Cara Blake Coppola

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Scene&Heard: Chelsea Nolan on Red Barn Radio

Nestled in the middle of downtown Lexington, once a week on Wednesday nights Red Barn Radio broadcasts and live- streams original music to the world. Sending Kentucky’s rich treasure of music to the masses, Ed Commons and the folks at Red Barn Radio represent and support a different local and regional artist each week they broadcast. On January 10, folks gathered inside ArtsPlace in downtown Lexington to see Chelsea Nolan take her turn at the mic.

A native of Stanton, Ky, Nolan is a recent voice that has skyrocketed out of Eastern Kentucky over the last year, and she is taking her place among the group of massively talented singer/songwriters from the region. “I feel like I got on a rocketship, and then I got in a slingshot and they flung me into outer space.” Starting with her first solo gig back in October 2016, Chelsea soon was making a name for herself.

“I was drumming for people and being in the background, and being the support. I am a drummer before I am a singer or a songwriter, and I feel that I’m good at supporting people too. It just hit me one day that I had my own songs to sing.”

Photo by Derek Feldman

Songwriting is very personal for Chelsea. Her songs come from personal experience, and phrases and ridiculous things that folks say around her. She is always listening and gathering lines here and there from the people in her orbit. Her songs become an emblem, a story being sung of the hills and the people who live in them and make music with her. She says songwriting for her is like doing a puzzle. “Once I’ve got all the corners together it just falls in, and I’ve got no control over it. Thirty minutes max is probably what I have in a song, start to finish once I’ve got everything I need. If I have to force it it doesn’t’ have to be written. It has to be natural and real. I put myself into strange situations, just so I can get some ammo. It’s bigger than me.”

Music has always been a huge part of her life, and the life of her family, a Stanton staple. Brother Josh Nolan is a strong singer and songwriter, as well, and played Red Barn Radio previously.

“A couple years ago watching my brother do this, I was teary eyed the whole time. It’s such a good opportunity, so many people listen to Red Barn. That anyone thought of me to do that is crazy. I am excited and humbled.”

As soon as Chelsea begins to sing, you can hear why her music career has gained such momentum. Her songs are real, and true, and well-crafted. And she is hilarious. Not just in lyric, but between songs she has the crowd laughing until our faces hurt. She takes us along on an easy ride with her. Sometimes it gets real, just a little heavy, such as “That Old Town”, when she sings of the pills and the depression all-to-present in many small towns in the hills. But more often you find yourself bouncing along with her as your foot can’t stop tapping and you can’t stop laughing. Her southern accent bites with a sarcasm that is brilliant, and her verses often end with a twist of wit.

She tells stories between her songs, of hollers and ponds glowing with sunset; of friends singing together; and of love. She sings of driving backroads and watching the lightning over the hills. Her songs are for healing and for laughing, and they tell of real lives that anyone, Kentuckian or not, can relate to.

“I don't care if people know my name, I just want to be able to do this. I want to share what’s on my heart with other people, because it's on my heart for a reason. I want to be able to help other people with their stuff, because this has helped me with mine. I want to sing as much as I can, as loud as I can, to as many people as I can.” Chelsea Nolan

For the first half of her set, Chelsea was accompanied by Kristofer Bentley providing a homegrown percussion beat on the cajon while Chelsea played the guitar and sang.

She was resolute that night, playing in spite of coming down with the flu that has afflicted so many this winter. She refused to miss the chance to play Red Barn Radio. Barefoot, with a thermos of tea close by, she sat astride a stool and poured her soul into her songs.

Performing thirteen originals and two covers that she made her own, Chelsea kept the crowd enraptured. With her bluesy, soulful voice and thick country twang that tells her stories with a realness that is refreshing. Her guitar picking is perfect and she can’t help but bop along to her own beat and you can’t help but join her. Between the songs, host Brad Becker asked questions that gave Chelsea an opportunity to charm the crowd and listeners around the world with her tales.

She’s fun. Real fun and real good.

That night was an apex for Nolan. Red Barn Radio, in it’s 16th season of sending original music around the world on various radio stations, also live-streams their shows and is compiling video for a thirteen-episode season on local television. To play Red Barn and sit between those bourbon barrels and get to tell your story to the world is a great opportunity. Having accelerated their viewership with their You Tube videos of Tyler Childers, Red Barn Radio is a big part of the national and global conversation being had about Kentucky’s excellent treasure of music and musicians.

Chelsea Nolan has earned her rank among that group of musicians we are proud to call ours. Standing her ground among a pack of mostly guys, she keeps everyone laughing with her unique and well sung songs that provide a refreshing take on the stories the hills have to share with the world. As she says herself, “I am in a beautiful situation.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Chelsea Nolan:

Listen to Cara’s chat with Red Barn Radio’s Ed Commons:

Watch Chelsea’s Shaker Steps video:

Scene&Heard

Scene&Heard: Divine Carama

Music isn’t just music for hip hop artist Devine Carama, it is everything. It is the backdrop to his drive, to his work, and to his life. He raps about a mission that he believes with all his heart, and his life’s work reflects that daily.

Friday night, the first of December, a diverse group of musicians took the stage at The Burl to embody and play for Devine’s mission about community. His non-profit Believing in Forever was hosting a Coat to Keep the Cold Away fundraiser that night, sharing the donations with The Nest and the Reindeer Express. All the funds for the show went to the charities, and cover could be paid in a new coat or toy for donation. The trade off for the act of kindness was a line up of some of Lexington’s finest musicians, boasting a wide variety of genres of high quality music.

Robert Frahm started the night with his tight guitar slinging skills, followed by Sunny Cheeba. Joslyn and the Sweet Compression went next and set the stage for Devine Carama, the headliner of the show and the organizer from the Believing in Forever non-profit. Devine Carama was followed by The Summit and the Johnny Conqueroo. Devine was on the other side of having recently performed a 24-hour Hip Hop for Hope marathon in front of the Fayette County Courthouse.

For the past four years, Devine Carama’s winter season has centered around the Coat to Keep the Cold Away campaign. The first two years, his organization raised funds and collected coats for low income kids and families in the Central Kentucky area. Last year they expanded to Eastern Kentucky as well and bought and delivered 1500 coats to kids who needed them. This year, the requests reached nearly 2800. So Devine went to work. He did the 24 hour marathon and raised almost $4,000 for new coats, but it wasn’t enough. Thus, the beautiful night of music at The Burl that Friday evening.

Joslyn and the Sweet Compression are a great act to follow. They always leave the crowd happy and moving and loving life and everyone in it. From there, Devine took the stage solo. His DJ wasn’t able to be there that night, so he used pre-recorded beats as his backdrop. He did a short intro about who he was and why were were all there that night, and then, he let the words go. Oh man, all those words…

Divine Carama | Photo by Derek Feldman

For twenty minutes Devine Carama slayed lyrics upon lyrics. His rhymes were tight and flowing and talked about so much, about what is real. About life on the streets and about poverty and disenfranchisement and unarmed black men getting shot and community and Africa and about so much. His lyrics are dense and vast and you follow along with him, line by line, as he tells you what it’s all about. He calls to the crowd and they answer along, following the beat with him, moving in time to the rhyme.

“Poetry and lyrics are so important for me…” Devine commented, speaking of the early days of hip hop and of “Diverse complex parallel rhyme schemes, when it really mattered, and substance.” He wants his lyrics to speak about the truth of the struggles he sees in his community and America daily, “things that are going on in the world. Charlottesville, a lot of unarmed black men dying, Trump in office. You rarely hear them mentioned in hip hop. I come from the era of Public Enemy and NWA” when hip hop artists spoke out against the subjects that “will be in the history books.”

His lyrics are packed full of these themes. It’s astounding, how someone can remember all those words, to stand up there and preach and say all the lyrics with emphasis and pathos. To remember and to move, to instill the message in the hearts of the crowd below. The fog on the stage mixed with the cold air from outside and swirled around Devine as he shared his poetry and his passion with the room. The bass bounced against the walls and moved The Burl to a beat it wasn’t as familiar with, and it liked it. You could tell. The room danced that night, from one performer to the next, and the feeling was real good.

Taking a break after twenty minutes, Devine spoke to the crowd about his non-profit, Believing in Forever, which was founded in 2014. Their mission is to inspire education, community service, mentoring and expressive art. They hold nine in-school mentoring programs, called Impact 859. Sons of Single Mothers is another aspect, which recently received a grant from State Farm. They also hold Youth Open Mics, do Philanthropy projects such as A Coat to Keep the Cold Away, motivational youth speaking, and mentoring. They try to inspire strength in the next generation in ways that are “a little different than the norm.”

Mainly, Devine Carama wants all the forgotten, disenfranchised folks out in the community to know that there are people who do see them, who do care. Those are the people he raps about in his hip hop songs, those are the people he works tirelessly for to give them the comfort of a new, warm coat that fits well, and the comfort of taking the time to help with homework, and mentoring them through the difficult choices and consequences life brings. Even free haircuts earned for good grades. And a place to express themselves through spoken word and song as well. All of these things build community, and community is what Devine is all about.

Believing in Forever had a goal to reach, those 2800 coats that had already been requested from all over central and eastern Kentucky. The goal was not quite met after Friday night, so, driven as he is, Devine committed to another hip hop for hope marathon. This time, for 48 hours. For two days straight he would sit outside in the cold and rap his hip hop lyrics every hour, on the hour, for twenty minutes or so each time. Even in the cold, dark night, at 4 and 5 am, he was out there rapping. That was the point, he commented, “The commitment- even when there’s not a lot of people around. [It] symbolizes those families that are struggling that not everyone knows about. Every hour on the hour…Every hour.”

I sat with Devine outside the courthouse during hour eight of his 48 hour marathon. It was a sunny day at 3pm, but the wind was blowing cold, driving the dry, dead leaves around in circles, and after thirty minutes I was frozen cold and couldn’t feel my hands. He had forty more hours to go. He rapped outside to the traffic driving by. Folks honked in support, or walked by to greet him and shake his hands or donate to the cause. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes stopped by to visit. And there were several interviews — including mine: 

Music is a strong force within a community. Whatever the genre, it can move people to act and to gather and to commune. When that music is joined with action, it can move mountains. Devine Carama channels his music from his soul, and imbibes it with his passion for community. When he puts that music to work for his beliefs, magic can happen. The magic of a kid getting a great new coat for Christmas, and the relief his parents or guardians feel with the gift of a stranger. The magic of a kid who passes a tough test because members of the community spent their free Saturday with him, working hard on helping him pass. When he does, he gets rewarded and praised and gets a new haircut. These are the differences that matter, this is the real magic of community. Devine Carama embodies that in everything he does.

“With the music I think its always about unearthing truths or emotions that are often suppressed in hip hop music. I’m an agent of change when it comes to that I am the voice that you don’t normally hear in hip hop music. The boy that doesn’t have a father, the young teenage girl who was molested. The underserved black kid that lives in a city that 90 percent don’t look like him. I want my music to be that, and I want my music to be uplifting to those who don’t have a voice.”

At the Burl | Photo by Derek Feldman

Scene&Heard

Scene&Heard: The Jettisons

Best Friend Bar is the quintessential classic college bar, nestled on the corner of Euclid and Woodland Ave. The geometric insides boast jutting ceilings covered with colored Christmas lights and shiny stars that hang year round. Posters and stickers from shows and bands past adorn the painted black ceilings and bathroom stalls. A small merch table is stuck back against a slanted wall, and band equipment is bundled up on the other side. Patrons clad in lots of black leather mill around the bar, getting ready for the three-act set as they order local drafts and burritos from Girls, Girls, Girls Burritos. The Jettisons are set to play second in a fully stocked night of promised punk music headlined by Sarasota’s Rational Anthem.

The Jettisons | Photo by Derek Feldman

The Jettisons is an amalgamation of four other previous bands from the Lexington area, a sort of supergroup of punk musicians. Brad Hagedorn, the drummer, and Travis Rosenbalm, the guitarist, were from Middle Class Mischief. They joined with Tom Blankenship, someone Travis had been wanting to do music with since Tom’s time in The Loaded Nuns and Slagsmiths. They all wanted Beth Jenkins on vocals. Her previous work in the ska band The Rough Customers boasted her vocals, a sound they all wanted for their new band. Cory Hanks, from Those Crosstown Rivals, was brought in for bass, and The Jettisons was born.

Musicians who have been part of the scene, each brings their own personality to the band, which they call truly democratic. “Definitely the most collaborative band I’ve ever been in,” says Tom, “…there is no established leader of the band, it’s a collective.” The musicians get together with a riff and a beat and record it. They hand it off to Beth, and soon she comes back with lyrics and they then pull it all together. When they had some songs compiled, they went into the studio with Jason Groves at Sneak Attack Studios and recorded an EP.

They all laughed about the experience and the astonishment when Groves put Beth in the drum booth to record her vocals. Once they heard the result, however, they were collectively in awe of both Grove’s recording skills and Jenkin’s vocal talent. “He’s worked with me before,” Beth jokes.

When they take the stage after local opening band Test Passenger and hit that first note, you can understand why. Beth’s voice is incredibly powerful and so direct. She wails up into high notes with flawless accuracy, then in the next breath screams out her gut-punching lyrics, only to go back to singing like she’s in a musical. Impressive. The band backs her with exact synchronization, their heads slamming in classic punk style, instruments slung low as they fill the small stage, their lead woman out front, in amongst the loyal crowd, the sound filling the small room and making the windows rattle.

Beth’s lyrics chanted and screamed, sung out like an aria, Tom and Travis adding perfectly timed responses to Beth’s calls, the chanting like prayers, and the crowd joins in. Small but fervent, the crowd slams and bounces and dances and pushes each other guidingly back into the middle where one dancer bounces and slams into Tom…while he’s playing guitar. A true audience participation show, a true punk show, the crowd and the band become one with the beat, and Beth’s voice guides them all.

The shambled room and the DIY sound gear is part of the charm of Best Friend Bar, in walking distance from most of the UK dorms. The air smells of the amazing burritos from Girls, Girls, Girls Burritos, a co-business with BFB, operated out of a door next to the bar. Amazing grilled burritos and quesadillas, chips and dip are served out of the door – your ideal edge-of-campus business. The punk vibes fit perfect that night, and the camaraderie and joy the crowd clearly felt were good for everyone.

Beth Jenkins, The Jettisons | Photo by Derek Feldman

“You don’t necessarily have to have a really big crowd at a punk show. Enthusiastic really matters…I’d rather see two people moving than fifty people not,” the band agreed. Dancing with their audience, Beth and Tom draw the crowd in on the floor while the band diligently keeps the beat behind, Brad’s drums the sidewalk they dance upon, Hank’s bass the beat of their steps. Travis and Tom support Beth out front, and the joy and experience and tight musicianship of the collective are quite clear.

Tom and Beth joke between songs, with the band, and with the crowd. The feel of the set is fun. Just damn fun, and they’re out there to have fun. This isn’t the punk I remember from the early days. These aren’t young kids who hate the establishment. Beth says, “Old punk is about trashing something, destroying something. Fuck this, fuck that. There is something to rebuilding. There is something to bringing something back.” And that is what The Jettisons clearly get across to their audience.

The term “posi-punk”, or Positive Punk, is the subgenre they have chosen,

“Posipunk…is maybe an overlooked subgenre, it’s something that a lot of us who grew up listening to this kind of music maybe should start leaning towards…in times like these” Beth comments, “let’s talk about rebuilding. Let’s talk about the rebuild.”

Travis agrees, “There’s never been a more important time to be positive, at least in my lifetime, as far as society goes.”

Their songs try to touch on this idea, to come together. To stay positive. A new song that will be on their second CD, a full-length album they hope to get out soon, Beth wrote for Travis when he was struggling with anxiety. “Watch the Sky” is a positive song that she wrote for Travis to understand that he was not alone. That is what The Jettisons want to convey in their lyrics.

The Jettisons having a big ‘ol time at Best Friend Bar | Photo by Derek Feldman

With that powerful message, along with Beth’s astounding voice, and the collective talent of the guys backing her, The Jettisons are creating a new wave in Lexington’s punk scene.

Meanwhile, out in the parking lot…

Arts

Scene&Heard: NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon

Formerly an old Methodist Episcopal church built in 1866, the Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY has been remade into an amazing live music venue, just up the road from Lexington.

Photo by Scott Preston for Cincygroove.com

Offering an opportunity for local Lexington talent to expand their circles a bit, often to open for a national touring act they admire, Southgate creates a unique and gorgeous space for musicians and fans to share their time together. As opening band for the San Francisco touring legends The Flamin’ Groovies, NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon were the first of three bands to take the stage in the Sanctuary Room at Southgate.

Opening for a legendary band such as the Groovies was a gig that Nate, aka NP Presley, was proud to add to his band’s roster. “Southgate calls us repeatedly, and they ask us to open up for bands we really respect. I’d rather play for a band we really respect and look up to.”

The Sanctuary room is exactly what it suggests, the room where Episcopalians once gathered in worship, stained glass windows now flanked by acoustic paneling, pews removed from the wooden floors to make way for tables and chairs, and the organ piping now the backdrop for the fully stocked bar. The stage is set where the altar should be, and the choir’s balcony above is now a green room for the musicians who meander back and forth in what must be the coolest view from a green room, ever.

Southgate House Revival

Churches, I believe, make amazing live music venues, as they are made to project sound and music so perfectly. The walls seem to agree with the evolution, and the Southgate House is no exception. The side of the room boasted heavily visited merch tables for all three bands, and the fans filed in, devotees to a certain groove, and many greeted each other as friends. The room soon boasted a promising crowd, with room in front of the tables for a dance floor. NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon were the first set of three that night, to be followed by Tiger Sex, and then the headliner the fans were collected to see, The Flamin’ Groovies.

As I’ve noted in previous columns of shows past, the opening set has to be one of the toughest. You have to get the crowd’s attention as they’re filing in, greeting others, buying merch, ordering drinks and settling in for the headliner most have come to see.

NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon are devoted fans of The Flamin’ Groovies, and routinely cover their song Teenage Head. They had the opportunity to open for one of their idols, and their reverence and respect for that assignment, to warm up the crowd and get them ready to worship when the time came, was met with a devotion that was apropos for the building. They played their thirty minutes in full force and with great joy, drawing from their most recent CD “Broken Fantasy” as well as past works, and the crowd responded beautifully.

N.P. Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon is a big band with a long story. Boasting eight members, they are headed by NP Presley, aka Nate. Nate is the distant cousin to Elvis Presley, his mother was Elvis’ cousin and also a Country and Western singer in Nashville. NP recalls as a young boy being woken up by his father to watch his mother perform live on TV, then going back to bed. Jesse Garon, Elvis enthusiasts may know, was Elvis’ twin brother who died at birth. Nate sees the band’s name as an homage to “the spirit of rock and roll.”

NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon at Southgate House Revival

When they take the stage, the full band is an impressive display, Nate and others dressing to the nines from their brilliantly shined shoes to their neckties. Heather’s eyes are masked in black outlines that are mystical and beautiful and match her alluring voice. Eight in number, including NP Presley on vocals and guitar, Heather Parrish on vocals, Tex Dynamite on lead guitar and vocals, Matt Sigler on guitar, Chris Childers on bass, David Lee Hinkle on keys, Joe Linville on baritone sax and Whitney Mehringer on drums, together they create a well orchestrated and powerful sound.

While the name of the band and even the nice suits suggest a rockabilly sound, the sound of the band is quite diverse, as their tight thirty-minute set demonstrated. “We want to avoid defining our sound. I have metalheads who love us, gospel kind of people who love us, I meet hippies who like us, bikers like us cause we’re the sound of what it’s about really, freedom.

“We’re trying to be a big band…so far people have been really cool about it.”

They segued easily from rockabilly to punk to rock to even a gospel sound. NP dominates the vocals, with Heather Parrish on tightly emphatic harmonies, but for more than one song they literally switched places, mics and all, and Nate backed up Heather, with other band members adding in tight four and five-piece harmonies on several songs as well.

The elevated stage with that gorgeous archway backdrop was a beautiful setting for their sound. They filled every corner of the stage with their large presence and gave every bit of themselves while they were up there.

Presley, Mehringer and Parrish

Heather’s powerful voice rose up and around NP’s deep lyrics, filling them in like a well-wrapped package. Keys and sax slide in around the music, and the drums keep a strong beat going, making the crowd move along. NP and Heather are up there preaching, telling the crowd their story, and making sure it drives home. They want their crowd to be in it with them.

“My hope is to see people cutting loose, not worrying about the problems that are weighing them down every day,” NP said. “Because this is where I go to get rid of the problems I have…its really nice to see people in awe out there, stopping dead in their tracks with wide eyes and they didn’t expect what was happening. You want people to enjoy themselves. I do this to get away from reality, and I hope people can leave all the bad parts of their reality behind and enjoy the good parts, in the few minutes we get to make music.”

Taking full advantage of their half hour, the band moved with well-rehearsed precision from one song to the next. “The River Styx” was a deep, gothic song that told a story freighted with warning. Heather’s voice added a haunting quality that commanded the room. “Idle Dreams” had a southern gospel sound that was heavy with keys, the band joining in as a chorus that suited the setting of the old church.

NP Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon at the Southgate House Revival

The set was over too soon, but the band filled every second of it with some righteous rock and roll. The energy they exuded to the crowd was contagious, and the audience was begging for more when it was done. Happy to have headed north a bit to open for an amazing night of music for some of their idols, N.P. Presley and the Ghost of Jesse Garon represented Lexington quite well that night.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with N.P. Presley and the band:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Joslyn and the Sweet Compression

And just like that, on a sultry October night, Willie’s Locally Known was filled with a damn funky beat. 

Joslyn and The Sweet Compression, consisting of a diverse group of Lexington musicians, set the mood and laid the musical red carpet for Joslyn Hampton to take the stage and display her impressive vocals. Trumpet, sax, keys and drums joined guitar and bass to fill those wooden walls with some tight, high-quality music.

They started out with an instrumental, letting trumpet, then sax take the lead, each musician feeding off what the others had done before him, and then, Joslyn took the stage.  They had to make a big sound, see, to match her voice. Good lord, that voice.

Dancing with the beat between her verses, the entire package is a tight assemblage. Beckoning the roots of R&B, Joslyn and the Sweet Compression rock out originals and sprinkle in a few covers. 

Joslyn and The Sweet Compression at Willie's

It is a masterful scene, each musician clearly exceptional individually; collectively they give the audience a taste of great quality. Joined on stage by her step-father Marty Charters on guitar, Smith Donaldson on bass, Rashawn Fleming on drums, Stevie Holloman on a double set of keys, Joe Carucci on saxophone, and Jeffrey Doll on trumpet, Joslyn owns the room with her deep, solid and flawlessly consistent vocals. Joined with backing harmonies by Rashawn and Stevie, her singing quickly got the crowd up and dancing.

Raised singing in the church with her father’s family and her grandmother Vivian, Joslyn’s life has been one of singing. She received a partial scholarship to KSU and was in their Concert Choir, and took vocal lessons for a few years practicing opera, which she loved. That skill and training are clearly evident as her songs complimented her vast range of skill, moving her voice up and down the scale with ease.

As for influences, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and Jill Scott are Joslyn’s big 3.

Marty cites Sly and the Family Stone, Chaka (a major point of intersection), The JB’s, Junior Wells and the Beatles. Also high on his list is Ohio funk hero Roger Troutman and his band, Zapp.

Personally speaking, nothing gets this music voyeur happier than a band that is clearly having a good time up on stage.  Talent helps, of course, and skill, but it’s gotta be fun to really draw the audience in, even if the music is sad in tone. The Sweet Compression, with their fearless leader at the mic, is clearly having a wonderful time up there. The range of the songs they play is diverse, moving smoothly from funk, to R&B, to reggae, then sliding nicely into a slower soul song, Joslyn’s voice never faltering. The backing harmony supports her so well, and you can hear the church background in her skill set.

Like most musicians, Joslyn has to struggle to make time for music between her duties as a Security officer at UK. “Go to sleep, go to work, go to a gig, go back to work…that’s my life.” Joslyn and the Sweet Compression has existed for about a year, and their entity as a band was created somewhat backward from the usual.  She and step-dad Marty pulled some songs and lyrics together and then headed straight to the studio with Duane Lundy at Shangri-La. After recording their CD, they then decided to form a band to get the music out into the clubs.

Starting from scratch, excepting Marty and Smith, The Sweet Compression evolved into the band of troubadours that rocked the stage at Willie’s in their current form.  “I enjoy seeing the growth and process of everyone, including me…We know each other so well that we kind of fall into the right thing…we all get along…I think we’re bound to get far.” Joslyn has a strong affection for her band and the support they’ve given her; “those are my boys.”

The next step, they hope, is to spread out in “little circles” to surrounding cities like Louisville, Cincinnati, and further. They’ve gotten their foot in the door already and will play Headliner’s in Louisville to open for the Victor Wooten Trio, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones fame. The band is excited to spread their sound outside of Lexington, but is so grateful for the response they’ve had in the short year since they released their debut CD and began playing out around town.

They recorded a live video at The Burl awhile back and were so impressed by the love they received from the crowd. “I was very, very surprised by the positive response we’ve gotten from the community…it’s been enlightening and humbling.” She wasn’t certain that their sound would resonate with the community, “I didn’t expect it to really pop for everyone, but it really has.” When they recorded at The Burl, the folks came “right up front”. “It’s like a high, it’s an energy from the crowd that feeds you…Your heart kind of just explodes.”

After a solid hour of funky soul songs, Joslyn takes a break to cool down while the band goes off on another instrumental melody that keeps the crowd bopping. The trumpet and sax have a chance to flash their talent together, the bass and keys keeping the foundation strong. A well-played jazz or soul instrumental jam always sounds to me like a conversation; guitar talking to bass, drums answering with keys, the horns adding emphatic expletives along the way.  The Sweet Compression is fluent in that language, clearly.

Then Joslyn takes the stage again, and the magic continues.

Sliding into a Chaka Khan cover of “Ain’t Nobody” the crowd takes the dance floor again and the room moves together in one solid groove while Joslyn hits those high notes with breathtaking precision. An Amy Winehouse cover of “Valerie” then merges into a Stones cover of “Gimmie Shelter”, hitting Merry Clayton’s notes with the same bone-chilling intensity. She then slowed the room down with a bluesy song that lets her slide her voice way high on the register, blowing the crowd’s mind.

Their greastest skill, just behind that of her incredible voice, is their ability to work the room; to engage the crowd and make them an equal part of the experience.

It can be difficult, sometimes, to play a gig at a restaurant.  You have to earn your place amongst the competition of the alcohol and the delicious BBQ. Your music, if you want the crowd to move and feel the vibe you are creating, has to rise above the savory vapors of the food and libations, yet mix with it to create an all-encompassing sound that makes the folks want to get up and dance away their food coma. Joslyn is the perfect fit for that need; her R&B sound, her smooth vocals, the sweet sound of the musicians’ conversation behind and within her created the perfect mix.

Willie’s danced that night, as it likes to do; those wooden walls absorbing the smell of brisket along with the bass and the sax and keys and her gorgeous voice to serve the audience a complete package.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Joslyn:

Arts

Scene&Heard: PeteFest

The inaugural celebration of PeteFest on the Jones family nature preserve in Louisville was at once a celebration and a time for sad reflection. Pete Jones, for whom the Festival is named, took his own life last December. 

On the day I interviewed Youngeun Koepke it had been exactly nine months to the day when she heard the terrible news of her good friend.

“Pete was seeking help, but we just didn’t know the severity of his depression.”

Youngeun Koepke | Photo by Derek Feldman

Almost immediately following Pete’s death, his family and friends began organizing the Pete Foundation for Depression Prevention, and their anchor event, Pete Fest.  As the PeteFest Marketing Director, Koepke wanted desperately to share the Foundation’s message that “it really is okay to talk about it.”

Nestled in the 90 acre Nature Preserve owned by Pete’s family, PeteFest began on Friday the 8th of September as folks started filing into the Jones’ fields and setting up their tents for the weekend.  One field was designated for RV’s and tents, with brilliant solar lights erected throughout the fields by the engineering family and their friends.  A wooded path lit by LED flashlights smartly zip-tied to trees led campers to the venue, a beautiful shiny party nestled in the trees.

Lights were strung everywhere, so when the sun began to set the woods were festively aglow.  Bubbles and glow necklaces were bandied about by happy children, sharing the joy on the wind as the bubbles and the lights and the music mingled to put folks in a great mood. 

But, of course, there was sadness. 

Pete is gone, and the festival would never have existed, but for suicide.  Koepke noted, “Last night as we were all celebrating, we all said ‘Pete would LOVE this…He is so proud of us, and he is with us. He is here.”

And that is the point of PeteFest.  To not forget; to not brush depression, anxiety, and suicide under the carpet, but to bring it all out into the open, to talk about it and to listen to those suffering from it. 

“Stomp the Stigma” is the PeteFest motto, because “we need to start talking about this.” The event’s mascot is an elephant, representing the University of Alabama white elephant of Pete’s alma mater, as well as the obvious “elephant in the room” symbolism. 

The statistics are that someone takes their life every twelve seconds. “I lost a dear high school friend when I was 21,” Koepke shared, “But it has shaped me; when I heard the news about Pete I knew I had to do something.  We are losing an entire generation of people. The ones suffering the most tend to be the ones who are the most loving, and giving. In his last message, Pete said he wants to help mankind. We are getting the message out there for him.”

That message was loud and clear at PeteFest.  All the bands performing had been invited by members of the Pete Foundation, and many of the bands gave toasts and had touching things to say about Pete, his family, and PeteFest itself.  Glasses were raised throughout the weekend to toast Pete, his parents Jeff and Molly Jones, and his siblings Jeff, Jack, Matt, and Michelle. Counseling and understanding were offered throughout the festival, and the entire Sunday lineup featured local young musicians from the area who chose to sing and speak out to “Stomp the Stigma”.

The Pete Foundation is focused on reaching youth, so they can save adults like Pete.  The organizers want people to be educated to understand the signs of severe depression and anxiety which can so easily lead to suicide. Pete had gained weight before his last days, and had been sleeping more and more; the signals too often become clear in hindsight. The Pete Foundation wants them recognized before they end in tragedy. The answer to that is education.  They have already partnered with the University of Louisville where they held a “pre-Fest for Pete Fest” to address anxiety, depression, and suicide on the college level. 

Next, they hope to work with local school systems to address youth and perhaps prevent the next loss.

Friday night held a great lineup, and the music carried the crowd into the wee hours. Those who wanted rest simply had to foray back across the illuminated path through the woods to the campsite, where the music was within listening distance, but not overwhelming. 

Saturday dawned as a beautiful day, the nine-month anniversary of when Pete Jones took his own life. His family and friends gathered together to begin day two of PeteFest.  Morning yoga was offered on the smaller stage, and counseling for anyone who felt the need to share or discuss their own anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies.  PeteFest volunteers in logo t-shirts sporting elephants dotted the festival grounds as the crowd slowly filled the space yet again. 

The first band to take the stage that lovely day was The Local Honeys, consisting of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs.

The Local Honeys | Photo by Derek Feldman

The Local Honeys are quickly gathering a following in the Eastern Kentucky area and beyond.  The first two female graduates of Morehead’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music, Stokely and Hobbs boast a wealth of instrumental knowledge.  Starting with Linda on fiddle and Montana on banjo, they both switched to guitar at some point, changing instruments between songs, and playing each with impressive adeptness.  They also invited Appalatin’s Jose Oreta to join in on stand-up bass.

The Local Honeys with Jose Oreta | Photo by Derek Feldman

  The Honeys adhere to the old-time music style, writing many of their own songs to add to the canon of traditional Appalachian music.  Linda’s “Cigarette Trees” is a scathing song lambasting coal companies for devastating the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia.

Those hills and the surrounding cities of Lexington, Louisville, and Huntington, WVA are their stomping grounds, but The Local Honeys are bringing the traditional music of Appalachia to the masses as well.  There is a strong call for their music, they say, and they joke that of all the graduated accountants, teachers or other graduates with more “academic” degrees they know, they are the only ones they’re aware of who are using their degree (“A bachelor’s in Bluegrass,” they quipped), working full-time in the field of their education.

“We don’t have to compromise for anything, it’s very rewarding to make a living in a time when art is not valued,” Stokley said.  “We’ve been given a platform, especially in Kentucky, to play music. People are accepting and curious about their heritage…we’re playing the home music of Kentucky but we’re taking it to audiences far and wide.”

But PeteFest isn’t just about the music.  It was never just about the music. Linda shared her own personal struggle. “My father committed suicide when I was 8 years old… I have started to understand more and more what it is like to live with people with mental illness.  It has definitely affected my art, and Montana’s as well.” 

Their first CD includes a song she wrote about her father, “Keep my name, live and let be.” 

Scott Whiddon | Photo by Derek Feldman

Their perfect placement in the line up of PeteFest was an excellent start to the day.  They were the first of many bands to play that day, followed by Lexington’s Scott Whiddon on the next stage, and later the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers held the crowd’s attention as they danced to more bluegrass and festive songs, and all raised a glass to toast Pete and his family.

Blind Corn Liquor Pickers | Photo by Derek Feldman

 The Curio Key Club finished out the big Saturday night lineup, a supergroup of Louisville musicians who performed Paul Simon’s Graceland in full.

There are many festivals we are blessed with the opportunity to attend in Kentucky.  They all have purpose and meaning in their own unique ways. But PeteFest was different. The purpose and the meaning were woven throughout the entire festival, from the intelligently designed lighting by the Jones family of engineers, to the handmade benches and tables that were constructed on the property for the festival itself.  The gate boasted a handmade marquee of the bands, painted chalkboards and twine that gave a personal feeling; a feeling of the love and care that clearly went into creating a beautiful, safe, inviting space for anyone to express or learn about the struggles in this world from anxiety, depression, and suicide.  Bubbles were handed out to kids to blow at their leisure, hammocks strung between trees and under lights as folks settled in for the day. The beautiful VIP tent was open for the musicians and the press, looking like an Arabian palace with blowing plants and low, comfortable chairs for hard-working photographers to sit in the shade and rest from wrestling with their heavy equipment.

The Jones family and the Pete Foundation worked very hard to create PeteFest.  They labored over the smallest details, as one would at a memorial.  Every aspect was a reflection of their love for Pete, and their desperate mission to prevent others from having to suffer that loss in their lives.

Pete’s last message before he took his own life was that he wanted to help “advance mankind.”  That is the legacy that the Jones family and the Pete Foundation for Depression Prevention hopes to achieve in his memory.

The first PeteFest guaranteed they are already off to a wonderful start.

Arts

Scene&Heard Review: Moontower Music Festival ’17

The day of the 2017 Moontower Festival arrived as if it was custom-ordered by the folks who would soon fill Masterson Station park. A perfect blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, and a beautiful breeze like a hug from an old friend. A great day for a live music festival, for certain. As early planning for Moontower ’18 gets underway, here’s a look back on this year’s event.

Photo by Derek Feldman

The Moontower Music Festival has been evolving for four years, making adjustments from lessons learned and improving with each version. Festival co-producer and consultant, David Helmers:

Last year’s beer fiasco of overly foamy warm beer from the keg was addressed with an occam’s razor approach, cold beer and cider in cans. Perfect. Adding art installations and an architecture installment among the tents of vendors, games of cornhole and that hamster ball deal that kids and adults alike were rolling around in, the festival was so much more than just the music.

David says the festival is meant to have something for everyone: 

But oh, the music.

A little bit of everything for everyone, the two side by side stages were run consistently, with one band starting up almost immediately after the last one finished, with a few exceptions for stage setup. The day began under that perfectly sunny sky with local folks on the smaller stage: Daisy Helmuth’s band People Planet, followed by The DeBraun Thomas Trio, and Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands.

Vita and the Woolf then took over the large stage with her “Florence and the Machine”-like sound, while Tyler Childers began to set up on the second stage, his growing group of disciples loyally cheering his sound check.

Tyler Childers (left), James Barker (right) | Photo by Derek Feldman

Childer’s rousing set was followed by Elise Davis, Blackfoot Gypsies, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, The Record Company, Todd Snider with a full east Nashville Band, the Eastside Bulldogs, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, Cherub, Benjamin Booker and the headliner with their phenomenal light show, Umphrey’s McGee. The bands comprised a full spectrum of musical style, from funk to rock to bluegrass.

Benjamin Booker | Photo by Derek Feldman

Elise Davis | Photo by Derek Feldman

The music literally flowed all day long from the first note to the last, with few breaks in between.  All the booths, food and vendor, games and alcohol, were well within ear shot of the music so any wandering was still rewarded with music all the while.  The food pavilion offered quite a variety of food options, from Thai to Burgers, Bubble Tea to tacos; the choices were plenty. The hydration station kept folks energized and kid’s squirts guns well loaded, and colorful tents dotted the field as everyone settled in for a long, beautiful day of music.

Local bands included Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands, which that day consisted of Cecilia and Josh Wright, Scott Wilmoth, and Sam Meyer. Warren had missed last year’s festival when one of his bands, Small Batch, performed and was happy to be able to play this year.

Warren Byrom | Photo by Derek Feldman

“Felt great about our set, it was really fun. The sound is amazing. They’ve done a good job with having the two stages side by side.  The crowd just kinda moves twenty feet over.  It’s a perfect day, Kaelyn (Query) and her crew did an awesome job.” Here’s the full conversation:

Warren led his band through music from his new CD Heavy Makes You Happy and his first release, The Fabled Canelands, as well as songs from his upcoming CD which he has underway.  Moontower Music Festival precedes his appearance at the Brooklyn American Fest in September, as well as some solo gigs as he settles in to finish his third album.

Byrom sees the great value in a festival like Moontower for the small but thriving city of Lexington. “It’s helped, there’s a really good turnout for this festival and it’s getting some National traction.”  Sharing a stage with the likes of headliner Umphrey’s McGee which had a three-night run at Red Rocks Amphitheater coming up on its tour schedule, indicates the national attention Moontower is earning.

Photo by Derek Feldman

By the time the sun set on that beautiful day, a perfect crescent moon arose over the fields, so perfect and glowing orange it almost looked like another creation by the UK artists and architects, made just for the festival itself.  Umphrey’s McGee delivered a spectacular light show. Surreal is too tame a word, and when joined by the glowing necklaces, hula hoops, and glowing balls being juggled, the night ended in a colorful swirl of happy Lexingtonians and musicians who graced our fair city for one blissful day.

Photo by Derek Feldman

David Helmers on how it all comes together:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Elias Gross Keeps in Touch

The Friends Meeting House in Lexington is a simple, beautiful space; a quiet A-frame housing a room of sparse furnishings and amazing acoustics.  Elias Gross chose this space for a viola recital he created as a farewell before he leaves the musical community of Lexington to pursue a Master’s Degree in viola at the University of Delaware.  His friends and fellow musical colleagues gathered together in the peaceful space to celebrate the nine years Elias Gross has helped mold the musical community of Lexington.

Receiving his Bachelor’s in Arts Administration in Music at the University of Kentucky, Elias was denied the recital performance music majors usually have when they graduate.  So, he held his own. 

Each song in the program was prefaced with an explanation of its selection for this final Lexington recital, placing the music in a more personal context.

He began with Bach’s Prelude, Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, a sorrowful, mournful tune that conveyed the deep resonance only the viola can create.  His fingers moving deftly like hitting keys on a piano, the song filled that serene room with music that seemed quite fitting for the space.

Elias prefaced the second selection, Spell No. 7 by Alexsandra Vrevalov, with “It’s real weird, you’re gonna love it.” It was certainly weird, with intentional movement of the bow up and down the neck of the viola.  Elias creates a full, physical emoting as he plays, making even breathing seem so relevant for a piece played on strings.  His bow performs acrobatics as he moves between simple strokes to finger picking and to deep double string strokes that resonate around the room.

He then eased into a duet with Melissa Snow-Groves on piano, Meditation by Paul Hindemith, a short sweet harmony that they blended beautifully.  From there he added Richard Young on the upright bass. Together they played and sang Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel. This was followed by Tom Waits’ Ol ‘55 which Elias played and sang as a piano solo.

The trio came together once more and blended a variation on Pachabel’s Canon into Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice.  They sang together with the tight harmony of a chorale, and Melissa kicked it up a beat to a near-rockabilly sound.

Elias then launched into his final solo, Keep in Touch by Nico Muhly – “another weird one,” he joked.  It was a very surreal song, and included electronic elements of a mostly tribal type beat that was played through a laptop and speaker supporting Elias on his viola. The experience was quite intense and transcendental, and seemed to take over his whole person as he played, as if he were channeling the composer in that moment.

According to the program notes, “Keep in Touch is a lament, a sort of chaconne divided up into sections by more freely-composed cadenzas for the viola. But the chaconne, a musical form based around a repeated cycle of chords, is not only the domain of composers like Bach and Purcell, one is as likely to hear the form on a Nina Simone record. And Antony Hegarty, the bluesily androgynous vocalist we hear in the electronic component of this piece, is a performer from the Simone school.”

Elias’ passion is to make the viola, and classical music more accessible to the community; to benefit everyone around him with all that classical music has to offer, and to make sure the music is always played. That came through clearly as the notes resonated around that wooden room with its asymmetrical window. 

In his recital program Elias quoted Zoë Madonna of Q2 Radio as noting: “Cast into the larger world, the viola is as a wanderer in an intimidatingly loud and large landscape, humming sometimes in concordance with the current, sometimes fighting against it.”

The viola is often overlooked for the flash and glory of the violins in an orchestra, or the commanding depths of the cello.  The pieces written for a viola solo take the deeper resonance of the instrument and put it out front, and often the result exemplifies the hidden space where the viola resides, and perhaps those who play it. It is a different path, often fighting for its own place in the quartet, or the orchestra.

Elias allowed himself to channel that message to his audience.  The overall effect in that tranquil space on Price Avenue was quite mesmerizing.

Elias has spent the last nine years in Lexington, not just receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Administration from UK, but also helping to expand the Central Music Academy as well as the Chamber Music Festival.  Central Music Academy provides free music lessons for children of low income, and has given over 20,000 free music lessons in its existence.

Elias taught viola and violin to kids, keeping a studio of five to seven students for several years. “I definitely could have benefitted from CMA as a kid”. He said teaching music to students is what helped him find his passion again, having let his playing of music “suffer” during his pursuit of an administrative degree. “Teaching was really what kind of got me to get my priorities back together…seeing what they demand of me…I can’t just be one thing, that’s just not who I am, but if I was able to spend a lot of my time teaching I would be really happy.”

He explains that he is drawn to teaching because he truly believes in the beauty and lessons that Classical music has to share with the world. 

Elias also is executive director of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington which is about to share classical music with the city of Lexington for ten days.  Having expanded from one weekend to ten days, the Festival presents classical music in a variety venues to make it more accessible to the public.  Elias’ favorite piece of the whole, while he loves it all, is the Concert series that he moved to Al’s Bar after Natasha’s Bistro closed.

He believes that the world of Classical music has got to undo some of “these rules we’ve made ourselves” in order to bring the music out into the world and keep it alive. Different venues mean different crowds and a greater “marketing” of the music he loves, says the arts admin grad. “If we figure out how we can tear down our concert walls a little bit, and figure out who can be our allies in the music community that we could really tie it all together…I think that the stage is really important, but I think if the music is being heard and loved, then it really doesn’t matter where it is.”

Listen:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Moontower ’17

Under an August sun in the peak of the sultry Kentucky summer, a gathering of great music, interesting art, inspired design and fun-lovin’ people will all come together in Lexington, Kentucky’s Masterson Station Park. For the fourth year, the Moontower Music Festival will fill the air of Central Kentucky with a wide menu of spectacular musical talent.

The brain child of Kaelyn Query and her event management company LexEffect, Moontower Music Festival started four years ago with just four bands and 1,000 folks in attendance.  This year, there will be two stages with fourteen bands in rotation, and Query hopes to top the 7000 who attended last year’s festival.

The desire to “present a new event for Lexington, Kentucky that would fill a niche” was the driver behind the festival’s origin, according to David Helmers, Kaelyn’s partner in creating the Moontower Music Festival for the last two years.

“We didn’t really have a popular music festival here in town” before Moontower, he said, and that’s what the festival is all about: bringing amazing music right into Lexington’s “backyard.”

The 2017 lineup is diverse – “from funk to blues to rock to progressive jam rock to soul to hip hop” – and full of great musical talents, both local and national. The local folks who will be sharing the stage with the touring bands are Daisy Helmuth and her band People Planet, the DeBraun Thomas Trio, Warren Byrom and the Fabled Canelands, and Tyler Childers and his band. They are four of the fourteen bands who will grace the two stages in turn, along with Umphrey’s McGee, Benjamin Booker, Cherub, Todd Snider, The Record Company, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Blackfoot Gypsies, Elise Davis, and Vita and the Woolf.  

Festival organizers have obtained a special noise ordinance waiver to allow them to extend the show until 11:30pm this year, in order to accommodate the sunset and the phenomenal light show that Umphrey’s McGee is promising as the headlining act.  And there are other new additions to this year’s plan for the ever-growing festival, according to Query and Helmers.

Besides bumping up the food options –  nearly 20 food trucks will be on hand, free cold water and more shade tents will be available to fend off that Kentucky sun. Four beverage vendors will be on site this year. West Sixth Brewing and Rhinegeist will be serving cold beer and ciders in cans, Lover’s Leap Vineyards will offer wine, and Old Forester Bourbon will be selling bourbon beverages, including bourbon slushies.

Moontower Music Festival is a grass roots, organic, home grown effort that is intended to include the entire Lexington and Central Kentucky community. A festival that is family, pet and all ages friendly, it also is bringing together different areas of the community into a collective celebration.

This year, the festival has partnered with the UK College of Design and Architecture to create a summer internship opportunity for design students.  Developed offsite all summer, the winning design will be installed as the stages go up and will be on display during the festival. Helmers is hoping this program continues and each year they can display a new Moontower installation.

Also joining in the fun is the UK Art Museum, which will be setting up an onsite art museum with pieces that follow a musical theme.  Some special pieces were commissioned just for the event, and festival goers are encouraged and welcome to view the artwork during the day.

Collectively, Moontower Music Festival and its partners have put together a community-wide event for the people of central Kentucky. Encouraging attendees from all ages and their dogs, they are hoping folks take advantage of the mass of talent available for this day in late August, right here in Lexington. “It’s an important cultural event for Central Ky that we hope is accessible to the community at large.”

Moontower Music Festival is a home-grown, central Kentucky celebration of music, art, design and fellowship. Gates open at 11 am on August 26th, and the show continues all day until 11:30 when Umphrey’s McGee and their light show bring things to a grand finale.  The ticket price increases as the date gets closer so folks are encouraged to purchase early ($45.00 now, $60 at the gate).  Children 12 and under are free, pets are welcome, water is free. 

Arts

Scene&Heard: Rhyan Sinclair

On a bright sunny day near a splashing fountain, folks gathered with their kids and dogs and variety of good foods to eat outside on a Friday night.  A white tent sat beside the fountain where kids cooled their bare feet, pink flowers hanging down and twisting in the breeze.  For the sixth year in a row, Rhyan Sinclair and her band All The Little Pieces began to warm up to play the Richmond Center Summer Concert Series.

On a beautiful day for outdoor live music, everyone clustered together in the shade and waved at familiar faces. Rhyan and her band soon took to the stage next to her ornately decorated merch table, joined by Jeff Bender on bass, Harlan Cecil on guitar, Sherri McGee on drums, her mom Toni Karpinski on backing vocals, and Brandon Bowker on guitar, harmonica, and backing vocals for a few songs.

Unique to her often country repertoire, Rhyan started her set with a cover of Jack White’s “Seven Nation Army.”  Joined in amazing talent by Harlan Cecil on guitar, the two young novices rocked that song with her voice and his electric guitar. She then took the set into diverse directions, playing originals that she wrote and also co-wrote with her mother along with other covers that are staples of her sets, including Loretta Lynn’s Sin City, Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, and her picks from the songbook of her main musical muse, Dolly Parton.

Off stage, Rhyan is a quiet, thoughtful soul, but as soon as she straps on the rhinestone guitar strap that matches her silver cowgirl boots, her musical persona takes over and you would swear Dolly herself is up on that stage. Capturing every subtle nuance that Dolly has, Rhyan is clearly in her most natural environment on that stage.

But she is not limited by genre.  Not at all.  She moves her band effortlessly from country, to rock, to an awesome almost punk version of “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles, a Dolly-esque cover of Neil Young’s “Mother Nature” and even a blues traditional by Albert King “Down Don’t Bother Me”.

Then right back to some country spunk, she belts out Lee Hazelwood’s “These Boots Ain’t Made for Walking,” Lefty Frizzell‘s If You Got the Money, and Dolly’s Applejack. Rhyan is well in tune with her band, whether seasoned musician or young prodigy like herself, All The Little Pieces is a tight band that clearly finds great joy backing Rhyan and all her talent.

Homeschooled since first grade, Rhyan has devoted her life and education to her passion for music.  She writes and composes her own songs, and has already recorded and released three CD’s, all of original songs. 

Her latest CD, The Legend of Lavinia Fisher, is a concept album inspired by a ghost tour in Charleston, SC, where she learned of Livinia, the first female serial killer in the US. She helped create a video to accompany the dark, southern gothic Livinia’s Song. Inspired by her love for Tim Burton, the video pairs well with her voice and lyrics for the song.

Rhyan is also the host of the Kentucky branch of Balcony TV, which her step-father Julian Karpinski produces. 

They record interviews and performances of local and touring bands on various balconies around the area.  This opportunity has allowed Rhyan to meet and collaborate with other local musicans.

Rhyan sings in a trio with other local musicians Melanie Bailey Pauley and Whitney Acke, covering Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Linda Ronstadt in near flawless renditions of the three original women. She also produces a Holiday Benefit for the Foster Care Council every winter that gives her the opportunity to work with other local musicians. Rhyan is hoping to work with more local musicians in the future, and has recently started collaborating on songs with her mother, Toni Karpinski, who also sang at the Richmond Center gig.

It’s clear that Rhyan Sinclair has a very bright future.  Not just for her voice, which is extraordinary in a way that gives you goosebumps when she sings.  But she is clearly a well-rounded musician in all ways. Her lyrics and verses compliment her voice and tell a story of someone you really want to know better.

Rhyan is fortunate to be able to focus so much of her talent into her musical career. Homeschooling “allows me to let the music and the art be such a big part of my life, and I’m so thankful for it.”

Maintaining her own website, managing her career with the help of her parents, recording songs and recording videos to accompany them, one thing is for certain, her focus: “Always music.”  

Rhyan Sinclar is a Kentucky talent who will endure and go far in the music world.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Moontower Fest | Rhyan Sinclair

Cara Blake Coppola’s latest Scene&Heard column previews the Lexington summer celebration and reviews singer-songwriter Rhyan Sinclair and All the Little Pieces.

Moontower Music Festival 2017

Check out Cara’s preview of this amazing day of music, art, design and fun at Lexington’s Masterson Station Park.


Rhyan Sinclair and All the Little Pieces

Cara reviews Lexington singer-songwriter Rhyan Sinclair.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Derek Spencer

Sometimes, there’s just that singer with that voice. That is Derek Spencer, the man behind The Rooster’s Crow.

With a deep, soulful voice that immediately demands a crowd’s attention, Spencer’s lyrics draw you into a world of spirituality and sin, and a life of a different, lost time. 

Infusing his image-rich lyrics with an Eastern Kentucky upbringing in the small town of Beattyville, Spencer’s music delivers the room to a time of moonshine and stills, Bibles and damnation, and rich a capella hymns that echo through the hills of Appalachia.

Having had various incarnations over the last eight years, The Rooster’s Crow met in its most recent and steadfast form on the night of July 1 at Willie’s Locally Known to debut Winter’s Limbs, a CD encompassing the first era of Derek Spencer’s musical career. 

With Maggie Lander on fiddle and harmony vocals, Chip Minks on bass and Spencer’s cousin Justin Wall on drums, Derek and the band gave the packed house a fun, loud, tight quality night of great Eastern Kentucky talent.  “I think for a couple of country boys and girls, we did pretty good.”

Growing up in a small town of 1,100, Spencer was the boy by his mom’s side in a tiny fundamentalist congregation ministered by his uncle.  His mom “was the lady in the church that always sang a little louder than the rest of the congregation, and she had a beautiful voice.”  He gives credit for his love of singing to his mother and that voice, rising up over the others in the a capella hymns.  This influence is the foundation for his music in The Rooster’s Crow.

“I’ve always had a passion for old-timey, Scotch-Irish music, and the concepts that are associated with it.  Some kind of spirituality, which, being from Eastern Kentucky I’m very familiar with. It’s a big part of Appalachian culture…people’s religion. And I’ve always, like so many people from the area, had a conflicting relationship with it. I think these songs are just a manifestation of that. There is a big presence of God but there’s a big presence of doubt, too.”

Many of Spencer’s first songs took the form of poetry until he discovered Jean Ritchie and realized he could more fully express himself through music.

“Eleanor’s Ghost” was his first song and poem; the tale of a lamented murder of passion, and the inevitable haunting that became of it.  Murder ballads are Appalachian gold, and heavily prevalent in The Rooster’s Crow repertoire.

From there Spencer fell heavily into the songs of Townes Van Zandt, which opened his mind to the power of rich lyricism – and his songs are full of them.

Also working on a solo record that he hopes to begin recording soon, Derek Spencer follows in the footsteps of his idols with a trove of intense songs.

Winter’s Limbs is the culmination of Spencer’s first eight years of writing and performing his songs. His band has performed them together and were clearly excited to share the CD with a crowd.  The room was full of fans and family and friends, and many stood behind the tables the entire show to move with the rhythm, and dance with Derek and Maggie and the band as they made music for everyone. 

With Lander on backing vocals and fiddle their voices blend to create a dark, spiritual world that takes you with them. For a few songs Josh Nolan joined the proceedings on guitar and vocals, crowding the stage with solid talent. A few covers were shared as well, including Johnny Cash’s “If You were a Lady” as an encore.

It was a good night for Derek Spencer. The house was packed until the last song was played; merch was sold; CD’s signed; and lots of friends got hugs.

“It went really well” he commented after, with a humble smile. Another gem in Lexington’s rich music scene.

Folks, check your favorite live music calendar, get out of the house, enjoy and support. There’s something for everyone in Lexington’s music scene.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Scott Whiddon

 On July 22nd at The Green Lantern, Lexington will be treated to a unique show of some of the city’s best and diverse talent.  The occasion is the official release of Scott Whiddon’s first solo CD project, In Close Quarters with the Enemy.

Scott is among the many who have come to proudly call Lexington home.  A professor at Transylvania in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Communication program, Scott has been an active part in the local music since he moved here in the mid-2000’s. A member of Palisades, along with Neil Bell and Mark Richardson, Scott has also been in The Wags, and has performed with other locals at several fundraising shows around town over the last few years.

The new album of originals is a “batch of songs that kind of didn’t fit” with any of the other projects.  So, he decided he needed a solo record. “I’ve always been a band guy…but I’ve always been a band guy in someone else’s band.”

Produced and recorded with J. Tom Hnatow, along with Robby Cosenza and Cecilia Wright, In Close Quarters with the Enemy showcases Whiddon’s strong literary and composition background. The title quotes the Walt Whitman poem, Democratic Vistas. His voice is low-key, a much softer timbre than is found in the music he plays with Palisades.  He tells the listener a story, carrying through vivid images and visceral sensory descriptions that one can almost feel, touch, and taste.

Listen: Faster Than We Hoped

Scott is a storyteller, and his songs are stories that invite the listener along with an easy approach.  His soft steady voice creates a picture, like the Catskill mountains in “Holidays.”  The light guitar creates a pace for walking along with him as he describes the setting, the “empty pools and rusted carousels.” The listener can feel what the characters feel. His guitar is joined comfortably with the music of Hnatow, Cosenza and Wright, creating a setting and mood for each song.

Whiddon speaks reverentially of Hnatow and Cosenza and Wright, as a brain trust of talent that provided a foundation for his songs, which is fitting, as Whiddon speaks often in carpentry metaphors.  In tribute to his father, the maker of the door he used for a desk, which is the name of Scott’s artistic website (ADoorforaDesk.com), he sees songwriting and creativity as a craft.  “You get a hammer and a nail and a saw, and you make a thing…”

“I don’t believe in inspiration,” says Whiddon, “I just don’t. I think it’s a bullshit word.” Rather, he sees creativity and songwriting as a craft. “I try to block off “x” amount of time every day, and that time can wax and wane depending on what’s going on. You sit there, at the same place, with the same tools every day and you throw your antennae up.”  It’s a commitment, and you have to be willing to put in the work. “For me it’s all about craft, rather than any sort of inspirational artistic mysticism,” he says.

Scott has been putting together shows with his fellow local musicians to benefit Habitat for Humanity, honoring the elder Whiddon’s dedication to the organization’s works in the last decade of his life.  The first was a Velvet Underground charity show at The Burl with Robby Cosenza, Kim Smith, Tim Welch, Willie Eames and Sam McWilliams. Two months ago he held a Pink Floyd show at Cosmic Charlie’s, recreating the entire Dark Side of the Moon album with Kevin Holm-Hudson, Mark Richardson, Thomas Hatton, Jim Gleason and others.  More Habitat benefit shows will follow, with two already in the works.

Scott attributes much of his contribution to a deep bench of talent in such a small city, with so many great songwriters, technicians, musicians. Considering the “Ratio of talent to numbers…we’re lucky.”

Indeed.

Come out and support some of this Lexington talent on Saturday July 22nd.  The Volare String Quartet will open the evening with a set of experimental classical music.  Then Scott will take the stage, solo at first, later to be joined by Cosenza, Hnatow,Wright and Jimmy Early of Frigid Kitty. Italian Beaches will close out the night; a unique line-up curated by Whiddon himself. 

The Green Lantern is located at 497 W 3rd St. Lexington, Kentucky

(Photo credit: Ann Sydney Taylor Photography | Album Cover by Neil Bell)

Arts

Scene&Heard: Josh Nolan

In a setting that once knew no electricity, in pastoral a village that was built by hand and faith and love and rang out with the a capella songs of the unique Shaker faith, on a picturesque sun-soaked day, the serene landscape suddenly came alive with the electric sounds of rock music. Starting his set down on one knee, twisting the knobs of his sound-shaping foot pedals to send a drone-like rhythm bouncing off the two-hundred-year-old buildings, Josh Nolan commanded the attention of the blissing crowd and took over the soundwaves for his part of the fourth annual Well Crafted Festival.

Josh Nolan band at Well Crafted Festival | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Born and bred in Stanton, Kentucky in the foothills of the Red River Gorge, Josh is the essence of rock and roll.  His sound is pure and real, and just damn rockin’.  His premiere CD Fair City Lights opens with Josh’s main instrument, his guitar, strumming hard chords while his deep voice delves into a story you are immediately sucked into as you start moving your hips and head to the beat.  It just rocks, and then keeps getting more intense. “If you’re gonna do me wrong, do it right”. Lyrics as smooth as Springsteen, with the gravelly gentle voice to match, Josh Nolan is a solid sound.

Multi-instrumental from a young age, most of the instruments and all the vocals on the CD are Josh himself. At Well Crafted, however, Josh appeared with his band consisting of Chris Brown on bass and harmony vocals, Riley Mulholand on lead guitar, Ryan Allen on keys, and Josh Anglin on drums. Well Crafted is a daytime festival, Josh and his band took the stage mid-day as the sun filtered through the trees.  People clustered like cows under the shade trees, filling their customized Well Crafted glasses filled with cold craft beers and ciders as delicious smells from the various food trucks wafted by in the warm air.

For four years, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg has hosted Well Crafted, one of the prettiest festivals in the Bluegrass. The site is nestled in the village itself, and the rolling landscape provides a gorgeous backdrop; the addition of amazing music and local craft beer is almost too much. Having previously boasted artists such as Ben Nichols (of Lucero), Lera Lynn, Langhorne Slim, Margo Price, Kelsey Waldon, and John Moreland; this year’s lineup was another offering of great music.

Main Stage at Well Crafted Festival | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Every year, Well Crafted provides two stages.  The main stage hosts larger touring bands, often with one or two local bands included.  The second, smaller stage presents all-local artists displaying original songs, with a few personalized covers thrown in. The stages alternate so there is never a gap in music during the day. This year’s local stage hosted David Napier, Chelsea Nolan, Senora May, Ethan Hunt and Brian Combs, each winning over the crowd with unique and meaningful original songs that testified to the wealth of musical talent we have here in the Bluegrass area.

The main stage this year opened with William Matheney and the Strange Constellations, followed by Lexington’s beloved Coralee and the Townies. The touring lineup also included Nikki Hill, The Dexateens, and Tyler Childers finished off the night as the sun set gloriously behind the stage.  The second local band to grace the main stage that stunningly sunny day was Josh Nolan and his band.

Some folks say America is apple pie and fireworks. I don’t know about that; not exclusively anyway.  To me, it is cold drinks and rocking live music out in the sunshine on a summer day. The crowd at Shaker Village that day definitely agreed.

Mixing in a few new songs from a promised second CD, Josh and his band hit all his crowd’s favorites from Fair City Lights.  The beat brought out the dancers into the sun, and the band responded in that beautiful relationship between bands that love to play live and the folks who love to be in their crowds, singing back every word they may know, moving with joy to the musical energy the band gifts to them. 

The mixture is truly addicting to the festival goer. So true are the memes and jokes about the devotion to being in a favorite band’s crowd; of selling plasma for concert tickets; of knowing every word and singing them back during the shows; of knowing the musicians you love and buying them a beer and thanking them for the work they do. Well Crafted this year was a serene backdrop to witness that love. 

Josh Nolan and his band are friends, neighbors, family; he and his sister Chelsea, who played the local stage, know and play with several other of the musicians there that day, and the intertwining of the relationships, both personal and especially musical, made for a very comfortable, familiar and extremely talented reunion that represented some of the region’s best. A patchwork of phenomenal Appalachian talent, and just darn nice people as well.

Josh Nolan | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Josh is in the midst of producing his second CD with plans to release it early next spring. He is self-producing in his home studio and hopes to tour not just regionally but nationwide.  “I’ve put all my life into this.  I’ve spent a lot of time and women and love and houses…I’d like to make it my profession. It’s a long road…I don’t understand the business but maybe one day I will.  I’m trying to get a gang of people together who understand different parts of it, take over the world and whatever.”

Josh Nolan is a musician. Some folks in this gig do it after work, on nights and weekends when their life affords it; but some make it their entire lives.  Josh has the talent and the drive to do that, and to take his love for and songs of the hills he grew up in out in America, to share his stories and his rocking sound and hopefully come back home to the hills often to recharge and write new songs and see old friends and family.

For Josh, songwriting is very personal, very spiritual. “Even if it’s not a personal song, it’s a personal process.” It is an “organic” process that he likens to serious fishing. “It’s like fishing.  They’re always there, you’ve got to know where to find them, and they always move so you can’t just go to one place, you have to know how to do it.  You have to know what you’re doing.  You have to know how to tie the lure and throw it in your bucket. It’s easy to miss a song”

I wish Josh many successful fishing expeditions.  And America loves and needs more great festivals like Well Crafted, with friends dancing in the sunshine and simply feeling good.

Listen in as Cara chats with Josh:

Arts

Scene&Heard: The Sway

When you are in the absence of any light, in absolute darkness, you sway.  Apparently, the body cannot stand erect, it sways in some primordial need to find its center.  When we humans are lost and blind, we find an internal music, and we sway. That notion became inspiration when it came time for Melanie Pauley and Chris Floyd chose a name for their band, The Sway, which had their first CD premiere at The Burl this last Thursday.

Their CD, which followed an EP done last year, both at Shangri La studios with Duane Lundy and Tom Hnatow, is a creation of love for The Sway, in every way.  An engaged couple who have three kids between them, music was not the foundation of their relationship, but soon evolved into becoming a driving force in their busy lives as parents. Inevitably as they spent more time together, they shared their love of music with one another, and then his guitar met her voice, and The Sway was born. 

A guitar player for years, Chris Floyd, formerly of VooDoo Symphony, had written songs solo, but they weren’t quite complete. Melanie, a church and wedding singer from childhood on, had been writing lyrics and melodies, but hadn’t found the music.  Then his music found her words, and serendipity did her thing; they were a perfect match.  Evenings would pass by sitting out on her back stoop writing songs after kids were in bed, sometimes three songs in one night. As engagement and cohabitation evolved in their relationship, writing songs became only more convenient, and the momentum carried them all the way to Thursday night.

Another proud creation of the studio production services of Tom Hnatow and Duane Lundy at Shangri La Studios, Floyd and Pauley could not say enough about the strong sense of community and support they experienced there during their first real studio experience. Studio musicians Robby Cosenza and Blake Cox created and played the parts for the drums and bass that are on the CD with Chris’ guitar, with Tom Hnatow on keys, though on Thursday Chris’ former bandmate Kyle Morgan sat in on keys. Maggie Lander also plays violin and cello on the CD, and played violin Thursday for the opening. The studio time that went into the creation of their baby Everything That Happens Here was an amazing experience for Chris and Melanie.

“They were able to take our songs and really make them grow to what they are, put some muscle to them” said Chris, noting how humbled they were when Robby and Blake and Maggie insisted on joining in on their premiere night. That offer, he said, solidified the strong feeling of support and community they felt during the entire recording process, how much fun they had in the studio creating and loving their CD into being.

That fun and sense of family was more than evident Thursday night. The crowd was warmed up by the soulful songs of Derek Spencer, then followed by the enigmatic Kristofer Bentley, before The Sway took to the stage. They started out as they had first started, just Chris and Melanie up there, her voice and his guitar.  And they began.  And though just two, that guitar helped lift Melanie’s amazingly powerful voice and soon the room was filled with the strength of their connection through music.

Later joined by Maggie on fiddle, then Robby and Blake and Kyle, soon the house was full and the sound was powerful. The lyrics to their songs are clear, and often as easy to hear as a morning conversation over coffee. The comfortable intimacy of their life comes through the lyrics. The singing, though.  Melanie Paulie has a voice that makes you sit up and take notice.  Reminiscent perhaps of Joan Osborne, Janis or KT Tunstall, her voice is quite astounding. Chris knows her well, and his smooth, intricate guitar playing accompanies her perfectly.

Add in the professionalism of the Shangri La musicians, and the musical backdrop they created for The Sway.  They create the easel that holds the canvas, the altar that supports the ritual. That energy took over and soon the stage was full and the crowd was in awe, and those musicians were all having fun up there.

The songs they have written have a depth to them, a maturity perhaps that comes with life and kids and a melody that reflects that wisdom. 

Dive In”  has an intricacy of songwriting and Melanie’s voice that is intense, and the crowd cheered heartily after she mastered that one.  Life and other Fleeting Things is a sweet song written for their three kids, pictured on the CD art that is a combination of Melanie’s concepts and the talent of Cricket Press. In Blackbird her voice searches out with confident desperation with notions of loss and perhaps anger.

In a grand ending that included all members back up on stage, Melanie absolutely slayed Ramble On by Led Zeppelin and brought the whole damn house down.  A powerful ballad song on any night, she took Plant’s part and completely owned that song.  The whole crowd joined in, the stage full of energy, and the night came to a blissful end right after.

From there, The Sway has plans to take their baby and “get out of town” to play their music regionally in Louisville and Cincinnati, playing for folks they do not know, sharing their music as far and wide as they can, and sooner than later, getting back into Shangri La with their new musical family to keep the momentum going. “I’m addicted, I want to record another one” says Chris. And Melanie notes that they already have songs toward a second CD.

The momentum and energy of Thursday night will surely carry this talented couple far and wide.  Lexington has another amazing local band to be quite proud of.

Listen in on Cara’s conversation with Chris and Melanie before showtime at the Burl:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Maggie Lander

If you’re going to have a bar and music venue in Lexington, you need one that works in the rain.  I’ve seen more shows during storms than not, because, well, it’s Lexington.  It rains four seasons here, and life has still got to go on.  Musicians must play on, and folks need to hear the music.  Luckily, The Burl works in the rain.  The dampness soaks into those wood walls and makes them sweat delicious vapors.  Tables are brought in so folks can sit and relax and watch the rain pelt the luminescent stained glass tree behind the stage that holds two inviting guitars and two chairs.  As the room fills in, Maggie Lander moves to the stage, takes a seat, tunes her guitar and gets ready to start the show.

Opening for the headliner Elizabeth Cook, and followed by hilarious storyteller Darrin Bradbury, Maggie holds the crucial task of starting the night off right, establishing the tone.  It’s a tough gig, the opener. The crowd is still filing in while the opener is pouring their soul out on stage, drinks are being ordered and coats are shed.  That night rain had to be wiped from glasses and dabbed from eyelashes. 

Tough spot to take.  Maggie, working solo this particular evening, takes it with grace and style, and her solid and confident voice quickly fills the room and making everyone want to focus, settle down and listen to her stories.

A native of Henry County, Maggie Lander had a childhood most of us only dream of; two siblings and a big farm, school work and violin lessons, catching fish and crawdads and hunting for arrowheads when the work was done.  She speaks of her youth with a happiness and joy that the image suggests. Having started young with the guitar, she quickly moved on to violin, then cello, piano and mandolin.  Her strong musical background has created opportunities for studio work and gigs utilizing all her instruments, including her voice. Violin is her dominant instrument, but she uses her guitar for songwriting.

Her songs are personal, mostly autobiographical in background.  Songwriting for Maggie is a way of healing and release. To “create something that reaches people and in the end can be a cathartic way of healing for me… Suddenly you just feel so much better afterwards.  You can only carry things for so long and you just have to get it out.”

(Image by Ben Keeling)

The emotions driving her songs are evident when she takes the stage.  Maggie engages the audience and pulls them into her story.  Her solid guitar playing creates a foundation of melody to walk along as she holds your hand and tells you what happened.  She played her new song, “All in my head” which is very biographical, about “The point where I’m at in my life. I finished it and then a weight just lifted.” 

A sad tale of loss and confusion, her new song captured the audience and broke their hearts. You can hear why the weight lifted for her when she wrote the song – it clearly “exorcised the demon” when she wrote it.  Writing songs is like that for Maggie Lander. “99.9% of the time it just knocks me over the head, falls in my lap.”  Songs tell her to “sit down and shut up…get a guitar, get a notebook and just do it.”

The room was full by the end of Maggie’s set, and all were pleased.  The attention from the crowd was humbling, she later commented; how intense but nice it is to have full awareness from the full room.  She received many accolades as she left the stage for the next act. The room, and the rain, and the dried-off crowd of pleased customers and listeners all mixed with the savory smells from the food truck to create a very pleasant evening of listening to amazing songwriting.  Maggie started that night off just right.

Cara chats with Maggie…

(Performance photos by Cara Blake Coppola)

Arts

Scene&Heard: Kim Smith

The show had already begun to exceed expectations when I was asked to leave my shoes at the door.  The Source on High is a peaceful space, used for yoga and meditation. In a side room: sensory deprivation tanks invite one’s restless soul.  Punched-tin lights hang from the ceiling and beneath their glow we settle in on pillows and woven blankets. 

Before us: a promising array of instruments, silently awaiting the Lexington band, Frigid Kitty.

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They do not remain silent for long. It’s early on a Sunday evening in April.  This is not your typical night of live music at a bar; not at all.  Every month, the fantastic diversity of music available in this city excites me, whether at a festival, an established venue, someone’s living room, or a yoga space, Lexington provides.  The Source on High is just such a promising space.

Frigid Kitty takes the stage, with Kim Smith at its center.  She introduces her bandmates, a new and different arrangement of Frigid Kitty for this special evening.  Along with Kim on keys, flute and guitar are her husband Chris Smith playing bass and guitar, Sam McWilliams on guitar and vocals, and guest Garret Spear playing percussion and flute.

While the first song emphasizes Kim’s keyboard skills, the immediate impression is of a beautiful layering of instruments. It’s a notable characteristic found throughout this collection of songs. Smith’s keys are joined by McWilliam’s gentle guitar picking, the bass carries the foundation while the cajon drumming provides cadence and momentum.  Throughout the set, each musician changes instruments at least once, showing adept musical versatility.  At one point we’re treated to a flute duet with between Kim and Garret.

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The music Frigid Kitty performs on this night is quite ethereal, and fitting in this unique space.  As the springtime sun begins to set, the lights provide a subtle glow as the room becomes enclosed in a softening darkness.  The orchestral arrangements of the instruments drift and mingle like an impressionistic painting.  The lyrics, a collaborative effort from Chris, Kim and Sam, are conversational, carried easily along by the arrangements.

The set ends with Kim back on lead vocals and guitar, singing “Keep it to Yourself”, a Smith original with a cute, flirty, old-time sound that brings the set to a close with a light, easy vibe.

Cara chatted with Kim about the show and what made it special…

The effect of this marriage of music and performance space is surreal.  The Frigid Kitty set is followed by the twelve string dexterity of Sarah Louise, and finally the spiritual creativity of Everyone Lives, Everyone Wins.

In retrospect, magic happened that night at The Source, and beauty was created.  Lexington never fails to deliver to those who seek such in the various spaces around town.

Kim Smith has played in many of these spaces.  Her life has been a long journey of music, even when she set such pursuits aside to explore academia and travel. The conversation moved beyond the immediate…

Raised by accomplished musicians, her father a band director, her mother an orchestra and chorale director with her own piano studio, Smith is a musician by definition.  She moves effortlessly between piano, flute, guitar, and cello, having played piano and cello as a child. She sings and plays in a growing collection of bands, including her own Frigid Kitty. 

Formerly the keyboard, flute player and vocalist in the now-defunct Bear Medicine, in the last year Smith has immersed herself in numerous musical projects around town.  Besides Frigid Kitty, Smith is in Big Fresh (click to listen to the new song, Paralyzed.) She fills us in on the band’s latest project…

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Desperate Spirits- LR: John Ferguson, Trevor Tremaine, Rob Theakston, Kim Smith

She also is a member of ATTEMPT.  Sharing several members, these two bands host a wealth of musicians who all contribute diverse talents.  Trevor Tremaine, John Ferguson, David Farris, Nick Coleman, Dave Cobb and Ashley Smith all join Kim Smith in ATTEMPT, while Big Fresh consists of John Ferguson, Ben Fulton, Ben Phelan, David Farris, Nick Coleman, Faith Diamond, Brian Connors Manke, Bryan Gore and Matthew Clarke.  With some crossover in members, both groups coexist and will be heading out on a large, eleven person tour this June to include performing with Lexington’s beloved Matt Duncan and his band in NYC. 

Here’s more on the tour…

Big Fresh and ATTEMPT are both represented by Desperate Spirits, a label started by Kim Smith along with John Ferguson, Trevor Tremaine and Rob Theakston.  The label is releasing several EP’s this year for both bands as well as Italian Beaches. 

In addition, Smith also keeps in touch with her classical roots as a member of The Rosemont Trio.

Kim Smith is a force to not be contained, and she represents the Lexington music scene with adept ease.  With her hands in numerous projects that help foster and collaborate with so many other local musicians, she is a pivotal aspect of the strength of our city’s live music scene.  With her bands, the label she has helped start to help other local musicians get their music out into the world, the lessons she teaches weekly to children and adults seeking more music in their lives, as well as side projects such as the local all-female LP she is organizing to raise money for Planned Parenthood, Kim is one of those women who just keeps on persisting, and doing Lexington proud.

What’s next?

You can catch Kim Smith with Big Fresh at Al’s Bar Block Party on April 29th, and ATTEMPT will be playing the Tahlsound Music Festival on Southland Drive in May. 

Frigid Kitty hopes to be in the studio this year working on their first CD. 

~0~

Arts

Scene&Heard: “God Help the Sincere Man” | The Patrick McNeese Band

In the end, perhaps the greatest part of the foundation of my love for this beautiful, small city is the knowing that on any given night, there is great quality music hiding in every corner. On a March Saturday, as the sun set hidden behind grey clouds over the dark, occluded Lake Fontaine, the Lake Shore Village Clubhouse began to light up. Within was the promise of an evening of music that boasted some of Lexington’s finest musicians.

Nestled in the corner of glass windows and backdropped by one of the prettiest views in the city, the Patrick McNeese Band settled down to a full backline of instruments to entertain the eager guests. Folks had filed in with serene smiles, carrying offerings of delicious homemade foods of every origin. Bottles of wine lined up on the counter, which was quickly overloaded with a delicious bounty. I felt quite settled in for a blissful evening, definitely one of the luckier Lexingtonians on that beautiful cloudy night.

Patrick McNeese

Patrick McNeese

Patrick took to his stool and his guitar, and his band followed suit. Tom Martin on keys, Tripp Bratton on a full set of drums back in the glass corner framed by waves all around; Miles Hanchett on bass and Jesse Pena on lead guitar. I was surrounded by some of my favorite instruments: Patrick’s pretty electric-acoustic that he uses as much as a percussion instrument as a guitar; Tom’s Roland and Nord keyboards; Jesse’s Fender Strat; Miles’ ’85 Gibson Explorer bass. Notably absent on this particular evening due to a scheduling conflict was violinist/vocalist Maggie Lander. The instrumentation in the Patrick McNeese Band is perhaps its greatest quality, though the lyrics are in great competition. They are a solid package, indeed.

The sofas, chairs and even the overly shaggy rug covered with pillows soon filled to a comfortable capacity as we all nestled down with plates of goodness and cups overflowing. 

The band started off their long list of McNeese originals with “Lucky Boy”, a tight, layered piece with ethereal keys that invite thoughtful drums and guitars. Patrick began his lyrics, singing in his characteristic style, layering his words of poetry and imagery sometimes above, sometimes with the instrumentation.

Patrick’s lyrics are almost conversational; he paints an image for his listener that is a visual story. Like his own paintings, colors and shapes form to create “a theater in the mind.” The band is the vision of McNeese, his love for the “collaborative, multi-layered aspect of music” apparent as the master musicians delved deep into their craft. The conversation that took place between them was tight, yet fluid and smooth, “which comes out of a jazz approach.”

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L-R: Jesse Pena, Miles Hanchett, Tripp Bratton

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Tom Martin

Martin sat next to McNeese on his double keys and joined in the conversation, with Pena sending in warm, buttery sounds from his Fender electric. 

The sun began to set as Lexington traffic sped by across the lake, off on the horizon.  Waterfowl glided by on the lake. The band was soon backed by darkness as McNeese moved his players into “Light Up the Night.”  Bratton sometimes offered backing lyrics along with his amazing drumming, bouncing his voice off the glass windows now black and reflective. Hanchett’s bass wrapped the players together, providing a foundation. The crowd couldn’t help but be moved.

The near orchestral arrangements, which touched upon so many genres of music, some Latin, some Middle Eastern in sound, certainly jazz and blues, even a touch of country, create staging for McNeese’s provocative lyrics, a flow of spoken word and layered images that trip around the notes with practiced ease. 

McNeese creates a sound for his audience that draws the room together. The positive house show environment of willingly captive attention fed the band beautifully, and all were grateful. 

Viewed from his perch behind the keys, Martin enjoyed the reaction. “To look up and see how people are responding to the music; there is something very rewarding about being at a keyboard and making a sound and seeing a positive response to it.  The whole idea is to move people and allow them to escape with something.”

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Moving into a phase in their musical careers where the band has decided to perform almost exclusively for intimate shows such as this one, and to focus more on getting back into the studio with Duane Lundy over at Shangri-La to create the band’s third album and Patrick’s sixth, this night was special and unique. The audience had come to listen and in many cases to lose themselves in the music. This created a welcoming canvas for the band to paint McNeese’s lyrics and music. “A beautiful example of community in a small, intimate way,” he later reflected.

An artist in many forms, that is the beauty of the thing for McNeese,“That is the joy of the artist, giving birth to something.  It’s a very maternal process, nurturing and passing something from inside to the outside world.” 

Performing before a small, intimate house show completes the package for his lyrics and music, and the musicians agree.  Weary perhaps of crowded, loud bars and competition from now ubiquitous televisions, or standing solo in corners or at pianos in hotel lobbies, these experienced musicians appreciate the settled quiet of clubhouse setting.  The attentive audience.  The sincere appreciation. As Martin said, “Music in its best environment is that organic connection between player and the listener. It’s almost existential without the listener.”

What transpired that Saturday night was a special gift. A night of balanced perfection; dedicated, seasoned musicians of great quality, lyrics and music from a foundation of a life of music and art, a room filled with eager and attentive friends who brought food and drink and joy. The dreamlike music wrapped around us all and together we shared in the band’s creation, the evening itself a work of art.

Indeed, all were quite fortunate to be there and share in the experience.

Interviews

Patrick McNeese Band Albums

Big Fish Moon 

Hallelu

Arts

Scene&Heard: Eric Bolander and Band, The Wooks at MMH

Manchester Music Hall, formerly Buster’s, is the largest venue in Lexington next to Rupp Arena; the vast space holds up to 1100 concert-goers. As such, the venue attracts regional and touring bands such as Lucero, Sundy Best and Friday night’s headliner, The Steeldrivers.

Formerly the backing band to Chris Stapleton, the Steeldrivers are big; so big they can sell out MMH, including the VIP seating for those willing to pay a bit more for a photo with the band.  They are a big group with a big following and a big crowd to fill every room in every city they play.

But that’s not what this article is about.

This is about what that means for Lexington’s local music scene.  It means that two excellent local bands are able to fill in the bill and open up for this big touring act providing some of our beloved local musicians the opportunity to play in front of 1100 happy-to-be-there folks who may never have heard their music before. These bands get the chance to sell their sound and songs as well as their merchandise and CD’s to the eager crowd as they warm up for the headliner they came to see.

Eric Bolander and his band, and the local bluegrass sensation The Wooks, did exactly that.  They took the chance to ride the wave the night promised, and man did they deliver.

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Photo by Derek Feldman

By 7pm, the VIP seats in front are filling in, the standing room area is slowly filling with an eager audience, the drinks are flowing and the fried goods out on the food truck are warming up the cold night.  MMH has blocked off an area outside with barricades and filled it kindly with outdoor space heaters for their customers, who gather around like cows to a shade tree in the deepening cold, waiting for their food to cook while they smoke outside. 

It’s time for Eric Bolander to warm up the crowd musically.

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Photo by Derek Feldman

Taking the stage with Seth Murphy on cello, Trenton Jenkins on banjo and Ben Caldwell on backing vocals, Eric led his band into a fun, very welcoming intro set. “You kinda thrive on it. It’s nice to see when you get several hundred folks in front of you”, says Bolander of the vast crowd he faced. He previously opened the night for Sundy Best at MMH as well.

That’s the burden of the opening act; to work the room, warm them up, make them happy they are there and hopefully make them happy you are there.  He was successful.  That crowd was ready to love some good music, and Eric entertained them with his original songs, as well as a great cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain”, performed with the right amount blues and twang to make the song his own.

Using Murphy’s cello instead of a lead guitarist, the sound mixed with Jenkin’s banjo to create a unique blend with Bolander’s voice.  Perhaps surprising, coming from his large frame and presence, the art teacher and ten-year veteran of the KY National Guard has a beautiful, sweet voice that owns both ends of his vocal range.  He sang of wooing his now wife, mama to his new little girl, and opened the night with his tune “Honeysuckle” with its notions of protection and love.

Between songs, Bolander warmed the crowd up proper, getting them excited for the two acts yet to come, helping them remember they are so happy to be there, and thanking them with sincere gratitude for their enjoyment of his music, “great folk, bluegrass music with kind of a bluesy spin,” as Bolander describes his sound. Then smoothly, they ended their set and welcomed to the stage, band number two, Lexington’s rising bluegrass phenoms, The Wooks.

Listen to more of Cara’s conversation with Eric Bolander:

Still riding their own wave after winning the Band Contest last summer out at Colorado’s RockyGrass, The Wooks have been actively playing and touring ever since.  Consisting of Morehead’s Jesse Wells on fiddle, Roddy Puckett on bass, Arthur Hancock on banjo, CJ Cain on guitar and Galen Green on mandolin, the bluegrass group mixes originals with some standard covers their fans have come to love, including Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and Robert Earl Keene’s “The Road Goes On Forever”.  Winning the band contest opened many doors for the Wooks as Jesse Wells’ commented, “I personally didn’t realize what a connection that was, evidently a very prestigious thing.”

Photo by Derek Feldman

Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks have a tightness on stage, the evidence of seasoned musicians who have played together on the road for some time now, with a mutual passion for music that makes their instruments dance.

The Wooks are something of a powerhouse of Lexington musicians, and they all contribute to the songs, both vocally and lyrically.  They brag on each other on stage, Arthur introducing CJ’s songs, CJ introducing Arthur.  They dance around each other as they play, clearly having as much fun on stage as the crowd is down below.  Each song brings hoots of celebration as the fans in the crowd recognize it and thank them for playing it.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Jesse Wells:

The growing crowd is slowly soaking up more merchandise from the local folks, Wooks t-shirts and koozies, Eric Bolander’s trademark mason jar insignia on his shirts and CD’s.  The opening bands were successful.  By the time the Steeldrivers take the stage, the room is packed full, the audience satiated with good food, cold drinks, loaded down with Merch from two excellent opening acts that satisfactorily filled them with quality music they loved.

Many of the members of the crowd had not come to see Eric Bolander or The Wooks. Some did, but most were there for the headliner.  However, Lexington musicians like these thrive on quality and good musical talent, and their gifts filled that large room, recently remodeled to give the large warehouse space a warm, comfortable and clean feel with great acoustics.

When folks pay up to see these larger regional or national acts when they come to town, they are supporting local musicians as well. “A lot of people are coming here who are fans of the Steeldrivers, fans of them who don’t necessarily follow local music or our music” say The Wooks.  Yet, they are fans now. 

Eric Bolander and band, and the Wooks now have planted their musical seeds in 1100 sets of ears, many for the first time.  Two local bands were able to ride the wave of the bigger band, and the gift of music was shared with a grateful crowd.  All good, all around.

Eric Bolander & Band - Photo by Derek Feldman

Eric Bolander & Band – Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks - Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks – Photo by Derek Feldman

Arts

Scene&Heard: Cosmic Charlie’s Opens New Location with Born Cross Eyed’s 25th

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.

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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.

Brandon Bowlds (bass), Lee Owens (guitar)

Brandon Bowlds (bass), Lee Owens (guitar)

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. 

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Jenny Adkins, Brandon Bowlds, Lee Owen

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.

Joey David

Joey David

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.

Arts

Scene&Heard: This Was What They Wanted

I was 18 when I bought my first Leonard Cohen tape and slid it into the car stereo of my Dad’s old Buick. Was This What You Wanted? began to play, and the whole world of one naïve Catholic Italian girl from Buffalo changed.

Music has that power, and that whole tape of the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony had a powerful influence on me as an audiophile. Lyrics suddenly became the most important part of a song, and Cohen was certainly one of the great sages of lyrical construction.

On the night of the election when I opened my newsfeed and learned that the great poet had gone to his reward, as my mother says, I felt an immense grief. I had to do something.

My simple Facebook suggestion to put on a show in tribute to Cohen resulted in a rapid response from musicians in town interested in getting involved. Clearly, so many of the local musicians I admire were as brokenhearted as me over the loss of this great, influential artist.

So, I found myself organizing a Leonard Cohen Tribute at The Burl, where my friend Bryan Minks gave us a Monday night to simply have a stage where we could pay tribute to a man to whom we all felt a strong musical connection. We decided to pass the hat for donations, and someone suggested we send anything collected to Standing Rock to help the water protectors in their struggle. The event began to take form.

The 28th of November was a damp and dreary night in Lexington, Kentucky, and the UK Wildcats were playing on tv. I wasn’t sure what to expect for turnout, but the room was already filling at 7:30. I placed candles on the tables as promised, and the first band began setting up. The intent was simply for each singer or group to choose two Cohen songs, perform them in their own way, and we would hopefully move smoothly from one set to the next, working Nolan Dunn too hard as he skillfully modified the soundboard for each different performer.

The Northside Sheiks (photo above) started the night with their signature blues vibe, Willie Eames giving his style to Almost Like the Blues and Slow with Lee Carroll on accordion, Smith Donaldson on Bass, Robert Frahm on guitar and David White on drums. From there, the packed house listened to a steady stream of great Lexington area musicians: Chris Sullivan, Warren Byrom, Brian Combs, Bryan Minks, Keith Rowland, Doc Feldman (with a little bit of help from yours truly), Eric Cummins, Chelsea Nolan, Josh Nolan, Derek Spencer, Ben Aubrey with Trinity Curtsinger, Rob Rawlings and Alex Parkansky. And then came a duet on strings with Elias Gross on viola and vocals and Richard Young on Bass, which grew into a trio that added Anna Hess on violin to back Kevin Holm-Hudson on keys when he led the entire group in Cohen’s Hallelujah to end the evening.

The night proceeded exactly as I had imagined it: candles flickered, people in quiet conversations between sets. When each performer began, the entire room hushed, even with the game on mute back at the bar. With the two songs they had chosen, each artist blended Cohen’s brilliant poetry with their own style and instrument to make it theirs.

“I’m always pleased when somebody sings a song of mine. In fact, I never get over that initial rush of happiness when someone says they are going to sing a song of mine. I always like it,” the late Cohen once noted in an interview on Pacifica Radio. “That song enters the world, and it gets changed, like everything else — that’s OK as long as there are more authentic versions. But a good song, I think, will get changed.”

He knew, of course, that his songs would live on. He even told us so in Tower of Song. Each artist or group of artists paid homage to Cohen that night, as candle flames flickered and the rain spattered against the windows. The Roll n’ Smoke food truck was parked outside, and the tangy aroma of barbecue floated through the Burl blending nicely with the fragrance of candles.

The audience was treated to a wide variety of genres as each artist individualized Cohen’s songs, piecing together the entire crazy quilt of the evening. From the Sheik’s blues interpretation to Bryan Mink’s Tower of Song with that country metal edge he has, to Chelsea Nolan’s booming vocals to Alex Parkansky’s drone metal guitar lifting Cohen’s music to surreal levels. Then the night went to strings, and the room, still nearly full even at 11:30 p.m. on a dark, wet Monday night, melted with the candles as all the singers took the stage once more to back Kevin Holm-Hudson in Hallelujah.

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We all sang along, barely able to hold back during the verses as we harmonized into the chorus. I felt like I was in church again, the candle light blurring past the strings in front of us, the keys played perfectly as each of the seven verses guided us along. The crowd joined in too – everyone knows the words to this iconic song – and that room full of gorgeous wood and candles and people who simply love great musical poetry, that room rang with the collection of those voices. No voice was distinguishable from another. And then the last chorus was sung, and Kevin paused for just a moment of silence, and ended the night with those two words that took all our breath away: “Goodnight, Leonard.”

We raised a total of $700 for the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock. My friend Psera Newman, Direct Action Trainer for the Lexington Chapter of Greenpeace, took the stage twice and spoke to the audience about her time at Standing Rock, and why she chose Sacred Stone Camp as the appropriate recipient of contributions, describing it as the beating heart of the body that is the Standing Rock resistance.

Folks were unbelievably generous all night long, and the money order to Sacred Stone is en route, along with a letter I wrote to the leader of the camp, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard.

I am so proud of Lexington. I am so proud of all the musicians who took the stage that night, who took the time out of their lives to learn new songs and perform them and support each other simply to do it. For the love of the music. To show respect to someone who devoted their life to creating beauty and art for others to love. And to share the effort in the form of charity, for others who really need some help right now.

Goodnight, Leonard Cohen. Thanks for the beauty, sir.

(Credit: Derek Feldman, all photos and video.)


The Set List:

1. The Northside Sheiks- Almost like the Blues, Slow

2. Chris Sullivan- Famous Blue Raincoat

3. Warren Byrom and Chris Sullivan- Suzanne

4. Brian Combs- The Butcher, Heart with no Companion

5. Bryan Minks- Tower of Song, Is this what you wanted

6. Keith Rowland- The Stranger Song, Bird on the Wire

7. Derek Feldman w/ Cara Blake Coppola- You Want it Darker, There is a War, If It Be Your Will

8. Eric Cummins- Tonight Will Be Fine, Darkness

9. Chelsea Nolan- On the Level, One Of Us Can’t Be Wrong

10. Josh Nolan- Alexandra Leaving, Diamonds in the Mine

11. Derek Spencer- So Long, Marianne, Steer Your Way

12. Ben Aubrey- Dance Me to the End of Love, Here it Is

13. Rob Rawlings- Iodine, Paper Thin Hotel

14. Alex Parkansky- The Future, Waiting for the Miracle

15. Elias Aaron Irving Gross- Chelsea Hotel

16. Kevin Holm-Hudson-the Runaway Horse, Hallelujah

Arts

Scene&Heard: The Art of the Cover

The devotion to a good, solid cover that is “as close to the original as possible” is a sanctified quest.  To participate in or witness a true emulation of the original genius that produced the tune, to begin with, can be like stepping on holy ground for those who love such performance.  The homage that the Lexington Lab Band (LLB) created and performed most flawlessly on November 5th in Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium was a Mecca of precise tributes to the original songs, and those who made the pilgrimage to the sold out concert were happy, happy pilgrims indeed. As one member of the crowd John Boyd commented, “If you shut your eyes, you think you’re hearing the original band.”  That is the mission of the Lexington Lab Band, and folks, Mission Accomplished.

The original goal of the Lexington Lab Band was never to actually produce a live concert.  The founding members came together three years ago to create online videos of the original core members performing their favorite covers with professional accuracy. “It’s an academic thing for me,” says Michael Vandemark, original member, vocalist and instrumentalist extraordinaire. The videos created by “Vandee,” as his fellow musicians lovingly call him, and bandmates Randy Refalo, Dale Adams, Rob Pottorf and Ryan McQuerry, have created a following for the band.

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Michael “Vandee” Vandemark

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Michael Vandemark:

The first concert in 2014 at The Lyric Theater almost happened by accident, Vandemark explains, as one former member, Derrick Breaux, was leaving the state and the live show was meant to be a fun send off with no expectation of filling the house.

It sold out.

So, two more annual concerts have followed, and the band has created not one but two groups of loyal followers, those who watch the videos online to study the tight precision with which the musicians and singers emulate the songs they are covering, and then those who come to the big yearly show.  Often the two are not the same.  At this month’s show, Vandemark asked the crowd to raise their hands if it was their first LLB concert, and over half the crowd responded.

And they sold it out again, this time in a venue with nearly double the capacity of the Lyric – Transy’s 1000 seat Haggin Auditorium. 

The finale has become a legend at an LLB show, with all the musicians coming together on stage, nearly 30 total, to rock out a massive medley of songs by Bad Company, The Eagles, Heart, Journey and ended quite beautifully with a group tribute to Prince’s “Purple Rain.”  It was a rocking, intense ending to a long amazing set that paid tribute to Boston, Huey Lewis, Bad Company, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, The Police, Pearl Jam, and Jimi Hendrix.

Photos by Mark Pearson and Ralph Bostic

Photos by Mark Pearson and Ralph Bostic

The night also included a worthy tribute to those artists we’ve lost this year: Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, David Bowie, Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, and of course, the fitting tribute to Prince at the end.

These are amazing songs to replicate; Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Boston.  We all know these songs, but to really hear them, to know the effort it takes to replicate those guitar licks, those keys, the drumming and the backing harmonies, is most impressive. 

At the pinnacle of it all is Vandemark himself, moving fluidly from lead guitar, to lead vocals, to keys, to bass. He never touched the drums, but he holds a degree in Percussion from Asbury.  As Vandemark said of trying to bring in a wide variety of songs to cover, “To do this right, we’ve got to have the right people, every time…You’ve gotta have the right voice or the right guitar player… [and] be open to bringing the right people in, and…make it a project that celebrates as much of our friends as possible.” 

And celebrate they did.

Such a feat could not be produced without drawing from an impressive collective of Lexington’s talent, with a few out of towner’s joining in for the fun. Several local bands are represented in the Lexington Lab Band, including the Twiggenburys, the Lauren Mink Band, The Throwbacks, Big River Band, Kung Fu Grip, Distraxions, Project 859 and Isle of Eight.

Perhaps the strongest backbone of the band in my humble opinion are the ladies: four women who sang with such tight, perfect harmony that they subtly stole the show. 

Photos by Ralph Bostic and Mark Pearson

Photos by Ralph Bostic and Mark Pearson

Kaitlynne Postel, Amanda Carter, Lauren Mink and Jessica McKenney sang the backing vocals to a majority of the songs, and Mink rocked Stevie Nick’s “Landslide,” while McKenney sang Heart’s “Barracuda” so tightly it took my breath away.  But the tightness in which they harmonized to all the other songs was phenomenal, truly.

Lauren Mink - Photos by Ralph Bostic and Mark Pearson

Lauren Mink – Photos by Ralph Bostic and Mark Pearson

There was a professional quality that guaranteed what McKenney, a singer at Southland Church, was hoping for:  a “true note-to-note to the original.”

The effort made by the Lexington Lab Band and its many contributors, all the musicians, singers, film crew, and volunteers throughout the concert, is a labor of love.  There is no profit, all the proceeds from the $27.00 tickets go to charity.  The first concert supported the Lexington Area Music Alliance (LAMA). Proceeds from the second year went to a Refuge for Women. And this year Vandee brought the crowd to tears when he announced to the surprise of his cameraman and LLB co-founder, the man behind the online videos Neil Gregory, that they were donating all the proceeds to a charity for Autism, in honor of Neil’s daughter who has Autism.  It was a beautiful moment, to see two friends bond over something so meaningful, to know so much good would come from something they do simply for the love of the music. 

Mike Huff, the lead singer on the Aerosmith and Pearl Jam songs and a member of The Throwbacks, summed it up eloquently when speaking to me about how many people it takes to pull off such a huge show. More than fifty people had been at the auditorium since 9 am that morning rehearsing for their crowd with such devotion to the craft, “That’s what’s so great about it for me, everyone here just loves music.” 

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Mike Huff:

Photo by Mark Pearson and Ralph Bostic

Photo by Mark Pearson and Ralph Bostic

Scene&Heard

Scene&Heard: C the Beat at Willie’s

“We turn every show into a party.”  – Lee Carroll

Indeed.  This was not my first time in Lee Carroll’s C the Beat dance crowd, but it was my first time as a journalist who was preparing for her debut as a chronicler of the Lexington live music scene. 

New to this venue, my Local Music column for Under Main, I couldn’t think of a better initiation into writing about Lexington’s vibrant music scene than to cover C the Beat.  The band is truly a powerhouse of intensely gifted local musicians, ten of them crowded onto the stage at the new Southland Drive location of Willie’s Locally Known to turn the place into a Halloween party and make folks dance.  And dance they did.

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The purpose of C the Beat, according to Carroll, is to celebrate the “dialogue between the old world and the new”, and appropriately the band got their start four years ago at the old Natasha’s venue. They opened for Gideon Alorwoyie, a master percussionist from Ghana. Drummer Tripp Bratton had met Alorwoyie previously and the original incarnation of the band played four Fela Kuti songs to open for the headliner Alorwoyie. 

Since then, C the Beat has created its own following of loyal fans who go to shows knowing there is a guaranteed promise of a really fun dance floor.  Because dancing is the whole point.  “From the beginning C the Beat was intended to be a dance band…The point was to play music that we really liked, that had a good beat and would get people up out of their seats and they would enjoy themselves in spite of the fact that we were playing good music, and we succeeded to a great extent.” 

Lee Carroll and the other members of C the Beat feed off the energy of the dancing crowd, and that was quite evident Friday night as devils, cats, witches, Egyptian princesses, skeletons, leopards, and even Peter Pan danced in a surreal swirl of color and sparkles to the ever constant beat. Listen as you read on… 

This collection of Lexington talent consists of Lee Carroll himself on keys and orchestrating the whole event, Willie Eames on guitar and vocals, Robert Frahm on guitar, Brian Arnett on bass, Tripp Bratton and David Farris both on drums, with a dialogue between them so tight and beautiful it is the backbone of the evening, and the horn section consisting of Jonathan Barrett on alto sax, Joe Carucci on tenor/baritone sax, Clayton Tipton on bass trombone and Chase Fleming, a multi-talented trombone player who also busted out an ocarina at some points, as well as jumping in to scat with the super talented Gail Wynters, both vocally and with his trombone. 

Gail and Marilyn Robie provided some amazing vocals, including Wynter’s smooth as silk voice and boisterous scat and Robie’s excellent version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” 

C the Beat feeds off the energy of the crowd, and the crowd does the same to the musicians.  The effect Friday inside those beautiful wooden walls that smell of the most delicious BBQ you’ve ever dreamed of, was cathartic.  The symbiosis between the performers and the dancers was quite evident, and when Gail Wynters starts a call and answer scat with the crowd and everyone excitedly joins in. 

This type of performance and interaction is not your usual live music experience, and I’m thrown back to the days of Count Basie and the big band sound.  Such a classic feel to the night, and what really astounds is the diversity of the crowd, and I don’t mean that some were cats and some were hookers and others were skeletons with some phenomenal face painting.  The dance floor was simply the floor of the entire restaurant, and everyone willingly moved to the beat despite their difference in generations.  Perhaps three generations of folks were represented at Willie’s Friday night, and the common need to shake one’s hips to some tightly orchestrated yet loosely relaxed beat crossed any and all potential division lines, and bliss was had, indeed. 

Live music is a visceral experience, and C the Beat taps into that need to let one’s emotions take lead for the night and lets that drive fuel the entire night. And the crowd eats it up. 

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As Lee Carroll states, “It’s easier to find the energy in yourself to play when you’re getting feedback from the folks in the crowd, if they like what you’re doing.  If they’re dancing, they like what you’re doing.”

Clearly the Friday night crowd at Willie’s really liked what C the Beat was doing, because that group of musicians is there for exactly that.  To cluster ten talented and in-demand musicians together for one night is an act of devotion for Carroll and his troupe.  They are there for the fun and for the music, and not much more.  Carroll has created an opportunity for these ten folks to be creative and stretch their musical legs, and the dialogue it creates with each other and the crowd is truly energetic.  Lee says of his musicians, “If you’re not having fun on this stage, then you’re in the wrong group.”

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So when Chase busts out his big ocarina and begins improvising, the rest of the band just goes with it, and the trombones speak to the drummers, who speak to the keys and the bass, and that old dialogue between the old world African sound and the new world Caribbean sound swirl around some Ska and some Reggae and salsa, samba, NOLA R&B, American funk and Afrobeat, and the entire world calls out in that beautifully smelling room, especially surreal with the costumes where folks can hide their true identity and lose themselves and their inhibitions in the fun of it all.

Because in the end, Lee says, it’s all about “the folks who come out and support live music”, and the musicians up on stage truly appreciate that.  “I don’t care where you go, if you go to hear live music, you’re part of the solution.”

And ain’t that the truth.

All the amazing venues we can boast here in Lexington, including my beloved Willie’s Locally Known, exist for the people who come to fill the seats and the dance floor and pay the ticket price so the musicians can get some food and gas for the way home.  That is what keeps the local music scene alive, and I’m fairly certain I can speak for everyone at Willie’s Friday night, that C the Beat definitely earned the crowd’s money, but even more so, they earned their joy and bliss.

What a great night.

[Listen to Cara’s entire conversation with Lee Carroll:]

original works

The Very First Day

Cara Blake Coppola’s contribution to our essay challenge is about a life-altering turning point of great significance.  Her essay is excerpted from her blog whitewillowsite@wordpress.com.  She recalls the day when she learned that her daughter had special needs.  The story unfolds in Lexington.

There is a poem/story that I have become familiar with since meeting Willow Eve.  It is called “Holland” or something like that, and it compares the reality of raising a child with special needs to a misguided vacation that, though promising Venice or some such exotic locale, instead delivered the vacationers to Holland.  “Oops,” the story goes.  “Instead of gondolas and wine and pasta, you get windmills, and tulips.  Maybe some wooden shoes as souvenirs.”  Not quite the relaxing, stimulating vacation you thought you were going to get, but hey, you’re still on vacation, right?

I’m certain that when I first read that story, probably in those fog-filled days of Early Intervention and sleep-deprived delirium, it brought me comfort, and more than a few tears.  After fifteen years, however, I find the metaphor lacking.  Because, really, who goes on vacation for fifteen years?  And does that mean I’m supposed to assume that I was on vacation in Venice for three and a half years before I had Willow, when Sierra was the only human being I was responsible for?  If so, I think I need a refund, because I don’t remember gondolas, or wine, or any kind of vacating in any way.  I remember being tired, and laughing hysterically, and lots of pee, poop, and vomit.  Somehow I think the Venetian Tourist board would be amiss at this comparison, though I’m sure some college students have had Venetian vacation stories such as this.

Willow was a sweet, tiny little baby girl, so loved by her big sister and the dog Maggie, who licked her cheek and wagged her tail in delighted greeting when Willow was brought home from the hospital. We adjusted accordingly, and got back to living our simple life. 

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By the time spring burst into the Kentucky countryside, our small bohemian apartment was bursting with color and toys, and spoke of a happy family.  That, however, was the calm before what would become our personal storm, the blissful ignorance we allowed to envelope us before the evidence started piling up. 

Soon, too soon, we would be forced to accept the reality that Willow was not developing as she should, that her frequent crying was indicating more than just colic.  Taking place over a few weeks, totaling one very long month during her fifth month of life, we would return from the hospital once again with Willow, though this time it was very, very different.

There was a day, in Willow’s fifth month, when everything started coming together, like sand shifting its way down a funnel, and that is where our story really begins…

“Now boarding for Holland, please buckle up. It’s gonna be a damn bumpy ride.” Taking off…

It will be a challenge to me to keep this narrative at a decent length, but this particular day was the exact day it all began.  There were hints, or foreshadowing if you will, yet our immersion into the special needs world was primarily condensed into one day on the monthly calendar.  Intense does not begin to describe it.  The difference between Venice and Holland is not sufficient; maybe the difference between living on Frontier America and suddenly being transported to the bar where Han Solo shoots first is a closer comparison. 

It got to the point where, by the end of our weeks’ vacation at the beach that fifth month of her life, Willow would only nurse at night, when she was too exhausted to fight anymore.  But then she would nurse and fill up and sleep well, and she wasn’t losing weight, so we just kept trying to eliminate the variables. 

Driving home was a headache and ibuprofen rich endeavor, and we returned home to our little apartment exhausted and tanned, but not really feeling relaxed from our “vacation”. 

Upon our return, time seemed to speed up and get really scary.  I went to visit a good friend, my midwife and doula who had been there when Willow was born.  She took the baby and immediately lifted her up and down, as if weighing her.  “Is she losing weight?” she asked suggestively, waking a growling dragon of stress and anxiety in the pit of my soul.  “Is she?” I asked, tears immediately coming to my eyes. 

Soon after, I couldn’t get Willow to nurse at all, so we got some soy formula.  At that point, it was an early spring morning in Kentucky, characteristically cold and dreary.  I tried and tried to give Willow the bottle that I hoped would fix everything, but she refused to take it.  She just screamed weakly, and I cried. 

Quickly, we headed downstairs to visit our neighbor, another midwife who owned a glucometer.  She tested Willow’s blood sugar.  I will never forget the look on her face as she read the screen.  “Cara, her blood sugar won’t even register, I think you need to take her to the ER.”

What followed was a day that was so surreal and frightening, I seem to remember it in foggy patches, like a dream that you can’t shake for hours after you wake up.

We went to our local hospital where Willow had been born.  They asked many questions and made many, many false assumptions.  It is a cruel trick of the human mind that we can see things in hindsight so much more clearly than we do at the present.  At that point in her exhaustion and hunger, Willow’s eyes were shifting erratically back and forth.  “Does she always do this?” one doctor asked, pointing to her shifting eyes.  “Um, I don’t know.  She’s really tired I think.  She won’t eat…” I kept saying.  They asked me if she was blind.  Blind??  No, I was sure that she had focused on my eyes while nursing, that she had paid attention to the rainbow paper chains that decorated our living room.  In hindsight, however, that damned gift that comes too little, too late, I realized that she never did stop shifting her eyes.  That goofy, googly eyed-ness that Sierra had had when she was born (when I got scared and made Dad rush her to the nurse, because clearly she was broken) was a phase that Sierra had quickly outgrown.  There was one cute cross-eyed picture of her at Mother’s Day, and that was the last of it.  She was only a month old then.  How could I have forgotten that?  How did I not know Willow’s eyes weren’t behaving normally?

The next assumption was seizures.  Perhaps her shifting eyes indicated seizures? They asked me.  All I knew of seizures at the time was an image of someone shaking violently, drooling and passing out.  No, Willow had definitely never done any of those things.  She just wasn’t thriving anymore, she wasn’t growing anymore, and she cried…all the time. 

Brain damage, they reported before Willow was even out of the CAT-scan.  Retardation.  Epilepsy.  Possible blindness.  The only conclusion of which they were certain, though it didn’t stop them from making guesses that shook me to my core, was that Willow’s case was out of their expertise.  It was time to take a ride up to the big city and see what those doctors might know.

I knew the situation was worse than I might have imagined when they led us to an ambulance, shut the door behind Willow and I, and turned the sirens on full blast.  Dear God, I remember thinking.  Never in my life had I been in an ambulance with the sirens on.  Not with my father’s almost heart attack, not with my mother’s anxiety attack she thought was a stroke.  But here, my tiny, frail baby was strapped to an adult sized gurney, wrapping her weak little hand around my finger, as the sirens bellowed our entire journey towards Lexington.

It was in that ambulance that I met my first angel.  I’m a Catholic by upbringing, Christian by nature, but claim no denomination.  I’m not a terribly religious person; to me it is more of a culture than a spirituality, like my Italian grandmother’s routines of putting rosaries on the bushes outside to ask God for good weather, or putting some of the Christmas hay from the Church’s manger in your wallet for prosperity, and the ornate saint doll that sat on every matriarch’s mantle, robed in velvet and silk and lace.  But I do remember many myths of God or Angel’s posing as some wayward person, a humble beggar or blind man.  These archetypes sometimes pass knowledge, and sometimes propose a challenge for generosity.  Those who pass the challenge are enlightened and praised; those who fail are doomed to suffer their ill choices.

The angel I met that day was one who passed knowledge, and I wish to this day that I remembered his name.  He was one of the EMT’s that travelled in the ambulance with us that day.  He sat in the back with Willow and I as his partner drove, and quickly noting the look of absolute desperation and fear that I’m certain I had plastered all over my face, talked with me calmly the entire grueling ride.  Unlike everyone else we had met at the hospital, who seemed to feel free to hypothesize away about any myriad of ailments that might be afflicting our daughter, this man kept his opinions to himself.  What he did, though, is tell me his story.  He was a father.  His wife had birthed triplets two years ago, and their premature children had met with many struggles along the way.  Maybe it was twins.  I honestly don’t remember, except that it was a multiple birth.  He didn’t tell me what all the challenges were that they were meeting.  He didn’t mention a single medical ailment, or any tests or needles or tubes that may have been involved in their challenges.  What I do remember him talking about was strength; the strength of his wife, who he clearly adored, for carrying those children as long as she could to keep them strong, and the strength of his children, for overcoming any limitations life, or anyone else, may have imposed on them. 

I don’t know, maybe he had been there the whole time in the ER and heard all these diagnoses and terms flying around and saw my instinctual urge surface, the one that tells you to run and hide somewhere dark and close; anywhere far, far away from there.  Maybe he went through the same experiences with his babies.  But he told me exactly what I needed to hear right then, and for that I am so, so very grateful.  To this day, after meeting several more angels along the way, and even more thoughtless, over-diagnosing individuals, I remember him.  Not his name, dammit, but I do remember him.  I still hope someday he will remember me and reintroduce himself, but he was a very cool guy who gave me a bit of comfort on what, at that point, was the worst day of my life.

Willow and I were led from the Ambulance to the ER swiftly and put into a curtained enclosure.  Quickly feeling like an exhibit in a circus, people started coming by.  They would stand, and stare.  Doctor after doctor would look at Willow, touch her without asking permission.  They drilled me with questions, often not waiting for me to finish talking before they began the next question.  This is a phenomenon that I have come to deal with in the medical and special needs world, where experts talk as fast as they think, and social norms of not interrupting are thrown out the window; at the time, however, I was completely floored.  Sierra had been so healthy, not one round of antibiotics her entire three years, and I had no experience with such highly educated specialists.  Their brains are machines of information, something I have come to deeply admire over the years, but the awkwardness of enduring many “conversations” like this soon sapped all my energy.

They asked questions about everything: the pregnancy, my diet, my habits, the birth, nursing, hell, they practically examined me as well.  They touched and prodded Willow all over, turning her head back and forth, shining bright lights in her eyes, tickling her feet.  Willow fussed and cried through the entire procedure, her eyes shifting all over without recognition. 

I don’t know how much time passed that way, I truly remember very little about the UK ER that day.  It was clear that we had to be admitted, that any number of tests had to be run, and we were soon wheeled down many shifting hallways until we emerged into the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

The old Children’s Hospital at UK is a bright and imaginative place, and I immediately enjoyed being in that building.  They have since opened an entirely new Children’s Hospital.  In the old hospital, which we were visiting for the first time that day, the elevator opened to a lobby where an artist had installed a truly remarkable perpetual motion machine.  It was mesmerizing; a continuation of belts, gears, levers, and engines that moved a dozen or so balls around and about a labyrinth of activities.  The balls went upstairs and down wooden blocks painted like fish, where each block made a different note as the balls cascaded downward.  At one point a ball was dropped and bounced off a platform, only to land perfectly into a basket several feet up, where it continued on its course around the machine.  What an amazing thing to create in a place where magic and whimsy were unlikely to be found.

As we proceeded into the hospital, following the nurses who spoke kindly to us both, we rolled past the corners where sculpted trees rose up to a ceiling enchanted with twinkling lights that at night were turned on to make a starry sky.  Rooms in each hallway were filled with books, toys and wagons for play, and a toy cart was wheeled by volunteers from room to room, handing out free toys that had been donated by thoughtful people.  As far as hospitals go, this place was almost as fun as a Children’s Museum.

At some point after we were installed into our own private room, Dad showed up loaded down with clothes, sleeping bags and food.  Willow was put into a medical crib and hooked up to an IV for fluids.  The nurses soon delivered a bottle with soy formula, and I gratefully began to feed Willow her first real bottle.  This was a bittersweet moment for me.  My main thought was to be thrilled as she hungrily swallowed three small bottles in a row and burped happily to be full. 

But in honesty, I felt like a complete failure.  I was a proud breastfeeding mother.  Sierra had thrived beyond measure on the milk I produced for her, and never needed any kind of supplement.  Willow had reacted so strongly against my milk, in hindsight since the beginning of her life, and I felt like I had bombed the most basic of maternal requirements, but Willow had made up her mind.  Bottles were easier and the formula within contained no threat of allergies.  She had made peace with her decision, but it would be years before I finished grieving for our aborted nursing relationship.

As soon as we were officially admitted to the hospital, the doctor visits began.  We were swiftly introduced to a continuously shifting parade of people in white coats, scrubs and dress clothes.  One person would breeze in with a plastic tote filled with vials to draw so much of Willow’s precious blood into the plastic tubes with different colored stoppers.  An IV was hooked up to her tiny little arm, and her elbow had to be splinted so she didn’t pull it out.  Soon her clothes were changed into the yellow and blue ones with koalas that the hospital provided.  She wouldn’t wear her own clothes again for a week.  Her small feet were poked repeatedly for blood samples.  We rolled blankets and put them around the edges of the cold, metal bars of the hospital crib, and soon a kind face wheeled by with toys and books to help break up the monotony of white on white.  On that day, Willow was given a fuzzy, soft flower that tied to the edge of the crib. A bee hung down; when pulled, the bee slowly made its’ way back to the flower, playing a sweet little tune in its journey.  Willow still has this flower.

This was the very first day of our journey together into the world of being Medically Fragile and having Special Needs.  A long tale, that day continues in my memory to be stretched in length way beyond twenty-four hours. It is the first chapter in a story that is almost sixteen years long, and filled with many more hospital visits, doctor visits, therapy, Special Education meetings, Shriner’s, wheelchairs and more. 

We rolled through that door and into that world on this very first day.

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