Friday, June 24, 2011

Steve Martin Draws Huge Crowd at Owensboro Bluegrass Festival

The opening session of ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival at Yellow Creek Park, certainly lived up to its billing Thursday night.

The crowd was huge, blanketing the hillside in front of the stage for hundreds of yards in all directions. Even the weather was perfect. And, of course, there was star power in the person of stand-up comedian-actor-author and accomplished musician Steve Martin, who performed with The Steep Canyon Rangers.

Martin led The Steep Canyon Rangers onto the stage shortly after 8 p.m. to a chorus of cheers and applause. They didn’t disappoint, performing tight instrumentals, with Martin mixing sharp skills on the banjo with lots of humor.

“Now I wish I had practiced,” Martin declared as he gazed over the crowd of several thousand fans. “It’s been a longtime dream of mine to play bluegrass music in Owensboro, Kentucky!”
As Martin and the band began to play, scores of people crowded toward the stage, lifting cameras, smartphones and video recorders, blocking the view of people sitting directly behind them. That led to shouts of “SIT DOWN,” which were not heeded for the most part.

The big audience seemed to take great pleasure in all of the songs Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers performed, whistling, cheering and applauding each one. Martin sang on “Jubilation Day,” a song he wrote about breaking up. “Not all breakups are bad,” he said in introducing the song he wrote. “Sometimes it’s the best thing.” One line in the song was “I’m walking away ... Even your mom told me you were nuts.” And then, “Let’s only remember the good times, like when you were out of town.”

An hour before Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers started playing, cars waiting to enter Yellow Creek Park were backed up for more than a mile on Kentucky 144. More than 9,000 tickets were sold to 5,600 people in advance for the three-day event, but hundreds more bought tickets at the gate Thursday. Ross Leigh, Daviess County parks director, said the crowd was the largest ROMP crowd ever by far.

“I can’t think of a spot without a car or a tent,” Leigh said. “I want to call it perfect. I know there’s never been an event this big in the park.”

Audience member Calvin Head said he drove from Anderson, Ind., for the festival and was looking forward to seeing and hearing Martin. Pablo Gallastegui, a native of Argentina, and his friend Claire Carothers of Owensboro were also awaiting Martin’s performance.

“There’s no such thing as bluegrass in Argentina,” Gallastegui said. “The first time I heard it I thought it was like country. But I fell in love with Nickel Creek.”

Steve Vied, 691-7297, svied@messenger-inquirer.com