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Owensboro: Where ‘B’ is a Big Deal

 Three words starting with “B” give you a quick snapshot of Owensboro, Kentucky –barbecue, bourbon and bluegrass.

Barbecue is a magnet all year long for lovers of smoky pork, chicken and a distinctive regional favorite: mutton, called mature lamb by some. Visitors flock to two big restaurants, Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn and Old Hickory Restaurant, as well as to numerous smaller barbecue joints. Let the smoke be your guide.

Barbecue aromas permeate the entire downtown early every May for the International Bar-B-Q Festival. Seriously competitive teams chase the Governor’s Cup, and scores of amateur pit masters show off their skills. The festival kicks off a series of barbecue picnics at the area’s Catholic parishes that lasts past Labor Day. One parish has had a barbecue picnic for more than 100 years, and they all are the epitome of eating local.

Owensboro’s second “B,” bourbon, celebrates a connection to Kentucky’s famous libation. The O.Z. Tyler Kentucky Bourbon Distillery is producing spirits and offering tours and tastings in a structure built as a distillery in 1885. Nearby is The Miller House, where a downstairs space called Spirits offers more than 400 bourbons.

Bluegrass, the final “B,” is the musical form that brings fame to the area and why the city is home to the International Bluegrass Music Museum. Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, grew up in tiny Rosine in adjacent Ohio County, and bluegrass pilgrims often build their itineraries around the Bill Monroe Homeplace, the museum and a bluegrass festival.

The biggest of those festivals is ROMP, a four-day explosion of music, camping and camaraderie every June. Other opportunities to enjoy live bluegrass music include Fridays After 5 in the summer, Bluegrass on the Banks, and jam sessions at various locations around town.

Owensboro is two hours southwest of Louisville, two hours northwest of Nashville and three hours east of St. Louis.