For this, my 500th column, we leave behind the treasures of Italy and find treasures less than two miles from my cabin in Brown County, Indiana.
William Smith (“Bill”) Monroe was born near Rosine, Kentucky, in 1911, the youngest of eight children. Because his older brothers played the guitar and fiddle, nine-year-old Bill took up the mandolin. Playing first with his brothers and then with others, he eventually formed the Blue Grass Boys, a band named for his native state. In the 1940s, Monroe pioneered the use of a mandolin as a lead instrument and, along with Earl Scruggs on banjo and Lester Flatt on guitar, developed a musical style called “bluegrass.” In 1951, Monroe, who worked in Indiana as a young man, purchased a park in Bean Blossom, five miles north of Nashville along State Road 135. In 1967, he started the world-famous bluegrass festival in his park. When Monroe died in 1984, his obituaries called him the “father of bluegrass.”
Today, Monroe’s locally-owned 55-acre park includes a covered outdoor stage, where nationally known musical groups play throughout the summer to music lovers on lawn chairs. The backstage area (accessible with permission) includes black and brown boards where performers have signed their names (Merle Haggard, among others, decided to sign his name above the brown board). The site contains 14 cabins for rent and sites for RV’s and campers. The Bill Monroe Museum and Hall of Fame includes items related to the history of Bill Monroe, bluegrass and country music and the park, including costumes worn by famous performers. A collection of stars outside the entrance recognizes members of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, including Elvis Presley. If you enjoy music, even if not bluegrass, a trip to Bill Monroe’s Music Park & Campground can be a real treat a lot closer than Rome.