LIVE OAK — Music lovers, longtime friends, public officials, TV stars, current and past employees of the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and others are mourning the death of the Music Park’s co-founder Bob Cornett.
A legend in his home state of Kentucky for his involvement in public and private organizations and as co-founder of The Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky, Cornett was also known as the co-founder of the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak. He passed away peacefully Thursday at his home in Georgetown, Kentucky. He was 89.
Those who know Cornett know he did not intentionally seek notoriety. Brilliant, quiet, a thinker who never missed what was going on around him but was often the last one to speak of it, Cornett listened way more than he talked. When he became a “retired bureaucrat,” he explored Facebook and eventually took part, developing the Front Porch Journal on his page where he could express himself. Those postings publish the thoughts of a deep-thinking man who believed “porch time” could be the answer to many of today’s troubles. He also believed “community-based citizens can make good things happen.” “Miss Jean,” his late wife, often said she was Bob’s “picker-upper” in life, referring to him coming up with a great idea and handing it off to her to make it come to life…which she always did.
At the age of 29, Cornett was named budget director for Kentucky under Gov. Bert Combs. He served through the tenure of Gov. Edward Breathitt. He went on to serve as director of both the Area Development for the Appalachian Regional Commission, Special Projects for the Council of State Governments in Lexington and as a consultant in the Public Service Administration. His experience in these areas was a tremendous help as he and Jean later began their journey into music events.
Although he worked many years in government, Cornett, along with Jean, was well-known and admired for his partnership with Jean in founding and producing The Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky, 46 years ago and the Kentucky Bluegrass Music Camp. The “Kids Camp” was designed to encourage kids and adults to work together to learn not only the fundamentals of Bluegrass Music, but the very basics of what it means to be part of a community. The vision of these ventures endures thanks to the involvement of his children and grandchildren, for which he was most delighted. This wonderful bluegrass event has seen hundreds of bluegrass artists perform over the years before thousands of music lovers. Along with Jean and their six (sometimes willing or unwilling) young sons back then, they started it from scratch, saw it through the first year with no real chance of making it to the second year as they had never hosted a music festival of any kind. They succeeded though and today it continues successfully under the management of Bob and Jean’s grandson Roy Cornett and wife AnnaMarie and help from many faithful volunteers. It’s attained nationwide recognition and brought great honor and awards to Bob and Jean such as the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Distinguished Achievement Award, the highest honor IBMA bestows outside of induction into the Hall of Fame. They also received the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Event of the Year Award for this bluegrass event
The last big project Cornett handed off to “Miss Jean” was a biggie!
On a vacation to attend a family reunion, they stopped to look at a shuttered camping park in Live Oak on the banks of the famous Suwannee River. Agricultural officer Stanley Johnson came over, found out they were interested in looking at the park, got the right person to come out and the rest is history. The Cornetts took on the project in 1985 that today is known as the Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park and Campground, now an internationally known music and camping park that brings more than 700,000 guests into the North Florida and South Georgia area each year. The festivals held here such as Hulaween, Suwannee Roots Revival, Suwannee Spring Reunion, Suwannee River Jam, Suwannee Rising and more, along with karaoke every Thursday and live bands every Friday and Saturday, bring some of the best artists in the world to this music park nestled on the banks of the Suwannee River. There is also a “Suwannee Spirit Kids Music Camp” at the Music Park, started by the Cornetts. Guests have the opportunity to enjoy all the amenities, including touring the “Mother Treehouse” built by TV’s famed Michael Garnier at Miss Jean’s request. This was another “hand-off” by Cornett to Jean with exceptional success. Today, this internationally known music park is successfully owned and run by their son, James Cornett, but those who know this wonderful place see Bob and Jean’s touch everywhere and keep their memory near.
Robert “Bob” Cornett was born in Hazard, Kentucky, on Nov. 11, 1929. Eighty-nine years later Cornett joined his beloved wife, Jean Carrithers Cornett, in Heaven. In this world people are born, live their lives as best they can in between and eventually pass away, leaving friends and loved ones to mourn. It’s something everyone experiences. It’s the in between for Bob Cornett that tells the rest of the story. He was admired and honored for his attributes, his dedication to Kentucky, his love of music, his founding of the Festival of the Bluegrass and the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. But most of all, he was loved by his late wife Jean, his sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren and his large family. Internationally, music lovers who never met Bob Cornett have attended the festivals at The Festival of the Bluegrass and The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and left with a great love for his and Jean’s creations that have given much joy to music lovers across the world, though they never met. Bob and Jean’s legend will live on.
Cornett was quiet and proud with an infectious passion for life and considered himself to be “no better than average.” He will be remembered as kind, generous, proud, gracious, passionate, a quite sense of humor, active and for carrying an unfailing belief that the world will be a better place if we all join together for a common purpose and work toward improving our world.
Cornett is survived by his sisters Elna Mae Rosenberger, Hope Richards, Nancy Jo Cornett; brother John (Charlene) Cornett; sons Roy, Robert (Linda), John (Barb), James (Robin), Charles (Vicki) and daughter-in-law, Patty, as well as many grandchildren and great grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his parents, Miller and Nora, his wife, Jean and their son Hugh.
Visitation will be Monday, April 15, at 11 a.m. at Tucker, Yocum and Wilson Funeral Home in Georgetown, Kentucky, with a storytelling hour at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please consider either making a donation to The American Chestnut Foundation, www.afc.org, or have a conversation within your community about how to make the world a better place.