Owensboro, Kentucky – From the moment one enters the gates of ROMP Music Festival intimacy becomes the experience. Located in the lush 152 acre Yellow Creek Park in Owensboro, Kentucky all around the stage is verdant green and smiling faces. On the drive in you really get a feel for why Kentucky is the Bluegrass State. Similarly the music drives home that down home vibe. ROMP serves as a refreshing reminder that big names can be synonymous with cozy and friendly crowds. And these big names didn’t disappoint.
Perhaps what is lost to most of us audiophiles, is beyond the everyday rock stars, there groups like the Jerry Douglas Band, Rhiannon Giddens and the Nitty Gritty Dirt band that have over a dozen Grammy Awards between them. Mastering a thoughtful craft of instrumentation not always found in the heavy tech music of today. Does that mean bluegrass, roots, country, Americana music is simple? Absolutely NOT! I say that empathically due to the technical expertise that was witnessed by all over this amazing 4 day sojourn.
Jerry Douglas has won 14 Grammy Awards and has been dubbed Country Music Association’s “Musician of the Year” 3 times. Watching the ease of performance while Mr. Douglas plays flawless resonator guitar is astonishing as well as spectacular. The crowd watched in awe as he commanded the stage with precision and grace.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt band put on an amazing performance. It’s awe-inspiring to see a group of guys play their hearts out with over 50 years experience and counting. These gentleman weave between country, rock, bluegrass with
elemental simplicity and rule the crowd like benevolent monarchs. It was especially fun watching John McEuen work the stage especially playing the cameraman like he plays the fiddle.
Another absolute crowd favorite was the Punch Brothers. The tension and excitement in the air was palpable moments before the boys gathered on the stage. Then the intimacy of the moment could not have more clear when the music started and the members gathered at center stage and played with a somewhat familiar old world flair. Imagine the astonishment for those who are used to seeing large rock concerts where musicians on stage may not wander with ten feet of one another during a whole set. In contrast the whole band tucks within feet of each other to belt out tunes in perfect harmony. Here’s quote from Chris Thile on why the members of the band got together. “We got together one night just to drop a ton of money, drink too much wine, eat steaks, and commiserate about our failed relationships. We had gotten to play together a few days before and we had said that we needed to do something musical together. With our hearts smashed to pieces, it became more urgent — our lives had gone the same way for so long. I knew I wanted to have a band with Gabe [Witcher], but I didn’t know if it would be a rock ensemble, an ambitious acoustic classical thing or a bluegrass group. We played, and there was a serious, instantaneous connection. Then I knew I wanted to put together a bluegrass band — one with a lot of range, but aesthetically a bluegrass band.”
Pokey LaFarge grants us a vista into the heart and soul of river towns and music. Another one of those otherworldly moments where the music sounds vaguely familiar and reminiscent of days gone by. One can imagine drifting down the Ohio River with supplies for the next river down. Upon arrival Pokey Lafarge and the traveling minstrels are playing to a crowd along the river banks singing stories of adventure and mayhem along the journeys down America’s waterways.
The festival ended on a high note. When multi-instrumentalist Keller Williams Grateful Grass closed the evening with fantastic renditions of Grateful Dead anthems that were arranged in a raucous and adventuresome way.