Local Obituaries

Bob Cornett, founder of music festival that’s going strong after 45 years, has died

Festival of the Bluegrass co-founder Bob Cornett applauded a  performance by Kentucky Blue at the Festival of the Bluegrass in 2013.
Festival of the Bluegrass co-founder Bob Cornett applauded a performance by Kentucky Blue at the Festival of the Bluegrass in 2013. Herald-Leader File

Bob Cornett, 89, who founded the Festival of the Bluegrass with his wife Jean Cornett in 1974, died Thursday at his home in Georgetown.

The music festival, which draws thousands of people to the Kentucky Horse Park each summer, is known for its lineups of big-name bluegrass performers such as IIIrd Tyme Out and Seldom Scene, as well as for its family feel.

The Cornetts also started Kentucky Bluegrass Music Camp and developed the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and Campground in Live Oak, Fla. Their children and grandchildren have continued to be involved in those efforts.

“From the very beginning, Dad took the idea that festivals weren’t really about musicians, but instead the sharing of music and family,” his son Charles Cornett said in a Facebook post. “He and Mom observed how people would buy tickets, but be so absorbed in the music in the campground that they never attended a stage show. They watched multi-generational families make attending a festival an annual event, and build a family gathering around it. Soon kids of kids, and their kids, and so on became to count the Spirit of the Suwannee a second home that they looked forward to returning to year after year.”

Cornett is said to have gotten the idea for the Festival of the Bluegrass while looking out over the land that became the Kentucky Horse Park campground but was at the time part of Walnut Hall Farm.

The first Festival of the Bluegrass was held there and featured Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and J.D. Crowe, according to the festival’s website. The event moved to Masterson Station Park for the next 14 years before settling back at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1990.

Cornett, a native of Hazard and a graduate of Berea College, had a career in government, including serving as state budget director under Gov. Bert Combs and positions with the Appalachian Regional Commission and Council of State Governments.

He was married to Jean Cornett for 64 years. She died in 2015 at age 86.

His obituary described Cornett as a quiet, passionate man who delighted in “farm animals (particularly chickens, mules, and donkeys), homegrown fruits and vegetables, groups of people having conversations, and long walks — particularly when these activities involved multiple generations.”

Visitation will begin at 11 a.m. Monday at Tucker, Yocum and Wilson Funeral Home in Georgetown. A storytelling hour will be held at 2 p.m.

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