ROSINE, Ky. (WDKY)– A small wooden house on a ridge in Ohio County may not seem all that special at first glance, but if the walls could talk… well, they wouldn’t… they’d sing.
The boyhood home of bluegrass music legend Bill Monroe is a must-see attraction for devotees of the genre. They call it “ground zero”– the place where country music was twisted and shaped into a different sound that came to be known as bluegrass.
The home, which was built in 1917, sat abandoned for decades and was on the verge of collapse when some people in Rosine got serious about saving it the 1990s. Bill Monroe himself met with the restoration crews to make sure the paint colors were correct and to tell them how furniture was arranged in the house he once shared with his parents, five brothers and two sisters.
Monroe died in 1996 before the house was opened to the public. It was finally ready in 2001, and since then, tourists have come by the bus loads. A trip to Rosine is like a pilgrimage for many fans.
“Everybody’s like, ‘This is land that Bill walked on. Bill played in these woods. Bill was here,'” said Jody Flener, executive director of Ohio County’s Tourism Commission. “I have actually seen people get out and kiss the ground. It’s sort of the Memphis of Bluegrass.”
It’s not unusual to drive up to the house and see musicians playing on the porch.
“Everybody loves coming here,” said Josh Johnston, a member of the bluegrass band “Kings Highway.”
“It’s just a very special place to come and play music. It sounds better here!”
But if you can’t play bluegrass music, you can hear it just about anywhere in Rosine. It doesn’t get any more traditional than the free Friday night shows at Rosine Barn, which was named by The New York Times as “one of the places to see in 2016.” On a recent afternoon, the house band was practicing Monroe’s most famous song, “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
Flener says it’s common on a summer evening, when the barn doors are open, to see the parking lot filled with strangers in lawn chairs.
“You lean over and say ‘where are you from?’ and they may say France, Sweden, or Germany.” Flener said. “It’s terribly exciting for us to have these people come to our town.”
Rosine, with a population of 400, has learned to market itself and now offers a complete Bluegrass experience . The Bill Monroe Museum was built in 2018 and is full of artifacts from the career of the man who became known as “The Father of Bluegrass Music.” Fans can also visit Uncle Pen’s Cabin, where young Bill learned to play many instruments as a teenager.
Monroe is buried in Rosine Cemetery, along with his parents, siblings and Uncle Pen (Pendleton Vandiver). It’s another place pickers come to play out of respect.
Bluegrass music has seen a resurgence in recent years, but in Rosine, it has always been alive and pickin’.
Says Flener, “This place should be full of music all the time.”
If you have an idea for a “Spirit of the Bluegrass” segment, email Marvin at firstname.lastname@example.org.