Bean Blossom – a second look

| January 9, 2012 | 1 Comment

Bean Blossom, that place of many legends that has attracted bluegrass fans from so many territories world-wide, that has two internationally-distributed LPs that bear its name and yet about which so little of its history has been known for so long.

That is, until now, thanks to Thomas A Adler’s book Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festivals (University of Illinois Press).

Firstly, Bean Blossom, sometimes spelled as one word, is a small town in Brown County, south-central Indiana, just north of the artist-colony town of Nashville. It is the home of the Brown County Jamboree shows, originally a stage for local musicians, many playing and singing in the style of the popular country music artists of the day. Thirdly, it is the base for Bill Monroe’s bluegrass festivals, which continue to this day at what is called the Bill Monroe Memorial Music Park and Campground.

Similarly, its tenure can be split into three eras; grocer Francis Rund began accumulating land in the close vicinity in 1938 and by June 1941 he had acquired more than 60 acres and had begun the building of holiday cabins, making the site into a real rural country music park. Founded, it is thought, in 1939, the jamboree, staged on a flatbed trailer located besides Highway 135 just south of its present site, had attracted a good following and radio support by the time Rund took an interest in it and began to stage it on his land.

Rund helped the jamboree to grow and soon erected a tent in which the show was staged. In 1942 he erected the ‘old’ Brown County Jamboree Barn; old, due to the use of timber from an actual barn. Rund did much to make the jamboree more attractive, the national country music performers to the roster of local and regional acts. However by the end of the decade he was finding it difficult to manage to his family’s help and he sought assistance, which came from accordionist and bandleader Pee Wee King.

So, it was not surprising that in late 1951 Rund sold the park to Bill Monroe.

Shortly thereafter, Monroe erected a small un-shaded platform stage. Although much is said about the poor management skills of the Monroes, particularly that by brother Birch, the site manager, the jamboree presented shows by more and more national bluegrass and country music acts, many owing to the Grand Ol’ Opry connection with Bill Monroe.

In June 1967 Monroe staged the first bluegrass festival, known as the Big Blue Grass Celebration, at Bean Blossom. This festival is claimed to be the longest-running bluegrass festival of all. It was the start of what became a world-renowned event that attracted musicians from as far afield as Japan within a few years.

The park itself benefitted from a new stage, erected in 1992, and the Bill Monroe Museum with its Gift Shop and reconstructed Uncle Pen cabin.

On his death Bill Monroe bequeathed the site to his son, James, who sold it to the present owner Dwight Dillman in March 1998.

Since then Dillman has developed the park considerably, as can be seen from the last, circa 2003, of the occasional site plans that are included in this book. Jointly, they provide a neat summary of the geographical changes along that stretch of Highway 135.

Informative and insightful as it is, in Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festivals Adler provides a personal account of over 40 years’ direct experience and a well-researched history of the first 30 years of show-biz development from a local enterprise to an expansive organization where there were conflicting interests that had to be satisfied.  Eventually, Bill Monroe was the magnet that elevated this rural country music park to the status of a bluegrass mecca.

Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festivals

Detail:

Paperback: 264 pages
ISBN-10: 0252078101
ISBN-13: 978-0252078101
29 black & white photographs, 5 line drawings, 6 maps

Since publication Adler has set up a website which he calls “an expansion of Tom Adler’s 2011 book,” with a slide show, some graphics and images, a list of corrections and updates, some audio and video treats and a comments page.

For a sample of the atmosphere at Bean Blossom here is a view of what it was like there during the June 1971 festival…

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… and Duane Busick’s recording from the 1976 Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival with an interview of Bill Monroe by Pete Churton.

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Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.

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Category: Print Reviews