Internationally known by its acronym — ROMP — the River of Music Party has evolved drastically since its conception in 2004. This year’s music festival will run from June 22–25 at Yellow Creek Park.
The festival traces its humble beginnings back to English Park and has been a staple in the community for 18 years. Since its inception, the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum has organized and operated the event and uses the funds raised to preserve its mission of providing educational opportunities about the genre.
“There has always been an appetite for the festival; the bluegrass culture prides itself on building communities around these festivals,” said Museum Executive Director Chris Joslin. “They want to camp and stay — Yellow Creek Park was the perfect spot to move the festival. It coincided with the vision and personality of the festival and offered more opportunities.”
That vision has since evolved to feature multiple stages, craft and food vendors, and a kid zone, aligning with the museum’s mission of creating a family friendly environment. The organization most recently added an LED video wall to add to the experience.
In 2019, the nonprofit launched a series of lobby performances in conjunction with the festival, where artists play a short, unplugged set of music on the stage at the museum. The performances are free to attend, but organizers encourage everyone to purchase admission to the exhibit space to support the educational efforts of the Hall of Fame.
“Since the Hall of Fame produces ROMP, we are always looking for ways to compel ROMP ticket buyers to check out the Hall of Fame,” Joslin said. “We want them to engage with all the other programs and concerts that occur at the Hall of Fame the other 361 days out of the year.”
The festival captures primetime programming on Western Kentucky University’s public broadcasts. Before the pandemic, the event attracted renowned radio personality Chris Thile, who hosts Live from Here out of New York City.
“This festival transcends the notion of what is perceived as bluegrass music — it’s more than banjos and fiddles,” Joslin said. “There is a new generation of bluegrass fans that range from 25 to 35 years old. We feature traditional bluegrass, jam bands, and everything in between; there’s a growing audience, and we’re trying to capture it.”
The Hall of Fame moved into their new 21,000-square-foot facility in downtown Owensboro in 2019. ROMP has featured guests from 41 states and six countries, all while catering to the local crowd. After the one-year COVID hiatus, Joslin said they hope to expand the relationship between the museum and ROMP.
“We are constantly striving to be a destination activity — this is the headquarters of the genre, and I think people enjoy being this close to the source,” he said. “We’ve added several new portions that are unique to the museum.”
Aside from serving as the organization’s number one fundraiser, the event also exists as a cultural tourism anchor and drives economic development. Joslin said that hometown pride is a central theme of the festival, and they hope to encourage visitors to return to Owensboro.
“It is an exhausting experience for our staff, but we are driven by wanting to forward the mission of the museum,” he said. “We are both proud and grateful for the opportunity to host people from everywhere in Owensboro.”
This year’s event begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the Pioneer Village stage at the park’s rear entrance and runs through Saturday at midnight. Joslin added that there is no shortage of music.
The event also features a full line-up of artist-led instrument workshops, as ROMP artists interact with fans and players of all ages and skill levels. Other workshops and forums include songwriting, clogging and flat-foot dancing, yoga (all levels), and bluegrass jamming 101.
More information about the festival — including daily lineups, ticket availability, merchandise, and more — is available on the event’s website, rompfest.com. Additional updates are available by searching “ROMP” on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.