State Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, is well aware of the power of bluegrass music.
Webb, a longtime fan of Kentucky’s traditional music and whose circle of personal friends includes several professional bluegrass musicians, has filed legislation urging the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet to create the Beaten Path Bluegrass Music Trail. The proposal seeks to promote traditional Kentucky culture, and bluegrass music in particular.
“I grew up in it, so I’m a little partial,” said Webb, noting her longtime association and support of local bluegrass festivals and events. “It was just a big part of my life growing up.
Increased opportunities for bluegrass music will create jobs, Webb said, although she admits the “cultural aspects” of the proposal are her priority. Webb said she came up with the idea for Senate Concurrent Resolution 188 after speaking to Don Rigsby and members of his band about the challenges faced by full-time musicians in the area, including lapses in an otherwise well-organized music festival circuit.
“Full-time musicians have a hard, hard life,” Webb said.
Webb said she further discussed those concerns with regional officials during December’s Shaping Our Appalachian Region Summit in Pikeville, and conceived the plan while driving home along U.S. 23, otherwise known as the Country Music Highway.
“And, it’s not going to cost a lot of money. We can enhance what we have with technology, awareness, marketing and signage. Signage may be our most challenging thing right now,” she said, noting her desire to see the effort begin in eastern Kentucky before it is spread to the rest of the commonwealth.
“Tourism is one of Kentucky’s top industries. In 2012, tourism had an economic impact of $12.2 billion,” Webb said. “Bluegrass music is a big part of our culture and attracts visitors to our state. We need to build on the bluegrass music attraction and grow the opportunities for visitors to see and do more related to the bluegrass music industry. This would not only be good for our tourism industry, but would also promote our culture.”
Webb’s resolution petitions the Cabinet to create and promote the bluegrass trail, allowing tourists and traditional music enthusiasts to readily identify and locate venues, festivals, concerts, museums, schools and historic and noteworthy sites that feature bluegrass music.
“The roots of Kentucky’s bluegrass music can be traced back to the earliest English, Irish and Ulster-Scots immigrants settling in Appalachia,” she explained. “The traditional folk melodies and instrumentation of Continental settlers in Appalachia readily blended with Southern gospel music and African-American spirituals and blues to create a unique sound that is immediately identified throughout the world as bluegrass music.”
Kentucky, Webb said, is the birthplace of many of the most original, accomplished and recognized bluegrass musicians — from the founders of bluegrass music such as Bill Monroe and the Osborne Brothers, to contemporary bluegrass musicians such as J.D. Crowe, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless.
Webb said the impact of bluegrass music can be seen throughout the commonwealth at internationally known festivals, including the Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Rudy Fest in Grayson, the Olive Hill Shrine Festival, the Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival in Morehead and the Goin’ Back to Harlan Festival at Southeast Community and Technical College.
Kentucky is also home to museums dedicated to preserving the heritage of bluegrass music: the International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro and the Bill Monroe Museum in Rosine. Master luthiers such as Carter County’s Gary Cotton have made guitars and mandolins prized by professional musicians throughout the world.
Furthermore, Morehead State University’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music and the Hazard Community and Technical College’s Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music offer degreed programs for students pursuing advanced training or careers in music and entertainment.
“Bluegrass music, as are bourbon and thoroughbred horse racing, is a fundamental and traditional component of Kentucky’s cultural heritage that people from all regions of America and throughout the world readily identify and seek out as uniquely appealing,” Webb said.
Tourism in the commonwealth increased in 2012 by 4.4 percent from 2011, according to statistics from the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.
“We need to continue to grow the industry and build on the successes we already have,” Webb said. “Tourism means jobs for Kentuckians. In 2012, around 174,000 jobs in the commonwealth resulted from tourism.
“Tourism impacts the state as well as the communities. Visitors spend money — new money — at our restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, shops and other establishments. It has been said that each dollar spent turns over seven times because those businesses then spend the money at other business and to pay employees.
“The Beaten Path Bluegrass Music Trail would give visitors another reason to spend money in our communities. It also would pay homage to a part of our Appalachian culture.”
Webb said “bluegrass is pure Kentucky to me,” citing the potential tourism value for existing venues, including the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg and area state parks.
Webb’s resolution will be considered during the current legislative session.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.
State Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, is well aware of the power of bluegrass music.
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