Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers enjoyed one of the most rewarding weekends in our band’s history September 1 and 2, 2023.
We were blessed to host the Hall of Fame Homecoming for the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro, KY. I am continually reminded of the importance of the leadership in the City of Owensboro, Davies county, and the state of Kentucky, since they first opened opportunities for the International Bluegrass Music Association in the 1980s. Our bluegrass “home” in Owensboro, includes a stunning facility on the riverfront that opened in 2018. It appears to be the epicenter of downtown and a plethora of quality restaurants, lodging, shops, and other attractions are thriving within easy walking distance to the Hall of Fame.
The Radio Ramblers were to perform Friday and Saturday nights. A two-night package had been offered throughout the summer for those who could attend for the weekend. Delicious meals catered by Owensboro’s famous Moonlight Barbecue were served each evening at the comfortable banquet space at the Hall of Fame, and lodging was provided at hotels nearby.
Friday evening we were so thankful to have an audience of JMRR devotees who had traveled from my home base in Ohio. Owensboro is over 250 miles from Dayton, Ohio, making the trip a good weekend getaway. But we were surprised and also very grateful for Ramblers fans and friends who journeyed from South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, and other states, as well as many neighborhood guests too, from central Kentucky and southern Indiana. We performed Friday evening in the Woodward theater at the Hall of Fame. This intimate venue (less than 500 seats), is perfect for connecting with an audience and has outstanding sound and lighting. The quality facilities at the HOF and tremendous talent lineup from bluegrass, Americana, country, gospel, and other roots genres has made the theater a successful destination for concert goers. And, everyone who enters can learn about the founders and history of bluegrass!
Saturday, September 2 was a busy but blessed day. For the morning session, I was scheduled to sit down with museum director Chris Joslin on the theatre stage and present attendees with details on Ohio’s bluegrass history. The Hall of Fame is currently featuring an exhibit on Industrial Strength Bluegrass, following the book of the same title and the IBMA Album of the Year for 2021. My friend and a co-author of the book, Fred Bartenstein, allowed me to use his audio-video presentation and I spoke to a nice audience of enthusiasts. We also discussed my dad’s history and contributions, as Paul “Moon” Mullins was a class of 2022 Hall of Fame inductee.
During Saturday afternoon, an on stage interview with Hall of Fame member Paul Williams was scheduled. Paul is one of many “twice selected” members of the Hall. As a band member with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, and as an individual for his decades of writing and recording some of the greatest songs in the history of the genre.
Paul has been a personal, family friend and mentor for many years, so I was grateful for the opportunity to have him share his experiences and thoughts with an audience who also loved him. As I knew he would, he shared his heart and wisdom in many ways. Born in 1935, and beginning his career as a musician and singer on radio at age 12, Paul is so very fortunate at age 88 to still enjoy stable health and an outstanding ability to communicate with details, grace, and humor. To share an afternoon of outstanding bluegrass history, laughter, fond memories, and a few tears of joy with this dear friend was unforgettable for me and all in attendance.
Paul and I both spoke of our dear friend Doyle Lawson. He was scheduled to be part of the weekend but is not traveling at all while assisting his wife and family through a health care situation.
History was made on stage Saturday night, September 2, 2023, in Owensboro! As a beloved Hall of Fame member still touring full time, we were very fortunate that Del McCoury made himself available for the homecoming. We all know he’s a veteran road warrior. Del rode the McCoury bus from Nashville to Ohio on Thursday, August 31, then to Mill Spring, North Carolina, for his performance at the Earl Scruggs Music Festival. His bus landed back in Nashville the day of our homecoming event at 4:00 a.m. Always the pro, Del and a few family members joined us at the Hall of Fame Saturday for an afternoon rehearsal and sound check.
From the time Paul Williams and Del McCoury shook hands, hugged necks, and began swapping stories of their years of performing, writing, recording and perfecting bluegrass music, there was magic in Owensboro. Cell phones grabbing videos and photos of the two legends, constantly. The smiles, laughter and high lonesome sound was sheer joy to all of The Radio Ramblers and everyone in the building. We were blessed to see two of our heroes really enjoy making pure bluegrass music. Paul and Del smiled and laughed so freely while running through classic songs they had written or first performed decades ago. And even at age 88, we practiced a few of Paul’s songs he wrote and recorded in recent years, and recorded a demo backstage of a song he just wrote a few weeks ago!
The Radio Ramblers opened the show at 7:00 p.m. with a few of our songs and introductions. The auditorium was sold out and even Terry Woodward, an IBMA founder and bluegrass Hall of Fame member whom the theatre is named for was in attendance. Paul Williams joined us on stage to a standing ovation. His clear, tenor voice rang through the rafters, effortlessly. The selection of songs, most of which he had written, included his recent recording of Abigail, to his classic My Brown Eyed Darlin’, which Paul wrote and recorded 71 years ago. He finished with Fraulein, and left the stage with another standing ovation.
Then, with his perfect silver hair looking spectacular, Del McCoury took the stage with The Radio Ramblers. We were excited, nervous and anxious to play with one of most significant bluegrass creators of the last sixty years. Del was, as always, his completely, laid back and unassuming self. He greeted the audience with his huge smile that closes his eyes and said, “I don’t know what we’re gonna do, I’m still enjoying what Paul sang on Fraulein!”
I had the good fortune to jam with Del half the night a few times many years ago. But to play HIS hits with him on stage was amazing for all of us. I Feel The Blues Moving In, Rain and Snow, The Bluest Man in Town, and others have been classics for so long, and performed by one of the most awarded and tightest bands in history. We did our best, and Chris Davis, Jason Barie, Adam McIntosh, and Randy Barnes were all spectacular.
Then the magic, excitement and entertainment went to another level when Paul Williams came back on stage to join Del. The love, laughter, respect, and music shared by these two, The Radio Ramblers and the audience was surreal. Their voices peeled the paint off the auditorium on classic bluegrass- There Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me, Hit Parade of Love, Little White Church, and more. Their duet on Old Crossroads was so special – Paul singing tenor to Del’s lead on the first verse and chorus, then they traded parts for the second verse and chorus! Unbelievable performances between jokes about their medications, and remembering songs they first performed before bluegrass festivals began made the evening fly by.
Paul’s composition My Walking Shoes was the closer, but left the crowd demanding more. The show had ran nearly two hours, but Paul belted out The Hills of Roane County crystal clear. Del brought the house down the final time with The Prisoner’s Song, and the historic night wrapped up.
To the team at the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum, Kentucky and Davies County tourism, the hundreds of people in attendance to encourage us, thank you so very much from The Radio Ramblers for the honor of hosting such an extraordinary weekend. Most of all, thank God for blessing Paul Williams and Del McCoury with their amazing gifts and a lifetime of devotion to our community. They made time stand still for an evening in Owensboro.