and while the air outside was crisp with the chill of fall, inside the air was warm with the sounds of mandolins, spoken memories, applause and laughter — all honoring the historical treasure that is Bluegrass music.
As the inaugural hour approached, the crowed gathered together as executive director, Chris Joslin led museum supporters in a ceremonial ribbon cutting for The Woodward Theatre.
“It’s been a long journey; I could not be more excited.” Joslin said.
With almost 450 seats, Woodward Theatre is a perfect-sized venue for bluegrass concerts. The theatre’s design showcases the beauty of acoustic instruments and the high lonesome bluegrass sound. Hall of Fame member Bobby Osborne, backed by the house band, christened the stage by performing a fast paced, hard driving bluegrass tune, “Rocky Top.” Osborne, along with his brother Sonny, were inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 1994.
After the standing ovation for Osborne and the House Band, local business man and museum visionary Terry Woodward addressed the audience. In addition to recognizing past and current museum trustees and donors, Woodward also chronicled a history of how the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum came to be located in the heart of downtown Owensboro.
A five-year vision with the tourist commission in 1983 evolved into Owensboro’s first bluegrass festival, “Bluegrass With Class.” This festival, in 1985, drew a crowd of 5,000 and featured the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra with The Osborne Brothers and was a collaboration of interests. Less than twenty years and many festivals later, Owensboro became home to the International Bluegrass Music Museum, opening in 2002.
From 2003 to 2016, the International Bluegrass Music Museum was under the direction of Gabrielle Gray. During her tenure as museum executive director, Gray expanded the presence bluegrass in the Owensboro community. Under her guidance the museum created Bluegrass in the Schools, the video oral history project and the ROMP festival. With the success of these programs and support from local and state officials, it became clear it was time to expand the footprint of the museum.
Now, after several years a new sprawling museum, hall of fame and theatre has opened. Located on the corner of Second and Frederica, the newly renamed Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum focuses on the preservation and presentation of bluegrass music.
Thursday’s inaugural concert in Woodward Theatre focused on honoring members of the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame. The hall of fame was established in 1991 with the induction of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and each year, a new class inductees is honored for their contribution to bluegrass music.
Hall of fame members Bobby Osborne, Doyle Lawson, Paul Williams, Rodney Dillard and Larry Sparks all performed for the captivated audience. The hall of fame members performed alongside the house band which featured Mike Bub, Alison Brown, Charlie Cushman, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, Tim Stafford and Josh Swift. The night also focused on the 2018 hall of fame inductees, Jake Tullock, Vassar Clements, Mike Seeger, Allen Shelton and Joe Val. Each inductee was honored not only with a touching speech but also with video clips and a performance by the house band. With the first note of each song, members of the house band swelled with pride honoring the legends they admired.
As the evening drew to a close, Sonny Osborne made his way to the podium to give closing remarks. During his speech, a surprise sixth 2018 International Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductee was announced, Terry Woodward. The audience rose for a standing ovation. Woodward, a longtime music business executive, was humbled to be granted a place in the hall of fame.
“I am overwhelmed; its an huge honor and I am very humbled by this recognition,” Woodward said.
The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum continues the opening weekend activities with a sold out concert tonight featuring mandolin player and Kentucky native, Sam Bush. A free outdoor concert follows on Saturday with performances by High Fidelity, Front Country, Town Mountain and Yonder Mountain String Band. Music begins at 1:00pm on Saturday.
Writer Emmy Woosley is a graduate of Western Kentucky University and is currently working as a quality assurance engineer. Emmy is passionate about the arts and volunteering. She loves sunflowers and strives daily to make people smile.