ROMP Fest

Tom Keller from Indianapolis, Indiana, Lucas Borman from Boonville, Indiana, Josh Juhl from Newburgh, Indiana, Steve Hale from Evansville and Steve Keller from Cicero, Indiana, jam in “The Woods” camping area on Wednesday. The crew makes it a priority to return to ROMP each year.

While the ROMP Festival is known for its lineup from the likes of award-winning 14-time Grammy-winner Dan Tyminski and five-time winner, Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame member Marty Stuart, other performances can be found by taking a stroll through Yellow Creek Park.

And that is particularly the case every year in the “The Woods” camping area.

On Wednesday, Tom Keller of Indianapolis was strumming a guitar alongside Lucas Borman of Boonville, Indiana, on upright bass, guitarist Josh Juhl from Newburgh, Indiana, Steve Hale of Evansville on mouth harp and Tom Keller’s brother Steve Keller from Cicero, Indiana playing mandolin in a circle performing an acoustic version of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ”Redemption Song.”

For the Keller brothers, this was their first time attending ROMP.

Despite Tom Keller being a fan of bluegrass music, he didn’t know about the festival until his friend Nick Antey of Newburgh, Indiana told him about it.

“He said it was this hidden gem here in Owensboro … and I got my brother involved and decided to come out here and jam,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like this. It’s a lot of fun.”

But the 19th annual ROMP Festival proved to be a pinnacle moment for Steve Keller, who had never been to a music festival before.

While he said it was intimidating at first, the company has helped him feel more at ease.

“These guys are so welcoming and Josh taught me how to play mandolin,” Steve Keller said. “... It’s beat my expectations already and it’s just started.”

While the Kellers were not familiar with a majority of the groups except for Antey, Juhl said he became neighbors with Antey years ago and bought Antey and his wife tickets to ROMP Fest in 2018, and it eventually became a priority to come every year to the same spot.

For Hale, who’s never met anyone in the group before Wednesday, the sound of the group playing made him walk over.

“I just pitched a tent over there and heard music and so that’s how I got here,” he said.

And while some may be strangers at first, Juhl said the feeling doesn’t last long.

“We become a family,” he said. “Once everybody sits around this circle — they’re family forever. That’s why we kind of pitch a tent out here in the center; everybody kind of comes in and sits around. That’s how we just get to know each other.”

The atmosphere found in both bluegrass music and bluegrass music festivals seems to allow people to feel comfortable meeting new people and joining in on the fun.

“I’ve never been to a bluegrass event where if people were playing music that you weren’t welcomed to come and join. That’s just the way it is,” Hale said. “If they’re playing music, (its like), ‘Hey, if you play — come on.’ ”

“It’s an unwritten rule, kind of,” Juhl said. “We’d be offended if you didn’t come over. The thing about bluegrass music for me is that it’s simple music …. If you know G, C and D, you can come sit around these circles and feel like you’re part of the gang and learn new songs and they’re easy. ...That’s what bluegrass is as far as community; it’s simple, everybody knows it and everybody can play it and tap their toe even if you don’t play an instrument.”

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