When you think of bluegrass music, you cannot help but think of the original father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. The innovator of the only true American made music was born and raised in Rosine, Ky. Over the years, much work has been done to restore his legacy with his childhood home, as well as the old home place where bluegrass was born.
For years, the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Festival has been held on the grounds by the home place of Bill Monroe. This year’s festival is scheduled to be held Oct. 4-7, 2012.
This year the festival was threatened to not exist due to a local landowner that blocked access to parking and most of the existing stages. Up until this year, the landowner worked with organizers by providing access.
Festival organizers have asked for approval from the Ohio County Fiscal Court for eminent domain. Judge Executive David Johnston issued a statement that said to the effect: “We are 100% behind the Jerusalem Ridge Foundation and the festival, we are one with them; we just aren’t ready to vote on eminent domain; we are still working through the process, looking at all options, etc.”
The small town of Rosine opens its doors each year welcoming bluegrass music fans. The amount of income brought in from lodging, meals, souvenirs, and more, helps the community that calls Bill Monroe as its son. Without the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Festival, it would be devastating to the local economy.
The 2011 festival was six days long and celebrated the 100th anniversary of Mr. Monroe’s birth on Jerusalem Ridge. Over 55 bands entertained 18,000 folks from 49 states and 10 countries. Highlights from the festival are broadcasted nationally on RFD-TV’s hit show, “The Cumberland Highlanders.”
Campbell Mercer is leading the efforts to help save the festival. After exploring several options, they are working to move the main stage next door to Mercer’s farm and keep a smaller stage at the home place. He, along with other volunteers have built new stages on one of Mercer’s farms originally owned by Bill Monroe’s grandpa, then his uncle Andrew, and then Clarence Wilson. Wilson was Uncle Pen’s best friend and the two worked on this farm. According to Mercer, “Clarence was perhaps the first banjo player that young Bill Monroe ever heard. When Bill added the banjo with Kentuckian Stringbean Akeman to the Blue Grass Boys in the 1943 he said that he wanted to recreate the ‘sound I heard back on the farm in Kentucky.’ This is likely the farm he was talking about.”
With this option, fans would be able to shuttle, drive, or hike to the home place from the main stage area. Camping would be free, but there would be no hook-ups.
Lots of work has been completed in the last two weeks to be ready in time for the festival. Campbell Mercer updated everyone, noting that, “in the last 13 days the crew has nearly finished the new stage (99.9%), cut a mile of new roads, widened existing roads, cut a ford thought the creek, and removed over 100 trees and hundreds of saplings from the seating area. We left hundreds of trees that require pruning and stumps that require grinding. We also cut a golf cart/hiking trail linking the two halves of the farm. This move puts the farthest reaches of the farm within a 3-10 minute walk where it was a 15-20 minute walk before. The walk is hilly so shuttles will be available.”
More work still needs to be completed, including widening the railroad crossing and existing bridge, tile the creek at the new cross, run waterlines to the vending area, and much more. Volunteers are needed to donate materials and time before and during the festival.
The current effort of the park addition is not being funded by the county or Jerusalem Ridge Foundation. It is currently being funded by the Mercer family to preserve the festival. If you are unable to attend and want to donate to the efforts, you can go to www.jerusalemridgefestival.org/paypal/donate-link.php
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.