Owensboro Lures Visitors With Barbecue and Bluegrass Festivals

International Bar-B-Q Festival in May features burgoo and mutton. Bluegrass Festival in June brings in stars such as Emmy Lou Harris, and Steve Martin.

Owensboro, Kentucky, a usually quiet town in the crescent of the Ohio River, attracts visitors each year with two appealing lures, barbecue meat and bluegrass music. It pays tribute to both in late spring and very early summer.

The city, about halfway between Cincinnati and St. Louis on the Ohio River, hosts the International Bar-B-Q Festival the second weekend in May and then the Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival (ROMP) in the last weekend of June.

Bubbling Burgoo and Roasting Mutton

The Bar-B-Q Fest website says that event brings Owensboro “to life with the wonderful smells and sounds” of the festival. “Smoke from hickory-stoked fires blends with the aromas of sizzling chicken, bubbling burgoo and roasting mutton to complete the festival atmosphere.”

For the unfamiliar, burgoo is described by the festival as “a savory stew made from a varying array of ingredients,” including pork, beef, chicken, veal, opossum or mutton, in combination with vegetables and spices which are often closely guarded secrets.

Mutton? That’s sheep meat, usually older sheep. It’s also a division of the bar-b-q contest.

Mutton Glutton

Mutton glutton is the name of a special admission package. It gives ticket holders a place in the Riverpark Center with patio access and a view of the river. It covers “admission, food, unlimited well drinks (adult and non-alcoholic) and entertainment both days.”

That sounds like a best bet for visitors intending to take in the whole festival.

As for the food, mutton and pork sandwiches are featured on Friday nights and mutton, chicken and burgoo come off the cooking pits on Saturdays.

Barbecue cooks and teams compete for the festival’s Governor’s Cup and in the Backyard Cookoff.

Classic Car Show

The festival also normally includes music and dance stages, pie and mutton-eating contests, beauty pageants, carnival rides, a 5K run/walk, a burgoo relay, keg toss, arts, crafts and a classic car show.

Festival officials warn visitors to make their housing arrangements early. An accommodations list is available at Visitowensboro.com.

Bluegrass Capital of the World

While Owensboro may have some competition in the barbecue field, it can make a strong claim to being the bluegrass music capital of the world. It celebrates that title with the International Bluegrass Music Museum and the Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival known as ROMP.

It’s a romp of banjo and guitar music that dates back to Bill Monroe’s pioneering of the bluegrass sound in the 1930s. Since then bluegrass has become Kentucky’s official state music and Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” shares the official state song honor with Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Bluegrass Hall of Fame

In addition, the Bluegrass Museum has inducted more than 40 members, starting with Monroe, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.

These days the festival features the music of bluegrass standouts such as Emmylou Harris, Steve Martin, the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Chris Thiel and the Punch Brothers and Pete and Joan Wernick. Audie Blaylock and Tony Rice.

In 2011, the barbecue festival is scheduled May 13 & 14 and the bluegrass festival is scheduled June 23-25.

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