To most folks, “bluegrass” probably conjures up the sprightly music played with a banjo, fiddle and mandolin from the hills of Kentucky or Tennessee. But for those who know their bluegrass music, the hills of bucolic Brown County come just as readily to mind.
For over 80 years, the Brown County burg of Bean Blossom has been home to some of the biggest names in this music genre at what was originally the Brown County Jamboree. The names got no bigger than legendary Bill Monroe who came as a performer in 1951, bought the jamboree grounds in 1952, and maintained his presence there until his death in 1996.
Hoping to emerge from the shadow of COVID-19, the Bill Monroe Music Park and Campground kicks off the 2021 season early this month with the John Hartford Campout, June 2-5. The biggest event will be the Bean Blossom Bluegrass/Uncle Pen Jams, Sept. 17-25. As guidelines and pandemic protocols continue changing, please check its website — billmonroemusicpark.com — for up-to-minute information.
When not enjoying the toe-tapping music inspired by Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass,” sit back and listen to the sounds of Mother Nature beside a crackling fire under a star-filled night sky. The family-friendly campground is already open for the season. One of the largest campgrounds in southern Indiana, the 55-acre park offers uncrowded sites with water/electric, fire rings and picnic tables, and is pet friendly. In addition to the camp sites, rustic and primitive cabins, and two recreational campers are available to rent.
Activities and amenities on the grounds also include catch-and-release fishing, non-motorized boating, biking, an on-site camp store, and free admission during your visit at the Bill Monroe Museum and Gift Shop.
The park is located just five miles north of Nashville and Brown County State Park.
The birth of bluegrass
While Monroe was born and raised in Kentucky, he and his brothers moved to northwest Indiana at the start of the Great Depression to work at an oil refinery in Whiting when he was 18. They soon began playing music professionally, starting with a square dance in Hammond. His career took off from there as he pioneered what became “bluegrass.”
The Music Park and Campgrounds traces its roots back to 1939 when the Brown County Jamboree in Bean Blossom began. The jamboree grew as thousands of people gathered annually to see local musicians and stars of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1951, Monroe, by then a huge star, began playing the jamboree. A year later, so impressed with the enthusiastic crowds, Monroe bought the festival grounds. “This festival here in Bean Blossom, Indiana, … means a lot to me,” he later told an interviewer. “I bought this place … to have a home base here where we could to play to the folks and give them a chance enjoy and to learn about bluegrass music. And it’s really growing in this state, and I’m glad that it has.”
The first annual “bluegrass” festival hosted by Monroe was in 1967 and is now the oldest continuous bluegrass festival in the world. After Monroe’s death in 1996, the Jamboree grounds changed hands a few times and has been renamed “Bill Monroe’s Memorial Park and Campground.” Improvements continued to be made to the campground, and the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame Museum was added.
The genre takes its name from Monroe’s early band, the Blue Grass Boys, which set the standard for the music. The name, of course, came from Monroe’s home state of Kentucky. But Monroe’s performing career, which spanned 69 years as a singer, instrumentalist, composer and bandleader, got its start in Indiana’s blue-collar northwest and its roots are deep in the hills of Brown County.
If you go …
Bill Monroe Music Park & Campground
5163 N. State Road 135