June 24-27, 2015
Article By Matt Wickstrom
Photos by Tom Wickstrom
A wet and soggy ROMP 2015 couldn’t keep hundreds of musical fanatics, both young and old, from descending upon Yellow Creek Park in Owensboro to see performances from some of the best bluegrass bands and artists from around the world.
ROMP, which is known for it’s stellar musical lineups, easy access to artists, and countless daytime activities for people of all ages, is hosted by the International Bluegrass Music Museum. The twelfth annual edition of ROMP featured performances from bluegrass legends Del McCoury and David Grisman as Del & Dawg, Sam Bush, Hot Rize, John Prine, and Leftover Salmon, among others.
Before rain rolled into the area, temperatures outside reached 96 degrees Thursday afternoon as music kicked off on the main stage with the Jenny Beth Willis Band at 3 pm. Willis, who is a native of the Owensboro area, surprised everyone with her amazing voice as she nailed every high note with beautiful consistency. Willis, who appeared on season 12 of American Idol, also impressed with her proficiency on both the guitar and piano.
Later into Thursday evening, the trio The Lone Bellow took the stage. After a prolonged sound check, the band started playing just as ominous clouds began moving their way into the area.
The trio did their best to fend off the rain with their amazing vocals and rhythmic instrumentals, but their efforts did nothing but prolong the inevitable. Soon after their set ended, the skies opened up, and rain began falling from the sky for several hours. The storm resulted in the unfortunate cancellation of the Punch Brothers set, which was due to follow The Lone Bellow and close out music on the main stage on Thursday night.
After a stormy Thursday night, music began early Friday morning on the main stage, kicking off at 11 am with Kings Highway, and followed by Swedish group Dunderhead. As was the case Thursday, rain began creeping into the area in the middle of the afternoon, pushing back the remaining performances of the day by a couple hours.
To make up for lost time, some sets were shortened or merged all-together, including those from Luke Bulla and Phoebe Hunt. One of the most pleasant surprises from ROMP was the gospel music of The Fairfield Four & The McCrary Sisters, whose vocal harmonies rolled through the hills of Yellow Creek Park, providing everyone around with a sense of euphoria and musical bliss.
One of the highlights of the festival occurred during Del & Dawg’s set Friday night. As rain poured down from the sky in buckets, mandolin legend Sam Bush joined the famed duo on stage for a performance of Bill Monroe’s “New River Train”. Sam Bush, who is from the Bowling Green area, donned a University of Kentucky basketball jersey on stage during his appearance with both Del & Dawg, and for his set following them. Bush looked as youthful as ever, jumping and dancing around on stage as he played. His energy translated directly to the large crowd in the muddy mosh pit directly in front of the stage, as everyone began swaying their arms and shaking their hips as if they were dancing in a room by themselves.
Capping off music on the main stage Friday night was a special appearance from Yonder Mountain String Band. Although Yonder wasn’t listed on the official festival lineup, it was no secret they’d be performing at ROMP 2015. Soon after arriving in Owensboro on Thursday, rumors were making their way around the festival grounds of a special appearance by Yonder, who had no scheduled shows on Friday, and were scheduled to be just up the road in Bloomington, Indiana, on Saturday night. Due to rain earlier in the day disrupting the music on the festival’s main stage, Yonder was forced to play a relatively short set, lasting roughly one hour. One of the highlights of Yonder’s set was their playing of “Love Before You Can’t” off of their new CD “Black Sheep”. Allie Kral, who was officially named a member of YMSB along with mandolin player Jake Joliff, is featured in the song, showing off her incredible voice that has brought an entirely new sound to the veteran bluegrass band after the departure of founding member Jeff Austin last year.
The final day of ROMP featured an amazing daily lineup of music, which was evident by the extremely large crowd of music patrons who showed up to Yellow Creek Park on Saturday. One group that was a pleasant surprise was Billy Strings & Don Julin. Out of all of the amazing artists at ROMP throughout the weekend, no group performed on stage with more intensity than this group out of Northern Michigan. At ROMP the duo added a stand-up bass into the mix as well, adding another dimension to their already unique sound. Billy Strings & Don Julin tore the house down, and all it took was a guitar, a mandolin, and a stand-up bass.
Later Saturday night bluegrass super group Hot Rize took the stage, playing both music new and old, after recently releasing their first album in over twenty years, titled “When I’m Free”. Following them was legend John Prine, who had a packed crowd of fans swaying back and forth singing his beautifully written songs right along with him.
Capping off music on the main stage for ROMP 2015 was Leftover Salmon. Joined by Luke Bulla for most of their set on fiddle, Salmon played an amazing set of their signature rock’n bluegrass. Early in their set, the band took on a Little Feat song titled “Cajun Girl”, as a way of honoring their newly inducted keyboardist Bill Payne, who used to play with them. For the tune, front-man Vince Herman threw on a washboard over his chest and began hitting spoons and other objects against it , adding a very intriguing and unique sound to the song. Salmon closed out their set with one of their newer songs, “High Country”, off of their newest CD going by the same name. Of all of the fantastic bands that played at ROMP throughout the weekend, there might not have been any better-suited to close out the festival than Leftover Salmon.
All in all, ROMP was one of the best festivals I’ve been to in a while. Aside from the amazing musical lineup at the festival, there were also several other activities to keep attendees busy , including artist-led workshops throughout the days, free shuttle rides to downtown Owensboro to visit the Bluegrass museum (along with special events there coinciding with the festival); a splash park and slip’n’slide for kids or anyone looking to cool off, and much more! ROMP is a festival I’ll be heading back to for years to come.