Every year, there is a bluegrass festival at Bean Blossom, the 55-acre music park which Bill Monroe bought in 1951 and operated for 45 years. This year’s Bean Blossom Festival was special, because it celebrated the 100th anniversary of Monroe’s birth.
Now, the Rural Rhythm Project has released a live recording from that festival, Bill Monroe 100th Year Celebration Live at Bean Blossom, with 12 cuts from artists such as Lonesome River Band, bluegrass greats Bobby Osbourne and Ronnie Reno, and Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out, Lou Reid and Carolina, Audie Blaylock and Redline, Blue Moon Rising, Grasstowne, Rickey Wasson, Dwight McCall, Carolina Road, and Brand New Strings.
Monroe fathered bluegrass music, and whether the songs he wrote and recorded were secular, instrumental, or gospel, many of them became classics of the genre. All three styles are represented here.
Bluegrass musicians often do not get the recognition they deserve. The sheer amount of skill displayed on this CD shows why these musicians deserve respect, highlighted by lightning-fast banjo, mandolin and guitar picking, soaring fiddle, energetic and emotional vocals. These performers are consummate professionals and they deserve to be applauded as much as any guitar hero or rock icon.
Among the classic numbers on this CD, the most well-known are probably “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” performed by another bluegrass pioneer, Bobby Osbourne, and “Uncle Pen,” made famous to country music fans by Ricky Skaggs’ version and performed admirably here by Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out. Another familiar tune is “Footprints in the Snow,” a classic bluegrass love story given an affectionate and loving treatment by Lonesome River Band.
Then there are the instrumental numbers, including “Southern Flavor,” “Big Mon,” and “Bluegrass Breakdown,” which give the musicians a chance to show off and shine.
Gospel music is another bluegrass staple, and is represented here by Carolina Road’s version of the old-time favorite, “This World Is Not My Home,” and a fine a cappella version of “Were You There,” by Grasstowne with excellent lead vocals by Steve Gulley.
Lesser-known but still excellent numbers include “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” “Body and Soul,” “Molly and Tenbrooks,” and “Six Feet Under the Ground.” They are all well worth a listen, and the Rural Rhythm artists, most of whom I had not heard of before this, deliver performances on every song that would have made Monroe proud.
This CD is an excellent tribute to a century of great Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys songs, performed by artists who obviously know and love the music. Get it if you’re a bluegrass or country music fan, and if you’re not, get it anyway. You may find a new sort of exciting music you will really enjoy!