Category Archives: Entertainment

art, Arts, Entertainment, Local culture, Review

Artist:Body at The Lexington Art League

Self-portraiture can be an unfortunate expression of ego, and until the last hundred years or so this has been its dominant motivation. The humanism of the renaissance elevated the individual artist into subjects worthy of examination in art, displacing, but by no means replacing, royalty and religion. These same humanistic tendencies are what motivated artists to elevate him or herself by altering the self-portrait for their own means.


At best this was self-portraiture as a means to enhance collective notions of humanity – an extension of Michaelangelo’s idea that the human form should be perfected by art. At its worst it was self-portraiture as hubris or propaganda – a means to elevate a career or cause. But contrast these tendencies with contemporary photographic self-portraiture. Like the photography in Artist:Body (the work in this show is predominately photography, with three sculptures), contemporary self-portraiture hasn’t traditionally allowed for this type of alteration, at lease in the pre-digital age. Instead, it often necessarily takes on other, perhaps more honest, forms of alteration: false humility, self-deprecation, and irony.

The complex and shifting objectives of Artist:Body are many. It contains over 50 works throughout five rooms of the Gothic Revival Loudon House that houses the Lexington Art League. The architecture is hauntingly appropriate for this type of show. It is curated by Julien Robson, a former curator at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum and currently the curator of the Shands Collection.

Borrowing work from regional collectors and commercial galleries, the exhibition is grand in its scope yet disciplined in its organization – what isn’t included in the exhibit as self-portraiture is as important as what is. Artist:Body is more of a survey of the richness of contemporary self-portraiture than a thesis on the state of self-portraiture today. But in the context of the history of self-portraiture, gradually shifting from the humanistic tendency to elevate to a contemporary tendency to ironize, an inevitable leit motif of this exhibition is that contemporary self-portraiture acts as an anti-self-portrait, paradoxically causing us to question the very notions of persona, self and identity.

While this essay necessarily follows the nature of the exhibition by surveying certain work (with over 50 pieces, it would be impossible to address all of them), I hope certain themes provide points of reference.

Cindy Sherman’s mise-en-scene self-portraits of the artist posing as various archetypal women purposefully have no fixed meaning. They are simultaneously an imitation and mockery of popular culture, a commentary on the objectification of women in the media, and examinations of identity and gender. Most interestingly, to me, they call attention to the paradox of persona. This necessarily invokes Warhol, who was an expert at creating a persona to hide what might exist of a true self. Sherman builds on this paradox in Untitled from 1982, hanging in Artist:Body, and in the rest of her oeuvre. While in a general sense Warhol created one persona (his) to hide from a world that would otherwise might have not accepted his “otherness,” Sherman has created many personae in order to subvert the notion of self-portraiture and, perhaps, show that identity is not a fixed construction. In Sherman’s work, it’s always obvious enough that she is the sitter in each of her photographs (and it would be easy enough to disguise that fact), but Sherman is decidedly never the actual subject. Each picture in her work is like a mask, and beneath it another mask, all reflections on female identity, gender, sexuality, and mediated personae.

John Coplans-Hands Spread on Knees-Gelatin Silver PrintJohn Coplans, hands spread on knees,1985, silver gelatin print, 38" x 43". Courtesy of the Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati and the John Coplans Trust, Beacon, NY. Image courtesy of the artist and the Lexington Art League.

John Coplans is less discreet in his tendency to hide himself as his subject. Exhibited in Artist:Body are black and white photographs of Coplans’s body but never his face, intentionally avoiding a particular identity. They celebrate age and imperfection, a “riposte to the cult of youth, and what the artist saw as the vanities of the 1980s art world.” His are the subtle and touching photographs of any aging man, and are part of a very long series of self-portraits. They are not just about formal virtuosity (Coplans’ compositions are formerly perfect in the sense that Mapplethorpe’s photographs were), but about something more meaningful: aging, time and a primeval harmony with the body. When making the photographs Coplans describes a feeling of being “immersed in the past.” In Arnulf Rainer’s Self Portrait from 1971 he is grimacing painfully, reminiscent of fellow Austrian Messerschmidt’s expressionistic sculptures. Like Messerschmidt, they evoke Freudian repressions of Viennese (and, arguably, Western) society. For Ranier they are a “summoning of dormant, or psychopathic reserves of energy.” Coplans’s “immersion in the past” and Ranier’s summoning of “psychopathic reserves of energy” relate to the primordial connection to flesh that is the subject of phenomenological philosophy from Husserl to Merleau Ponty. To simplify, that branch of philosophy, like Coplans’ and Ranier’s self-portraits, posits that the body, rather than consciousness, is the primary source of knowledge about our world.

Louis Zoellar-What I Read-Inkjet printsLouis Zoellar Bickett, What I Read (Torah),What I Read (Holy Quran), What I read (Holy Bible),2015, inkjet print, 24" x 18". Image courtesy of the artist and the Lexington Art League.

Thaniel Ion Lee’s series of pieces also react against the superficial, consumerist perfection of the body in a similar way that Coplan’s do. Born with Arthrogryposis, a condition that left Lee with limited use of his arms, legs and fingers, he photographed parts of his body in black and white, but never really the whole, documenting a tension between beauty and decrepitude.

This tendency to document through self-portraiture is perhaps most evident in the works of Louis Zoellar Bickett. His What I Read series pictures Bickett reading the Qu’ran, Torah and Bible. The series is part of Bickett’s overriding archival project in which the pieces are ongoing documentation of what he reads. But then there is the uncanniness of a naked man reading the three Abrahamic religious texts. The choice of using these historically, culturally and spiritually loaded texts is less about exploring multiple identities than it is about the culmination of experiences that make up one’s self. This is self-portraiture as a mirror for the viewer; a performative space where the self is consciously created through reflection of and on another, not unlike the photographs of Lucas Samaras.

Much of the work in Artist:Body is a reminder that study of the self can paradoxically dispel solipsist thought. When we look and think about the self and many of the pieces in this show we may intuit, as eastern wisdom long posited, that the self doesn’t really exist at all in the sense that we’re used to thinking about it. Rather, as science is proving (and this is admittedly simplistic) our “selves” are a culmination of every experience the universe has ever known. Bickett’s work suggests this, and certain of the better facets of contemporary thought have picked up on it. Derrida is now infamous for declaring the fictitiousness of the subject, whether conceived as artist, viewer or otherwise.

Over two thirds of the artists in this show are female, and many of those artists explicitly or implicitly invoke feminism. At risk of overgeneralizing (a perennial risk when writing about group shows), much of the work includes a female presenting her self in a manner that creates an exaggerated performance, often sexual in nature. This inevitably (or intuitively?) causes the viewer to think anew about the gender identified subject.

To add to this, historically the culture surrounding portraiture in the Renaissance accepted women as artists for the first time, but for the wrong reasons. The art patrons of the Renaissance, which included royalty, the church and a small but growing progressive merchant class, accepted portraiture as an appropriate genre for women because it was consistent with the prevailing notions of feminine virtue and domesticity, and because it was considered by some as rote reproduction absent of what they considered the more noble (and therefore masculine) intentions in other genres like, say, history painting.

Xaviera Simmons, One Day and Back Then, Chroma C-Print, Image courtesy of the artist and the Lexington Art League.

It is not unreasonable to think that certain of the female artists in this show implicitly reference this history, though most of these are works that are decidedly not domestic or particularly virtuous (in the traditional sense of those words).

In Hanna Wilke’s So Help me Hannah series the artist is photographed nude holding a gun. In one, the pistol is held point-blank to her face, but not necessarily in a menacing way. The work can be a validation of the self and the feminine. Wilke is clearly in control of the phallic pistol, as if taking that power away from the male viewer.

Critical discourse concerning feminism comes at a risk. Art made by women should not automatically become about feminist activity, whereby such contributions are included in the history books only because they are begrudgingly marked as “outside.” This line of thought, latent in my opinion in the less worthy parts of post-modernist art history, leaves little room for women (or other minorities in the “art world”) to substantively rework the dominant art historical narrative, which is male and white. Artist:Body reminds us of this danger, and therefore, responsibility to think about these works in broader cultural terms. Hanna Wilke, for instance, has much to add to the history of photography. As Roberta Smith has noted of Wilke’s intentions, she worked to create a “formal imagery that is specifically female.”

This sentiment is consistent with Kiki Smith’s work. Her Butterfly, Bat, Turtle is a photocollage, a practice that was invented by upper class women in the Victorian age, not by machismo modernists like Picasso and Braque, as early modernist history books had us believe. Smith uses this historic reference (and related historical rewriting of history by the dominant majority) to comment on the mainstream exclusion of these Victorian works from “fine art.” Smith collaged the image with delicate tissue (as if to say fine art should have no quarrels with using delicate, traditionally feminine materials) to signify butterfly wings, bat wings, and a turtle shell. Implicit in these pieces is her overriding interest in myth, fairy tale and humanity’s dual human and animal nature.

Shinique Smith-Soul Elsewhere-Artist's Clothing, Fiber-fill, and Rope(2)Shinique Smith, Soul Elsewhere, 2013, artist's clothes, fiber-fill and rope, installation. Image courtesy of the artist and the Lexington Art League.

Shinique Smith’s Soul Elsewhere is not photography (it is one of only three non-photographic works in the show), nor is it squarely within the genre of self-portraiture. It is a sculpture made from multiple pairs of the artist’s blue jeans covered in paint (presumably studio jeans). It is tied up with rope in an anthropomorphic shape that, while abstract, suggests a woman’s body. It hangs from the ceiling. Smith is an African American. This description sounds clinical, but that is, in part, the point of the work. In the context of Artist:Body, it is both the most non-literal self portrait in the show but also the least illusionistic. It is, in fact, the material stuff of Smith’s life. It carries a similar sense of nostalgia for the artist’s body that Coplan’s work does. The use of denim is not insignificant, being a material that forms to the body, thus carrying a literal and metaphorical memory of the person who wore it. In Smith’s work, like that of Martin Puryear, the end point for abstraction is not non-referentiality, but memories, both bitter and sweet, of lost histories. The sculpture is round, warm, friendly, and formally beautiful. But with Soul Elsewhere, hanging from the ceiling and always swaying slightly with an eerie stillness, no matter how hard we might try, it is impossible to shake the image and dark history of lynching.

Appropriately placed in conversation with Soul Elsewhere is Xavier SimmonsOne Day and Back Then (Standing). Simmons, also African American, stands in a field with black face wearing a modern black coat and stilettos. Is she escaping from slavery or heading to a night-club? It is unlike any other work in Artist:Body in that it invokes time and place, but with purposeful ambiguity. We are simultaneously in the antebellum south, the early cinema of the 20th century (with the disgrace of blackface) and the present day.

Photography has an inevitable relation to the performative and phantasmal, and Artist:Body reminds us of this difficult concept. Recall the Native American belief that photography was an intrusion on the soul and disrespectful to the spirit world (Crazy Horse refused to be photographed for this reason). For many of us, whether we know it or not, a good photograph simultaneously provides the fulfillment of a memory and a sense of loss, lack, or even death in that the fleeting moment of the photograph is taken away forever. We feel with it a passing of time and our own mortality. But a photograph can also be life giving in the sense that it conveys action, a performance, like many of the works in Artist:Body. It is this tension that makes so much of the work in this show so poignant. Francesca Woodman’s work comes to mind as an example, as does Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Self Portrait Suspended IV, in which the artist was tied up by a bondage expert and hung from the ceiling. The bondage ropes were digitally removed, leaving an image of release and freedom. The act of bondage invokes pain, vulnerability and despair, while the photograph itself is a fleeting moment of pure jouissance (which, in the end, is pleasure come full circle to pain).

Artist:Body is a full and rich examination of the possibilities of contemporary self-portraiture. It is full of ideas sensualized, which, incidentally, is in a nutshell Hegel’s definition of true art. It runs at the Lexington Art League until closing date.

Arts, Entertainment, Theatre

Athens West: ‘Mockingbird’ Flying High

Photo: Emily Reed as Scout

Thursday, November 20th, sees the opening night of To Kill a Mockingbird,the second play in the AthensWest inaugural season. After the first play of the season, Doubt,met with critical and commercial success, the new theatre group is pressing forward, changing the face of Lexington Theatre. Joining me to talk about Mockingbird,AthensWest, and the new vision of theatre in this region, are Jeff Day and Mark Mozingo, co-founders of Lexingtons newest theatre group.

UM:   Jeff, thanks for taking time to talk about the show and Athens. What was the process that brought about Mockingbird as the second show in the season?

JD:    Well, it’s pertinent to now. What’s going on today is what was happening when Harper Lee wrote the book in 1960.

UM:   Such a well-known book and it translates well as a play. Did the release of the new Lee novel have any bearing on the board’s decision.

JD:    Of course. We knew Lee was very much in the public eye with her new book, and we knew this would be an incredible play to put up.

Harper Lees novel, Go Set a Watchman,was published this year and contains many of the same characters from her classic story. The film of To Kill a Mockingbirdappeared a few years after its publication and starred Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall. It stands as one on the all-time classics of American cinema. Lee said of Horton Footes screenplay: its one of the best translations of a book to film ever made.

 UM:   AthensWest is housed at the Downtown Arts Center, correct?

JD:    Yes. The Center was taken over by Parks and Recreation and we have a wonderful working relationship with them. We’re all highly affiliated with LexArts as well. The coming together of many arts groups, we feel, is what Lexington has been needing for many years.

UM:   How did AthensWest come about?

JD:    We started initially because we had the dream of creating an Equity theatre in Lexington. For so long a time there has been no Equity theatre and we were wanting to up the standard, not from the standpoint of having only Equity actors, but having the guidelines that professional theaters outside of Lexington must have.

UM:   For those who may not know, Actors’ Equity is a professional organization that actors can belong to. Most Equity actors are encouraged to take roles only in productions sanctioned by Equity.

JD:    Right. It also ensures that actors get a decent wage for their time and effort and so on. This has been a big struggle for actors in this region for years, where weeks and months would be spent on a show, many times needing to take time off from day jobs or being away from family with no compensation other than your name in a playbook. In Spring of 2014, I put a big proposal together, I met with the mayor, and I’d already been in conversation with Bo List. Bo and I started meeting on a regular basis. I was in a production of Twelfth Night and one evening, after a performance, Bo came to me and said, “let’s do Doubt,” which became Athens first play. We held open auditions. Bo and I were doing everything at first, then we enlisted Mark and Kate Goodwin.

UM:   And by Mark, you mean Mark Mozingo, who we happen to have here with us. Mark, thanks for joining us.

MM:   Glad to be here.

UM:   What is your role at AthensWest, Mark. No pun intended. (no laughs)

MM:   I’m officially the Director of Outreach.

UM:   Unlike Jeff, you’re from this area, correct?

MM:   Yes. I’m a Winchester boy. I moved back here from New York City, where I had been acting professionally since 2006.

UM:   What caused you to move home?

MM:   My father had taken ill and I moved back to support.

UM:   Sorry to hear that. Mockingbird is an interesting play to take on; the racial issues alone are palpable.

MM:   It’s challenging hearing the “n” word every night. It’s shocking to hear white actors using the word in it’s original hateful context, and I think it’s important for audiences to experience that too.  It’s jarring.  It’s upsetting.  Not just challenging; it’s an ugly part of our national history.

UM:   Surely. Do you feel times have changed?

MM:   Perhaps. It’s 2015, this was set in 1935. We like to think things have changed so much; maybe they have and maybe they haven’t. We did “Scout’s Honor: To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Public Library on November 9th. One of the key issues discussed was: where does the law come in on things like racism?

UM:   Were there any good answers?

MM:   Varied. What is certain is the viewpoint of Atticus in the play.

UM:   Atticus Finch, you mean. The lawyer.

MM:   Yes. He believes that everyone is indeed equal in the eyes of the law. It’s such a subjective thing, though. Is it that we’re all equal by right of birth, by being born American? What constitutes equality? Atticus took on the case because he believed in the equality of the law. It’s also shocking and powerful to hear the dialogue of 1935, not just racial slurring.

UM:   Tom Robinson, the slighted black man in Mockingbird, is played by Patrick Mitchell.

MM:   Yes, and he’s wonderful. Patrick is one of the founding members of The Message Theatre here in Lexington, along with former Poet Laureate, Frank X. Walker. Tom Robinson is a challenging, racially-charged part to play. At one point in the play, Atticus is asked: “do all lawyers defend negroes?” It’s hard to know if Atticus is really that color-blind or if he truly was invested in the belief that all are equal under the law.

UM:   One would like to think in this day and age, unlike in the 1930s, racism would be thought of as a learned behavior.

MM:   Maybe by some, not by all.

UM:   I suppose we can point to many recent events to see that racial intolerance is alive and well.

MM:   It’s interesting that there was such a mood of equality in the 1960s, right after the book was written. I haven’t read the new novel by Lee, but apparently Finch isn’t as equality-minded as he was in Mockingbird.

When To Kill a Mockingbirdfirst appeared in 1960, it was a huge hit. It then won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1961. Gregory Peck won the Oscar for Best Actor for playing Atticus Finch in 1962 and Lee was appointed to the National Arts Council in 1966 by then-President Lyndon Johnson. 

UM:   So, the question arises, was Finch always this way, or was the character developed from trending times. Did Lee become more intolerant and it bled through to her characters?

MM:   Hard to say.

UM:   I did read where the manuscript to Go Set a Watchman, which was published earlier this year, was the original incarnation of Mockingbird. Mark, How did you come to be involved with AthensWest?

MM:   Bo and I reconnected and we met with Jeff, Margo Buchanan and Leslie Beatty. We talked about what professional theatre meant to us and what it could mean to central KY.

UM:   Jeff, I worked with you over at Asbury, you’ve been there now, what, 12 years?

JD:    Yes.

UM:   And you came to Kentucky by way of LA and Utah, right?

JD:    I spent time in LA and I did an MFA at the University of Utah.


Kevin Crowley is Atticus Finch and Emily Reed as Scout.

UM:   And you’ve been tasked with directing Mockingbird.

JD:    Yes, and it’s been wonderful. For transparency’s sake, I must say, however, that I did step down from the board; there are just too many irons in the fire between my role at Asbury, maintaining a professional career, and other projects. I will remain at Athens from a creative standpoint, which is perfect for me, as I’ve always been an idea guy. I like to get stuff started.

UM:   I know getting an equity theatre going has been a dream and goal of yours for some time, Jeff. What process did you have to go through to make it happen.

JD:    It’s odd, because so many people act like it’s a huge thing; really, it was just a matter of filling out the proper paperwork. We have become a full Equity company, officially carrying the SPT3 (Small Professional Theatre) status. To meet the parameters of this, we have to hire at least two equity actors per show. Many actors in the community would like to eventually become Equity but haven’t had the opportunity in Lexington, because shows are non-equity and therefore are not given credit and weight in the eyes of equity. It is with enough of these credits that Actors Equity finally grants an actor their Equity Card. For those who are not full equity, we have negotiated the Equity Candidacy Program, which allows non-equity members to receive credit, thereby moving them closer to obtaining their card.

UM:   That sounds like a great program. I know a lot of actors in the community who have struggled with this issue for years. Mark, how else do you think this might change theatre in Lexington?

MM:   There’s not a lot of room for favoritism or precasting roles, which has been a sore spot in Lexington for a long time. We’re trying to do it the right way. When we say we want to engage this community and Central KY with quality theatre, we mean it.

JD:    When we cast this show, there were open auditions and we didn’t have anyone in mind. It was a blank slate. We have a lot of people in this cast who would like to have a career in acting and they can join equity eventually, if they want to, given these experiences.

MM:   Working in New York as I did for years, there’s simply no room in a community like that for playing favorites and boosting egos; what’s important is who is the best candidate for the job. Shoo-ins and preconceptions are out.

UM:   Do you feel this has been an issue in the past?

MM:   Not with all theatre in Lexington, but yes.

UM:   Aside from the credits actors will receive and the base pay, which I’m sure they love, how do you think this will affect the quality of shows?

MM:   There’s a difference between going to see a union show with professional actors vs. non-professionals. There’s a level of training there that may not be present in non-equity. Is it true that there are great actors who don’t have their cards and crappy ones who do? Yes. Is it more likely you’ll have a performance standard that will make you happy you invested your time, money, and effort to come out in the evening with an Equity-backed show? Definitely.

UM:   So, it’s like having your uncle over to fix your sink. He knows a little something about plumbing, and he does a great job, though he may not be bonded and licensed as a plumber. Then, there are numerous stories of licensed plumbers whose work isn’t the best quality; you call them two days later to do the same repair.

MM:   Yes. The time is right for Lexington Theatre to move up. A lot of times, when you’re in a union, you can’t get work if you are in a denser area like New York City or LA. Here, there are many roles with open auditions; the opportunities are vast. This is especially true since there are so many Equity theaters in Kentucky: Actors Theatre of Louisville, Jenny Wiley has a huge operation going. When you’re in a community where there’s not a huge scene for theatre, but there are some roles to be had, it is a point of pride to get your card and be in a process where the bar is intentionally set a bit higher. As a union actor, it was a big deal for me to negotiate along with the others at Athens West, this contract that is helping to open the door for Lexington and give more value and credence to our artistic community.

UM:   Is Athens going to expand its season?

JD:    Next year we want to shoot for four shows, but it may stay at three; we’ll have to wait and see.

MM:   We’re happy we’ve been able to do this three-show season.

UM:   What’s next?

JD:    We have Bo List directing 33 Variations for February, which has already been cast.

MM:   And then Margo Buchanan will direct Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge, which is a Bluegrass musical. Michael Hume will be the musical director for it.

UM:   Do you usually announce your auditions?

MM:   Yes. People can check our Facebook page.

JD:    We also have an email set up for audition inquiries as well:

UM:   Terrific. And a website?


All Photos by Patrick J Mitchell

Arts, Broadway, Entertainment

Producers Lead has Kentucky Return in Mind

This weekend sees five performances of The Producers at the Lexington Opera House. The musical, which first appeared on Broadway in 2001, has become a smash-hit adaptation of Mel Brooks’ 1968 debut film of the same title. Playing Leo Bloom, the lovable neurotic originated by Gene Wilder, is Richard Lafleur. Here’s my conversation with Richard about the show, himself, and theatre in general.

Richard Lafleur as Leo Bloom and Jessica Ernest as Ulla in THE PRODUCERS

Richard Lafleur as Leo Bloom and Jessica Ernest as Ulla in THE PRODUCERS

UM: How long have you been on the road and how long is this tour?

RL: Almost a month. We end in mid-March, after 50 cities.

UM: Have the reviews and audiences been as expected?

RL: Well, we’ve been mostly in the northeast for the first part of the tour, and they all have loved the performances, so we’re excited to see what Lexington will think.

UM: Even with that kind of challenging schedule you must be riding high to have landed such a great role.

RL: It’s hard for me to believe. I didn’t initially see myself as Leo; the part had to grow on me quite a bit. They must have seen something in me during the audition process.

UM: So, you went through the process from beginning to end, it wasn’t a shoo-in?

RL: No. I went through the whole deal. I graduated this past December and saw they were casting Producers. I had been doing musicals on cruise ships and some of the material was getting a bit stale for me, so I went for it.

UM: You are from Montreal, right?

RL: Yes. Canadian. Not so much theatre in Montreal. I did a few plays in high school. I wound up getting into AMDA for musical theatre. 

UM: The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.

RL: Right. After that it was off to the cruise ships and while we were docked in Southampton, I wound up auditioning at the Bristol Old Vic.

The Old Vic is one of the best-loved and most-revered theaters in the world, boasting colossal talents like Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Peter O’Toole.

UM: I’ll bet that was quite an experience.

RL: Incredible. The work ethic alone is outstanding. There is zero margin for error and excellence is expected daily. It was a 2-year course.

UM: I would imagine the classics were worked thoroughly.

RL: Oh, yes. I did a lot of Shakespeare there and it was wonderful. There are many terrific and well-known actors who are still very invested in the place, it being their alma mater. Daniel Day-Lewis, Patrick Stewart; the list is long.

UM: Any fun shows you particularly liked?

RL: Comedy of Errors and Northanger Abbey are up there.

UM: Comedy or drama? Preference?

RL: I feel more at home with comedy than straight drama.

UM: ‘A very serious business,’ like George Burns always said.

RL: Yes. Playing comedy for laughs doesn’t work.

UM: The impeccable timing needed for comedy goes hand-in-hand with musical ability. Do you feel working the classics really enhanced your musical theatre chops?

RL: Absolutely. If you notice, many of the men and women getting choice roles for television and film today are Brits, most of whom are people deeply grounded in the classics. They not only have a solid foundation in their craft, but they have spent a great deal of time with the pieces that have stood the test of time.

UM: Examples?

RL: Benedict Cumberbatch. We already mentioned Patrick Stewart.

UM: Are there some Americans, or even Canadians you admire who are similarly rooted in the classic training?

RL: Kevin Spacey. American actor rooted in the classics.

UM: I heartily agree.

RL: When I was studying at the Old Vic, Peter O’Toole passed away. Spacey had become the Artistic Director at the Old Vic some time ago and he came to speak to us after O’Toole’s death and it was amazing being able to talk with him.

UM: He seems to be a real presence and he definitely seems rooted in classical training.

RL: Yes. There’s just something about that training that allows one to be available to many venues.

UM: To have a wider palette?

RL: Exactly.

UM: Producers debuted in 2001 at the St. James Theatre.

RL: Yes. Susan Stroman directed that production. She’s won a Tony Award for it, and she actually came and gave her blessing to our production before we started the tour.

UM: That must’ve been empowering.

RL: It was great.

UM: Who directed this show?

RL: Nigel West, who is terrific . He’s had a massive amount of experience as an assistant director, particularly with Producers, so he is a wonderful source for the material  and knowing what works.

Nigel West started with the Bristol Old Vic in 1983. His credits are many from not only the Old Vic, but many other theatre associations abroad. He was a part of the original, 3-year Producers, tour and is well-known in professional theatre circles.

UM: Was there a tendency or desire on West’s part to rehash the original production? Matthew Broderick had originated the musical Leo Bloom under Stroman. Was there a sense of ‘let’s just replicate that’?

RL: Well, Nigel asked us to be true to the original Broadway production, but to bring a lot of our own stock to the show.

UM: Do you think you fall more on the Wilder side of Leo, or the Broderick?

RL: I’d say in-between. Maybe leaning just a bit more to Wilder.

UM: How so?

RL: Well, I had done quite a bit of research stemming from Wilder. I read Gene Wilder’s bio and he mentioned that Leo Bloom had been based on a character Mel Brooks knew. This, to me, smacked of a realism that helped the character come across as truthful to audiences.

UM: Do you feel this has given the character its longevity as well?

RL: Probably. There was a lot more material in the original script. I mean the Brooks screenplay. Satirizing something as serious as Hitler is a timeless thing anyway, but it feels like Brooks was really saying it’s important to be able to laugh at evil.

UM: Perhaps laughing about it disarms it somehow? Disempowers it?

RL: I think so. The musical script didn’t go into the same kind of depth, but it had its own feel. It really lives in the land of the surreal. Everything’s over-the-top.

UM: With a lot of truth underlying.

RL: Yes. Wilder himself said he felt it was the truth of the script, of the story, that gave it such power. It’s really a love story.

UM: Love story?

RL: Yes. Between Max and Leo.

Richard Lafleur as Bloom and David Johnson as Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS

Richard Lafleur as Bloom and David Johnson as Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS

UM: Max Bialystock, the role originated by Zero Mostel in the film.

RL: And Nathan Lane in the musical, yes.

UM: I could see that: that the two loved each other.

RL: Yes. It really comes across in the original film, and even if you watch the film version of the musical with Lane and Broderick.

UM: Despite all of their shenanigans, they seem to need each other.

RL: Yes. Leo is the everyman, the lens through which you see everything else happening. Leo goes from 0-60 in two minutes, so it’s difficult to get that pacing down. When he gets the blue blanket taken away, he goes crazy.

UM: And somehow Max is his comfort or something he can turn to?

RL: Yes.

UM: Do you feel you developed this relationship with your co-star?

RL: Definitely. David Johnson plays Max. He’s done three national tours before and a lot of regional theatre. It’s great playing opposite him. From day one when we started rehearsing it, it went well.

UM: It would seem trust is huge with two roles that are interlocked like these two.

RL: It would be impossible to do without that sense of trust and creative play.

UM: What about the rest of the cast?

RL: They are the most fantastically gifted group I’ve ever worked with. It was cast so well; they are their roles. Even when technically something goes awry, the practice pulls us through because everyone is so gifted and because we all know each other. It’s great we get along because, as you know, we spend a lot of time together.

UM: Are there other roles you’d like to land?

RL: I’d love to play Finch in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Hamlet. If they ever do the Frankie Valli story…

UM: Do you have any idea of what you’ll do after the run?

RL: Ironically, my brother lives in Louisville and he suggested that I come and audition for the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival and I think I might just do that.

UM: Awesome. Kentucky would love to see more of you.

RL: I hope so.

UM: Thanks again for the interview Richard and break a leg Friday.

RL: Thanks, Charles, and we will.

The Lexington Opera House run of The Producers, will feature the following five showings.



SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15; 1:00PM & 6:30PM

Please call (859)233-4567 to reserve tickets or to order online:



Arts, Entertainment

All About the Alloy

The echoes of Rosalind Krauss’ 1979 article, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” still reverberate in our museums, parks, and galleries. Before the 19th century, sculpture was often bound to a specific location – its ponderous pedestal fused it to the ground, connecting a figurative image with its commemorative site. However, and as Krauss deduces, there came a time when sculpture began to evolve and absorb the cumbersome pedestal. The field ruptured, and from the fissures emerged nomadic abstractions. Modern sculpture became “homeless,” able to showcase its materials or process of construction, instead of merely conveying the meaning of its site[1]. Indeed, Krauss’ article is over three decades old – but I think its continued resonance is indicative of the questions still posed by contemporary sculpture.

Wrought, which shows now through August 8th at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington, exemplifies (yet, also challenges) many of the underlying themes posited by Krauss. Material and process become subject matter, hence the exhibition’s referential title.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Wrought exhibition at the City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, KY. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Ann Smith.

Wrought exhibition at the City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, KY. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Ann Smith.

Erika Strecker, Colloquial, Copper, steel, string. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Smith.

Gordon Gildersleeve, The Key to Breaking the Ice, stainless steel, oak, acrylic resin. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Smith.

Wrought brings together eighteen works of metal by four locally based sculptors: Gordon Gildersleeve, Andy Light, Rod Lindauer, and Erika Strecker. Ranging in scale from massive constructions of steel to small hanging forms, each work maintains conceptual autonomy while at the same time contributing to the aesthetic theme of worked steel. Some works are more representational – Gildersleeve’s Goat and Chicken loosely convey their original subjects’ features. Other sculptures channel 1960’s minimalism, like Strecker’s exceptionally crafted Uplift. In sum, Wrought engages with broad and longstanding discourse.

The Downtown Arts Center is a large building, but finding Wrought is no challenge. Andy Light’s Miasmata, which dominates the first-floor entrance, creates a certain distance with its audience. Because of its top-heavy structure, one has to maneuver around its oppressive and cavernous architecture. Parts of Light’s sculpture are almost completely inaccessible: a closer inspection renders it a maze of steel with nooks and crannies for shadows to hide.  However reclusive in its entirety, the sculpture’s details prove visually rewarding. Miasmata bears the scars of its making, with eye-catching seams, scrapes, and distinct tonal abrasions.

The gallery’s front window is home to two of Lindauer’s stainless steel sculptures, and their placement is well calculated. Rays interacts with both the outside sunlight and the architecture of Main Street. The sculpture’s luminous surface seems to react to – instead of merely reflect – its surroundings. Beneath the slender beams of metal lies a slab of marble (although this is not listed in the object label.) Dependent on the time of day, the marble’s surface acts as a mirror. It responds to the sunlight and depicts a reverse image of the adjacent buildings. Lindauer’s Time After Time, made of the same slinky stainless steel, rests against the nearest corner. Although borderline kitsch, the oversized infinity symbol projects intriguing shadows on the gallery wall.

Although some works require less space, they are just as engrossing. Three of Strecker’s hanging sculptures, What a Tool, Ascent, and Colloquial, stand out in their excellence. Perhaps it is their minimalist aesthetic – simple lines, shapes, and solid craftsmanship – that showcase the steel’s versatility as a material. Her work could be seen as an attempt to recapture, or perhaps redefine, what it means to work with metal. In Strecker’s diverse sculptures, steel is successfully incorporated with other organic materials – gold, wood, and copper – to create intriguing combinations of color and texture.

Gildersleeve’s sculptures range from small abstracted animals to a psychedelic loveseat, but his conceptual works shape steel into more interesting forms. The Key to Breaking the Ice utilizes early modernist principles. Like the majority of the freestanding sculptures in Wrought, his medium-sized works project layered geometric shadows contingent on the natural and artificial gallery light.

Wrought is well produced, but parts of its underlying theme get lost in the odd commercial setting of the back corner. I was unsure if the posters and accompanying postcards, located in the back nook of the gallery, were included in the show. In addition, Strecker’s lamp, Effervesce II, seems misplaced entirely. It ultimately detracts from the cohesive visuals evident throughout the entrance, and seems an odd fit when compared to the rest of her exhibited sculpture.

A first walk-through proved frustrating, as there are no artist statements or pieces of information available to provide context. However, this seems to reflect the modernist conundrum Krauss describes in “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” Without context (or “pedestals”), maybe Wrought is meant to non-verbally showcase the multifaceted medium of steel and the many ways it can be shaped.

[1] See Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (Spring 1979), 30-44.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music, Uncategorized

And Her Name is Jazz!

Les McCann with Jazz Whatley Cole, the very first scholarship recipient of the Les McCann School For the Arts

This past Saturday night, my husband and I headed down to the Lyric Theater to hear Les McCann again! Les and Javon Jackson rocked the house and occassionally cradled us too. Mike has fond memories of hearing Les play when he was younger; those memories take him back to his early years in Lexington, Kentucky. For your listening pleasure, here is one of his favorites: Every Time I See A Butterfly.

That same night the Les McCann School for the Arts (LMSA) announced their inaugural scholarship recipient and her name is Jazz Whatley Cole.  Jazz is an amazing young woman, a theater major in SCAPA since 4th grade where she concentrating much of her time with the extracurricular activities in the costume department.

She is an aspiring fashion designer, starting Jazz Cole Designs during her freshman year at Lafayette High School. Last year as a junior, she was accepted into the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles, CA. This scholarship will help her make that transition.

It was a big night for both her and the namesake of this award; that same day Les McCann was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Kentucky. UnderMain would like to thank Chester Grundy, Everett McCorvey and Dave McWhorter for all of their hard work in honoring this jazz great.

Also to Gus Puerdikakis (Les’ mean cowbell brother) whose generosity has made this award possible along with the teaching of music, photography, jewelry making and fashion design to so many in our community.

Overall, I believe creativity doesn’t just occur by it’s self, something has to catch your eye, something has to inspire you to whatever it is that you do and are truly passionate about. Therefore, if you can conceive it, and you believe it, then you can achieve it! – Jazz Cole

For more information on the School for the Arts, contact Denise Brown, artistic director for the LMSA. at

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts

You Are Here


A Review of Great Meadows: The Making of Here

When a book is truly exceptional, it can transport its readers elsewhere. For a moment, physical place and imagined location are unhinged — the reader is no longer bound to their sofa or chair, but can wander freely through another world. The mind is at once absent and present: taken from one location and placed in another. Great Meadows: The Making of Here acts as a portal not only to The Shands’ residence and collection, but a testament to the tenor within its walls. Indeed, it is more than a book — it is an extension of the Shands’ life and home.

Al Shands is an Episcopal Priest and author, as well as an award-winning filmmaker, with over thirty-five documentary films to his credit. His late wife, Mary Norton Shands, an activist in cultural affairs, co-founded and was first President of the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation (now KMAC).

Great Meadows presents an intimate look in to the making of the Shands’ residence, and provides a comprehensive backstory to the architecture, collection, and collectors. The book avoids a pedantic introduction — readers are instead encouraged to “dive right in” through excerpts from A Career and Selected Projects by the architect, David Morton. Part of Morton’s allure is his simplicity: he comments that the Shands’ residence was graphed by pocket calculator, pencil, and paper — no computers or technical drafting aids. The completed project is prodigious yet modest: Great Meadows can accommodate up to one hundred and fifty guests for dinner, but at the same time, remain intimate enough for two people.[1]

Small yet powerful gestures contained within the book’s pages hide in every nook and cranny — “easter eggs” for the reader to stumble upon. In between two pages of Morton’s excerpts is a copy of Reverend Shands’ penned speech from the opening reception of Great Meadows in September 1988, printed on the same delicate paper and typeface one might encounter in a bible. Before he began collecting with his late wife Mary, Shands founded an Episcopal church in Washington D.C., and these inserts, which continue throughout the book, stand as physical reminders of his history.

Spearheaded and edited by independent curator and contributing author Julien Robson (previously affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Speed Art Museum), Great Meadows boasts essays from critics, curators, poets, and artists — all whom have connected, in some time and place, with the Shands. This includes but is not limited to such figures as Peter Morrin, former director of the Speed Museum, Glenn Adamson, author and critic, Alice Gray Stites, current director of 21c Museum Hotels, Maya Lin, sculpture and landscape artist (and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.), and sound artist Stephen Vitiello. Each essay is specific to the book — they are documents of their respective authors’ connection and relationship with Alfred and Mary Shands.

Perhaps the most poignant essay is authored by John Yau, renowned poet and writer. Although the book is lined with vibrant color photos, “In Time, With Al Shands” is even more vivid — Yau’s imagery is a transformative journey, allowing the reader to silently accompany. Indeed, I forgot where I was for a moment while reading his words; I was observing a conversation between friends, weaving through the beautiful architecture that makes one feel as though they are both inside and outside at the same time, and slowly coming to understand the relationship between the art, the home, and the collectors.

Blurring the lines between art object and book, Great Meadows features stunning high-resolution photographs in addition to architectural drawings and artist sketches. Capturing the essence of site-specific artwork is no easy feat, but the photographers convey both the texture and presence of each installation. The office, home to Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #1082 (2003) is presented through fifteen images, varying in size and scale. The proceeding blank page is representative of the white space above the office door, only visible just before exiting the room. Truly, these small details are what render this project an “index of experience” rather than a book.

Entire pages of Great Meadows are devoted to a single color. The intensity of Anish Kapoor’s yellow concave disc, Untitled (1999), can be partially experienced on page sixty-five through a full-color experience – sans its warping of sound, which is only evident through encountering it in Rev. Shands’ first-floor walkway. It is as if every angle of the home is carefully documented, acting as a record of the artworks’ interaction with the architecture, and vice versa.

Each work, both inside and outside of the residence, is carefully selected and thoughtfully placed to engage with both the architecture and the viewer. Indeed, Rev. Shands is a mindful collector; you will find no large art storage area within the walls of Great Meadows. Although some works migrate throughout the house from time to time, they each have a space and that space is documented throughout the book’s bright pages.

Perhaps this is why the making Great Meadows is so important: the book will serve as documentation of site — a physical reminder of what was — when the artwork is separated from the home upon the passing of its owner. Rev Shands has bequeathed his collection to Louisville, Kentucky’s Speed Art Museum, and one day it will make the journey to its new permanent home on South Third Street. “A vital part of the collection is the way that you share it with others,” he states in the book’s conversation with Alice Gray Stites.[2] Indeed, the entirety of Great Meadows: The Making of Here fulfills that very statement.

Great Meadows: The Making of Here is available in limited edition through Hatje Cantz.

[1] David Morton, A Career and Selected Notes in Great Meadows: The Making of Here (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 12.

[2] Al Shands, “Excerpts from a Conversation with Alice Gray Stites” in Great Meadows: The Making of Here (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 121.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music

Young Composers Chosen for LexPhil’s New Music Experiment

The Lexington Philharmonic’s New Music Experiment, in partnership with the CKYO Symphony Orchestra, fosters the next generation of talent by offering young composers the opportunity to receive feedback from professional conductors and musicians, and hear their compositions performed. Works by four young composers have been selected to be work-shopped and performed to the public at LexPhil’s New Music Experiment on April 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm at Bryan Station High School.

At the concert

43 composers from 35 cities, 21 states and 6 countries (USA, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, Germany) submitted works to be considered by LexPhil Music Director and Conductor Scott Terrell and Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Daniel Chetel. From undergraduates to doctoral candidates, diverse backgrounds and levels of education and experience were represented in the applicant pool. The composers selected are Luke Flynn (Butler University) for his work “Quiet Snow”, composer Desmond Ikegwuonu (Forth Worth, TX) for his work “Gaba N’iru”, composer Thomas Schuttenhelm (Hartford, CT) for his work “When the surface should suffice”, and Roydon Tse (University of Toronto) for his work “Jest.”

Under Terrell’s direction, selected composers will hear their works played and receive feedback from participants to further develop their work. The selected compositions will be played by members of the CKYO Symphony Orchestra with LexPhil musicians serving as section leaders. This format is a wonderful opportunity for CKYO students to experience an in-depth intensive experience learning a lot of new music and working with living composers. While rehearsals for the New Music Experiment are private, the final performance of NME selections will be a working recording session which is open to the public on Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm in Bryan Station High School’s auditorium.

Arts, Entertainment, News, Uncategorized

Kuhn in the Congo – who knew?

UnderMain would like to acknowledge the work of another one of our own: Christine Kuhn. Last year Kuhn was among four muralists to participate in a cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Kuhn worked with Congolese artists and students from November to December 2014 to create murals in Kinshasa, Matadi and Bukavu. Back home in Lexington, Kentucky, we knew nothing of it – Kuhn received no coverage.

For more on her experiences, check out her blogpost.

Kuhn is a working artist, art teacher and activist specializing in using art to empower non-artists and to promote liberal social change. She holds degrees in biology, chemistry and diplomacy and is a graduate of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Training Program.

“My art focuses on expressing right-brain, non-rational experiences–emotion, passion, humor, fear, symbolism, in short, the magical and mystical elements of existence,” Christine told us. “I have exhibited widely throughout the Southeastern US, in Central America, Africa and in Bulgaria and have received numerous grants from the Kentucky Arts Council, LexArts and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.”

If you are not familiar with Kuhn’s work or you just need another dose, stop by Source on High during LexArts’ May Gallery Hop for her solo exhibition – that’s Friday, May 15th – or, find these murals in and around the Lexington area. Do you know where they are? UnderMain would like to know that you know. Find them, take selfies, send them to and watch this article grow!

Arts, Entertainment, News

Nam June Paik

Buddha Face with Red Background

Golden Buddha watches us watching ourselves. Check out the highlights of the Art Basel Hong Kong. According to Sarah Douglas with ArtNews, Nam June Paik may have stolen the show.

Did you know that Nam June Paik received significant help from the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati very early in his career? With his retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1982 Paik was already recognized as a pioneer, however he was in need of supplies and a studio and Solway provided this beginning in 1983.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music

Holy Björk! MoMA’s Controversial Show

at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, 03-25-01

MoMA’s current reverential multimedia, multi-floor, multi-everything homage to Icelandic pop icon, Björk, has certainly generated polarized reactions from the arts community, critics, and the public.  Washington Post art critic Phillip Kennicott has an interesting and provocative take on the show and how the “experience economy has invaded the museum”.

Does Pop consume everything in its path, including art, as Kennicott writes?  Or are shows like this essential not only for the survival of esteemed institutions but also to get people in the museum who might not otherwise come?

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, News, Politics, Uncategorized

White Ring: Reflections on the words of Wendell Berry

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

‘The survival of literacy in an age of illiteracy may require us to remember how physical, how much of the senses, the life of literacy is.’ – Wendell Berry (courtesy of the Carnegie Center, Lexington, Kentucky.)

I was sitting on the only piece of paper within reach – an oversize name tag reserving my chair for the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony of Wendell Berry. The paper was beige, dull, and heavy – not really of a character to form any sort of story. The letters of my name were nicely printed on it, each had serifs that matched the decorative embellishments framing the length of my name top and bottom.

Like a mother hen to egg; I guarded it as though it was something very special. The piece of paper was after all saving a chair for me in the front room of the Carnegie Center amidst some of the most dedicated writers, journalists, editors, and publishers in all of Kentucky. Equally important: I knew the opposite side of it was blank.

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007), Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) and Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) were inducted that night too. Excerpts from the writings of each was selected as carefully as were the readers of them.  Ron Whitehead read Hunter S. Thompson’s words with a volume that was maybe intended to mimic Thompson’s humor but played more clearly as the rawness of life in the absence of his long-lost friend.

Mary Ellen Miller whispered through weaker vocal chords; reminiscing – with a melancholy that each of us could sense – on her late husband’s work.  Neil Chethik’s clear articulation as he introduced Wendell Berry removed any need for us to explain why we were there.

For me, each of the voices that spoke that night resounded more intently than the words spoken. There was something in the act of reading them aloud. They were comforting, familiar, communal sounds that we all know and I hope will continue to know.

Then, it was quiet as Wendell Berry – the first living inductee to be honored into the Hall of Fame – stepped up to read what he must have prepared as an acceptance speech. But, his cadence, his tonality, his sincerity and humility, and the words that filled the then hot room in the Carnegie Center on that cold January night in Lexington, Kentucky were a marked call-to-action.

No electronic devices, scratchings of pen on paper or the turning of pages interrupted as Berry made reference to many urgent public issues. He emphatically stated that in Kentucky we have no way to vet our concerns, no public forum, no healthy outlet for the a much needed dialogue about many things including the writings of Kentucky authors. There was only silence as he spoke of the ‘cloud of silence’. Postures shifted. I gently pulled the piece of paper from its resting place.

Berry continued noting that here in Kentucky ‘we have a sufficiency of writers of books, publishers of books, and readers of books, but no space for related public discourse.’ We roost with eyes closed, content on expressing our opinions in what has now become our public – the semi-private world of the Facebook and Twitter. As Leon Wieseltier notes in Among the Disrupted (New York Times, January 7, 2015) what we prefer now is a ‘twittering cacophony’ where alacritous and terse one-liners grant the highest of merits – a like, a comment. Cackling hens that only ding.

As the co-publisher of a young, fully digital magazine dedicated to arts and culture in Kentucky, I left feeling a keen sense of responsibility – not to explain what Wendell Berry had said, but to more fully understand it for myself. How much time do we have before something more significant is lost? What is my responsibility in the digital age? How can I help move us beyond what Wieseltier describes as the ‘lag between invention in the apprehension of its consequences’?

We cannot explain it fully, but my fellow UnderMain-ers and I have agreed to bring to our readers and our listeners reviews of books by Kentucky authors as well as the occasional reading. Just as in Berry’s move back to Kentucky, we might find sustenance in a new iteration of the sounding pages.

We thank the Carnegie Center for hosting the induction and for inviting us to attend. For a copy of the full text of Wendell Berry’s speech, click here.

For The Explainers
Spell the spiel of cause and effect
Ride the long rail of fact after fact;
What curled the plume of the Drake’s tail
and put the white ring around his neck?

– Wendell Berry

All, Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, News, Uncategorized

Our Conversation with Nan Plummer – First of Many

UnderMain would like to welcome Nan Plummer to the position of LexArts President and CEO.  What you are about to read is a recent and very casual conversation between Nan, my UnderMain colleague Tom Martin, and myself. Nan is a new-arrival on Planet Lexington and there is so much to discuss with her about the arts in our community as well as the broader Central Kentucky region. UnderMain is committed not only to opening this dialogue, but to continuing it in a series of discussions throughout the year. In future interviews, I hope to expand upon some of the concepts raised, including the viability of a United Arts Fund model for raising and granting monies and what that means for area arts organizations large and small; the role of the non-traditional arts from dance to music to the visual arts; the current state of theater; our specific history with public art; and our present and future opportunities for both the public and private sectors. Just as we consulted some of you about questions for this initial interview, your opinions and input are necessary for this conversation to evolve. We invite your thoughts via the UnderMain Facebook page.

Nan with her daughter, Maggie.

Nan with Communications Director Maury Sparrow and Operations Manager Alma Kajtazovic.

Nan with Nathan Zamarron, LexArts Community Arts Manager, and J. David Smith, Jr., Stoll Keenon Ogden and LexArts Grants Chair

Nan with Liz Swanson, artist, designer, and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Kentucky College of Design

Nan with Allison Kaiser – Executive Director, LexPhil

Christine: Welcome Nan, and thank you for joining UnderMain today. Let’s begin by learning a little about your background and what attracted you to this position with LexArts.

Nan:   There are a bunch of things that drew me to this position. My whole career has been in the arts, mostly the visual arts, and in museums with really strong performing arts components, performing arts, and music especially. I’ve been on a diversion into being a full-time, frontline fundraiser for Arkansas Children’s Hospital – a place I have adored for a long time. And, it was just time for me to get back into the arts and take what I’ve learned in the training ground that was ACH back into something where I knew a lot more. I’ll be 60 on my next birthday and I know what I know and I do what I do. And, it occurred to me that not only would this make me happier, but I think that my best contribution will be taking what I’ve been doing for all this time and combine it with what I know and love in the arts. LexArts, because it helps so many people and so many organizations in such a broad context, just looked delicious and – you know – it just seemed like the perfect thing.

Christine: Yes, the role of the organization appears very broad in general. Do you see any real successes that you would like to continue or anything that you would like to eliminate with regard to LexArts’ recent history and its role in supporting the arts in our community?

Nan:  The big task ahead of us – because there are so many things that organizations like LexArts can do and does do across the country – is to find out what Lexington and Central Kentucky need LexArts to do right now. There are a lot of things we are very good at. The United Arts Fund model of raising money, for instance, for general operating support is not what it was in the 60’s and 70’s, but it isn’t broken and it’s still generating lots of income. So, raising money for the arts is something that I think LexArts needs to keep doing.

Tom: In that regard, LexArts has not seemed welcoming to the non-traditional music community in Lexington and I’m not sure why that is. I’m not finding fault, because I’m sure that there is some structural reason for that. Speaking for those of us who are not classical players, but nonetheless are working musicians with significant investment of funds and time and creativity, we do not feel supported by LexArts.

Nan: What would support  mean to you? Money? Which is important.

Tom: Well, it is, but it’s more than that. The compensation for what we do has to come from the market. I think we need help with marketing to the masses the fact that we have an historically vibrant music community here. Lots of songwriters, lots of musicians across a wide spectrum of genres.

Christine: It has been noted that for some in our community it appears that LexArts’  holds a primary allegiance to larger, more established organizations.

Nan: And here is the second thing I think LexArts needs to do, along with being clear about its mission: to remind people about its history. United Arts Funds were established to fund those big, grand, pillar organizations. In the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s those were the organizations that communities believed needed support in order for the arts to thrive. I think as time has gone on, people in general in UAF have figured out that an art scene is not only those great big organizations. But what would the arts be like in Lexington if those ceased to exist? So, the trick for LexArts is to remind people, this is how we got started. We don’t sit in the room and pick favorites. This is how we got started and we have to now broaden that. We tend to broaden our support maybe less quickly than the arts community springs up around us. So, while it may appear that way, it’s not a bias. Here is where we started and we can’t change where we started. That’s historical fact.

Christine: Let’s turn to our attention to the annual fund. The actual amount of funds raised for the annual fund, aside from the city’s contribution, seems very limited for a city of our size in a region as wealthy as ours. Nan, Is there anything that you think we could change to generate more giving?

Nan: Oh, absolutely. I think that there is a lot of potential to raise more money and I think that’s one of the reasons I was brought here, so that I’d spend a long time learning how to raise money. I’ve raised a lot of money for the arts in my other roles. So, sure, let’s go. There is no perfect leader for an organization, ever. No one is perfect.  Organizations, boards over time hire a series of imperfect and incomplete people whose strengths we hope  match the needs of the organization at that time. How many – have there only been two other directors?

Christine: Jim Clark was director for 14 years.  Dee Fizdale prior to that.

Nan: And the organization has changed a lot. It was founded under Dee, Jim changed it a lot. And so, they brought things that certainly I couldn’t have brought. I’m not the founder type and I’m learning everyday what my predecessor was good at that I’m not quite so good at. But, what I hope to be good at is fundraising and growing – growing the funding base and maturing LexArts’ fundraising ability so that it’s on par with the artistic activity here in Lexington. I think there’s a lot of potential. And getting back to the first question: why did I want to come here?Potential is really the core word; there is so much waiting to happen here. I’ve never seen a downtown like this, I really haven’t. It’s just the right size. I’m thinking about the skyscrapers and the lawyers and the bankers and, oh my gosh, all these artful places within walking distance. I know that there are other places like this, I’ve just never been this close to one.

Christine: And this growth, this particular sort of vibrancy is very new for Lexington. In fact, it has changed the conversation in Lexington about LexArts as a funding organization and specifically about transparency. Do you see how that that might be addressed in a more formal way? For instance, many non-profit organizations supply a 990 (a Form 990 is an annual reporting return that certain tax exempt organizations must file with the IRS).

Nan: Oh, we all must.

Christine: To my knowledge, LexArts does not make that readily available.

Nan: Of course we do – we must. If you walk into the building and ask for it, I am legally required under federal law to provide that to you within twenty four hours. You can also get it from the IRS website and you can also go to GuideStar and get it, so it’s publicly available.

Tom: This question came from somebody who’s been looking at the websites of similar organizations and found their 990’s readily available.

Nan: Oh, some organizations put it on their own website?

Tom: Uh-hm.

Nan: Making a note. Yeah, this is public information and I guess that what it always comes down to for me is, it’s not our money. If you work in a non-profit organization, it is not your money. And neither is the city money that we re-grant or the state money that we re-grant or the federal money that we pass through the other organizations or the federal money that we spend on public art projects. It’s not our money. And that’s why non-profit boards really need to take their fiduciary duty very, very seriously. I take it very seriously. And so I think part of the misunderstanding about LexArts’ affection for non-traditional arts groups is a lack of proactive transparency – education about how we make grants with the money that we raised and the money that we received.

Tom: That’s a two-way street. There will be those who just love to complain.

Nan: Yes.

Tom: But when you say, “Okay, what are you going to do about it? What are you willing to invest?” they often seem to disappear.

Nan: That’s human nature.

Tom: I think it would be really interesting to see what would happen if LexArts were to put that challenge to the non-traditional community and say to them, “We want to engage with you, you have to tell us how and you also have to tell us what you bring to the table; what can you do – you want us to do for you, what can you do for us?” Which creates…

Nan: It is a collaborative…

Tom: I’d love to see what would happen.

Nan: I’ve had a couple of conversations where arts group leaders have essentially said LexArts has favorites, ‘you sit in the room, you pick the big guys, you just – you like classical music to the exclusion of just about everything else.’ That’s not how the process goes. It’s an open grant process. There are five general operating support partners who are the core going back to when the organization was formed. And then, other organizations of almost every size may apply for project and program support. We serve as fiscal agent for organizations that aren’t even incorporated as 501(c)(3)s yet to help them get going. And so, if we’re not supporting you or we don’t seem to be interested it might be because you’ve never come to talk to us or looked into the process.

Tom: Would you say that those organizations who would like to see support from LexArts are not stepping forward and basically need to sharpen their pencils?

Nan: I think so and I think that that process, the way I understand it is that process has been ongoing – that Jim (Clark) did a great job at that, really professionalizing the application process because again, it’s not our money and when we give it away we aren’t just saying, “Oh, we love you, here you go,” “Oh, you bother me, go away.” No. They are as objective as we can make them. It’s not who we like better and who we don’t. Everybody who works at LexArts and everyone who sits on the grants committee – and it’s a committee, not the LexArts staff who makes the decisions – is a human being, last time I checked.  And so, we – we have emotions and preferences and are not immune to the things that other human beings respond to when they made judgments. So that’s why there is this process.

I’ve told my colleague, Nathan Zamarron who’s our programs guy that I think he’s brilliant, that he is a very, very good bureaucrat and that is a compliment. In fact, I would like to restore the nobility of that term. It’s a French term like amateur and dilettante that’s gotten a bad rap. A bureaucrat is someone who practices the art of the office, the art of administering public goods for the common good. And we are trying to do that really well at LexArts.

Christine: I have a specific interest in public art and have for a very long time, from Dynamic Doors in 2002 to Horse Mania to the Outdoor Mural Project and more recent developments like the murals being installed by PRHBTN. Do you have any insight there as far how LexArts might encourage more conversation about public art?

Nan: Great, great question. I am not hearing, “Okay, we’ve got enough public art, you can stop now.” I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm and it was really exciting to me that that article in Herald-Leader, which I was looking at online in the period between my hire and my arrival, that the lead story on Sunday above the fold with a big color picture is about art, I thought, woo-hoo! So it’s controversial.  Art is a topic about which thoughtful, intelligent, loving, well-educated, wonderful people can and will disagree. That’s the point. So, not everyone is going to love everything that goes up in a public or publicly visible private space. I don’t think everybody loves Bernini either. I’m not sure everybody thought that The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel was totally thrilled with it at first. So this is a process. And contemporary art is a conversation and while it can be absolutely beautiful, most artists are really asking you to engage with their idea, not to admire their technique.

Tom: One recent development that has received publicity is LexArts sponsoring a new theater group. Isn’t this a conflict of interest for an organization that has community arts organizations vying competitively for funding from LexArts?

Nan: Supporting a new theater group?

Christine: Athens West.

Nan: Support is a spectrum at LexArts and financial support for competitive grant process is not the only way we support arts organizations. Maybe some folks think it should be the only way we do that. I guess that’s the question, but it hasn’t been. And so, the short answer is: it’s not a conflict of interest, it’s a different interest. It’s a different way that LexArts supports the arts here. And it kind of goes to the question of well, how many things can you be to how many people? There are lots of resources that LexArts brings to the arts community. One of them is funding, and another is expertise. We’re a staff of five at this point, so every function has somebody’s name on it. The community has invested us with this (and by the community, I mean the whole nation) IRS tax-exempt status – it is conferred upon an organization by the people. So we use that to benefit organizations that don’t yet have them. So, that’s a long answer to that question.

Christine: The question arises at a very tumultuous time for other theater organizations.

Nan: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Tom: Theater, like many art forms in Lexington, ebbs and flows and at the moment we have some new companies that are beginning to rise. And then, there’s Balagula Theatre which has brought really provocative content to the stage.

Nan: Yes, they have been a general offering support partner at LexArts. Part of my job is getting out to see all that I can. Imagine getting paid to do that. In December, my daughter and I got to see Venus in Fur on a Friday night before the announcement of (co-director) Ryan Case’s resignation. And I was just flabbergasted because it was so good. I’ve been a theater kid all my life and while I don’t see nearly as much theater as I would like, I like to call myself an expert. I like to think I know what’s good. That was really good. I thought it was wonderful. That’s me as an arts consumer. My next task is to really get to know them as an organization and learn how can we help.  So, yeah, lots of ebb and flow at the moment and I guess Lexington should consider itself lucky that there are folks who are coming to theater.  Not everything succeeds and that’s one of the reasons that LexArts exists: to level the playing field. One of the things that I would love to see happen with increased funding to LexArts is to fund artistic startups – entrepreneurial creative endeavors.

Christine: Sure. But one of the things I think is a very serious problem is the development and retention of audience. Frequently it will be to the downfall of the organization because there’s nobody coming, there’s no one attending. Goes back to marketing…

Nan: Yeah, Michael Kaiser who wrote The Art of the Turnaround and then two more books – a kind of trilogy on arts organization management, has brought forward a model to every organization that he’s helped: great arts, aggressively marketed. The two need to exist together for success. You could have something that is aggressively marketed and if it’s no good the audience figures that out pretty fast. So, they go hand in hand. I’m not sure what that would look like in Lexington, but  think that’s something that – we already do work at, you know. For the visual arts, for example, Gallery Hop has been going on for a long time, it’s one of our oldest programs, I think.

Christine: Very successful.

Nan: Very successful. We talked about how – like every arts organization, perhaps – we need to upgrade our website.

Tom: See if my impression is correct just of your vision because I think I’m hearing something here that’s a little…

Nan: I hope I’m being consistent.

Tom: You are.  It sounds to me as if you view LexArts’ role as one which creates that level playing field and makes it possible for individuals, groups, organizations to merit consideration because they are good at articulating what they want to do. It makes it possible for them to receive support based on merits versus ‘who you know.’

Nan: Um-hm. Yeah. I like the way you said that. I think that the call from the community is: we need more, we need more, we need more. And growing an arts organization – even one like LexArts that has a long history and is sort of an institution – is a little like building Brunelleschi’s Dome: you build one course and you stand on it to build the next. It’s incremental. So, it’s matter of learning what needs most to be done next and then being able to build the resources to do that, because the temptation is to say, “Sure, we will. Oh, we’d love to do that. Yeah, let’s try.” And then, you’re not doing well at anything for anyone. And, so we need to avoid that, resist that temptation and really learn strategies about saying no to a whole bunch of good ideas. And so,  figuring out our strategy based on what we can do and who are. ‘We’ are five people, ‘we’ are this board, ‘we’ are an arts organization, ‘we’ are the organizations that feed into us, ‘we’ are our donors. You know?

Tom: One last question that was raised during the search for new leadership: Is LexArts strictly about fundraising? Or is it, in addition to fundraising, also about advocacy for the arts? And can those two things be balanced without conflicting?

Nan: (LexArts board chair) John Long has said that LexArts’ mission and vision came under scrutiny at this transitional point and they thought about it a lot. Funding and advocacy are there together. And that conflict is the nature of human existence I think and again, transparency is the best solution for when those conflicts appear. If they appear, you name them: ‘uh-oh, these things are in conflict.’ That’s not necessarily bad. Conflicts get resolved all the time. And so, if there’s a perceived conflict, call it and look at it.

Christine: Under Main exists to examine things a little more thoroughly – take them a little deeper. In fact, I would love to see a series of meetings with you that incorporate video or audio about the various topics that we’ve only broached today. We thank you Nan for your time and your dedication to the arts and look forward to what lies ahead.

Arts, Entertainment, Music

LAL Gala: The Arts in ‘Call and Response’

“Well whether we’re fancy or not we’ll be dressed fancy,” said Kentucky-based interdisciplinary artist Melissa Vandenberg as she prepared new pieces for the Lexington Art League’s Art Gala, an annual formal fundraiser.

Guests to the Saturday Art Gala can expect to see the historic Loudoun House transformed into a fully interactive symbiosis of art forms, incorporating video installations, soft sculpture and musical compositions by regional, national and international artists. International artist collective Expanded Draught and Vandenberg—both familiar faces at LAL—will be exhibiting fresh work while 21c Museum Hotel artists will be making their debut into the Lexington art community at this event.

These media will converge to create a fully experimental call and response between the individual art forms, ultimately building an augmented environment in which guests are encouraged to actively experience the art instead of simply looking at it on a wall.

The floor of Vandenberg’s studio in Richmond, where she serves as assistant professor of art at EKU, is obscured by an intricate weave of tobacco cloth, while piles of shredded paper sprout from the floors and tables like stalagmites. Pieces from Victory Without Fanfare, a culminating exhibition after Vandenberg’s summer 2014 residency at LAL, hang proudly on the walls.

Vandenberg is preparing a series of soft sculptures that incorporate iconography that have become motifs in her work, but with a new twist. Instead of neatly sewn and precisely quilted artwork, she is experimenting with super slouchy, under-stuffed forms. Vandenberg is purposefully using materials that are not precious, in hopes that the sculptures may ‘self destruct’ as guests and gallery-goers engage with them. Many of these pieces can be picked up, worn, and even thrown across the room. Placed strategically with video installations by 21c Museum Hotel artists Robert Pettena, Robin Rhode and Miguel Angel Rios, these sculptures are part of a conversation meant to evoke emotion in viewers that will move them to leave their mark on the gallery space.

“Working with white and transparent materials was something proposed by LAL,” Vandenberg said. She said the only stipulation given was to things ample but light, so as not to upstage or distract from the other pieces. There is a definite factor of unpredictability when you put three different types of artists in a show together and say, “go,” but this is the type of creative experimentation LAL knows all too well.

The opportunity for artists from different places and backgrounds to converge to form one cohesive body of work is rare. LAL as a major staple in the rising art community of Lexington is something worth promoting and celebrating in our community, and Art Gala allows guests to do just that.

“LAL is not only dedicated to promoting and serving the arts in the community,” Vandenberg said, “they are also dedicated to serving the artists in the community.”

“The Art Gala will be an unforgettable celebration of contemporary art from Lexington and beyond,” LAL Executive Director Stephanie Harris said.

Kicking and throwing sculptures around a gallery is probably not what comes to mind when one thinks of formal fundraisers, but the Lexington Art League’s upcoming Art Gala is certainly not your typical fundraiser.

The Art Gala will take place Saturday, January 17, 2015 from 7pm-11pm at the Loudoun House. Tickets on sale now here.

Arts, Entertainment, Music, Uncategorized

The Enchanting Ute Lemper: A New Year’s Concert to Remember

As 2014 comes to a close, Lexington bids farewell with a welcoming: a special New Year’s Eve performance of the incomparable chanteuse,  Ute Lemper.

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

The evening pays tribute to the sounds of the Moulin Rouge, including musical selections from Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose to Bertolt Brecht’s Surabaya Johnny.

The program begins with an orchestral Tribute Medley to the Moulin Rouge, concluding with Jacques Offenbach’s famous “Can-Can” from his satirical opera, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Ute Lemper takes the stage to perform classic French songs by some of the nation’s most beloved singers, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. After intermission, the show continues with the orchestral and cabaret selections of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

On the selection of Ute Lemper as the featured soloist of the NYE Celebration, LexPhil Music Director and Conductor, Scott Terrell describes Ute as, “an internationally acclaimed chanteuse that I am honored to bring to the LexPhil stage this season. Her range of cabaret songs from Edith Piaf to Bertolt Brecht will dazzle the audience for a truly memorable New Year’s Eve!”

Ms. Lemper, a native of Münster, Germany, spent her first eighteen years there, before traveling the world, living in Paris, and finally settling in New York City, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

I chatted by phone with Ms. Lemper, concerning her upcoming date in Lexington, her many awards and talents, and what makes her tick.

You lived in Germany until you were 18. What made you leave at that time and pursue the arts?

I was in the original Viennese production of Cats after studying in Vienna in the early 80s. This was after I graduated from the Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna.

And this led to other opportunities?

Yes. Particularly playing the original European Sally Bowles in Cabaret. This was in Paris. Then Velma Kelley in Chicago. We did that in London and New York, and I won the Olivier Award in London for the performance.

Then voice-overs for films dubbed for German-speaking audiences?

They called me to do the voice of Ariel for Disney’s Little Mermaid and for Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the German-releases, yes.

But, more than anything, you’ve become known for singing Kurt Weill, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and singers who have seemed absent in the last generation. Is that accurate?

I have quite a bit more in my repertoire, like show tunes and original songs I’ve written. As a matter of fact, I’ve been writing a lot more of my own material in recent years, but I became known for singing the songs of these artists. I put out an album in 1987 called Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill, and it was a huge success. In the early-90s I followed it with a second album of Weill’s songs and it did well too. I do Weill songs in my performances, among other pieces.

What do you feel is the common thread in your performances? What are you trying to achieve?

One common thread is to make a journey through time, to bring people on an historical journey. Making classical sounds more contemporary. But I have also fallen into this niche of keeping alive many songs that have fallen by the wayside or in some cases were purposely forgotten.

Purposely Forgotten?

Yes. Like many of the Weill songs, which were abandoned in post-war Germany because they reminded the people who lived through those times of the horrors. It’s only many years later that they can be reflected upon and brought out into the light. The wounds were too deep for decades.

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

I imagine you feel a strong connection to this, having grown up in post-war Germany?

Yes, it is part of my heritage, but this also happened when I went to live in Paris.

What exactly?

When I lived as a Parisian, I found myself becoming an ardent pupil of the French chanson. As a result, I have incorporated many of Edith Piaf’s songs and Brel’s pieces into my show.

For a sampling, here is Ute performing Piaf’s La Vie en Rose.

So you’ve become something of a torchbearer for these artists who may very well have been left behind?. 

I’m not sure if they would have been left behind, but each of them speaks to a certain time and place and the music is very good. I feel drawn to these more cabaret-style pieces. At one point I was a dancer in Maurice Bejart’s company. I paint. I have many creative and artistic outlets, but the song is what I’m really known for and what I do the most. And with my performances, they are a mish-mash of many songs, with many histories behind them. Many of the songs from one artist can sound and feel different, however. Weill is a good case in point. Like so many of his contemporaries, he had the first half of his career in Europe, then came to the States. The songs from later in his canon have a different feel than those earlier songs. This is what cabaret should be: a blending of many different tones and feelings for variety and appeal.

(Ute was part of the German reunification of artists after the Wall was torn down in 1989. She performed in Roger Waters’ staging of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, celebrating Germany’s historic move toward peace and solidarity.)

You were part of the German unification after the Wall fell?

Yes. It was and still is a complicated process, unifying the artists from East and West. While it’s had its challenges, there has been no other day like it in history. Unbelievable and overwhelming. Most artists had difficulty even expressing the feelings of it in their work, it was so intense and powerful. I wrote a song, Ghosts of Berlin, concerning it.

Do you feel the unification has been good for Germany, 25 years past the demolition of the Wall?

Absolutely. Today we face other issues, like Solidarity tax.

Solidarity Tax? 

When the Wall fell, a Solidarity tax was imposed on West Germany to rebuild East Germany. While this was supposed to last only a few years, to get East Germany on their feet, it continues to this day. While West Germans are perhaps bitter about the tax, there is no doubt that the freeing of East Germany, and the money used to rebuild it from the West is nothing but a success story. Sadly, this cannot be said for many similar situations in the European Union.

Do you feel the wounds and ghosts of the past have healed and settled enough to bring out many of these songs in places so affected by wartime?

I did a concert with Zubin Mehta back in 1988. There were at least 50 holocaust survivors, people with numbers on their arms, that attended. One is not sure about the healing and settling, even with sufficient time passing.

What’s the next exciting step for Ute Lemper?

I’ll be doing a 70 years of liberation concert in Rome. I’m showcasing songs that were written in the death camps. Most are in Yiddish and German. I’m finishing up a great project with Paul Coelho called 9 Secrets, from his work, Manuscripts found in Accra. I did the original music for it, so I’m very excited about that.

I also released an album of love songs based on the poems of Pablo Neruda.

Ute, thank you so much for your time. Lexington’s lucky to have you for this special night!

Of course. Thank you!

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

Tickets to the New Year’s Eve Celebration range from $25-$75 with $11 student tickets as available. Special seating is also available for parties of four with bottle service of champagne at prices of $500 for cabaret tables and $600 for box seating. Price of the special seating includes one bottle of champagne. Bottle service is limited to ticket holders over 21-years of age. Valet parking is available for $10 per car at the Short Street Entrance to the Lexington Opera House.

A New Year’s Eve Dinner at Portofino’s will be hosted following the concert by LexPhil for $75 per person. Tickets include a three-course prix fixe menu and Champagne toast, and must be purchased in advance by December 26, 2014.  20 percent of dinner ticket is tax-deductible, as allowed by law, and will benefit LexPhil.

Ute Lemper will perform at the Lexington Opera House on December 31st at 7:30. To purchase tickets, click here, or call (859) 233-4226.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music

Art’s Plea: Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

The Kentucky creative economy – wait: there is such a thing? A whole economy, that is? Yes and it’s, “alive and well,” as they say, but also largely misunderstood. And that’s been researched, quantified and all done up in a nice package presented by the Kentucky Arts Council.

UnderMain thought you might like to peruse this portrait of the arts production happening all around you, every day, here in the Commonwealth.

Dive in!

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music, Uncategorized

With Tele in hand, he’s Golden

Whether you were born and bred in the Bluegrass or are a transplant, chances are good to great that you know Lexington has a rich artistic heritage. This is especially true with respect to music. Some of the greatest pickers and grinners of all time have come from Fayette County and the areas surrounding it.

Patrick Golden is one such artist.

Patrick Golden with his collection of Fender Telecasters

Lexington-based guitarist Patrick Golden with his collection of Fender Telecasters

Born in Lexington, July 14, 1966, Pat recently celebrated over 40 years in music and has influenced hundreds of students and peers. Known worldwide for his ‘chicken-pickin’ style, Golden is an accomplished guitarist, transcending genre with a style recalling many great players, but most definitely all his own.

Before we chat with Pat and a host of guitar greats who have performed and studied with him, how about a listen? Here’s a clip of Golden promoting Knight Guitars. He is playing a signature Richard Young edition, customized for the Kentucky Headhunters’ rhythm guitarist and vocalist.

The Headhunters still tour a great deal and have had a string of hits over the last 25 years. Headhunters’ lead guitarist Greg Martin has been friends with Golden for some time.

How did you and Pat hook up?

Pat was freelancing with my stepdaughter, Sherri McGee who is in Little Miss Tammy Smith and the Inbreds. That’s how I got to know him. He reached out to me years ago. He’s great about being open to learning new things.

Pat with Doug Phelps and Greg Martin of The Headhunters

Pat with Doug Phelps and Greg Martin of The Headhunters

What is most striking to you about his playing style and approach to teaching?

Pat’s a very dedicated player, a very patient player, and a great teacher. Stylistically, he has his own take on the Tele “twang” thang for one thing, but there is much more to his playing. He loves Telecaster and he’s really creative with its use.

Here’s a clip of the Pat and Greg working some magic.  And here he is, jammin’ with Headhunters’ drummer, Fred Young.

In this exclusive conversation for UnderMain, Golden talks about his playing, his teaching, and growing up in the Bluegrass.

Why electric guitar?

“It all started acoustic,” he explains. “My step-dad gave me an old Craftsman Acoustic back in 1973. It was the f-hole style guitar and it wasn’t much, but it got me started. I banged around on that old thing for a few years. My mother and grandmother wanted to see if I was serious and would stick with it before they bought me an electric, which is what I really wanted.”

Soon after, Pat got his first electric guitar, an old Sears and Roebuck model.

Was it just getting that electric guitar that set you on your path, or something else?

“My mother took me to an Elvis concert in 1976 in Cincinnati; this was just a year or two before he died, and it changed everything for me. It felt like I was supposed to be there. I could tell you what the weather was like and what we had for lunch. It was the most intense experience of my life up to that point and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about it.”

It wasn’t just the King’s charisma that captured Golden, however.

“It was James Burton. James Burton was and is my biggest influence. I saw him originally playing with Elvis and I became absorbed by his style and professional manner. He could cross into any genre and he has many times, playing with Merle Haggard, with Elvis Costello, John Denver, Johnny Cash, the list goes on and on.”

Golden with James Burton

Golden with James Burton

It was also Burton’s influence that led Golden to play a particular type of electric guitar: the Fender Telecaster, or “Tele” for short.

What is it about the Telecaster that made sense to you?

“My first good quality electric was a Gibson Les Paul. I just found playing very limiting for what I was trying to do. The Tele offers me a much wider range of options. I can do more of the things I really want to do with a Tele. Stratocasters, Les Paul, they’re all great, but the Tele is right for me.”

What happened after the Burton experience?

“I started to absorb everything I could to be versatile like Burton: Django Reinhardt, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis. I’d watch all the great acts on Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Express in the 70s; Hee Haw, which, of course, had Roy Clark, Buck Owens, and Don Rich. Right after watching something that was Country, Rock, or Blues, I’d switch over and take in Lawrence Welk. All of these things and more were influences. In those days there were just three channels and no internet, so you watched what came on, and I watched intently, with the idea of applying it to playing.”

Pat with Waylon Jennings

Pat with Waylon Jennings

You’ve taught Blues, Funk, Rock, Country, Jazz and many other genres, but you seem to have a lot of Country influence. How did that come about?

“Well, in the 70s in Lexington, you would have bands playing in local bars 6-7 nights a week. Most of the stuff being played was Country. I was a teen and wanted to play, so that’s where I landed, but I’ve always been interested in and played everything.”

When did your playing first get some real notice?

“Many years ago WKQQ had a contest for the best young rock guitarist and I submitted a demo, which, of course, at that time was on a cassette tape. There were a lot of people entering. Ben Lacy was in the mix, and a lot of other amazing guitarists. Neither of us won, but it did give me more exposure.”

Ben Lacy’s been on the Lexington music scene as a highly refined guitarist for many years. Lacy said the following recently of Pat’s playing:

“He is the purest of tele pickers, able to capture the essence and truly honor the personality of the Tele from classic country sounds and the blues. You can hear all that glorious pedigree of such greats as Danny Gatton and Scotty Anderson but still you can hear Pat’s own voice on the instrument. I’m proud to know Pat and admire his ability to not only perpetuate the rich tradition of the telecaster but also to forge his own path.”

Pat with Phil and Don Everly

Pat with Phil and Don Everly

But was this what got Pat to Nashville and becoming a sought-after sessions player?

“It helped, but late in the 80s I met Bobby Anderson, who was then a writer for Hee Haw. Bobby was from Somerset and we went down to Nashville together, and he connected me to the staff at The Grand Ol’ Opry; Jim Ed Brown, who had a show for many years and many well-known artists. Most of them would hang out at the Nashville Palace. If you’re a sessions-player, singer, songwriter, or anything else musical in Nashville, the Palace is the place to be.”

What happened when you got deeper into the Nashville scene?

The same thing that happens to all players who go there: a reality check. I thought I was a great player, but I didn’t know what that was until I got to Nashville, and there’s one on every corner. I remember going to a show and being sick in the parking lot after, realizing what I was up against.”

Pat with sought-after Nashville sessions player, Reggie Young

Pat with sought-after Nashville sessions player, Reggie Young

Where did you go from there?

“Well, I had a decision to make. Either tuck my tail and go home, which is what happens to so many players, or buckle down and get focused.”

You chose the latter, but how exactly did it manifest?

“I went looking for the best people I could find to study with and learn. The first teacher I sought out was Ray Flacke. He was known at the time as being one of the best country pickers and had recorded with everybody.”

Some of those artists include Ricky Scaggs, Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart, Kathy Mattea, and Emmylou Harris. The English-born Flacke has been known for four decades as one of the greatest country Tele-pickers in the industry. He is also well-known as an instructor and sessions player.

Pat with Garth Brooks

Pat with Garth Brooks

Golden continues:

“Someone who continues to influence me greatly is Scotty Anderson. I still drive up to Ohio and study with Scotty; he’s in the top .01 percent of players in the world, but he’s kept a low-profile for many years. Any serious player knows about Scotty, though; he’s in a realm all his own. I’ve been with him over twenty years now and I’m still working on that first lesson.”

Here’s what Anderson has to say about his long-time student and friend, Pat Golden:

“Throughout the years I’ve seen Patrick turn into a fantastic player. He was always a really good player, but now he’s reached the level of commercial music greatness really, really unique in his own style. Maybe I was able to help him a little bit; I definitely could tell his playing in a room full of players. He always plays the right notes at the right time and he’s a hell of a nice guy.”

These sentiments about Golden echo throughout the industry, not just with his instructor of many years.

Cartersville, Kentucky singer/songwriter, Josh Logan, has been friends with Golden since the 80s. Logan recorded four albums for the world-renowned Curb Records, starting in 1988. Somebody Paints the Wall included three chart singles which have been covered by artists like Tracy Lawrence and Aaron Tippin.

You and Golden go back a long way?

“Oh, yes. My friend Pat: I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s one of finest real country guitar pickers that I have ever met, his style is the real deal, not computer automated!”

On your tours, did you ever use Pat?”

“The sad part of my story is that I never had him as my lead guitar picker. The timing was always wrong for him to join my band, when I was on the road heavy in the 80s and 90s and early 2000. However, he’s a real country guitar picker, and with his ability to play just about anything that you need on a guitar, I’m sure he could just about fit any style that you need.

Golden’s influence crosses genres and spills out of the Country music scene as well. Blair Carmen, who tours with his band, Blair Carmen and The Belleview Boys, hails from Cincinnati, Ohio. The band stays with a lot of Jerry Lee Lewis and Big Band-style songs. Carmen commented on Pat’s playing and professionalism.

“In 2010, I contacted Patrick about an audition to see about him filling in on some road dates with my band. Since we were doing a mix of retro Honky Tonk Rockabilly Piano Pumpin’ Rock & Roll type stuff, I needed someone who was pretty versatile, yet still hardcore at the old country and rock & roll styles. First chance I had, we went down and met him at his home for an audition, which ended up only lasting five minutes. He introduced himself as a no-nonsense, hardcore honky Tonkin’ chicken pickin’ Telecaster picker…and that he was! I looked around, saw many of his different telecasters and vintage Fender amps and knew I was in the right place. He strapped on his 50s Tele and fired into Merle Haggard’s The Bottle Let Me Down and I said ‘Whoa now, we don’t even do that song, but maybe we will now!’  Then he played a little of Workin’ Man Blues and a bit of a rock & roll tune called Big Hunk a Love and I said ‘When can ya start ?’ He asked, ‘When do ya need me?’ And I said: ‘tomorrow.’ It’s been a blast ever since.”

So how did the rehearsals play out?

“Patrick joined us on the road immediately with no practice, no rehearsal, no set list, and no keys to any song and he hung right in and honky tonk’d and rock’d & roll’d like we’d been playing together for years. We played throughout Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Washington, DC, at a huge swing dance in the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park, and outside Atlanta, Georgia, where special guests, J.W. Brown, Rusty Brown, and Jerry Lee Lewis’ ex wife/2nd cousin (13 year old child bride) Myra Gale joined us.  J.W. Brown was Jerry Lee Lewis’ original bass player in the 50s and 60s and played on all of his hit records. J.W. Brown got up and played a few songs with us. He was really impressed with Patrick’s playing and even told me after the show, ‘Now that there’s a guitar picker!’ That’s what we musicians love to hear!”

So, are you still get together?

“Oh, yeah. Patrick still fills in often with us and is always very professional. He’s always early and on time. He’s also very picky about and always has great tone! Very reliable and great personality, too. That means a lot when you have to work and travel with someone.

Pat with Reba McEntire

Pat with Reba McEntire

Rick “LD” Wayne, the lead guitarist for Randy Travis, concurs. A good friend a Pat’s for the last twenty years, Wayne has toured and recorded with Tom T. Hall, Waylon Jennings, Porter Wagoner, and many others, in addition to the Travis albums.

What’s the story with you and Pat?

“I met Pat many years ago when I was working at the Nashville Palace, and he came in with Bobby Anderson, who worked on the Hee Haw staff. We started talking about Telecasters and realized we both had a passion for them. He’s a wonderful player. He’s always learning something and showing me something. He comes and plays with me all the time. He’s a wonderful friend.”

Wayne’s is a Cinderella story, heading to Nashville from Columbus, GA when he was 18 with his guitar strapped to his back. He immediately got a job with Tom T. Hall, then with Johnny Rodriguez. After being at the Nashville Palace for about three years, he met Randy Ray, who became Randy Travis. Randy became a star and Wayne started toured and recorded with him until 2013, when Travis had a stroke and had to slow down.

What is it that makes Pat’s playing so special?

“Pat has mastered the Telecaster. He knows what pickup to use in the front, back, and middle positions. He’s learned how to play between these for particular songs. He is one of the most efficient players I have ever seen. I deeply respect him personally. No one’s better than Patrick at getting the most out of a Tele. He puts a lot of heart and soul in it and I respect his playing immensely. He’s a great player and teacher.”

Wayne says he and Golden have spent many hours learning from each other.

“I’ll say ‘what did you do there, show me that!’ I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s showed me stuff he’s learned from others like Clint Strong; he just has so much skill and a lot of soul. I’ll usually send potential students his way, if they’re up near Kentucky. The thing about Pat, he’s very humble and doesn’t talk himself up a lot the way a lot of people do in this industry. You can’t help but respect his playing, but his humbleness makes me respect him as a person.”

It was in the mid-90s when many years of playing and teaching paid off for Golden. He got the call to tour with Jerry Lee Lewis and play alongside Lewis’ longtime guitarist, Kenny Lovelace.

Pat, Kenny Lovelace (Jerry Lee Lewis' longtime guitarist), and James Burton (Elvis' guitarist)

Pat, Kenny Lovelace (Jerry Lee Lewis’ longtime guitarist), and James Burton (Elvis’ guitarist)

Touring with Lewis taught him a lot and when Golden returned to Kentucky, he focused on teaching and running to sessions in Nashville, Austin, and a handful of other music meccas in America. Many of his lessons are taught through Skype these days as well as his home, with students from all over the world.

What do you like about teaching, Pat?

“It’s so important as a teacher to be able to transcend genre, relate to the student, and ultimately give students what they come to you to learn. I usually just ask students where they want to go with their playing and take them on that journey. Doing it this way, you’re always giving the student what they want, which keeps them interested and makes the process fun.”

NOTE: Pat Golden can be reached at (859)221-4633 or (859)271-8812. His email address is Pat is also on Facebook and can be messaged there as well.

Photos courtesy of Patrick Golden

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music, Uncategorized

Phyne Art: UnderMain’s Sebastian chats with Brian Greene

Physicist Brian Greene

Physicist Brian Greene

The Lexington Philharmonic recently presented Heroes: Eroica and Icarus in the orchestra’s Lexington Opera House debut. UnderMain music writer Charles Sebastian chatted with renowned physicist Brian Greene who conceived this modern retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, replacing the sun of the original with a black hole in space.

First, some background: Eroica or Heroic Symphony was composed in 1804 and originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, though Beethoven later changed his mind. Longer and more richly textured than contemporary symphonic works of its day, the Eroica stands as a breakaway from the classical forms that preceded it. LexPhil conductor Scott Terrell contends that it is for this reason the symphony makes good sense adjacent to the Philip Glass score for Icarus on the Edge of Time.

The novella of Icarus was published in 2008 and sets the well-known story in space with images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Philip Glass score was commissioned by the World Science Festival in New York, the brainchild of Greene. It has developed a great deal of momentum since its inaugural year in 2008. The film accompanying Icarus was created by surrealist filmmakers Al and Al, with a narrative by Brian Greene and playwright David Henry Hwang, who is perhaps best known for his award-winning play, M. Butterfly. In the Lexington performance, Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker will provide the narrative.

Here’s Sebastian’s conversation with Dr. Greene, speaking from his office in New York City:

What was the germ of Icarus? The one thing that let you know this was the story?

“The Greek myth had fascinated me since childhood, but the deeper piece is about being willing to go against the norm. Being willing to break out of the box with science or with anything is essential to progress and these are the things that create a whole new world. Science is a great story of adventure.”

Why use the media of film and music for science?

“Melding film and music with these scientific ideas I feel teaches science in a deeper way. The recognition of how science affects our daily lives is essential to the quality of our lives and our knowledge of the world around us and ourselves.”

You’re known mainly for your scientific writings. Are you still teaching?

“Oh yes! I maintain my position at Columbia University as a professor of mathematics and physics and I have my graduate students. Writing was a hobby that took off. It makes for a busy schedule. Then there is the World Science Festival, started by me and my wife.”

What role, if any, does education play in Icarus?

“Icarus fits with the general perspective in all my books, which is that they must make science penetrating. The language of science is math and many people have to have it translated. The ideas of science can be big and hard to fathom, and no one wants to feel stupid. By educating through the arts, these ideas are more accessible to most people.”

Was this your first time working with Philip Glass?

“Yes. I didn’t know what to expect. We met on a panel some time ago, he probably doesn’t remember it, but I do, because it happened to be where I met my wife. I sent him a story after the discussion. That was ten years ago.”

That sounds memorable. What was the collaboration with Glass like?

“Highly collaborative. He really wanted to understand the science behind Icarus. He asked me down to his studio one night around 11 o’clock. He was trying to understand how a black hole functions; he was very thorough with his questions and stayed open to my thoughts. Fortunately, we live in the same city, so it was a quick trip to his place.”

Whose decision was it to bring David Henry Hwang into the project?

“Glass’s. He had used Hwang on many previous projects as a librettist and felt it would add to the overall impact if he had a role in the writing.

How many times has Icarus been performed at this point?

“The Lexington performance is around 25. It’s been around the world in places as exotic as Malta.”

Had you delved into theatre or film prior to this?

“Yes. I developed another show that ran for three performances called Spooky Action, which deals with the concept of quantum entanglement. It premiered at the World Science Festival here in New York.”

What is the main ingredient for Icarus that you feel has made it a popular piece?

“I believe it works on so many different levels. Boys and men like it because it is a hero adventure, but then there is the science that goes along with it, that makes it different than the myth from which it’s borrowed.”

It’s obvious in this case that science is affecting the arts. Do you feel your piece somehow affects science, in reverse order?

“It’s a two-way street. Icarus may open up more avenues in art and it might dovetail back into science and somehow affect processes within it. It’s hard to say, but I would like to think that would be the case.”

How do you find working in collaboration?

“It’s one of the things that most excites me: working in new forms with others. I can spread my own wings in ways that are challenging and new.”

Will we hear more about Icarus?

“A sequel is planned, hopefully to coincide with the 100th anniversary of General Relativity.”

Arts, Entertainment, Uncategorized

Victory without Fanfare, Image with Purpose

By Ryan Filchak ~

Victory without Fanfare displays the culminating body of work from a three-month residency at the Lexington Art League’s Loudon House by artists Lori Larusso and Melissa Vandenberg.  Guests were invited each Tuesday during the residency to see how the artists had transformed into their personal studios space typically reserved for exhibitions.  These studio visits allowed guests the opportunity to preview the works, meet the artists and observe the art-making process prior to installation.

Although the Lexington Art League is familiar with summer residency programs, this year curator Becky Alley handpicked two artists whose works compliment each other in a gallery space. Vandenberg and Larusso work with two different mediums – each artist uses imagery ranging from the tragically inane to the overwhelmingly significant to reveal the purpose of representation.  “Both artists work with themes of nostalgia and sentimentality in a way that questions the mythologies of the idyllic American Dream, patriotic pride and duty, and the way in which we culturally and systematically romanticize a history that was no more perfect than our present,” she writes in her curator statement. Larusso’s paintings and Vandenberg’s sculptures complicate the image at hand (the American flag, a life jacket, an ice cream clown, etc.) either through process or form to add new meaning on a personal or national level that causes the viewer to reinterpret the familiar.

Larusso’s shape paintings use imagery of the home to address the separation between an attempted idealized domesticity and a more common reality.  A women’s studies minor while attending the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, Larusso uses her paintings to acknowledge a return to the perfectly manicured lifestyle images of the 1950’s housewife. “We have a curated existence on social media: it’s still edited and you’re not showing the real stuff,” Larusso says in an interview with LAL. Instead of painting a solitary cup of coffee, perched perfectly on a windowsill from where one may gaze stolidly into a distant mountain range as one might expect to see in a lifestyle magazine, Larusso’s ‘To-Go Coffee Spill’ and ‘Homewrecker’ depict misfortune and broken dishes.

Interestingly, Larusso makes these moments of imperfection in her paintings more subtle in their disruption of the picturesque through a unique layering process of color.  Each layer of paint is first drawn out and then taped so as to prevent upon application any bleed-over from one section of color to the other. This results in crisp lines that seem to lay one on top of the other.  When you pair this technique with how Larusso literally cuts the negative space out of her paintings with a jigsaw, she ironically creates paintings devoid of the same spontaneity of the subject matter.

Vandenberg’s sculptural works transform the readymade (a lifejacket, handkerchief, sewing machines) to create an alternative interpretation of the image at hand on a political level in the same way Larusso’s shape paintings of spilt coffee and broken dishes express a present dichotomy of perception and reality on a social level.  The sculpture Rapunzel for example – a braid of fabric that stretches from high on the wall down to the gallery floor – contains not only the preexisting connotations of patriotic imagery because it repurposes torn American flags, but the fairy tale allusion turns a symbol of pride into one of distress.  Vandenberg repeats this theme with her series of photos in which she covers a female face with temporary tattoos culled from a bygone bicentennial celebration.  Entitled Red, White and Blue in the Face Vandenberg photographs her model wearing a string of American flag lights.

Forget Me k(not), Melissa Vandenderg

Forget Me k(not), Melissa Vandenderg

Red, White, and Blue in the Face, Melissa Vanderberg

Red, White, and Blue in the Face, Melissa Vanderberg

In addition to these political sculptures and paintings, Vandenberg weaves themes of eastern philosophy into traditionally western artifacts through her larger installation pieces.  For example, Forget me (k)not is an installation piece of 800 used handkerchiefs collected from deceased family members and estate sales.  The handkerchiefs hang both inside and outside the gallery in formations that mimic the Tibetan prayer flags found on Mt. Everest.   With her performance installation Mandala Machine – eight sewing machines arranged in a circle, sewing thread onto a continuous piece of fabric with a finite amount of thread – Vandenberg again infuses domestic objects with Buddhist ritual.

To quote Vandenberg, “I think we both feel the irony and have an appreciation for the clever when it comes to mid-century idealism”, and this is most evident with The Cold Charmer Series by Larusso.

The Cold Charmer Series, Lori Larusso

The Cold Charmer Series, Lori Larusso

These paintings of ice cream sundaes made to look like clowns do not contain the political gravity of the American dream unrealized, but instead they serve a crucial purpose to remind visitors that these artists seek a reinterpretation of familiar imagery in their work that can also be playful and lighthearted.

Visitors can see Victory Without Fanfare at the Loudon House located at 209 Castlewood Drive until October 5th.  Gallery hours for the Loudon House are Tuesday through Friday, 10-4, Saturday and Sunday, 1-4.

All, Entertainment

Tripping over tipping

Do you make it a point to tip your server when you dine in a Lexington restaurant?

Judging by the results of one study, folks in our neck of the woods have a tight grip on their wallets when it comes to this matter of leaving a tip.

The average tip for good service in the U.S. is 18 percent, according a Harris Poll commissioned by Michelin. The study found the region that includes Kentucky with the nation’s the highest percentage of diners tipping less than 15 percent.

Ask servers and many will tell you that tipping is a system with ups and downs, positives and negatives. Ask restaurant owners and managers and they will tell you there is no other way it works financially for the economic health of the restaurant business.

Owners feel if server wages go up, the price of food would have to be increased commensurately. And no one wants to drive prices higher when wooing price-conscious customers is the name of the game.

Employment in the full-service restaurant industry has grown over 85 percent since 1990 while overall private-sector employment grew by only 24 percent, says a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Yet, the minimum hourly wage paid to servers has remained the same for 48 years.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 1966 to establish a sub-minimum hourly wage of $2.13 for restaurant, hotel and other service industry employees who typically receive tips.

Here’s how it works under the law, according to the U.S. Department of Labor: “A tipped employee engages in an occupation in which he or she customarily and regularly receives more than $30 per month in tips. An employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount combined with the tips received at least equals the federal minimum wage. If the employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 per hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.” So, in essence, a portion of the employer’s labor cost is subsidized by customers via their tips, leaving the server to rely on the kindness and mood of strangers.


Many servers consider themselves in a partnership with their customers to try to make each other’s day a little better. They want you to enjoy your experience and they want to work hard to make that happen.

Most of us take exemplary service for granted and don’t wax poetic about a restaurant meal that goes well. Conversely, we tend to remember clearly when things go wrong.

“When there is a problem with the food, it is amazing how many people take that as an excuse for lowering the tip. Generally the waiter has nothing to do with that,” noted Louis Bickett, Jr., now entering his 30th year as a professional waiter at Lexington’s tony a la Lucie.

A restaurant, and more accurately a restaurant kitchen, is a chaotic place.  A lot is going on and a finely choreographed ballet needs to take place each shift, each meal. When you order dinner a small army of people are employed to make it happen.

Things can go wrong.

Soup awaits pick up too long and cools as a server rushes to take care of another table’s needs. The kitchen can mix up an order and send out two mistakes. A hostess can become overwhelmed by a large crowd and seat far too many people in one server’s section, creating momentary mayhem. The list goes on and in that environment, anything can happen.

“Communication, communication, communication with the kitchen, the fellow staff members and the customers” is essential, according to Bickett. “Respect for the kitchen is very important.”

Another Lexington server who preferred anonymity said she takes a great deal of pride in her work and considers it her mission to ensure that each person has a good experience. When she ends a shift having earned a day of fair tips she feels great. On the other hand, “It can be disheartening to work a long hard shift, do your best and go home with minimal tips. It gets discouraging.”

That inconsistency can make life difficult. “I can make $40 one shift and $10 the next,” she noted. “I have a mortgage and bills, too, so it is hard to never know if you will get a shift of decent tippers or some really bad tippers or a super slow day when no one comes in. Two tables one day and eight the next.”

Have you ever “camped” in a restaurant?  Had a meeting and took up a couple of hours at a table?  Had lunch with the girls or guys and stayed for hours catching up on old times? If a lengthy stay is unavoidable, it is proper to tip your server an appropriate amount that compensates them for having their livelihood on hold while you “rented” the piece of real estate (the table) where they make a living.

The Cell Phone Factor

Enter the era of the ubiquitous smart device and things become even more difficult for the server whose daily earnings depend on turnover.

A Craig’s List rant that recently went viral told of a private study conducted by a New York restaurant trying to get to the bottom of slowing sales. A consultant hired by Market Diner utilized ten year old surveillance video footage from the dining room compared to new camera footage. It was discovered in the more recent footage that cell phone distracted diners and also those stopping to photograph their food and posting messages about it, were responsible for meals taking sometimes as much as 40 additional minutes per table, resulting in far less turnover in tables for the restaurant per seating.

The practice is not limited to Manhattan. “I can’t tell you enough how it disrupts service in so many ways,” noted a la Lucie’s Bickett. “If we did not wait on the table while the phone was engaged we would never wait on the table. We just interrupt the person.”

“I was a career server for years and remember when cell phones first started to interrupt service,” commented former O’Charley’s server Kelly McBrayer. “Back then, the minute I saw that one person in a group was on the phone during the lunch or dinner rush I would politely stop them from ordering their drinks or appetizers by saying, ‘I’m sorry, the table next to you is ready to order, but I’ll be right back!’

If you think inconsiderate restaurant behavior and bad tipping habits go unnoticed and unmentioned – think again.

As a recent New Yorker cartoon depicting two diners looking over their bill captioned, “How much do we have to leave to avoid a social media incident?”

Whats the right thing to do?

One percent of diners surveyed for Michelin’s study said they never tip, an outcome that has a ripple effect throughout the restaurant.  Here’s why: servers have to share their tips with several other people including a host or hostess, the table bussers, food runners, bartenders, etc. The tip you leave is divided among many you may not realize are part of your service.

There are stories of $20 tips on a ten dollar tab – every server remembers those magic moments with great joy. Big tippers account for 12 percent of men and eight percent of women diners, according to Michelin’s Harris poll.  But there also are many stories of $5 tips on hundred dollar tabs.

Interestingly, servers frequently observe that well-off patrons can often be the stingiest tippers while lower income customers can be the most generous. Many report that young people, both high school and college aged, are terrible tippers. This seems likely due to a lack education on the matter. Raising awareness is key.

What could make things more positive?

Websites about proper tipping and restaurant etiquette have sprung up all over the internet and many good books are available, some serious and some offering advice with a good deal of levity thrown in. Some cases call for better training of server staff. It is not unusual for servers to be hired, handed an apron and tossed into the mix. Serving is not always treated as a career, but a brief stint between other jobs – and it can show.

A few restaurants are experimenting with ways to eliminate tipping and even servers, altogether.

Packhouse Meats, a Newport, KY. restaurant that opened in January has a no-tipping policy.  Packhouse servers are paid ten dollars an hour or 20 percent of their food sales per shift, whichever amount is highest. This guarantees money made per shift and eliminates the uncertainty of tips as income. No sweating the good or bad tipper variable.

Some restaurants are experimenting with using computer tablets enabling customers to see menus and message their orders digitally, eliminating the need for most servers.

Time will tell whether these are viable ideas. In the meantime, in nearly every eatery where tables are waited, tipping is not only acceptable, it is essential to those serving you.

One server I spoke with was asked, “What would you like the public to know about servers?”  The answer? “Be careful how you treat the people who are handling your food.”

Words to live by.  Words to dine by.

Arts, Entertainment, Music

Thinking outside of the chamber

Richard Young was in the thick of it, hunched over a cellphone at the bar in Natasha’s. The news was challenging.

With only three weeks until “showtime,” the director of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington had suddenly found himself not only in search of an essential Steinway Concert Grand piano, but after getting word of complications with the original plan, also attempting to find accommodations for the festival’s five-member Ensemble-in-Residence

As it turns out, each dilemma has been resolved. More on that a bit further down the page.

But these crises did serve to remind that the business of organizing and overseeing a ten-day music festival not of the rock, folk or country variety, but instead focused on chamber music in 2014 is not for the faint at heart and certainly requires a tolerance for change.

“This is about something that is quite old,” Young observed. “I mean – it’s about chamber music. While it can be and often is a very progressive art form, most people know it as Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven quartets, that sort of thing.”

Now in its eighth year, Young’s fourth as director, the festival gets underway on the evening of Thursday, August 14 with a free public concert by WindSync – the aforementioned Ensemble-in-Residence – with beer and barbecue on the lawn of Loudon House, home of the Lexington Art League.

And you can read plenty into the selection of this particular group and that particular opening night format. The message? You don’t necessarily have to be a classical music aficionado to find something interesting, perhaps amazing in the performances slated for locations in and around Lexington between the 14th and 24th of August.

While the young, energetic Houston-based ensemble will offer its own performances in various more casual settings around town, the group also will integrate with the festival’s traditional concerts in the formal setting of the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion.

“After we brought Richard Young aboard as festival director, we had numerous board discussions about bringing our product—chamber music—to the community in a casual manner. And we did so with the enthusiastic endorsement of our board,” said Charles Stone, founding chairman of the festival board. “What sets our festival apart in our mind is our cutting edge presentation and programming. And what we look to do soon after we finish one year’s series is imagine how we can make it newer, bolder the next time,” Stone continued, describing a governing body willing to take risks by supporting new approaches to presenting chamber music to a Lexington audience “We are comfortable to embrace a room full of new ideas.”

Under the direction of Young, a 2011 graduate of the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (Double bass), programming has steadily progressed and expanded.

In 2012, two years into his tenure as director, he experimented with staging surprise chamber music performances around the city several weeks prior to the opening of the festival.

These “pop-up” performances are now a staple. And there is method in this madness.

“Chamber music is such a niche thing. You like it, you hate it, or you don’t know about it. I think one of the main reasons it doesn’t have a broad audience is its exposure,” Young said. “You say ‘classical music’ and people think of either opera or symphonies. I don’t think a lot of people think of chamber music because it just doesn’t have a lot of exposure. It’s very hard to passively gain a new audience. The pop-ups are very intentional, targeted, focused. We see pop-ups as our way to do that.”

The street-performances have given the festival something of a gritty edge. Young recalled one pop-up concert in 2013 at the corner of North Limestone and Loudon. “People brought out old couches; everyone just sitting out on the street corner listening to chamber music and drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon. Cars going by, people walking up asking ‘what’re you doing?’ Experiments like that have left us with this Yin and Yang – weird, pop-up, gritty non-traditional things and then very formal, super high quality innovative programmed concerts in a hall that is perfect for chamber music.”

Innovation has been a consistent thread since the festival’s founding in 2007 by Stone and Lexington native Nathan Cole, now first associate concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and artistic director of the Lexington festival. For example, Lexington’s is the only chamber music festival that commissions a new piece of music every year, according to Young.

“This year’s programming is more new music than old music,” Young said. “It’s very progressive.” In addition to a menu of compositions by lesser-known artists, “We’re playing a piece by Jeff Beal, composer of the themes of the Netflix series House of Cards and HBO’s Carnivale and Rome.”

Guest Artists for 2014 include Composer-in-Residence Adam Schoenberg, harpist Allegra Lilly, and soprano Karen Slack. Returning artists include pianist Alessio Bax, violinist Akiko Tarumoto, cellist Priscilla Lee and Burchard Tang, viola.

Plans call for the more casual events to include the free WindSync concert at Loudon House, a limited-seating brunch at Greentree Tearoom featuring WindSync, and a “laid back” concert by various festival artists at Natasha’s Bar & Bistro.

You can see evidence of this merger of traditional and progressive in a revised festival schedule. “Instead of this being just Friday, Saturday and Sunday concerts out at Fasig-Tipton, we’re doing Wednesday, Friday, Sunday – really pulling it apart so if you come to Lexington to come to the festival, no matter when you come there is something going on,” Young said. “We’ll have a public event every day.”

A first this year will be a lunchtime coffeehouse conversation at Common Grounds on High Street in downtown Lexington featuring composer-in-residence Schoenberg as well as other festival artists.

And there is a place for visual art in the scope of the event’s offerings. The “automata” sculpture of Lexington artist Steve Armstrong was commissioned to be auctioned in support of the festival’s future.

“That the board is so bought-in to trying new things, whether it be commissioning new music every year, commissioning a piece of visual art every year, to doing these very odd programming decisions like playing on the corner of Lime and Loudon, a spot that most people would not associate with chamber music, is incredibly helpful,” Young said. “They have been very open to letting artistic director Nathan Cole, board president Charlie Stone and me try and do something really new and exciting. If something goes wrong, it’s not going to destroy the organization. We just won’t do that next year.”

There have been a few clunkers. Master classes were not well-attended. Open rehearsals were tried. But while perhaps interesting in concept, in practice it just didn’t work. “They’re trying to rehearse, and you can’t hear them talking, so it was sort of awkward,” Young observed.

The open rehearsals have evolved into the Cabaret Concert scheduled for August 21 at Natasha’s. “It’s not as formal. You can sit and have drinks, eat and listen to some amazing music. If I were going to pick my ideal setting for listening to chamber music,” Young said, “that would be it.”

A new addition to the program is an Ensemble-in-Residence retreat with the North Limestone MusicWorks program.

Shaping programming – extending it beyond the formal and inherently rigid confines of the concert hall – to a younger, more casual audience in more accessible, less costly venues is, in Young’s view, essential to the survival of a genre that he believes is afflicted by “self-image crises.”

“I mean, the Philadelphia Orchestra went bankrupt. The Philadelphia Orchestra went bankrupt,” he repeated for emphasis. “That should be a wake up call to anyone that you need to think about what you’re doing.”

In arguing that interest in classical music is, in fact, not in decline where new things are tried, Young cited steady annual growth in audiences turning out for Lexington Philharmonic concerts and the Chamber Music Festival. “I think quite the opposite. I think it’s growing. More people are getting interested. Cincinnati Symphony, for example, does this great show, Lumenosity in the middle of the park right in front of Music Hall and if you saw a picture of it you would be flabbergasted. It’s a sea of probably 5,000 people. I think audiences diminish only if you become complacent.”

I asked Richard Young to talk to me about the music itself, in the context of the unstable, troubled world in which we live today. An opportunity to escape for a little while? Or to better connect with reality?

“Chamber music has a very strong ability to allow you to escape, but also to focus on some of these things that are happening. There is a great piece, Quartet for the End of Time (Oliver Messiaen, 1941) that we played two years ago that was written in a WW II prisoner of war camp. It doesn’t get more powerful than that. There is another, On the Transmigration of Souls (John Adams 2002) composed in tribute to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So yes, it has the power to distract, but I think it also has the power to take those issues, embrace them, look at them and give people a new way to experience and to think about them.”

Chamber music pokes at the emotions, Young said. “If you dig down and listen to it, it ranges all the way from really, really funny to really, really depressing. I think you can experience chamber music on multiple levels.”

Watching music performed on a more intimate scale can be as entertaining as listening, he noted. “If you have a great chamber music group, just watching them interacting with each other is something you’re less likely to get in the symphony hall.”

Ensemble-in-Residence WindSync, he noted, plays completely without music. “It’s engaging to watch a two-hour program played from memory by people who have played it a thousand times and know what to expect from each other and when to interact. And when you watch them communicate with each other without talking you can really see the power of chamber music.”

Oh, and as promised: Transylvania University stepped forward to provide accommodations for the five members of WindSync. And a 9-foot Steinway Concert Grand was secured from a generous Cincinnatian.

All is well as August 14th approaches.

Photo courtesy of Mary Rezny

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Uncategorized

I Might As Well Bathe In Cheese

by Cherry  –

Oh, if only I had made that deadline for Lexington’s first ever Flash Fiction Contest, here is what I would have submitted.

Cheesy Mouse#2

Searching for her teeth, I went into the kitchen and found a pot of soup they must have forgotten when the ambulance came. It was cheesy soup, probably cream of cheddar, yellow and gloppy. Already angry, I jerked the pot toward the sink only to nearly drop it at the site of a mouse sitting chest deep in what must have smelled like a good idea at the time.

My phone buzzed again with more text messages from my six siblings. I threw up my hands. This was too much! As if a possible accidental overdose of sleeping pills, missing prescription drugs, and the ensuing argument that either the help took them or mom literally took them, was not.

I snuck back into the kitchen and peaked over the rim of the oversize pot. He was just a baby. I knew I had to get him out, despite having spent the prior week reading Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner and coming to the conclusion that I would no longer over-function in stressful situations.

Mom’s house is in a quiet neighborhood with no real side door and a dangerous back exit. I picked up the old crusty spoon in one hand, the pot in the other. I walked out the front door to the small flower bed that we planted last Easter when mom showed signs of recovering from the last hospital visit.

Gently I scooped the cheesy mouse up and placed him under some purple flowers. I took the pot back in and threw it in the kitchen sink and filled it with soapy water. Just to get even, I decided not to wash the thing, because I meant business this time.

An hour later I headed back to the hospital to take mom’s lunch. I was feeling like a failure, having not found her dentures that disappeared the night of the 911 call. Another text came in and mom was getting out. ‘Wait she was supposed to…’ ‘Stay, who can stay with her?’ another text bleeped.

This time I would set my boundaries with my family. I would say ‘no’.

I arrived in room 5404 only to find my mother shaking a little, so I sat with her while she ate her cheese sandwich and fresh fruit with a Diet Coke.

It felt good; mom was going home like she has the last hundred times. It was so refreshing that I decided to share my story. With my second-eldest sister on the phone, my six-foot-five brother crammed into the chair in the corner of the room, and mom in her hospital bed, I told the story of the cheesy mouse. We laughed nervous but genuine, gut-wrenching laughter – the kind that has let us pass through such major dysfunction in the past, many times over.

Collecting ourselves, my sister asked when mom was being released, just what the doctors were saying and what to do about her medicines when she got home. Oh, and most importantly, she finished with, ‘Sis, did you wash the cheese off the mouse?’

All, Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, Uncategorized

Transy’s Polashek publishes writers’ block battering ram


“Why isn’t there a word rhythm dictionary?” Tim Polashek once wondered.  He no longer asks. No need. The Transylvania University Assistant Professor of Music got busy responding to his own question, resulting in publication of The Word Rhythm Dictionary: A Resource for Writers, Rappers, Poets, and Lyricists (Rowman & Littlefield), a 689 page gold mine for the creative-yet-stumped.

“I really just see this as another tool. Tools matter in that they offer different perspectives and methods, and can shape direction of creativity,” said Polashek. “For example, some computer programs allow easy reversing of melodic motives. Others don’t. This affects creativity. I’m constantly asking myself and students how a given tool shapes creativity, and to be objective about the tool.”

Rhythm rhymes are defined in the introduction as consisting of two or more words with the same rhythm, sharing the same number of syllables “and relative positions of primarily accented, secondarily accented and unstressed syllables.” Unlike traditional rhymes, rhythm rhymes need not have matching vowel sounds.

Polashek said the book is an expression of his longtime interest in the relationships between music and speech as well as the pitch and rhythms of spoken speech.

He has created a series of computer programs to help him manipulate and search for words with certain properties for creative projects. “For example, show me all the words that have two ‘t’ sounds and a ‘z’ sound.  Or, show me ten words that are five syllables long that have accents on the third syllables.”

Has also has written programs to generate nonsensical text with certain musical properties. “So, when I got around to actually writing the dictionary, I had a lot of software tools to help me.”

The typical rhyming dictionary groups words based on vowel sounds and is primarily concerned with the vowels at the ends of words. The Word Rhythm Dictionary takes a different approach, grouping words by several properties:  syllabic stress (primary, secondary, and unstressed) which determines the rhythm tendencies of the word; within these groups, secondary sorting occurs by vowels; and by consonants. “So as you read the rhythm rhyme-groups there is movement along a timbre/word sound similarity continuum,” he explained.

How might a lyricist or poet use the Polashek dictionary? The author suggests three methods: thinking of a word, then browsing a list of words with identical rhythms; coming up with a poetic foot and then searching a list of words that rhythmically match; or establishing a musical rhythm and then browsing a list of words that rhythmically or lyrically fit.

The approach, said Polashek, makes it easier to locate words that feature similar sounds, matching meters, and rhythmic grooves, from traditional rhymes like “clashing” and “splashing,” to near rhymes like “rollover” and “bulldozer,” “unrefuted undisputed” to pure metrical matches, like “biology” and “photography.”

“Upon observing a couple of words in the same group, some interesting scene or semantic concept might pop into mind that will generate a line of poetry or a lyric, perhaps reflecting some subconscious things that the writer had been considering—a linguist Rorschach test, perhaps?”

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music, News, Uncategorized

Let’s Focus on What We Already Have

Courthouse section

With the Rupp Arena Area Entertainment District concept now shelved, at least for the time being, attention is returning to some of Lexington’s outstanding existing historic structures in dire need of TLC and holding great potential as re-purposed public spaces.

One such building is the Old Courthouse – situated smack dab in the center of our city, yet sitting there shuttered, moth-balled even as 21c begins to take shape immediately across Upper Street with CentrePointe underway just a stone’s throw across Main. And this is not to mention the burgeoning dining and entertainment district on Short Street.

One consistent advocate of investing in the building’s renovation and return to Lexington’s civic landscape has been Foster Ockerman, Jr. He offers his thoughts in an OpEd appearing in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Please read it, offer your views and share with your friends. We believe this to be a conversation whose time has come.

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, Uncategorized

Cross-pollination on the rise in Lexington

Broken Queen – Photo by Mark Cornelison

This is not to suggest that it hasn’t always been there, but networking or “cross-pollination” among various arts disciplines seems to be happening with more frequency lately in Lexington.

As some wise person once said: “more ‘o that!”

Writing in ACE Magazine several years ago, Candace Chaney noted Lexington’s rich literary history and the presence of a serious, if struggling, theatre community and suggested that cooperation and collaboration between the two might give rise to homegrown playwrights. This inspired idea remains a long way from yielding onstage results – although we have seen growth and development in local theatre production. But the concept has taken hold in other areas and we think it’s worth noting.

Recent examples include the mid-June production at the Downtown Arts Center of The Broken Queen, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird Dance Theatre and a reunion of the Lexington band Chico Fellini.

And Story Magazine has launched its “Story Sessions” series – intimate concerts that engage a variety of talents and skills ranging from music and sound production to communication and publishing.

Coming up later this month, on June 27, is the Lexington Art League’s CSA LIVE: An evening of story and song, billed as a convergence of Lexington’s literary, music and visual arts scenes.

These productions and events join The Carnegie Center’s Carnegie Classics, and Balagula Theatre in inviting varieties of artists to share talents and skills in collaborative settings.

This departure from limiting our arts scene to the pitting of one discipline against another to grovel for scarce financial lifeblood is healthy and promising.

The question is, what does it take to establish a “go to” network to enable vital communication between, perhaps, a videographer and a sound-designer, or a performance artist and a sound and lighting talent? Is this a function of some independent non-profit? Or should our municipal government establish such a role?

Wouldn’t it be great if we figured out how to sustain arts production in Lexington?

Please offer your thoughts on our Facebook page.


Arts, Entertainment, Music

Chico Fellini & Blackbird Dancin’ Together

Photo by Mark Cornelison

Photo by Mark CornelisonFor those of you longing for a rock concert that’s more of a spectacle than barroom social affair or a dance performance that isn’t a “tutus and Tchaikovsky” recital, take note of an upcoming event at the Lexington Downtown Arts Center.  On Friday June 13th and Saturday June 14th Blackbird Dance Theatre presents “The Broken Queen,” featuring live score by Chico Fellini.  A multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird’s Jenny Fitzpatrick and music producer Duane Lundy, “The Broken Queen” is a live music and dance experience nearly one year in the making.  I sat down with Lundy recently to discuss the Broken Queen project, the excitement of multi-disciplinary performance, and the resurrection (and future?) of Chico Fellini.

For those of you longing for a rock concert that’s more of a spectacle than barroom social affair or a dance performance that isn’t a “tutus and Tchaikovsky” recital, take note of an upcoming event at the Lexington Downtown Arts Center.  On Friday June 13th and Saturday June 14th Blackbird Dance Theatre presents “The Broken Queen,” featuring live score by Chico Fellini.  A multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird’s Jenny Fitzpatrick and music producer Duane Lundy, “The Broken Queen” is a live music and dance experience nearly one year in the making.  I sat down with Lundy recently to discuss the Broken Queen project, the excitement of multi-disciplinary performance, and the resurrection (and future?) of Chico Fellini.

Under-Main: What was the origin of this collaboration?

Duane Lundy: Jenny Fitzpatrick, who’s the brain-child behind Blackbird [Dance Theatre], had done a piece called “The Great Grey” last year and had used my productions as the underscore.  Then she had come to me to see about doing something more performance-based this year along with the dance.  She has ten plus dancers and aerial silk work and felt like a good way to lift the bar would be to have a live band.  For me it was a no-brainer to put Chico [Fellini] together.

UM: So this is the first new activity by Chico Fellini in a long while, what’s the story with the extended break?

DL:  We played a ton of shows, did a bit of touring and did our album; I was already producing and had the [Shangri-La] studio so it just got so busy.  I felt like we had a nice three year run of being really aggressive and it was super positive, but it felt like it was time to either do a new album or take time off.  With schedules the way they were… it was at a good point.  I think sometimes bands push and push without taking a breather. My production work was real demanding so I thought it was time to stop, but we’ve all worked together in different capacities since.

I had written a couple of new songs and then I had a few pieces that I had been working on with Justin Craig, now Musical Director on Broadway for “Hedwig” and my assistant for years.  We had worked on some ambient pieces, some instrumental stuff and a couple of older Chico songs, and Jenny used that as a framework for the choreography.  Then the band reconvened at the end of last year to talk about participating and everybody wanted to do that.  We just picked up where we left off.  The band has an identity to it, so we weren’t really searching much.  There’s such a personal connection between us; it’s like a bunch of family members getting together, you just re-start the same conversation you ended a while ago.

UM: What was it about this project that made it right for a Chico Fellini reunion?

DL: I had been looking for an excuse for all of us to get together and play, but I didn’t want to do the more traditional “release and tour” route.  Jenny was a fan of the band, and her dance & choreography, her look at how to incorporate music, is incredibly creative; she’s able to look outside the box of a waltz being a waltz and a contemporary jazz piece being a jazz piece.  She’s melding different styles of jazz in with different types of things that I had given her and it had worked smoothly because she was picking up things that I was giving her and yay-ing and nay-ing things that she did and didn’t like.  So I think we gave her 20 plus pieces to come up with the 13 or 14 that are the show.

She was kind to let us bring what we thought would be interesting to the table, sonically, and then let her work within that framework.  It’s a real collaboration of the music and the dance that she’s been able to put together.

UM: What can audience members expect from the performances?

DL: It’s a really wild, interactive experience for the viewer.  There’s so much dance, and the way the DAC is set up, you’re right there with it.  It’s very dramatic.  About 80% of [the music] is new.  There are three songs from past work, most of which was unreleased, so in some ways it’s all new.  Sonically, the sound envelopes everybody around.  It’s this mass sound that’s happening while people are having an interactive experience with the dance.  I think it’s a very wild show.  It’s very smart too.  It’s such a narrative-involved and intricate piece from the storyline Jenny put together and the abstractions of the dance, the aesthetic of the look of it… the genius behind all that is her.

Blackbird Dance Theatre and Chico Fellini will perform “The Broken Queen” at the Downtown Arts Center on Friday June 13th and Saturday June 14th, at 7:30pm.  The DAC can be reached at 859.225.0370.

Arts, Entertainment, Music

Bob Bryant: Our Music Scene from a bassist’s eye view

IMG_3516When touring artists find themselves in need of a bass player while performing in Lexington the “go to” musician is Bob Bryant. Bob has held down the bottom for everybody from Alex Acuna, Rosemary Clooney and Al Hurt to Bela Fleck, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, J.P. Pennington and Larry Cordell. He’s a regular on the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour and is often found performing as a duo with one of a couple of other local masters, Jay Flippin and Ben Lacy. 

Bob has played in all sorts of venues and in all sorts of situations. He has a unique “bassists’ eye view” of the Lexington scene.

UnderMain asked him to share some observations. Here are Bob’s thoughts:

Hopefully, slipping into the membership of Lexington’s “Old Guard” is a good thing in terms of music affairs. Regardless of where I’ve lived or worked, Lexington has always been considered home for me, and never have I lost focus on this community or it’s musical well being.

When asked to compose a couple of paragraphs on the topic, initially the task appeared a struggle in any attempt to display an honestly positive overall outlook. My concerns were (and are) a conspicuous digression in the manner many venues (among the many exceptions) treat musicians as the new norm.

More discouraging by observation is the often belligerent status of the new generation audience. I am often amazed by the ‘party’ atmosphere amidst spectacular musical performances that would never be tolerated in other nearby cities, and traditionally would not have occurred locally.

Though great news to follow, it’s a shame to lose sight of just how amazing the storied tradition of Lexington’s music scene had been until just a couple of decades past. It was truly something, with ‘great’ bands slamming on every street corner while others participated in the “New Circle shuffle,” traveling from one beltway venue to another.

And this is not to mention a bustling recording scene: red-eyed musicians at 8:00 a.m., recovering from their 5 night  stand, sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes, participating in pre-production plans for an all-day session, just to depart directly back to the bandstand, and then do it all over again.

Such meetings took place in a control room including a 2 inch tape recording deck, a mixing console big enough to sleep 4, and a room full of outboard gear so hot the AC ran full out in the dead of winter. The cigarette smoke was unbearable. And the coffee was awful no matter which studio you were working. Those days are history.

On the other hand, all is not lost; not by any means. Extraordinarily talented young musicians continue the tradition of uncanny musicianship known to this unlikely expanse. We should all be so proud of them as they thankfully persevere in this relatively new hostile environment (which incidentally includes Pro Tools).

In addition to the youngsters are other categorical heroes, for example, the relative unknowns. Such is the case of University of Kentucky PhD candidate, Jay Crutcher. Jay’s newest upcoming solo album features some of the finest performing/producing I’ve ever heard.

Another new mover and shaker is UK orchestra conductor John Nardolillo, who has taken the organization to inclusion among the nations absolute elite. Most concerts are free to the public; just show up!

And of course to weigh in on behalf of the previously mentioned ’old guard’ there is the formidable Jay Flippin legacy (of which I am a grateful member). The pianist, a true national treasure, not only raised an entire brood of young music students into career-minded professionals, but serves as the standard for all musicians to aspire. The Jay Flippin/Gail Wynters duo is an unimaginable treat of true greatness!

There is plenty for which to feel positive; amazing musicians-young and not so young, in or out of the spotlight. Helpful would be a little less chaos in the listening rooms, a little more support from (some) venue operators, and acknowledgement of a great future as all these artists are eager to share their gift.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Environment, Music, News, Politics

Cultural Affairs Can Be a Load of Crap

Someone I know, pondering a try at local politics, recently wondered if his ideas even mattered. Politics and public service, these days, do seem so co-opted, so corporatized by the powerful and monied that it was easy to understand and impossible to dismiss his sense of futility.

Many of us share it. No point in going into the reasons. We’re all more than aware to the point of increasing -and dangerous- cyncism of what has become of the high ideals of statesmanship.

So, can you actually make a difference? Any difference? Do you have a voice? Can your voice influence public policy and bring about positive change or improvement?

Indulge us a bit as we get this thing called UnderMain underway. We actually do believe the answer is “yes.” And part of our mission is to encourage and facilitate your voice as a powerful Lexington cultural resource.

You are invited to become a contributor to the UnderMain blog community. Send your submission for consideration to Consideration? Yes. There is plenty of snark out there. That’s well covered. This is a place where we talk frankly, but with respect, about moving things forward. We will offer observations of our own from time to time, but our hope is to create a carousel of perspectives and ideas about our cultural landscape and conditions.

I’d like to get this rolling with what may seem an odd question for a cultural affairs magazine. But you know? Sewage is a cultural affair.

So, this multiple choice quiz for your consideration:

How aware are you of the details of the city’s agreement with the EPA to fix the mess that is our ghastly mingled system of sanitary and storm sewers?

I’m up on it

I’m somewhat aware

I’m vaguely aware

I know very little


Are you aware that city officials anticipate that implementation of their plan to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act will cost the city at least $600 million?

Yes, fully aware

No. You’re kidding?

Did you know that this cost is being covered with a recently enacted sewage fee that most likely will have to be increased?

Yes and I would support an increase to ensure Lexington is in full compliance.

Yes, but I do not support a tax increase for this purpose

Fixing sewers is decidedly unsexy compared with creating an entertainment district in our downtown. But there is a limit to what our tax base can support. Which is your priority?

Fix the sewers

Build the entertainment district

Which of the following best describes you as a Fayette County citizen?

Actively engaged in the affairs of my community

Interested in the affairs of my community

Somewhat aware of what’s going on

Aware but too busy to care

Unaware but wish I knew more

Unaware. Blissfully unaware.