It was quite serendipitous that Mark Aaron Evans was ready to do a hard open for the new National Avenue location of Cosmic Charlie’s just as Born Cross Eyed was about to celebrate twenty-five years as a band. The two had become fast friends back in the days of The Fishtank before the old Cosmic Charlie’s came into being. It was all too appropriate for these two momentous occasions to align as one long weekend of a music genre that has become a Lexington staple. This fusion created a very magical first night, and Lexington came out in droves to celebrate and support.
Evans has a full plate of booking responsibilities, scheduling bands not only for Cosmic Charlie’s and the Burl in Lexington, but also Zanzibar and Headliners in Louisville.
I arrived early at the new venue in Lexington’s Warehouse Block district. The relocation is a demographic shift from just off the UK campus to walking distance from Lexington’s Kenwick neighborhood, a magnet for young professionals and families. As the band sound checked in the background, I spoke at length with Mark about the new space, his vision and this special weekend:
The new Cosmic Charlie’s is quite an elevation from the old location, which, while nostalgic and comfy for many, could lack in decorum. Especially those bathrooms. The new location is sparkly, squeaky clean and openly inviting.
The different colored lights that make the surface of the bar twinkle reflect in the shiny silver lights above. The front of the house boasts a pin ball machine and a juke box. The sound booth is tucked against the wall and the open floor is the perfect space for the dancing that had to occur. Born Cross Eyed, like the band it emulates, makes you just want to dance. And dance we did.
For twenty-five years, Lee Owen, Joey David, Chris Fuller, and Mark Vanderboegh have been covering the Grateful Dead in Born Cross Eyed, the “by-product of a bunch of deadheads sitting around a living room, really” according to the band. “We were all running around the Dead shows together all around the country.”
Their mutual love for the band and the lifestyle easily mixed with their musical talents and back in 1991 became the long enduring Lexington legend. Celebrating twenty-five years of gigs, festivals and full dancing, happy crowds, they were joined this Anniversary weekend with newer members Brandon Bowlds (bass), Jenny Adkins (vocals), and John-Paul Nowak (drums). During the Saturday night performance, drummer Dino English, of Dark Star Orchestra fame, joined the band for the big one-year celebration.
The fresh new room filled quickly Friday night, and when the band took the stage around 10:30 pm everyone in the front half of the floor was immediately dancing. The music flowed smoothly from one song to the next, each one bringing cheers from the crowd like an old friend returned home. That’s the draw of the Dead and the good cover bands like Born Cross Eyed. It is ritual. To cover those songs with such ease and musical precision brings joy to the crowd like a Sunday revival.
“It’s a huge community. I mean it’s our monthly meeting, some people have a bridge club, I have a Grateful Dead cover band…It’s like our church…there is a spiritual component to the Grateful Dead,” says lead singer Lee Owen of his baby.
The crowd agrees; these shows, of which I have attended many, fill with familiar faces and new strangers, but there is a strong sense of community and connection through the love of the music. The lyrics are echoed by the crowd like hymns and creeds, the knowing of what is to come, and sinking down into the words and the rhythm, bumping off the crowd as everyone moves with gentle ease; this is the service. That is the ritual. Born Cross Eyed is the officiant, and they deliver what the crowd wants and needs.
Lee Owen on lead guitar and Brandon Bowlds on bass is a tight combination, the two also played together in Bluegrass Collective and their experience is obvious.
Jenny Adkins adds in high harmonies along with Joey David on rhythm guitar and vocals, and the front line flows smoothly from song to song, covering all the eras of the expansive Grateful Dead history.
The crowd dances and sings along, appreciating the masterful skill of the drums, the keys and sax, those guitars wailing out the tunes.
The house was packed. The women’s bathroom was a constant streaming conversation appreciating the pretty new décor and cleanliness. The drinks flowed cold from the taps. Next door, Rolling Oven and Locals provided food that Evans is happy to allow inside. They also encourage delivery from Girls, Girls, Girls Burritos, their former business mates at the old Fishtank, now Best Friend Bar.
The music kept going, past 2am. As the night got older, the crowd got younger. Older Deadheads went home to kids and early mornings while the twenty-something Deadheads took their place and kept the dancing going. The vibe stayed the same, as it does at Dead shows. The music creates the vibe, and the crowd responds accordingly.
It was a magical night. When the band moved into the crowd for a picture with the audience behind them, it was nothing but love. Love for the skill with which they make the music, Love for keeping the legend going all these many years, Love for being such a nice group of guys who clearly share the connection.
It’s all about the connection. Connecting with the music, the crowd. Connecting with each other on stage to produce the tight layered harmonies and chords and notes. Connecting with the lyrics to infuse them as Jerry and Pigpen once did. Connecting folks in Lexington to come out in the cold night and support these hard working musicians doing what they love. Local businesses connecting with one another and helping each other thrive, as the newly revamped block on National Avenue is doing. It all came together quite beautifully Friday night.
Thanks, guys, for keeping the connection going.