The phone rings frequently this time of year at the home of Roy and AnnaMarie Cornett.
As co-organizers and producers of the Festival of the Bluegrass, the couple have kept the event, and much of the principle promotion surrounding it, an in-house enterprise, literally.
That means when a potential patron has a question about the festival, the call usually goes to the Cornetts' home.
But ever since BoB came to their doorstep, the calls have been off the hook. Luckily, so has the help.
"BoB" is Best of Bluegrass, an adjoining festival that began last year as a preface to the Festival of the Bluegrass and an overall celebration of the latter's 40th year. Now, with BoB's sophomore year at hand, its bonds with the Festival of the Bluegrass have grown stronger.
"Psychologically, it's been good for me and Anna to be working with all the BoB folks," Roy Cornett said. "In the past, for most of the preparatory work and the lead-up, it was just the two of us out of our house. It was easy to, all of a sudden, get lost in the weeds."
BoB's inaugural year was viewed by all parties involved as a success in presenting free bluegrass shows at numerous Lexington venues, most of them downtown, during the week leading up to the Festival of the Bluegrass.
Organized largely by the Lexington Area Music Alliance but with input from the Cornetts, numerous area businesses and a growing lineup of sponsors, BoB has experienced a considerable growth spurt since last year.
To begin, this year's lineup of BoB shows will include a pair of free performances by three nationally acclaimed bluegrass acts. Lonesome River Band and Town Mountain kick off BoB week Monday at Natasha's Bistro. The Grammy-winning Steep Canyon Rangers will visit Paulie's Toasted Barrel on Wednesday.
There also will be free BoB-related shows at Willie's Locally Known, Parlay Social, Redmon's, the Red Barn Radio taping at ArtsPlace and other locales throughout the week.
It all culminates with a Thursday Night Live performance by Dale Ann Bradley, the five-time International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year. That show will coincide with the opening of the 41st Festival of the Bluegrass at the Kentucky Horse Park.
"We realized we had this major bluegrass event going into its 41st year," said music alliance president Tom Martin, who is also a contributing columnist for the Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com. "Then we began looking at the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday preceding it and having something going on that could be related to bluegrass every one of those nights. So we thought why not pull that together in a package that is part of a major event.
"That does several things. It builds energy by calling attention to Lexington as a serious music city, which it always has been, even though it has kind of needed an attention-getting boost in that regard. The other thing is the multivenue festival combined with a traditional stationary event. The multivenue is gaining a lot of ground these days, so we thought this would be a great way to call attention to the venues that we have around town."
A downtown draw
In their second year together, BoB and Festival of the Bluegrass aim to be more mutually serviceable to each other, especially when it comes to audiences.
Because one of BoB's goals has been to draw some of the festivals many out-of-town camping patrons to downtown during the days before the festival, organizers involved the services of Lextran and VisitLex, the tourism bureau.
The latter has been promoting BoB in recent months to attract regional bluegrass fans through advertising and heavy use of social media.
"When BoB was first launched, we thought it was something that would be very easy for us to be fully on board with and be one of the initiatives our office would embrace fully," said Mary Quinn Ramer, vice president of marketing for VisitLex. "Personally, I'm so pleased to see the collaboration that is going on to really elevate this profile and make Lexington the destination for bluegrass music lovers."
While the bulk of VisitLex's work with BoB has been preparatory, LexTran's contribution will come into play during the festival week when it transports patrons between downtown and the Horse Park.
"We got to the table pretty early on to see what our involvement could be this year," said Jill Barnett, director of community affairs for Lextran. "It's a great opportunity for the city of Lexington to bring in a new demographic to our downtown area. It offers us a means, as well, to expose people that might not generally use the bus to that opportunity."
'Filling a niche'
"We've picked up everything from beer distributors to folks in financial services as sponsors," BoB organizer Kip Cornett (no relation to the Cornett family overseeing the Festival of the Bluegrass) said. "This was never something that people saw as one-dimensional. Everyone saw it as filling a niche.
"There is a commitment, as much as we can for as long as we can, to keep this thing free. We're not discouraging people from going to the ticketed events," which includes Monday's bluegrass-themed taping of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, he said. "Obviously, the Festival of the Bluegrass is a ticketed event. But the majority of the performances, as we move forward, are going to be about getting people to know all these events.
"Last year, our audience was very local. But VisitLex was so impressed by the first year that BoB was right in the middle of their spring marketing allocation. Those are things that continue to elevate what we're doing."
Such attention also allows BoB and the festival to continue a mutually beneficial alliance."
"I think the partnership between BoB and the festival really enhances both events," AnnaMarie Cornett said. "We're really fortunate to be working with people with the Lexington Area Music Alliance and all of the energy surrounding BoB. While the festival has established roots over its 41 years, we are enhanced by BoB. There is no doubt about it. It is a partnership that works really, really well. We're very proud to be involved."
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.