Jun. 24—The sight of stage barricades, blankets and lawn chairs covered the field in front of the main stage for eager bluegrass music listeners and festival goers on the second day of the 19th annual ROMP Fest at Yellow Creek Park on Thursday.
While the four-day festival officially began Wednesday with attendees setting up campsites, vendors preparing for customers and the first musical performances taking place on the Jagoe Homes After Party Stage, the atmosphere was brimming with anticipation and excitement as the first part of the main lineup welcomed back ROMP in its normal June occurrence.
"This is where we shift from site prep to festival," said Chris Joslin, executive director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. "It's only going to grow as the weekend unfolds and there's a lot of energy in that."
And Wednesday night's performances of Brennen Leigh and the Theo & Brenna Band on the Jagoe Homes After Party Stage made it feel like the festival was already back on its normal track.
"(There were) big crowds back there," Joslin said. "It felt like 2019 pre-COVID in terms of the energy and the amount of people back there. It's fun to be back in June and we're about to blast off here."
Even though much of the work can be seen days leading up to it, Joslin said that organizing it all occurs much earlier.
"What some folks don't think about is that ROMP is something that we work on all-year round and in the early stages (there) is definitely some planning," he said. "The reason things go so smoothly on the stage and everything feels so coordinated is that we start these conversations with these artists and their tour managers months in advance, and so we're anticipating what their needs are and planning how to ensure a smooth transition from artist to artist."
But hearing the first notes being played for the crowd makes it all worth it.
"There's borderline exhaustion leading up to the first song on the main stage on Thursday because there's so much work going into the site prep," Joslin said. "But just when you think you can't take it, it's like you have this fresh energy because the music has started; finally the festival has started."
Even before show time started at 4 p.m. with the Gibson Brothers, a small crowd formed in front of the main stage to watch the Grammy-winning group Punch Brothers during their sound check.
While first-time attendee John Viray of Terre Haute, Indiana, may have not been one of those select few, he still admired the group from afar in the shade.
"Just listening to the Punch Brothers warm up and do their sound check; frankly, my money's well spent," Viray said. "I'm a musician myself and just to hear that level of musicianship is very refreshing."
Viray has been a frequent visitor of the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival at Bill Monroe's Music Park & Campground in Morgantown, Indiana but was intrigued after seeing advertisements about ROMP on social media.
"The lineup (looked) very inviting," he said. "A lot of tier one music here this weekend."
And that "inviting" feeling had seeped over to the overall atmosphere of ROMP, especially for newcomers like Amanda Gibson, owner of the food vendor Greasy Mother Cluckers from Arkansas.
"Everyone is super friendly and hospitable," said Gibson. "It's been great so far."
Gibson said that she and her staff have been traveling to different music festivals every week and thought ROMP was a good place to try their hand at.
"We love bluegrass and we've seen quite a few of the bands that are playing here before, so we thought it would be awesome to see them and get to feed everyone," she said. "What better place for fried chicken than Kentucky?"
Husband and wife Rusty and Chris Villier of Palmyra, Indiana have been to ROMP nine times and always come with open minds when it comes to listening to acts that they aren't familiar with.
"Every night, there's somebody (here) that we want to see; and a lot of times, if we come down and (there's a) name we've never heard of, we usually leave thinking, 'That's my new favorite band'," Chris Villier said.
While Joslin and the team have been working at this for years, they still want to find ways to bring new life to the festival.
"We can make some enhancements and changes and still be creative and innovative but we're not having to start with a clean slate," he said. "We learn a little bit every year in terms of layout and some of the creative elements and the VIP experience and the experience for everybody."
He's also reminded that the festival still draws out new faces every year, which brings another added thrill.
"That keeps it exciting and fresh for us, too; knowing that we're drawing new fans not just to the festival, but to Owensboro and they're discovering our town and our community," Joslin said.
The main stage lineup today starts with Birds of Prey at 2:15 p.m., followed by East Nash Grass at 3:30 p.m., Cole Chaney & Wolfpen Branch at 4:45 p.m., the Del McCoury Band at 6:30 p.m., Rhiannon Giddens at 8:30 p.m. and We Banjo 3 at 10:30 p.m., with Wolfpen Branch and Birds of Prey also performing on the Jagoe Homes After Party Stage at midnight and 1:30 a.m., respectively.