Bonding with bluegrass
Ralph Bliss of Central grew up on country music.
‘Like Barbara Mandrell’s song says, I was country when country wasn’t cool,’ he said.
One of his favorite musicians is Hank Williams, who died in 1952.
‘Country music bonds people together,’ Bliss said.
A similar genre is bluegrass, which is why you’ll find Bliss and his wife, Joyce, on the Corydon town square on the fourth Saturday of June, July and August. They are generally joined by friends from New Albany.
‘I never miss a bluegrass concert,’ Ralph Bliss said. ‘Everybody here has a good time. It’s peaceful. There’s never a problem.’
Nearly 700 others converged Saturday on the town square, vying for spots in the shade, to hear Hog Operation and Steel Drivers, a favorite of Bliss’, perform on the Hurley D. Conrad Memorial Bandstand. It was the last performance of the summer series, now in its seventh year.
‘This kind of music caters to mid to older people, Bliss said, ‘but also younger people like it.’
Jim Epperson, executive director of the Harrison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said when the series began in 2002, the concerts were held on the third Saturday of the summer months.
There appears to be less conflict with other events by hosting them on the fourth Saturdays, he said.
Mother Nature has also been kind on bluegrass days.
‘We’ve never been rained out,’ for any of the 21 dates, Epperson said.
The CVB partners with radio station WFBK 91.9 to put on the free performances. Kentucky Home-Front, which is emceed by John Gage, records the shows for air play.
‘Basically, you get an hour show with tons of comments about historical Harrison County,’ Epperson said.
Favorite performers throughout the seasons have been Olivia Smiley, Michael Cleveland and Dale Ann Bradley.
Attendance the past few seasons have averaged about 600 to 700 people. However, only about half that many attended June’s concert because of the strong threat of rain.
And if you think it’s only locals who attend the concerts, think again.
William Woods of Warrick County has made the 90-minute drive to the past several shows.
‘I didn’t know about the first ones,’ he said, or he probably would have come to those, too.
He accidentally learned about the concert series while in Corydon to shop on the town square. (Woods said he also eats in town while here and referred to some of the shopkeepers by name.)
Storefront Congregation and Dale Ann Bradley are among his favorites who have performed in Corydon.
‘I’d like to see them do (the concerts) in the fall, when it’s not so hot and humid,’ he said.
But the large trees on the town square provide plenty of shade, unlike similar concerts in Owensboro, Ky., another place Woods frequents.
One shade tree did double duty Saturday, as Epperson’s youngest daughter, Alysa, and Jeannine Barr of Lanesville climbed in it. Barr’s parents were nearby listening to the music.
A Louisville man and woman stumbled on to their first Corydon bluegrass concert on Saturday.
John Clemmons said he had taken Alecia Fields to Marengo Caves earlier in the day and had returned to Corydon to visit some of the antique shops.
‘But they were all closed,’ he said, adding that ‘Corydon’s well known for its antiques and restaurants.’
Instead, they heard the music, pulled their lawn chairs out of their vehicle and stayed a while to listen, despite that Clemmons is more of an ’80s rock-and-roll kind of guy.
Both Clemmons and Fields said they’d be back.
That’s the kind of feedback Epperson and the CVB like to hear.
‘We’re seeing a trend of more people coming from out of town,’ Epperson said.
That information comes from surveys collected during the concerts.
Epperson said he would like to see the concert series ‘grow’ into a multi-day festival that would bring in several bands. Additional sponsorship would be needed.
‘Our corporate base is small here, but everyone is good about helping,’ he said. ‘I would like to tap into some Louisville dollars.’
He said he would welcome assistance from people who have connections to that kind of sponsorship.
A bigger challenge is how local merchants can profit from the concerts.
‘If we deliver 500 to 600 people to your doorstep, you have to find a way to get them to spend some money,’ Epperson said.
Funding is in place to support the bluegrass series next summer. Epperson said Gage will handle booking the acts.
Fred Cammack, president of the Corydon Town Council, has attended most of the bluegrass concerts.
‘I think it can only grow,’ he said. ‘I think it’s great. It’s a different crowd than the Friday Night Band Concerts’ that take place weekly between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend.
‘A higher percentage (of the people) are from out of town,’ Cammack said.
He couldn’t say how much business the concerts bring into the community, but he notices people consuming drinks and ice cream purchased in the immediate area. They also support Blue River Services Inc., which has sold concessions at the concerts the past two seasons as an additional way to raise funds for some of its programs.
‘I pull up here and park under the shade,’ Woods said. ‘Everything you’re looking for is right here.’