Bob Cornett, co-founder of the much beloved festival venue The Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park, passed away yesterday after a brief illness. Alongside his late wife, Jean, Bob lived a life of service to his fellow man in the furtherance of a truly beautiful dream. The Cornetts set out to bring people together, to build community, and to unite the world through the power of music.
The love of the music of the Appalachian hills and the hollers of Kentucky led the couple to throw gatherings for their fellow fans. That music, made with instruments brought from distant lands by people looking to start new lives and new families, was and is the very essence of the American Dream. This lead to the founding of Kentucky’s longest running music gathering, The Festival Of The Bluegrass, held the second week of June each year at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
In time, the Cornetts wanted to create a place where the music could start earlier in the year and go later than the wintry weather of Kentucky would allow. A place where music lovers from all walks of life could call home. Their search found them a slice of paradise along the Suwannee, long ago immortalized in song by yet another Kentuckian, Stephen Foster. Jean Cornett fell in love with the scenic natural splendor of the Park and the couple quickly began to build what is today one of the most highly regarded festival venues in the world.
Though Bob would joke that he mostly did everything to keep Jean happy, his exhaustive efforts to help build the Park clearly showed how much he cared. In the decades since, the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park has become a home to music fans of all varieties, all of them welcome in the home that Bob and Jean built. The Cornetts were that rare breed, a shining example of what could be accomplished when one sets their intention to build community.
Music fans from the mountains of Kentucky, to the banks of the historic Suwannee River in Florida and beyond mourn the loss of this man and his late wife Jean as living, breathing gifts to the music community. Though our hearts are heavy at this loss, we should all be comforted by the thought that their legacy will endure.
The legacy of Bob and Jean Cornett isn’t just festivals and a stage or two in the woods of northern Florida. It’s the shining example they set for us all. The living embodiment of serving each other, the heights we can scale when working together and the power of love itself.
Bob and Jean Cornett had six sons. Though they experienced every parent’s fear when Hugh died in 1987 the rest of their children have thrived in no small part due to the lessons learned watching their parents. It’s that generational learning, the passing down of knowledge and love that speaks to the best hope for humanity itself.
So, through one couple’s gesture, many lives are enriched. The actions the Cornetts took will reverberate outwards through history in the form of love and the community they fostered. Bob Cornett is survived by more than just five sons and a loving extended family–he is survived by us all. His actions remind us all of the things that can be built when one dreams of a better world and won’t stop until they make it happen. Rest well sir, you’ve earned it.
Our own Rex Thomson, himself a Kentuckian and part of the Suwannee family, made the following video. It’s an attempt to both tell the history of the founding of the Suwannee Music Park and put faces to the names of the couple who built the much loved music mecca.