“Monroe would walk the grounds of the park at Bean Blossom almost continuously when he was not required to be onstage or hosting a group…he always made time during festivals to greet his fans, sign autographs, and hand out shiny new quarters to awestruck children.”
Bill Monroe, the late great “father of bluegrass music,” put the tiny town of Bean Blossom, Indiana, on the map with the annual festival he hosted there. He attracted adoring fans not only with his high-gear high lonesome voice and mandolin picking (both of which have been slavishly imitated but never exceeded) but with spontaneous stunts like bringing in a team of mules to “illustrate” his signature composition
"Muleskinner Blues." Bill was known for making his band members work on his own farm back in Kentucky when they weren’t on tour, and he worked just as hard to promote Bean Blossom. The festival was faithfully attended by amateur and professional musicians who basked in the “portable camp meeting-type community” that was formed there for a few days a year. Parking-lot picking was never more in evidence; most of the audience simply camped in their cars, going to sleep and waking up to the strains of acoustic instruments and voices blending in song.
The author of this historical recollection of Bean Blossom is a folklorist, banjoist and former executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum (yes, bluegrass is known all over the world now). He has taken himself and his readers on a walk through Bean Blossom and the past, some would say the foundations, of
Bean Blossom, dominated by the unique personality of Monroe.
As Adler describes it, Monroe, who bought the property at Bean Blossom in 1951 after appearing there with his Blue Grass Boys, put his personal stamp on every aspect of the June festival that started in 1967: “He’d take stern, direct action if he felt a band presented inappropriate music.” Monroe was witnessed firing two of his band members who slept in on the day after the festival and didn’t help pick up the trash, and festival manager Raymond Huffman recounted that he “saw Monroe stopping the music on Sunday when them little hippie girls tried to dance to the Gospel Music…although I’m sure he enjoyed watching them on Saturday.” Bands whose music was even slightly off the traditional radar, such as the enormously popular Seldom Scene, had no cachet at the festival while Monroe was in charge (he eventually let others manage the event and last appeared there in 1995, a year before his death).
The festival evolved over the years. Like many other outdoor events, it was plagued with the rumors of drinking and worse among the audience, and some fans began to tire of seeing the same groups coming back year after year to headline. Other competing festivals sprang up featuring currently popular groups. Hippies were enjoying bluegrass and through the influence of the younger generation, the very character of the music began to change. However, the Bean Blossom Festival remains the longest running purely bluegrass festival in the world, as it would have to be, since Monroe started it and allowed only his kind of music to be played there.
Though many young bluegrass fans have never been to Bean Blossom, Indiana, they will undoubtedly want to read this book to learn more about the roots of the music they love, a music that still recalls not only a certain sound but a distinct ethos, both of which came from Monroe.