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The beat goes on in feud over Monroe

By John Lucas - Evansville Courier and Press
September 6, 2005 - 5:00 pm

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The following article written by John Lucas appeared on the Evansville Courier and Press web site on September 5, 2005. The article was password protected and in order to allow more readers to view it, the Mandolin Cafe requested and was granted permission from the Assistant Managing Editor of the paper to reproduce the article here in its entirety.


By JOHN LUCAS Courier & Press Western Kentucky bureau (270) 333-4899 or jlucas@evansville.net
September 5, 2005

ROSINE, Ky. - The home of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, is still open as a tourist attraction in Rosine. Jerusalem Ridge, the annual bluegrass festival held there high on a ridge above the little Ohio County crossroads community where he was raised and is buried, is still on for Sept. 29 to Oct. 2. And the scheduled appearance of Ralph Stanley, arguably the best-known name in the music genre other than Monroe's, for a performance Sept. 30 has heightened fan interest in the festival.

That's the good news - and it's about the only good news the group struggling to keep a light burning in the window of the restored Monroe home and develop the area as a bluegrass mecca has heard lately. The Bill Monroe Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that has overseen the $3 million rebuilding of the Monroe house and development of the Jerusalem Ridge festival - named for a prominent Rosine landmark and a popular Monroe song title - is locked in a legal fight for its existence. A court injunction prohibits it from using Bill Monroe's name. A Tennessee judge last week issued a temporary restraining order preventing it from calling itself the Bill Monroe Foundation. Monroe's son, James, is suing the group claiming it does not have permission to use his father's name. The temporary order is in place until Sept. 14 .

The group, which for now is calling itself simply the Monroe Foundation, is also engaged in a squabble with Hartford, Ky., businessman Hayward Spinks over the use of some of Spinks' property, which surrounds the five-acre, county-owned Monroe homeplace. As the Jerusalem Ridge festival was developed, a portion of Spinks' property was used for camping and parking. Two rustic performance stages were also constructed partially or wholly on Spinks' property. Campbell Mercer, executive director of the Monroe Foundation, says Spinks, who was a member of its board of directors, encouraged construction of the stages and authorized use of the property for parking space. Spinks is also chairman of the Ohio County Industrial Foundation, which created the Bill Monroe Foundation, hired Mercer and served as a conduit for grant monies used to restore the Monroe house. But conflict arose about three years ago between Mercer and the industrial foundation over the terms of his employment contract. The industrial foundation fired Mercer, and the Monroe Foundation replaced Spinks on its board of directors. Mercer is suing the industrial foundation in Ohio Circuit Court for the alleged breach of his contract. In the meantime, the Monroe Foundation, which in 2001 pledged to buy Bill Monroe's famous Gibson mandolin from James Monroe for $1.2 million, had been unable to raise the money and was wrangling with him over ownership of the instrument. That dispute was resolved last year with Monroe retaining ownership. Then before last year's Jerusalem Ridge festival, Spinks advised the Monroe Foundation it could not use his property for parking or performances, but on the advice of its attorney, the group used the property during the festival. Mercer said, though, that while the festival drew bluegrass fans from 43 states, the conflict caused a drop in attendance from local residents. This year, the Spinks land that had been used for camping and handicapped parking has been planted in grain sorghum and sunflowers, and signs ordering people to "keep out" identify it as a wildlife plot. The Monroe Foundation last month filed a lawsuit in Ohio Circuit Court asking the judge for a declaration of rights and to allow it to use the property. Joe Evans, a Madisonville, Ky., attorney representing the foundation, said said he will advise the foundation to again use the property over Spinks' objections. "We can let the personalities argue about it until they turn blue in the face after the festival is gone," he said, "but it's such a wonderful event for the entire community I hate for somebody to do something to disrupt it or give it a black eye." Kenny Autry, Monroe Foundation chairman and an Ohio County magistrate, said the festival could be moved off the ridge, but he felt it would hurt ticket sales. "People come for the setting - the homeplace, the natural setting," he said. "It's either give up and walk off the ridge or stand up and fight for what you think is right."

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