The festival began as a benefit concert for the new Thousandsticks Fire Department back in 1994 and now gives a portion of all advanced-sale tickets to the six fire departments in Leslie County and to the Bledsoe department as well.
"Bledsoe has been involved for three years," said Paul Medlar, assistant fire chief. "We serve so many who live in Leslie County, and this is a good fund-raiser. If anyone needs advanced tickets, I'll deliver them myself."
According to Bledsoe Fire Department Chief John Baughman, the department now has two separate stations, which works out well because it covers about 200 square miles and needs the extra station for faster response to far-flung areas.
"Middlefork, Big Branch, Chapel and out to Big Laurel," Baughman said, "all the little tributaries and hollows; it's hard to keep track of just how many people are in our area at least 1,800 in Leslie County."
Dean Osborne's interest in Leslie County goes back for generations, back to Judge "Black Sam" Begley and his family's homeplace is in Thousandsticks. He has been playing music since the age of 5 and fell in love with bluegrass when he went to a concert and heard his cousins, Sonny and Bobby Osborne, playing as the Osborne Brothers. Osborne formed his first bluegrass band, the Thousandsticks Express, in 1980. He released two CDs in 2000, "Kentucky Son" and "Roads of Faith," which was recorded with Eastbound.
"I have a life-long love for the region," Osborne said. "It becomes part of your person."
The Osborne Brothers, famed bluegrass musicians who began playing in the late 1940s, were born in Hyden, "within sight of the Nixon Center and used to go back and do shows to raise funds for the athletic teams."
According to Osborne, his interest in the fire departments flared up when he decided to get his cousins' band back to Hyden for a fund-raiser and called his best friend, John Newell, in 1994.
"John, how can I do this?" he asked, not knowing of Newell's involvement in forming the brand-new Thousandsticks Fire Department.
"At one time, there was nothing," Osborne said. "You were lucky if there was a bucket wagon. Lots of towns had devastating fires."
Osborne, Newell and the president of Hyden Citizens Bank organized the first Osborne Brothers Festival that year, partially as a fund-raiser for the nascent Thousandsticks Volunteer Fire Department.
"We started the festival with two bands on a Sunday afternoon," Osborne said. "It marked the 90th anniversary of the bank, the 40th anniversary of the Osborne Brothers and the July 4th weekend."
The following year, all Leslie County volunteer fire departments benefitted from the festival. And now, with a larger sponsor base, a three-day venue and some top bluegrass names, the festival benefits the fire department of Bledsoe, too.
Osborne said that a fire chief recently told him the departments couldn't cover so much of Leslie County, except for Bledsoe.
"He told me,