Center will now be Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Forget about the International Bluegrass Music Center that Owensboro has been talking about since 2010.

That $15.3 million building at Second and Frederica streets will be the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum when it opens in October.

The new signage should be going up on the building soon, Chris Joslin, the museum’s executive director, said last week.

The Hall of Fame, housed in the museum, actually belongs to the Nashville-based International Bluegrass Music Association.

But Joslin said the museum has reached an agreement with the IBMA to house the Hall of Fame for the next 20 years — with an option to renew.

The name change, he said, will bring the museum in line with the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Besides, Joslin, said people didn’t understand what a “bluegrass center” was.

“I had to explain that it was a hall of fame and museum,” he said. “So, we decided to just call it that.”

“I think the name change is a great move on their part,” Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said last week. “With the new museum, a new brand is extremely important in both attracting a new audience and bringing people who have visited in the past back to the museum.”

All the living Hall of Fame members have been invited to attend the opening night celebration on Oct. 18.

In future years, the museum plans to have induction ceremonies for the new members of Hall each year with a special performance in its 450-seat Woodward Theater.

“I think the fact that they are showcasing the Hall of Fame instead of using ‘international’ will help people understand that there is only one official Hall of Fame and that’s right here in Owensboro,” Calitri said.

The opening week will include a big-name performer on Oct. 19 and an outdoor festival on the north side of the museum on Oct. 20.

“We’ll celebrate everything from the roots of bluegrass to the modern age,” Joslin said.

Saturday concerts coming

He said Saturday night bluegrass concerts will begin in the new museum soon after its opening.

“Saturdays will be very bluegrass-centric, like ROMP,” Joslin said. “People will know they’ve been to a bluegrass show. And we’ll test the waters with other genres to see what people are interested in. We’ll have to see what the local appetite is for live music.”

He said that ROMP, which draws 25,000 or more fans to Yellow Creek Park each June, “has turned into such a great event. It’s a total experience. We want to take the energy around ROMP and bring it downtown. We want to be on the national radar.”

Ticket prices will depend on the act and how much sponsorship the museum can get for the shows.

“But most shows will probably be in the $20s or $30s range,” Joslin said.

The museum is also planning three to four outdoor mini-festivals in the area on its north side each year, he said.

“They’ll be one-day ROMPs with four or five acts,” Joslin said. “They’ll be on Saturdays. We want to be a good complement to Friday After 5 and extend it into the weekend. That will give more momentum for out-of-town visitors to spend the weekend with us.”

The current museum at Second and Daviess streets will close at the end of June, so the staff can begin getting the new facility ready for the grand opening.

“The core exhibits will be on the first floor,” Joslin said. “We have quite a few new items, including some that we haven’t had room to display here.”

There’s plenty of room at the new location, he said.

“We’ll have about 14,000-square-feet of display space,” Joslin said. “That’s about twice what we have now.”

He said, “We’re working with current artists, asking them to donate or loan items to the museum and we’re working with collectors of bluegrass memorabilia.”

The Hall of Fame will be on the second floor, along with two galleries for temporary exhibits and a room where visitors can watch video oral histories — interviews with the pioneers of bluegrass, many of whom have died since the recordings.

“They will be accessible to the public for the first time,” Joslin said.

The Hall of Fame, he said, “will be large enough to display all the new inductions for the next 20 years and beyond.”

‘Help drive tourism’

Joslin said, “We want to pull our own weight. This will be something unique to Owensboro to help drive tourism. It will appeal to a broad area.”

He said the Hall of Fame will be promoted along with O.Z. Tyler Distillery, Smothers Park, Western Kentucky Botanical Garden and other local attractions to give families more reasons to come to Owensboro.

“Owensboro is on the verge of something very special in the tourism industry,” Calitri said. “With O.Z. Tyler jumping on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail this summer, combined with Smothers Park and the bluegrass museum, you have several newer attractions for the leisure traveler to experience.”

He said, “We sell ourselves as bluegrass, bourbon and barbecue. It’s authentic in the fact that it’s what Owensboro roots are contained in. Having multiple new attractions all within a few minutes of each other puts Owensboro on the map as a destination.”

Calitri said the new attractions will also help attract conventions to town “because it gives people a reason to plan their meeting, convention and shows in Owensboro.”

He said the CVB is looking at ways it can package some of the attractions together for visitors.

Woodward Theater, Joslin said, is equipped for live radio and television broadcasts and “quality recording” — all of which he hopes to eventually see.

“We’re exploring the idea of a small stage in the lobby for small bands,” he said. “We have family bands who stop in when they’re traveling. And we have international bands visit from time to time. They could perform on the stage while they’re here.”

It would let those bands say that they had performed at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

“There’s a Picker’s Corner, where people can pick up an instrument and make music,” Joslin said. “You’ll see it as soon as you walk in. These are nice instruments too.”

Plans initially called for a restaurant on the building’s third floor.

But so far, the museum hasn’t been able to attract a restaurant.

“We haven’t ruled out a restaurant on the third floor,” Joslin said. “But we’re looking for alternatives to produce revenue there.”

The opening of the new museum will be the culmination of more than 30 years of local efforts.

Terry Woodward began a push in 1985, when he was chairman of the old Owensboro-Daviess County Tourist Commission, to make Owensboro a center for bluegrass music with a bluegrass museum.

The IBMA moved here in 1986 and created Fan Fest and an awards show in Owensboro.

In 1992, the bluegrass museum opened on a part-time basis.

It wouldn’t open on a full-time basis until a decade later — after a $3 million grant from the state.

The IBMA moved its events out of Owensboro in 1997.

But Woodward said the museum could be more important on a long-term basis than the IBMA.

“We have to have more than a one-week-a-year festival,” he said. “It’s unlimited what we can do with a new facility.”

In 2010, when the efforts to build the new facility at Second and Frederica streets began, Woodward predicted that it could attract 200,000 people a year — if it was done right.

Messenger-Inquirer article written by Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, [email protected]