Jun. 23—The east side of Owensboro on Kentucky Highway 144 saw more traffic than usual Wednesday with bluegrass music fans and festival lovers arriving for the first day of the 19th annual ROMP Festival at Yellow Creek Park.
After canceling the festival in 2020 due to the coronavirus and moving last year's event from June to September, ROMP was able to start business as usual.
"There's some people that this is part of their annual routine is to come to ROMP in June and it's difficult to come in the fall ... because of school schedules or they've already used vacation or (other) various reasons," said Chris Joslin, executive director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum — which produces the event. "It just feels like we're back in our usual rhythm. It feels good; there's an energy around that that we just love."
And while ROMP plans to return back into normalcy, including the large number of attendees that will make their way to the festival over the coming days, getting inside didn't pose a problem.
Joslin said that the morning fared off well with getting a number of RVs and tent campers onto the grounds.
"So far, so good ... (I'm) very pleased," Joslin said. "We've been at this for a few years, so we know where we need to be at this point and we're on track."
Tim Jackson of Louisville, who attended the festival about six to seven times before taking a hiatus after 2015, said that they drove a little under two hours in the morning and didn't face any issues when they arrived at about about 10:30 a.m.
"It was extremely smooth," he said.
And even after 19 years, the festival still continues to see first-timers making it out.
One of the people in the group with Jackson was Wendy Palazzo of Louisville, who's already had a good first impression, and has some hopes of what she plans to enjoy the next few days.
"Everybody is so friendly, greeting us, telling us exactly where to go," she said. "What I'm looking forward to is the dancing area ... and hopefully a decent crowd and fun atmosphere."
Palazzo was familiar with the festival and made the decision about five to six months ago to attend and has also become more accustomed with bluegrass music, including some of the acts on this year's line up including Dark Moon Hollow and Leftover Salmon.
"I've been doing my homework," Palazzo said.
John Settle of Murray went to ROMP when it took place at English Park when he lived in the area years ago and finally had the opportunity to attend at Yellow Creek Park this year after recently retiring.
"Back then, it was new to me. I had not been a connoisseur of bluegrass music ... but kind of learned to like it," Settle said. "I was with a school system here and we incorporated bluegrass music in our gifted and talented program and got to know some of the musicians."
As Settle has become more accustomed to the music, he's been able to point out what he appreciates about it.
"The genre is unique; it's a mixture of — I think — Celtic music and folk music," he said. "I grew up in a folk generation and there's a lot of overtones of folk music in it."
And despite gas higher gas prices than in previous years, that didn't deter people from coming from out of state to drive hours to the park.
"Mark Twain used to say, 'Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.' I think that's how it is with gas prices," Joslin said. "We all like to complain about the gas prices (but) it doesn't stop me from filling my tank when I need to and sure a lot of other people are like that."
Don Wood, Jr. of Allentown, New Jersey was in attendance for his third ROMP appearance.
While he typically has made the 14-hour drive with his friend Todd Schmitt, also of Allentown, New Jersey, Wood, Jr. wasn't able to take off work and ended up flying out to St. Louis before taking a "crop duster" into Owensboro.
Wood Jr. was in attendance in September and, while he joked that Wednesday's weather — which was hitting the upper 90s — was a main difference, he said that the festival seemed to have its usual feel having it again in the summer.
"The vibe is definitely picking up again," Wood Jr. said. "COVID just put a blanket on everything. The shows were fine but people were scared of breathing on other people and things of that nature, but hopefully that's all behind us now."
Entertainment kicked off Wednesday night with Brennen Leigh and the Theo & Brenna Band on the Jagoe Homes After Party Stage.
Joslin said that while it was the first day for the music, it was the third of three 15-hour-days in terms of the production build.
"It's (been) going well," he said. "Thankfully we've had good weather; good as in terms that it hasn't rained so we haven't had to stop working, but it's definitely a process and a small army of people that put this together."
Performances on the main stage will begin at 4 p.m. today with the Gibson Brothers, followed by the Quebe Sisters at 5:15 p.m., Dan Tyminski Band at 6:30 p.m., Punch Brothers at 8:30 p.m. and Leftover Salmon at 10:30 p.m., while the Jagoe Homes After Party Stage will host the Hackensaw Boys at midnight and Dark Moon Hollow at 1:30 a.m.
"That becomes a whole different scene here in the festival field," Joslin said.
Attendees can also download the new ROMP mobile app available with festival content including schedules, vendor menus, artist bios and more via Apple App Store and Google Play.