As we prepare for our other favorite Kentucky summer tradition, I reflect on my triumphant return to Owensboro and ROMP Bluegrass Music Festival.
A few things may have changed (holy RVs and generators plus what was going on with the signature ROMP lights owl?) but many typical ROMP experiences remained the same. I’m talking about the excessive heat, sweat, and subsequent Coors Lights, as well as the good vibes and tunes. It was a breath of (humid) fresh air being back at Yellow Creek Park.
23 String Band — Man, it was good to hear these boys again. It wasn’t a 107 degrees like their last ROMP, but it was still pretty toasty as they kicked off the main stage for the weekend. The recently reunited group sound amazing, probably partially to their incredibly abilities on their specific instruments. 23SB has so much going on in the coming weeks and I am nothing short of euphoric that they are back together.
Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers — After the first of only two rain delays this weekend, Larry Sparks took the stage and was later inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
Wood & Wire — Wood & Wire are a young, good-looking group of bluegrass boys from Austin. This is one of those solid ROMP new finds that will stick with you (think 23SB from 2012.)
Del McCoury Band — GD, Del is a legend. He still sounds and looks amazing. His little giggle is contagious and that hair has clearly been trained to perfection. Our friend Chad Buck described it perfectly: “There is so much class on that stage right now.” Del and his boys truly have that something that is so bluegrass.
Steep Canyon Rangers — The Steep Canyon Rangers have gained a lot of notoriety for both their angsty bluegrass jams as well as their connection with Mr. Steve Martin. We got to see them in their true form and the fiddle player really helped make this group stand out. They were cut short because of the evening’s weather, but SCR made the most of it absolutely. [Side note: Scythian didn’t get their regular set time, but made a short appearance in the crowd before Steep Canyon Rangers closed the first full night out.]
The Travelin’ McCourys late night — Ronnie and Rob McCoury clearly have their dad’s bluegrass genes. It has been so naturally embedded in them, it is almost uncanny.
The day ended up being much less humid, almost making the unfathomable 94 degree heat bearable.
Annabelle Watts & Friends — Legit, Anneabelle Watts and her friends are better looking and significantly more talented than most will ever be. Keep it up, girl.
Mipso — Another young, dashing group of musicians. Mipso spoke of upcoming music, which I will absolutely be on the lookout for.
Earls of Leicester — Jerry Douglas, the legendary dobro maestro, formed the Earls of Leicester as a tribute to the music of Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatts as a conglomerate of absurd fire power. That heat was felt Friday night. As is customary with all star bluegrass groups, each musician played through the masters’ songs with dutiful brilliance.
Infamous Stringdusters — After the wet previous night, ROMP was very much ready to jam out.
Town Mountain late night — TBH, I think I liked this late night set more than I liked their day time set… heat/sweat may have been a part of this.
Front Country — Who knew San Francisco folk were into bluegrass? Melody Walker’s pink hair screams West Coast and they are certainly inventive in what they do, but ROMP fans were into what they do.
Della Mae — These ladies sounded great. I know they have been through Louisville a couple of times recently, but I unfortunately missed them. Definitely glad to have seen and heard their set this time around. The quintet mesh with such ease and the comfort is absorbed by those listening.
Billy Strings — This man is the face of bluegrass future. Beyond his undoubted talent, Billy Strings persona and just pure love of the timeless craft is unmatched. His late night show was equally impressive. Keep this guy at the front of your mind, he’s gonna be big.
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives — Marty is the king of rockabilly and after having visited Nashville as a pure tourist recently, I was excited to see what the hype was about.
Old Crow Medicine Show — Even though the die-hard bluegrass fans scoffed at the appearance of such a popular culture phenomenon, and the children showed up in droves for “Wagon Wheel” I will openly admit that I loved OCMS and their Saturday night set. It was a cluster **** around the stage and exuberant young fans were over indulging, but it is without question that Old Crow can put on a show. I was without my usual dancing partner, but sang and jigged just fine by myself.
Sam Bush Band — Sam Bush closed out ROMP’s main stage exactly as one would expect. I had never see the KY bred man perform and finished my evening nothing short of awesome.