Dusk sets in as I sit in my lawn chair just 10 rows back from the stage on the first of three nights of bluegrass bliss. The weather in the bluegrass state is a perfect 75 degrees, and the crowd is giddy with anticipation as the time nears for the next act at the 8th Annual (2011) ROMP Bluegrass Music Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky. Yes, we’re all waiting for The Steep Canyon Rangers and Steve Martin, that wild and crazy guy who’s been in countless hit movies and host of Saturday Night Live.
As he enters the stage, 9,000 ticket holders and 500 campers stand in expectation not believing “the” Steve Martin is about to perform here at ROMP: Roots and Branch festival. Bluegrass originated in festivals like this, and every person sitting in the grass infield below has roots in it. You can’t go anywhere in this part of Kentucky without finding local musicians performing or a radio station playing bluegrass 24/7 – it’s simply our way of life. And if this movie star/comedian could entertain this esteemed crowd with quality bluegrass music, then could it be that Western Kentuckians may need to reevaluate our beliefs about Hollywood people? Yes, it could be said Hollywood people must be talented while acting in front of a green screen, but you get a do-over if you don’t get it right the first time. But when it comes to musicians of bluegrass, there’s only one stage and one chance to prove your talent. Kentucky may be considered as a backward, slow-living commonwealth, but its citizens are proud to know dozens of musicians who can play a banjo and tear up a fiddle.
Steve then introduced himself and told the audience “if I knew this many people were going to show up, I would have practiced more”. Then it happened . . . this gray-haired 64 year old man took off with his banjo like he was playing against the devil. If Steve had looked up past the bright lights of the stage, he would have seen the entire crowd standing in disbelief that a California movie star could be as good a musician found anywhere in these parts. Steve and The Steep Canyon Rangers not only belted out two hours of songs (many written by Steve), but also played harmonious tunes from the past. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers could not only play and sing as well as I had ever heard, but the fiddle, cello and mandolin players were as good as anyone found in these parts.
During the performance, my wife and I sat next to a young couple from Sevierville, Tennessee who worked at Dollywood. On the following night we enjoyed a visit with an older couple from Wilson, North Carolina, who was on their way back from Phoenix Arizona where they attended the National Southern Baptist Convention. We didn’t dig into our cooler much that night.
As I walked back to my car after the show, every concert-goer including myself was scratching their head and asking “how can Steve Martin be so talented in so many things” (actor, comedian, writer, playwright, producer, musician, and composer).
Just as much a crowd pleaser as Steve Martin, Emmylou Harris was the headliner on the 3rd night. Followers of this veteran performer would easily break into Kentucky’s Eddyville Penitentiary if they knew Emmylou Harris was playing.
Many other bands during the 3-day event were outstanding as well. Fans, young and old, came from all over the country to witness bands they’d been following or would now follow. As the crowds grew larger and larger, all witnessed the talents and entertainment of such bluegrass bands as the Punch Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Trampled by Turtles.
On a final note, Steve said he wanted to take a break and Google himself. Well Steve, if you should Google yourself and see this article . . . let me say that: You were great and made believers out of us!
From this September until September 2011, it’s Bill Monroe 100th Birthday Celebration. In the two counties of Daviess and Ohio, you can come and experience the wonders of bluegrass! Check out the web site for events and times.
It’s rained and rained and rained , and as the Green River finally retreated back to its normal level, we took off on to finish our quest of traveling the entire length of the river. Three years ago, our quest started at the Green River Dam at Campbellsville and 100 miles later ended at the Green River Ferry in Mammoth Cave National Park. Two years ago, we knocked out another 60 mile stretch – from the Ferry to Morgantown, in Butler County. And last year we finished 60 more miles beginning at Morgantown and ending at Rumsey Kentucky, just outside of Calhoun in McLean County.
At this point in Rumsey, the Green River is deep and wide, and you’ll frequently see barge traffic. Barges loaded with coal and aluminum to supply the many power plants on the Green River can travel up to Butler County, but no further because the dam is collapsed at Rochester (in Butler County).
Beginning at Rumsey, our first five miles ended at Pond River, Which is the last river that empties into the Green before the Green enters the Ohio River, fifty miles away. Because it’s not well known and only locals use it, vegetation and wildlife are untouched. Lined with prehistoric Bald Cypress tress, I know trappers who make good livings hauling out beaver and river otter. You’ll also see many Bald Eagles in this area.
You’ll soon realize how special this place is by the tree canopy which acts as a roof to completely enclose the the river, as though you’re in a Jurassic Park movie. As beautiful as the scenery is, fishing proved to be difficult. You’d think that we could catch a few gar from the nursery of this long-nosed species we encountered. They were hitting all around us, but we just couldn’t get them into the boat. Also, I quickly became nervously distracted after seeing a couple of northern water snakes swim up to our boat.
After a couple of hours on Pond River, we returned to the Green and found a camp site. We pack lightly when we travel, and this trip it cost us. It rained continuously, and although rain doesn’t bother me, a drop in temperature does. Many years ago I contracted hyperthermia after going over a waterfall called Stair Steps on the Lower Rockcastle River in Daniel Boone National Park. That stunt put me in the hospital, and since then, when the outside temperature suddenly drops, my body reacts by turning stark white.
On this trip, as it continued to rain, the temperature dropped from the 90’s to the 70’s within hours. My friend Chip, who saved me at the Lower Rockcastle River and is still with me today, noticed I had not warmed up. He quickly got us under the bridge leading into Sebree in Webster County where we walked on to dry land and soon started a fire.
Let me tell you… while the best tool in a fisherman’s tackle box is a pair of fingernail clippers, the best tool in starting a quick fire is charcoal lighter fluid. Within minutes my stark white body warmed up, and I was back to normal and dried out as the hard rain continued to pour for the next two hours.
In the past as I’ve traveled down the Green, I’ve encountered so many helpful and gracious Kentuckians, and this trip was no different. A coal miner who noticed us stranded under the bridge with our boat stopped to see if he could help us. He kindly volunteered to take us to town for food and fuel. It’s been my experience as we’ve traveled almost 230 miles on the Green River for Kentuckians living close to the river to lend a hand to those in need of help. People always look after fishermen and boaters because most of them themselves are fishermen and boaters.
Now that I was dry and warm, off we went. Unfortunately the rain continued. Not only was it pouring rain, also came lightning. So, while a seasoned fisherman always has a pair of fingernail clippers in his tackle box and lighter fluid in his boat, he ALWAYS gets the heck off the river if lightning is hitting around you.
We quickly made a B-line to the first house we saw in Ranger’s Landing, a tiny community in Henderson County. We tied our boat up and ran for cover. As we were looking for an old barn, shelter or a car-port, a family saw us running and yelled out to us to come in out from the storm and sit on their porch.
After a couple of more hours watching the rain, the sun started shining brightly on this old Kentucky home, and we had to say goodbye to our new friends. So after returning to our boat, we traveled another 3 hours into Daviess County and cut the trip short. This trip probably covered 25 miles and we’ll finish the rest of the Green River before this summer is over.
I always get something out of every adventure, and even after making a rookie mistake of not being prepared for the change in weather, I was still looked after and kept safe by other caring Kentuckians. This is one of the reasons why Kentuckians are so proud to live in our great state!
Unbridled Adventure is pretty dependent on having, well, an outdoors to enjoy it in. Last week, I had a lady from Florida email me. She let me know that a guy was hiking around in Kentucky. I thought “What else is new?” and proceeded to delete the email with some spam. Then I read the next sentence. This guy had started hiking three months ago…in Key West, Florida!
John Davis was spending the next couple of weeks in his home state of Kentucky, hiking the Sheltowee up the gut of the Boone National Forest, part of a route eventually taking him into Canada (!) and over 6000 man-powered miles when all said and done. I had to find out more. He’s with the Wildlands Network, and calling his journey TrekEast. It’s his goal to create awareness for the patchwork of wild lands along the eastern United States, including a long couple of stretches in Kentucky. He’d biked down the Pine Mountain Trail to the Blanton Forest before turning north up the turtle trail.
I’m a hiker. But I’m no John Davis. This is his first undertaking of this magnitude, according to that “lady from Florida” who is actually his publicist, Kelly Harris. She went on to tell me that he’d grown up in Lexington, and had done a lot of adventuring over the years, resulting in his love for the outdoors and passion to see it conserved for future generations.
I wasn’t able to meet up with John like I had wanted, but if the world is one big wilderness, we were both on the same trail I’m sure at one point or another. For more on John and his epic adventure that Kentucky had a part in, visit www.wildlandsnetwork.org.
National Trails Day 2011
It’s the eve of National Trails Day 2011, and I hope you have an adventure scouted out for the morning! Lots of our state parks have outings for the day, and a list of those can be found online at www.parks.ky.gov. I’m moving my hiking times to 5am or earlier to beat the heat the next couple of months. Sunrise city! Stay cool, and till next trip…
This upcoming weekend promises to be a good one. Saturday June 4 is National Trails Day. Parks, trail associations, paddling associations and many others are hosting special events across the state. If you haven’t yet made plans, hop onto the homepage, www.getoutky.com, and check out the National Trails Day Calendar. There is something for everyone all over the state. Round up the kids, friends & family and get outside and enjoy one of Kentucky’s scenic trails. This weekend is also the “Free Fishing Weekend” in Kentucky. Anglers young and old can fish anywhere in the commonwealth without having a fishing license this Saturday & Sunday, the 4th & 5th of June. With more miles of navigable water than any state in the lower 48, no matter where you live in Kentucky there is good fishing nearby. A great option for fishing opportunities is in one of the Fishing in Neighborhoods Lakes (FINs) operated by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources. There are 34 fins lakes in 21 counties currently, and all of them are regularly stocked. For more information on Free Fishing Weekend, FINs lakes or anything fishing related, visit www.fw.ky.gov. No matter what outdoor pursuit you choose this weekend, make sure you’re outside taking advantage of the great opportunities we have here in the Bluegrass!
THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF TRAVEL
Capital Plaza Tower 22nd Floor, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, KY 40601