I could hear the pickin’ and strummin’ the moment I parked my car for the Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky. It was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit the city, and I couldn’t stop smiling as I grabbed my lawn chair, water bottle and camera out of the trunk and headed in the direction of the music.
Lexington’s annual event is the oldest bluegrass festival in Kentucky’s bluegrass region and it lures back many of the same attendees year after year. I happened to sit next to some folks who’ve been coming to the festival for 10 years running, and they welcomed me into their fold with a big ol’ bluegrass welcome.
As it turned out, they were good friends with Bob Cornett who along with his late wife, Jean, founded the Festival of the Bluegrass, and before I knew it, I was sitting next to Bob himself.
Bob and Jean have always maintained the festival’s homegrown simplicity and have changed very little over its 45 years. Bob is emphatic when he says, “What’s here is family. It’s not a business,” and even though it was my first time attending the festival, I quickly picked up and felt enveloped in the cozy family vibe. It’s all about enjoying great bluegrass music; everything else is peripheral.
Bring your own lawn chairs, pick a spot and settle in for as long as you like. The music plays from day to night.
The annual event quietly begins on Tuesday with a music camp for kids ages 6-18. Over three days, camp attendees receive instruction on their choice of bluegrass instrument: fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo, or bass. They end their camp session Thursday evening with a performance on the main stage to kick off Festival of the Bluegrass. Then begins four days of the best pickin’ and grinnin’ you’ll find anywhere.
Along with ongoing main stage music, there’s a smaller tent for more intimate musical entertainment and jam sessions. I happened to catch the Moron Brothers, a Kentucky-based comedic bluegrass duo who’ve become quite the phenomenon.
Other informal jam sessions pop up frequently throughout the festival, and if you happen upon one, you’re in for a genuine treat. There’s nothing more “real” than the energy and excitement of unexpected in-the-moment bluegrass improv. Tip: The campground is a popular spot for jam sessions.
Whether you choose to come for a few hours or hang out all day long, the Festival of the Bluegrass is one heck of a good time.
Plan to attend:
Festival of the Bluegrass takes place on the first weekend in June every year at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Tickets are available for each individual day or as a 4-day combo pass.
Bring your own lawn chair.
Shady spots go first, and it’s hot in Kentucky in June, so be prepared.
Wear a hat and sunscreen.
Bring water, or better yet, a cooler full of it.
Food and beverage trucks are available, so come with cash in hand.
Restroom facilities are port-a-potties so consider bringing along hand sanitizer.
Visit FestivaloftheBluegrass.com for more information and to buy advance tickets.
Festival of the Bluegrass