It’s been record high temperatures here in Kentucky. We’ve had triple digits for nigh a week and I expect that they’ll continue on for the next span of days, too. Mother Nature has its own mind and does not heed the plans of mere mortals, and when the International Bluegrass Music Museum scheduled its annual River Of Music Party (ROMP) they did not anticipate the heat. ROMP is a three day music festival where people come literally from all over the world and camp and listen to great music the whole time. Guests also enjoy a bit of Kentucky hospitality and our lovely environment.
If I had not already purchased two non-refundable tickets well in advance I might not have made the journey to ROMP on Saturday. But I did, and so I cleared the day and prepared for the onslaught. I lathered on Avonlea’s SPF 50 to my fair-and-freckled skin hoping to avoid a burn. I filled my canteen with ice water, grabbed a popsicle, and headed out to Yellowcreek Park at around 2pm (whereupon my arrival I realized that I did not bring any lawn chairs and had to turn around and drive back to my house and pick up some before making my way back to the park).
First of all the ROMP festival is misleading. While the bluegrass museum is the host of the party, the music is anything but your typical bluegrass. In fact, of the six bands I watched I would say only one was a traditional bluegrass band. Most of the acts are newgrass, alternative bluegrass, or contemporary acoustic, though they all borrowed heavily from bluegrass and Old Time music. The crowd—numbering near 10,000 for the final act—was also very reflective of the music. By that I mean that a large percentage were very stereotypical hippyish. By that I mean to imply a bluegrass meets Bonaroo vibe. That said, the heat makes people do crazy things, which was simultaneously amusing and annoying.
But I was not there to people watch. No, I was there for the music, primarily for the acts beginning at 6:00pm, with a band by the name of Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. Pokey LaFarge played predominately Old Time music or songs that sounded befitting of the genre. The guitarist was unbelievable, picking out impossible riffs with apparent ease. LaFarge’s songs were humorous and dark and the energy the band had onstage was a perfect way to start the evening.
The 23 String Band came on next. This band was probably the closest thing to bluegrass of the night (excepting NewFound Road, which played in the early afternoon) and was one that I’d heard of before. Many of their songs were about typical bluegrass subjects, and once again the talent was phenomenal.
The next band up was one of the main acts of the night. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are getting loads of praise all across the States due to their unique style and song choice. The CCD play “black” bluegrass, old songs that sound straight from plantations of the mid 19th century. They preceded many of their songs with an attribution to who taught the band the song, and some of these were interesting. (Perhaps the most interesting one was the song done entirely in Gaelic.) A lot of the crowd at ROMP was there for the Chocolate Drops, and after sitting through the set I was unsure why. Yes they had talent and some of their songs were good, but a large portion of their show was, well, boring. They stayed on their chairs throughout most of their set and in between songs there was a dead lull in the air. Perhaps this was from the still 100 degree temperatures, but even so, I was not too impressed by this band.
Old Crow Medicine Show had the headlining event of the night. I’ve been to an OCMS show before and it was loads of fun. (The description under my "Concerts" tab says "This was an absolutely crazy concert.") The band has so much raw energy that it’s almost impossible to listen to their music without having fun. At around 10:20pm the band came on, their first time playing live in several months. They played until midnight-ish, belting out several new tunes from their soon-to-be-released new album. They also highlighted some of their back catalog, including their mandatory “Wagon Wheel.” This was a great act, but I remarked to my friend that the band seemed more subdued than previously. Perhaps it was from losing longtime bandmate and founding member Willie Watson. Perhaps it was the oppressive heat.
ROMP continued on even after the main act finished with a few after-party concerts. I was sapped of energy and sleepy, as was my friend, so we decided to head home. Looking back I did have fun and definitely enjoyed listening to some good music, but at the same time I’m a bit let down. I think I was expecting more from the festival, but instead got mostly the experience of listening to a radio outside in the heat. I enjoyed all of the acts to varying degrees and I can see myself going again next year, but I can only hope that it won’t be so hot.