Back to its roots: New owners of Bill Monroe Music Park-Campground making improvements, prepping for season

BEAN BLOSSOM — “That’s what everyone comes for, right there,” Rex Voils says, walking past the main stage at the Bill Monroe Music Park and Campground and pointing to the vintage sign hanging above.

“‘Back Home Again in Indiana.’ We’re excited to be caretakers of such historical ground.”

Rex and his nephew, Ben Voils, took over the music park famous for the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival last October.

Their family has lived in Brown County since 1955, just a mile from the music park and campground. Rex’s grandparents and parents could hear the music from their homes.

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The two worked with former owner Dwight Dillman to buy the park. Dillman had bought the property and business from Bill Monroe’s son in 1998. Bill Monroe had bought it on contract from the first owner, Francis Rund, in the 1950s.

The Brown County Jamboree first began less than a mile from the current park in Bean Blossom, where musicians would gather to play music on a corner where a market used to be. A flatbed truck was hoisted onto a grease rack to make an instant stage, according to newspaper archives.

Soon, the musicians and their fans outgrew that area, so Rund built a stage on some land he owned to the north that would later become the music park. At first, the stage was under a big circus tent until Rund built a barn to house the fans.

The barn is gone now, but the stage remains.

Now, it’s Ben’s and Rex’s turn to keep the shows going. They’ve made changes to improve the experience for the 100,000 visitors they expect this year.

“We’ve all worked around here. I worked around here when Bill and Birch (Monroe) owned the place,” Rex said.

The two don’t play instruments. Their background is in construction, and it’s been put to use in the past few months.

Gone now are the old semi-trailers that held showers, restrooms and laundry facilities. Instead, the Voilses built a new, efficient restroom and laundry facility. By removing the trailers, they were able to double the viewing capacity for shows to 8,000.

“We’re just cleaning the park up where it can be used (by people) throughout Brown County plus other people coming in,” Rex said.

The campground store and offices were renovated. The gift shop, hall of fame and museum also are being renovated. “I cannot yet tell you what the new use for this space (will be), but I will tell you it’s going to be a very good thing for the community,” Ben said.

The music park’s campground is now a Good Sam Campground, which is a nationwide directory of campgrounds throughout the United States. Being in that directory required the Voilses to bring the campground area up to Good Sam standards.

Those include putting in gravel paths; keeping the grass mowed; and having electric and water hookups, clean bathrooms and showers, and internet service.

The plans

In March, the music park announced the Brown County Music Series, a new annual event.

“We plan to bring in some of the biggest names in country music,” Ben said.

Country band Shenandoah will kick off the series on June 13. Diamond Rio and Restless Heart will perform on Aug. 17.

The John Hartford Memorial Festival starts the season on May 29. The Bean Blossom Blues Fest will run Aug. 22 to 24.

There are also plans to revamp the park’s concert area by adding a two-story covered seating area which will house vendors, general admission seating and a VIP lounge on the second story.

On Saturday nights, the plan is to show movies on the main stage that will be free to the public with free popcorn. “Give the local kids somewhere to hang out,” Ben said.

Bigfoot hunts and sightings will also take place on Saturday nights for campers.

The goal is to have something happening every Saturday night as long as the weather allows, Rex said.

With the indoor Brown County Music Center opening in Nashville this August, the Voilses said they are looking to have a meeting with the venue’s staff to figure out a way they can work together.

“We have hundreds of campsites and 18 rental properties at the park available for their patrons,” Ben said. “We want to try to coordinate schedules so we’re not stepping on each other as much as possible.”

One idea is organizing shuttles for BCMC patrons who wish to stay at the campground while catching a show.

“You can bring down a camper, stay here on Friday night; we’re going to have bus shuttles (to and from their shows),” Rex said.

“If they want to drink a little, we can shuttle them back and they can sleep in their camper.”

The music park has 15 cabins and two campers for rent along with campsites. Guests have been staying in the cabins since March.

The owners plan on 100,000 people attending festivals from 49 different states and seven countries this year.

“We had people last week from Australia come in here. They wanted to stand on the stage that Johnny Cash has stood on, that Bill Monroe has stood on when it was the old barn here,” Rex said.

“They wanted to see New York City … they wanted to see Bean Blossom, then they were traveling to Florida. That was their bucket list, because they say this stage is the second-most sought-after stage besides the Ryman (Auditorium) in Nashville, Tennessee.”

The museum at the music park contains a suit and guitar once owned by Johnny Cash and a suit that Dolly Parton wore.

It’s a big responsibility taking over a piece of music history.

“We feel like we have so much on us just to preserve the history here and keep it bluegrass, keep it country, because this was country before bluegrass,” Rex said.

“Loretta Lynn, she’s been here, (and the) Kentucky Headhunters. We want to bring that back. It was the Bean Blossom Jamboree Barn every Saturday and Sunday they had dances and shows here. That’s what we want to bring back.”

This August, the music park will host its own version of Woodstock when the Chubbstock Music Festival kicks off on Aug. 1 and runs through Aug. 4. Willie Nelson’s granddaughter, Raelyn Nelson, is slated to perform with her band then. An outside promoter is putting on that event and nearly 100 rock bands will perform.

“We think that will bring in a lot of the younger kids. There’s really no festivals, except for maybe Hartford (that brings in younger kids),” Rex said.

In October, the plan is to bring in another country music act as part of the Brown County Music Series.

This winter, the music park plans to get its holiday drive-thru light show going again. Last year, they welcomed 2,000 cars.

But the venue also has to be picky when booking shows because they are only allowed 12 events a year.

“We get two to three people a week call here, wanting to do some sort of a show, whether it’s a car show or music show, something, and they all get turned down because of our zoning,” Ben said.

In October, the Brown County Board of Zoning Appeals voted 4-1 to deny the owners’ request to expand from 12 events to up to 120 days of “performance activity,” adding non-musical, family-friendly events like car shows, magic shows and Scout campouts to the well-known lineup of bluegrass, blues and gospel festivals.

“If we had unlimited events, we’d say, ‘Give it a shot’ and see what happens, but we turn down almost all of them because they’re not an established event and we don’t want to waste a spot. Once you give someone a spot, you can’t kick them out the next year when they’re trying to get going,” Ben said.

‘Nothing like Bean Blossom’

Rex and Ben get into an all-terrain vehicle to take a look around the campground and park.

“Back there was a jam last night,” Rex said as he points near a campsite.

When the musicians leave the stage, the music doesn’t stop then.

“You can come here at night and there’s jam sessions, 75 people, different people, playing at different campsites you can go by, and that is just so unique,” Rex said.

They drive their ATV toward the back of the campground to an area where a lone RV sits with tables and a canopy nearby. Down the RV steps comes Harold Cox.

Cox is one of the original jam musicians at the Bill Monroe Memorial Music Park. He’s been coming here since 1946, before this particular camping area even existed.

Rund was his brother-in-law’s father. Cox’s brothers played one of the first shows underneath the tent at the Brown County Jamboree.

Cox remembers when Bill Monroe bought the 52 acres from Rund for $20,000. “Pretty doggone cheap. There were no doors on the restrooms. They had one little outside toilet behind the stage,” Cox said.

“They had one little outhouse there that had scribbled on the wall above the toilet paper, ‘One sheet only, please.’ That’s how tight them jokers were,” he said.

This music park is “very, very dear to my heart,” Cox said. He has been staying in this spot with his RV for the past 10 years or so. “I used to sleep on the ground behind the trucks and stuff before I got a camper,” he said.

What keeps him coming back? “The music, camaraderie, friendship and good times,” he said.

Cox spends his summer and most of his fall at the campground, even though he lives about eight miles from it. A guitarist and singer, he has played on the large stage “several, several times.” He even has a brick on the Bill Monroe Memorial Wall.

“It’s really been a big part of my life. It’s my second home,” he said.

“These guys are good about letting me stay here. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, if I was going to have to leave or what. I really appreciate them taking care of me that way,” Cox said about Rex and Ben.

The annual bluegrass festival is Cox’s favorite. He’s been to a lot of them, all over the South, and “there’s nothing like Bean Blossom,” he said.

He believes the Voilses are doing a “really, really great job, especially on the restrooms. That’s going to be a big deal, because they were only open for just a couple of hours a day. Now this will be 24/7.”

Rex said they’re putting the work they are into it because they want to see the music park succeed.

“When you see people performing, it’s like, my goodness, so and so has been up there. Loretta Lynn stood right there and played. That’s why I would want to come to a series,” he said.

An outdoor venue also allows for fans to get up close and personal with the musicians. “In the front-row seat you can prop your feet on the stage. You’re not blocked. It’s a totally different experience,” Ben said.

“I want to get out where I can walk, hear, and do what I want to. That’s the passion of this place. That’s what’s so unique about this place,” Rex said.

“Bill Monroe would walk through the campsites and play with everybody. You may see Larry Sparks get off the stage and go over to that campsite and sit there and play with them. … There’s nothing like it.”

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Bill Monroe Music Park and Campground, 5163 State Road 135 North, will host several music festivals this year, as follows:

May 29 to June 2 — John Hartford Memorial Festival

June 8 to 16 — Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival

June 13 — Shenandoah concert

Aug. 22 to 24 — Bean Blossom Blues Fest

Sept. 3 to 8 — Biker Fest

Sept. 18 to 22 — Hall of Fame and Uncle Pen Days

For more information, visit billmonroemusicpark.com or call 812-988-6422.

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