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Bean Blossom

Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Festivals

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Bean Blossom
    Book Description:

    Bean Blossom, Indiana--near Brown County State Park and the artist-colony town of Nashville, Indiana--is home to the annual Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, founded in 1967 by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass. Widely recognized as the oldest continuously running bluegrass music festival in the world, this June festival's roots run back to late 1951, when Monroe purchased the Brown County Jamboree, a live weekly country music show presented between April and November each year. Over the years, Monroe's festival featured the top performers in bluegrass music, including Jimmy Martin, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, the Goins Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, and many more. Thomas A. Adler's history of Bean Blossom traces the long and colorful life of the Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Festival. Adler discusses the development of bluegrass music, the many personalities involved in the bluegrass music scene, the interplay of local, regional, and national interests, and the meaning of this venue to the music's many performers--both professional and amateur--and its legions of fans.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09544-3
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Rural Country Music Parks
    (pp. xv-xxiv)

    This book is a history of one small special cultural scene devoted to vernacular music. Although its story is unique, it exemplifies a type of live music scene that arose in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century: arural country music park. Hundreds of these parks were established from the 1930s on, but for the most part, they have appeared and disappeared without much written notice, remaining stubbornly below the level of historical scrutiny.¹

    InBluegrass: A History, Neil V. Rosenberg describes the older country music parks of the 1950s and before, emphasizing their simplicity,...

  6. 1 Brown County History and Roots
    (pp. 1-11)

    About thirty-five miles south of Indianapolis on State Highway 135 lies a tiny Indiana town with the quaintly improbable name of Bean Blossom. A visitor to the southern Indiana hill country might zip through Bean Blossom while traveling to the busy county seat, Nashville, or to lovely Brown County State Park, a few miles farther south. For most of the town’s modern history, automobile passage through Bean Blossom didn’t take very long, and to most travelers, the small town’s sights probably seemed unworthy of notice or memory: a few houses, a couple of churches, some boarded-up storefronts, a gas station,...

  7. 2 Origins of the Brown County Jamboree, 1939–41
    (pp. 12-20)

    According to oral sources, the Brown County Jamboree started one summer Sunday in the late 1930s or early 1940s.¹ Thirty years later, one of the key participants recalled the year of the Jamboree’s founding as 1935, but most recalled that it probably began in the summer or fall of 1939.²

    The oral sources are not supported by area newspapers; the first articles describing early Jamboree events appeared in the summer of 1941. The same newspaper articles imply that the first show leading to the establishment of the Jamboree actually happened in the spring of 1941.³ Yet local newspaper articles cannot...

  8. 3 The Rund Familyʹs Brown County Jamboree, 1941–51
    (pp. 21-47)

    Francis Rund came from an old Brown County family.¹ He was named for his grandfather Franz Rund, who left Wittenberg, Germany, in 1848, settling near Bean Blossom about 1852. The Runds were soon linked by marriage to the McDonalds, whose first local ancestor arrived in Brown County in 1853. Succeeding generations of marriages and births bound the Runds to many other key families in Brown County Jamboree history: the Coxes, the Doyles, the Shehans, and the McDonalds.

    The Runds and McDonalds ran grocery stores, and both families included successive generations of grocers. Kess McDonald,Jack’s grandfather, was the last of the...

  9. 4 Bill Monroeʹs Brown County Jamboree Park, 1952–57
    (pp. 48-65)

    In April 1952, a tiny article on the front page of theBrown County Democratannounced:


    The famous Brown County Jamboree at Bean Blossom has new owners. Mr. and Mrs. Francis Rund, founders and owners for 13 years, have sold the Jamboree Hall to the Grand Ole Opry entertainer, Bill Monroe, of Nashville, Tennessee.

    The Rund family started their Jamboree in a tent in the Fall of 1939, and built the permanent hall in 1943. The show operates every Sunday night from the first Sunday in May until the first Sunday in November.¹

    When did Monroe...

  10. 5 Survivals, Revivals, and Arrivals, 1958–66
    (pp. 66-89)

    Two revolutionary mid-1950s music-industry developments affected Bean Blossom. Rock and roll music, bursting forth in the first half of the decade, forced changes in country music and all other popular music genres, and the folk song revival of the second half-decade provided new audiences with a worldview in which bluegrass’s distinctive sound and folk roots marked it as separate from the Nashville sound that increasingly defined “country music.”

    Kenny Baker, who first worked as Monroe’s fiddler in 1957, recalled the effect of rock and roll on artists who would not or could not adapt: “There was a few years there...

  11. 6 Building the Festivals, 1967–68
    (pp. 90-107)

    The 1967 season of the Brown County Jamboree opened April 2 with a show by Bill Monroe, the Shenandoah Valley Trio, the Famous Blue Grass Quartet, and—according to the poster—“a host of others.”¹ Birch let the “host of others” remain unnamed until showtime, promising only that Bill would once again open the season. From the late 1940s on, Bill’s show often began with a short opening set by the Shenandoah Valley Trio, who were simply the Blue Grass Boys, wearing hats but performing without Bill. Bill’s show also included a segment by the Famous Blue Grass Quartet—also...

  12. 7 The Festival Becomes a Landmark, 1969–71
    (pp. 108-122)

    The 1969 Brown County Jamboree opened in late April, with Bill Monroe sharing the limelight with “Red and Fred,” the engaging duo of country comedian and guitarist Fred Smith and mandolinist Red Rector. Red and Fred worked on two key Knoxville, Tennessee, radio and television shows, theMid-Day Merry-Go-Roundand Cas Walker’sFarm and Home Hourtelevision show.

    May brought shows by Ernie Ashworth wearing his trademark “Lips” suit to remind fans of his sole hit, “Talk Back Trembling Lips,” as well as Martha Carson, Grand Ole Opry guitar wizard Joe Edwards, Jimmie Skinner, and Grandpa Jones and his fiddling...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 8 The Festivalʹs Golden Age, 1972–82
    (pp. 123-144)

    By 1971, Monroe’s festival archetype was complete. His June festival became a prototype for bluegrass festivals everywhere and became a model Monroe seemed driven to follow thereafter, not only at new festivals but at Bean Blossom itself. The June festival grew in size and stayed perennially profitable, but its evolution as a new sort of business ended once the key elements had been invented or discovered.

    Although Monroe accepted change as it overtakes music constantly being recreated in performance, he did not always favor change in running the festival, often preferring to do things in a deliberately old-fashioned way, “like...

  15. 9 Festival People and Lore
    (pp. 145-158)

    In the earliest festival years, many attendees slept in simple tents, or on the ground next to their cars. The camping experience played a part in forming the shared sense of community that eventually coalesced as an annually recurring cultural scene at Monroe’s festival music park.

    At a festival park, a cultural space is mapped onto the physical site. Concurrently, time itself, at a bluegrass music festival, is suspended as one moves between encounters with transcendent moments of live musicianship. At Bean Blossom, such moments came often. Pickers and heartfelt fans came back reliably, addicted to the timbres of bluegrass...

  16. 10 Bill and James Monroeʹs Festival Park, 1983–97
    (pp. 159-178)

    Birch Monroe’s death brought resonating memories of his former presence at the June and fall festivals. Fans’ fading memories of “Uncle Birch” fed a dawning sense that times had changed and that the festivals’ early excitement and intensity had waned a bit.

    More changes came from new demands on Bill Monroe’s time, because of his many appearances, honors, and new endeavors. He was honored and lionized around the country, receiving a National Heritage Fellowship in 1982 and being ever more widely recognized, nationally and internationally, as the founder of “a legitimate American art form.”¹ The 1980s witnessed a rise in...

  17. 11 Renaissance, Continuity, and Change, 1998 and After
    (pp. 179-190)

    In early 1998, the swirl of Bean Blossom rumors ended with word that a former Blue Grass Boy—Dwight Dillman, of Peru, Indiana—had bought the music park from James Monroe. Using the corporate name “Brown County Jamboree,” Dillman acquired the park on March 19, 1998.

    After leaving the professional music business, in which he had been a banjo player for both Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin, Dwight Dillman prospered as a furniture dealer. His success enabled him to purchase the park from James Monroe for about $750,000.¹ Of greater interest than the price was the welcome news that Dillman...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 191-208)
  19. List of Interviews
    (pp. 209-212)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-220)
  21. Index
    (pp. 221-240)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-249)