Family is what the Festival of the Bluegrass is all about.
Bob and Jean Cornett started what is now the longest running bluegrass music festival in the Central Kentucky area, celebrating its 46th year June 6-9 at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“(Bob) would look out his office and where the Horse Park is now, before the Horse Park it was Walnut Hall Farm, and he was like, ‘that would be a great place for a bluegrass festival,’” said Co-Event Producer Roy Miller Cornett. “Cause, they had been going to some bluegrass festivals, a few of them, and Granddad fell in love with them.
“But they were not up to the cleanliness standards that Grandma felt should be at a public event,” Co-Event Producer AnnaMarie Cornett chimed in. “So, they thought they could do better,”
“And so, he was like, ‘I’m gonna put on a bluegrass festival and do it over there,’” Roy said.
Bob and Jean would put their family to work every second weekend in June.
But, that first year in 1974 didn’t exactly go to plan. There was rain. Lots of rain.
“The very first festival was there where the Horse Park is now, but before the Horse Park existed,” he said.
“It was a pretty miserable failure. Nobody came. It rained.”
Someone even forgot a stage.
“Well, (Bob) organized the whole thing. So, he had Bill Monroe, he had Doc Watson,” said AnnaMarie. “He had the cream of the crop there at that first festival, but he forgot to get a stage.
“All of these musicians started showing up and no stage for them to perform on; so, they had one of their friends just pull up an old tobacco wagon and that was the stage.”
The Cornetts had six boys; so their festival crew was already intact.
“They had kind of a built-in work force,” said AnnaMarie. “Whether they wanted to do it or not they were conscripted every year, second weekend of June. They were picking up trash. They were parking cars. They were, you know, runnin’ the festival.
“As the family grew, and as they had wives, children… today if you pull up it’s our kids working the gates, nieces and nephews selling t-shirts, answering the phone. You know, so… it’s like a giant Cornett family reunion every June, cause everybody comes back for the festival,” she said.
Roy Miller has been coming to the festival since he can remember.
“I have no memories of not being at the festival,” Roy said.
Roy Miller and AnnaMarie now lead the festival operations.
“We started the transition where me and Anna were running it, taking it over from Grandma and Granddad about 10 years ago now,” he said
If there were no festival Roy would not know what to do, he said.
“It just literally has been a part of my existence.”
The Festival of the Bluegrass is completely volunteer run.
“Learning from them the value of your volunteers, the importance of your volunteers has been just amazing,” said AnnaMarie. “We could not do this from scratch.”
With the recent passing of Bob and having lost Jean in 2015, Roy Miller and AnnaMarie plan to continue the festival traditions and the Cornett family legacy.
In the future they want to expand and have a second stage for workshops and community gatherings, AnnaMarie said.
“We take what we do very, very seriously because we recognize that the people who are coming out for that week, they’re taking vacation time from work,” she said. “They’re making a decision to say, ‘I’m gonna spend my week with you.’
“We have a responsibility to show them a good time.”
Bands to perform this year are: The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Dave Adkins, Dale Ann Bradley, Turning Ground, Lonesome River Band, New South Tribute Band, IIIrd Tyme Out, Wildfire, Newtown, Seldom Scene, Town Mountain, Irene Kelley, McLain Family Band, Hog Slop String Band, Moron Brothers, Dry Branch Fire Squad, True Life Travelers and the EKU Bluegrass Ensemble.
For more information on the Festival of the Bluegrass visit festivalofthebluegrass.com or call 859-253-0806.
James Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.