38th Bill Monroe Memorial
by Craig Kinney
The arrival of summer in Brown County is sure to bring bluegrass music and family reunions. And the 38th Annual Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival scheduled June 13th through the 19th will have plenty of both. Once again, the Brown County hamlet will be transformed into the “Mecca of Bluegrass” when it hosts this year’s edition of the world’s longest continuously running bluegrass festival.
Topping Thursday’s schedule is a special reunion performance by The Dillards, the band that played a semi-regular role as the Darling Boys on the Andy Griffith television show. The original Dillards were brothers Doug and Rodney Dillard, Dean Webb and Mitch Jayne.
The Dillards were early examples of bluegrass musicians seen on television. The Andy Griffith Show ran from 19601968 and periodically featured the “Darling Family.” The Dillards were then living in Hollywood, having moved there from Salem, Missouri, seeking a recording opportunity. Soon after their arrival, they went to the Ash Grove Folk Club and watched a performance by the Greenbriar Boys, a New York bluegrass band. This band featured a young Ralph Rinzler, who later would become Bill Monroe’s manager, and no small player in the history of Bean Blossom.
The Dillards played their high-energy music for the Greenbriar Boys, and the A&R man from Elektra records was so impressed he signed them to a multi-record contract on the spot. Their first recording for Elektra (in 1963) was the LP “Backporch Bluegrass” with “Dueling Banjos.” Their second album, “The Dillards Live…Almost,” came out in 1964.
The Dillards went on to play a pivotal role in the transformation of traditional music into a blend of folk, country, bluegrass, and rock and roll with the late-60s release of “Wheatstraw Suite” and “Copperfields.” The band has undergone numerous personnel changes through the years.
Beyond the Dillard brothers, family ties will be strong in other acts. James Monroe, son of bluegrass giant Bill Monroe, for whom the festival is named, will perform along with his son Jimbo Monroe, the third generation of bluegrass pickers.
Also, Ronnie Reno, son of Don Reno of the bluegrass duo Reno and Smiley, will play with his band.
The list for this year’s festival includes great traditional bands like Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain, Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen, Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers, J. D. Crowe and the New South, Eddie and Martha Adcock, Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Mountain Boys, and “King of Bluegrass” Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys.
Also on stage will be contemporary bands including David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, David Parmley and the Continental Divide, the James King Band, Special Consensus, The Wildwood Valley Boys, Wildfire, and Larry Stephenson. King Wilkie is an interesting young band based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Energetic and talented, they play the music of the masters in their own style and provide a fresh perspective on some favorite songs.
Nearly 30 bands will play during the week, and there are always several surprises.
Bluegrass music is currently enjoying a substantial upswing in popularity, brought on in part by being featured in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou, and the more recent film Cold Mountain. Both films have generated popular soundtrack recordings, and sold-out nationwide tours of musicians featured in the soundtracks.
Bean Blossom is located six miles north of Nashville on State Road 135. Festival tickets range from $15 to $30 for individual days, and $130 for a weeklong pass. Camping packages are also available on the fair grounds. For more information, call 988-6422 or 800-414-4677 or visit their website at <www.beanblossom.com>.