Tag Archives: The Burl

Arts

Scene&Heard: Blind Corn Liquor Pickers

The sound of the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers is the sound of the rowdiest of hootenannies in the biggest barn full of dancers, singing along to the music. Yet, they blur the traditional, swirl it around with the modern sound of electric guitars, the haunting voices of Beth Walker, Jory Bowling and others for a unique fusion of amazing music.

Filling the stage with eight members, the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers creates a massive sound, each musician masterful in his skill.

Beth sings most of the songs, with harmony from Jory and some other members. The full band consists of Beth Walker on vocals, Joel Serdenis on mandolin and vocals, Travis Young on banjo, Ben Vogelpohl on drums, Will Rush on bass, Jeoffrey Teague on electric guitar, Thomas Usher on percussion and vocals, and Jory Bowling on guitar and vocals. Together they create an impressive wall of sound.

Their songs, like their sound, varies from song to song and between singers. Beth and Jory carry most of the leading vocals, both having incredibly powerful and unique voices. Jory’s deep voice resonates, and Beth wails with a strong, steadfast voice. Others take some songs too such as Joel. The music, like the band’s long career, has changed and shifted as members change, as their genre is hard to define. Somewhere where Prog grass, bluegrass, country, rock and blues all mix together with the culture of the hills of Kentucky.

“The sound shifts and changes as new people comes in,” says Travis Young, one of the original members of the band that started eighteen years ago. Over two decades the lineup has changed often and their five CD’s vary from each other quite a bit. This latest CD, The Sentence, is strongly influenced by the addition of Jory Bowling and his songwriting. The different members take turns with songwriting as well, including Travis, Joel, Beth and Jory.

The Blind Corn Liquor Pickers CD release show at the Burl

The Blind Corn Liquor Pickers are a testament to the love of making music. Anyone who knows about music performing knows it is not easy to get eight musicians in the same place at the same time. And dividing the spoils by eight makes no one wealthy, for certain. Weekly rehearsals, with several members of the band driving hours from their homes outside of Lexington so they can give their fans a high-quality performance, is a devotion. Their passion shows as soon as the show starts. “We put lots of time and energy into making a set we are very proud of,” says Beth.

The room was full that Saturday night at The Burl. Warmed up well by the Solid Rocket Boosters, followed by Senora May and Johnny Conqueroo, the Liquor Pickers took to a welcoming stage by 11 that night.

Filling the stage with the band and the room with their sound, the excited fans were amped up and ready to enjoy the gift of music the band offered. The new CD was six years in the making, many in the crowd knew the words to the songs and sang along with joyful devotion.

Representative of their diversity as musicians, The Sentence is a tapestry of the various musicians in the band, and no matter who is singing lead the rest of the band often joins together in a chorus that inevitably is joined by the crowd, and the entire room resonates with the pleasure everyone is having. That is the joy of the Liquor Pickers, the inevitability of moving your feet and dancing along, because that is what this music is made for. Singing of moonshine and mining and the trials of life as you journey down its road, the band creates the rhythm of working folks, and exactly the jubilation you need to dance it off on a Saturday night surrounded by a hundred or so of your fellow kinfolk dancing by your side, singing along to those hillbilly blues.

That is the sound of the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers, that blend of the old ways and the modern reality, and the folks trapped in the in-between.

From the devotion of their fan base, their “family” as they call them, the Liquor Pickers took it upon themselves to create the Moonshiner’s Ball five years ago, as a way to celebrate the music of Kentucky, back before Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers put recent Kentucky music on the map.

A celebration of local talent is the foundation of the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers. They are a celebration of music, and their festival is the result of that love of music, love of Kentucky, and love for their fans who have loyally cheered them on for two decades.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Senora May

“I’ve been waiting for this night for so long; I’m so glad you’re all here!” Senora May told the crowd that gathered from the front of the stage all the way to the back of The Burl to celebrate her first CD release.

Lainhart is titled in honor of her maiden name, and many of the songs speak on the theme of family.

Senora May’s music is soft and easy on the ear. It envelops you with a warmth that is familiar and welcoming, even if you’ve never met her. With guitar picking that trickles along like a brook, her voice has the fluidity of a flowing brook. Senora is a child of the hills – the gorgeous backdrop on the cover of her CD is the backdrop to her life and her music.

I am inspired most by nature, second by people.  I can’t explain it. It’s just my process to be in awe of my surroundings, my emotions dictate which direction the song might turn, but I am initially inspired by some sound, or visual directly before me or triggering my memory.  If I hear a cardinal or a mourning dove, or I see limbs broken and scented from deer, that triggers something in my mind.”

The title song Lainhart begins with sounds of farm life that distort into sounds of war. Written when her brother Levi left for Marine boot camp, the song is a tribute to him but also to her family and the life they live in the hills of eastern Kentucky.

Ambient and significant sounds are in several songs on the album, a sonic tapestry of her story. It’s a story of family and love and distance and work of all kinds. Senora was joined onstage at The Burl by Josh Nolan on guitar and toy piano and John Isaacs on drums.

Senora May performing at The Burl

The album tells the story of a woman coming into her own. The wife of Tyler Childers, Senora May’s music is certainly influenced by being the wife of an actively touring musician. 

“Through the deliberate arrangement of my album, I hoped for people to navigate the loss, the support, pride, and then self-discovery and bliss through solitude. I would have surely lost myself through turn points of this project, if I hadn’t encountered the self preservation piece.”

She lives in peace with the solitude of her home, without electricity amongst the hills she grew up with, fostering her independence and her art, including music, graphic art, painting, stained glass, fibers, as well as other mediums.

Her song “By My Lonesome” is an anthem for the independent natural woman, confident in this solitude and strengthened by her abilities. Senora brags that she can skin any animal properly and teach another to do the same. A true child of the hills, she lives the authentic life she sings about, and her voice and lyrics roll as naturally as the fog in the hills at sunrise.

“Only Want You” plays to the background of coyotes yelping as she sings of a wife missing her husband who is out on the road while she listens to the crickets sing around her at home in the hills. Tyler has been touring for most of their marriage, especially so in the last year or so, and this experience certainly influences her music.

“Missing him when he’s gone is always there, I try to stay busy enough that it doesn’t become a problem. When I let my emotions interfere with my productivity, I call him and we talk about it and he’ll do the same. We have a really good relationship in that way. But yes, I would say quite a few of our songs have no option but to be inspired by our missing of one another.”

Her CD release was quite a success: a full house at The Burl with Tyler home to watch the whole thing. The crowd was treated to a spectacular natural light show as thunder and lightning blasted outside, knocking out some of the lights as she played. Loyal fans turned on their phone flashlights to illuminate her with love, singing her words back to her. The whole CD was inspired by her fans, “I put Lainhart out, for my fans who have bugged the hell out of me. I put it out for my family and friends who love me and have convinced me of my capabilities.”

The week after Senora May’s CD release at The Burl in Lexington, she played the early morning stage Saturday at the Kickin’ it on the Creek festival in Irvine, Kentucky, in her native Estill county. Senora was quite at home as the sun rose up over the ridgelines of the holler where the stage sat, the fog burning away with the day’s rising heat. She roused folks from their tents with her songs, luring them into the sunshine with her mesmerizing and sometimes haunting voice.

Senora May performing at Kickin' It On The Creek

A completely different scene than at The Burl, the festival takes place deep in a holler in Estill and Lee County, where Ross creek winds through the bottomland between two ridges. A long slightly-horrifying-to-drive gravel road takes you right to the house of Byron Roberts, a friend of Senora’s family who recalls the day she was born. Roberts has hosted the festival at his home for the last five years. 

The festival is a reunion of sorts for Eastern Kentucky musicians.

The whole feel was that of family, which Senora’s music embodied as she sang up on a stage adorned with flowers her father had grown and picked for her set. Local and homegrown, with love of family. It was the perfect setting for Senora May’s music, which helped bring the day of music to fruition, and would be brought to a head later that night by her husband Tyler.

Folks gathered around with sleepy eyes and happy smiles and cups of coffee as they sang Senora May’s words back to her, one of her favorite parts of making music and sharing it with others.

“I like the way I feel when I’m singing and people are singing along. I like to hear that my lyrics have helped someone in some way.”

It was clear during these two shows, her crowds like it just as much.

Cara Blake Coppola is a contributing writer for UnderMain and a book author. Video by Derek “Doc” Feldman.

Arts

Fresh Big Fresh

The cover photos for the Big Fresh’s sophomore LP release entitled Sweeps denote a certain image, a picture of nostalgia for a time when some of us were in our foundational age, young children surrounded by neon colors, living through the country’s desperate grasp on the wholesome ideal of the fifties while we heard about the Cold War on the huge TV that sat as the central focus in every house of privilege.

Their photos are intentionally set to look like the TV Guide covers of those days, when sitcoms were the unifying force for us all, what was talked about the next day at school, what folks looked forward to from week to week. As we were kids then, it seemed simpler times.

Big Fresh

The sound is all Big Fresh. The techno, synthesizer-heavy lightness of the eighties, the vocal harmony of backing vocals, the electronic sound that was emblematic of those times. Here’s a sampling:

Cosmos Song featuring Reva Russell English

Hottie Tottie featuring Ryan Hover and Chris Dennison

Uh Oh featuring Per Sunding and Karen Hover

Additional songs on the Sweeps EP include The Voices featuring Ken Stringfellow, and I Found Out featuring Tim Welch.

Yet the singers and musicians in Big Fresh are grown now, with kids of their own, and the experience of growing up to know that those really weren’t simpler times, that there is no simple time, gives Big Fresh the authority to claim and redefine this music as their own. “I Found Out” is a perfect example of this, a song that feels light and airy but seems to be discussing an angst only earned by living.

Big Fresh is a large collective of Lexington musicians, including Daniel Coy, Jeremy Midkiff, Ben Fulton, John Ferguson, Dave Farris, Nick Coleman, Ben Phelan, Faith Diamond, Bryan Gore, Brian Conners Manke, Matthew Clarke, Kate Drof, Kim Conlee and Trevor Tremaine. All of these people are also in ATTEMPT, and several are in numerous other bands as well. For John Ferguson, however, Big Fresh is “The project that is most near and dear to my heart…Big Fresh is specifically pop songs that are a little easily digestible.” These bands, along with Italian Beaches and Jeanne Vomit-Terror, all share members and are all putting out LP’s on the Desperate Spirits label, which they started.

Desperate Spirits is a local creation by the above mentioned, where they put out vinyl LP’s from their collective band of madly talented musicians. Sweeps is one of three albums they will have produced this year, not bad for a labor of love being done by working folks with a passion for music. They choose to produce “Vinyl artifacts” instead of putting out music digitally, which has its benefits and perks of course, “but to have this object, this artifact, you’re creating something that can be archived into history somehow. Even if we’re doing it for ourselves, there’s this physical thing we can hold.”

The album is the second of a set, the first Big Fresh LP called Fall Preview was released last year. The new LP Sweeps is a bold follow-up to the first. Each song, while resonating Ferguson’s vision of lighter, pop type songs, shows diversity between the songs, each one holding its unique place in the group. “Cosmos Song” features the female vocalists in the band, layering electronic songs in a haunting, enveloping way that wraps through the speakers. The LP starts and ends with “Hottie Tottie” and “The Voices”, respectively, more upbeat electronic sounds with robotic vocal overdubs, but then lead into and out of the more existential songs in the middle. Diverse and vibrant, the whole LP is a masterful orchestration of the surface level optimistic consumerism of the 80’s matched with the more accessible daily struggle of the daily life of jobs, kids and life.

Reflecting their lives as parents and to appease an audience of the same generation, Big Fresh will have their record release as a brunch, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, August 19th at The Burl. The Doodles food truck will be there and it is an all ages show.  Big Fresh hopes to be “mindful of how difficult late night shows are, how exclusive those shows are. Such a niche audience, we would like to branch out to other opportunities.”

After the record release, Big Fresh will be playing Sept. 8th at the Tahlsound Festival on Southland Drive, another daytime show that is all ages friendly. Ferguson spoke at length about what a supportive community Lexington is for the diverse talents of the folks on the Desperate Spirits label. “Lexington is great in that way in that everyone kind of supports everyone else. It is a very inclusive and supportive community.” The variety of shows that people around town can enjoy speaks to this inclusion.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Short & Co.

The lineup at The Burl on a Friday evening in May was packed with a triple header of local musical talent for the fifth year anniversary of Alcatraz Shakedown. Following Magnolia Boulevard and preceding the headliner, Short & Co. took the stage and took over the room with some face melting blues and guitar work.

Jeremy Short is the front man for Short & Co, his first band as frontman and lead vocalist and guitar. A lifelong musician who previously played as guitarist and backing vocalist for others, including Sasha Colette and the Magnolias, this band and their first CD, Lost in a Spin, is his first foray as lead guitarist and songwriter, which he claimed to be “brand new, incredibly challenging and a steep learning curve for sure.” All who listened that night and have his newly released CD can agree, this is a good thing.

Jeremy Short can play the blues. And I’m not talking just playing. Playing a guitar is one thing, using that guitar to channel the essence that is The Blues is another thing. It requires a master of the craft. Short is undeniably a master of the guitar, and The Burl’s welcoming wooden walls were happy to embrace his music and his sound that night.

From a family of devoted musicians and singers, Short was raised surrounded by the voices of his family singing in harmony. As a child he lived with his grandmother, who had a piano at home and played at church, and his grandfather, the preacher of the Methodist church in Wolverine, Kentucky, a small town in Breathitt County Short describes as “on the way to Hazard.” He thought everyone started Sunday dinner with the family by singing praises, “that was normal to me”. While no one in his family took their talent to the stage before him, Short grew up with a love of music and harmony. That is quite evident when Short & Co. takes the stage.

Short & Co: (L-R) Corey Heim, bass; John Clay, drums, vocals; Jeremy Short, guitar, lead vocals

Joined on stage by Corey Heim on bass and John Clay on drums and vocal harmonies, Short & Co. sounds like much more than three people up there. Their vocal harmonies were tight. John Clay, a seasoned musician and vocalist out of Louisville, kept a solid back beat of drums while also matching his voice to Short’s with tight precision. The bass gave that solid foundation and held it while Short sunk down into deep, solid confident blues solos.

Jeremy Short

Whether using his slide or not, Short is quite familiar with the neck of a guitar. Playing it with ease and soul, he ran up and down the neck creating slick blues licks while the drums and bass danced behind him. Ranging from a more Chicago style song then into a poppy sounding song that echoes his love of all Steely Dan guitarists, his set ended with a song that had a Rockabilly sound to it. Covering “Dead Flowers” by The Rolling Stones rounded out the set, giving a deep variety of great guitar led music for the crowd that night, which danced enthusiastically all night long.

His mastery of the craft of the guitar solo has earned Jeremy Short enough attention to be invited to attend Tyler Childers’ panel during Bonnaroo this summer, discussing the guitar solo during the festival. He will also be appearing at the Bluegrass BBQ festival in downtown Lexington. His new CD can be purchased at shows, or on his website at shortandcompanymusic.com.

Photos and video by Derek Feldman

Arts

WRFL hits ‘Big 3-0’

WRFL, at 88.1 on the FM dial, has been fulfilling its mission in Lexington for an incredible thirty years. Next weekend, March 2nd through March 4th, WRFL will be throwing an epic party in celebration of thirty years as a pivotal force in Lexington.

Photo by Arden Barnes

WRFL was started back in 1988, when “College radio was a vibrant media platform for punk rock and alternative music culture,” says Phillip Kisling, the station’s promotions director. After a year of research and fundraising by Kakie Urch, lovingly referred to as their “punk rock godmother”, WRFL hit the airwaves to offer Lexington “a source of music, news and other programming not regularly found through other media outlets in central Kentucky.” In doing so, the station has been foundational in the education and training of many of Lexington’s broadcasters, sound engineers, and music producers, fulfilling the first part of their mission, “to provide its members with professional training and guidance in radio operations management, program development, and quality broadcast performance.”

For thirty years, WRFL has been providing a creative and informative outlet for Lexington and has helped greatly in fostering a sense of community around town in the music and art we celebrate. While affiliated with UK, WRFL works with the entire community, accepting interns from many area colleges. Students in fields such as broadcasting, journalism, marketing, business, engineering, music or art can find a place to learn their career with hands-on training and encouraged creativity.

Being a DJ at WRFL is an opportunity many around Lexington can claim. They have an open door policy at the station: as long as folks commit to three training weekends and some studio time shadowing an experienced DJ, anyone in the community –not just UK students, can host a show of any theme as long as the content complies with FCC and UK stipulations.

Featuring everything from social activism, to mental health issues, LGBTQ topics, to Russian radio, WRFL is a blank canvas that encourages the creativity of the community to thrive. “We’re really an open door, despite being in a basement,” Ben and Phil joked, and are excited for when the studio gets to move into the new Student Center that is currently under construction.

WRFL has provided that “bridge or handshake” between UK students and the city where they may be finding themselves for the first time. Kisling spoke of how he hated Lexington when he arrived as a UK undergrad from Louisville: “It wasn’t until I found WRFL that Lexington opened up to me.” The station became an introduction to Lexington’s alternative music and art scene, and in turn, many of those musicians and artists have appeared in the studio or have been a dj themselves.

All of this successful collaboration, creativity and love for commercial free radio will culminate in the 30th Birthday Bash for WRFL happening over an entire weekend at The Burl. The lineup for the venue is to celebrate WRFL, and will feature a special draft from Blue Stallion Brewery, a mango IPA called “The Only Alternative Left”, celebrating the station’s motto.

Washed Out is the big headliner on Friday the 2nd, with openers Idiot Glee and Helado Negro.

Kisling and Allen are very excited to bring such a big name to Lexington, offering their supporters and audience a chance to see a band they would normally have to travel a long distance to pay much more money to see at a bigger, less intimate venue. There is an after party for that show as well, featuring Hell Bent Hearts, Just a Test, and The Yellow Belts.

Saturday’s festivities begin during the day at the Downtown Arts Center, where thirty years of DJs will reunite and celebrate at a free, family-friendly exhibit of Rifle Magazine, the station’s program guide. The evening will be back at The Burl headlining Cults, with openers Ellie Herring, Hair Police and Devine Carama, along with an after-dance party with DJ’s.

The next day they are hosting a “Hangover Brunch” and are bringing in all the nostalgia, with bands that were playing when WRFL was first hitting the airwaves all those years ago, featuring Ten Foot Pole and Nine Pound Hammer, along with the younger phenoms of Johnny Conqueroo. That brunch also promises to feature a collaboration between the generations when some of the original musicians will be performing with their own musical kids, as the generations pass the baton and the great music keeps on playing.

Such a magical celebration the folks at WRFL have put together for us, a celebration of thirty years of alternative music on commercial free airwaves, a collaboration of some of the best and hardest working creative minds in town. For thirty years WRFL has held true to the mission, and next weekend’s celebration promises to be an incredible apex for the “Only Alternative Left.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Phillip Kisling and Ben Allen:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Divine Carama

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

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

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

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

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

Divine Carama | Photo by Derek Feldman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Burl | Photo by Derek Feldman

Arts

Scene&Heard: Dancing at the Zombie Prom Zoo

“I have this nasty habit, which is to convince my friends in various bands who are immensely talented to give me a couple evenings of their time, their company and their great conversation, and let’s put on a thing.”

Sitting at a small table outside the library at Transylvania University on what feels like the first real day of fall, Professor Scott Whiddon is in his conversational zone, a somewhat contradictory combination of an easygoing nature layered over an almost manic drive. That usually surfaces when he gets to talk about his favorite subjects, music and community, and in this instance, he gets to discuss both together.

Scott Whiddon | Photo by Ann Sydney Taylor Photography

Whiddon is the organizing force behind a unique convergence of the two which will culminate on October 28th with the “Zombie Prom” at The Burl. There, he will take to the stage with other local musicians – Dr. Kevin Holm-Hudson, Dr. Jim Gleason, Mark Richardson, Thomas Hatton, Larry Nelson, Megan McCauley and La’Shelle Allen –  to recreate the seminal Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.

“There’s something about getting people together who love music, who are damn good at it, and watching them give to something that’s bigger than they are, be it the music itself, or the amazing work that Habitat does,” says Whiddon.

The upcoming Pink Floyd show is at least the fourth dive by various Whiddon-led assemblies of Lexington musicians into the catalog of a specific band, following forays into Cheap Trick, the Velvet Underground, and New Orleans funk staple The Meters, forming a series of shows benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

While serving as frontman for local outfit Palisades, Whiddon found that a seed formed during shows played to support another local institution, the Harry Dean Stanton Festival

“I realized there were some really good opportunities to do some really creative things for a non-profit that I love,” says Whiddon. “The bench [of musicians] in this town is so freakin’ deep, in terms of talent. And also, unlike many musicians in the world, people in this town are really responsible, they’re good with calendars, they’re good at planning ahead.”

The intent wasn’t, however, to turn to the idea into a series.

“I started thinking it would be one, then I thought it would be six months,” says Whiddon. “The fuel for this is the amazing exuberance and talent and generosity of the musicians I get to work with, the community partners who throw in to help…People along the way saying, ‘Let me help you with this part, let me make a small donation to cover this’ – you’d be shocked.”

Along the way, the series has picked up community partners in Smiley Pete Publishing and Bleed Blue Tattoos, in addition to venues such as The Burl. What sets these shows apart from other benefits is that they cover the expenses of the musicians in addition to providing contributions to a charity. In this way, they’re more sustainable for the people involved, but there’s an added personal bonus to playing these events. 

“You hang out with your buddies,” says Whiddon. “You get the joy that you had learning other peoples’ songs when you were fifteen or sixteen and starting to learn how to play your instrument. It’s been fun getting to play the music of bands that made me want to play music with people that I admire.”

That enthusiasm for working up the music that formed one’s musical upbringing is shared by Gleason, who will be performing both Dark Side of the Moon with Whiddon and a set of songs by the Allman Brothers with his main group, the Johnson Brothers.

Jim Gleason

“What makes the Johnson Brothers so good at these ‘documentary’ kinds of shows is the depth and range of the players,” says Gleason. “We’re very careful to get all the elements (notes, sounds, arrangements) right. In that sense, the Dark Side of the Moon band is similarly adept. The homework is done before coming in. What’s different is building the chemistry of the individual players, who were all new to me. But that’s always fun, and really enriching for me as a player.”

Gleason admits to less than a complete knowledge of the back catalog of Pink Floyd, but he jumped at the chance to help recreate the classic album.

“It’s always great to climb inside a new body of music and learn the parts from iconic players. Can’t help but to make you a better musician,” says Gleason.

The heart of this series of benefits drums a personal beat for Whiddon. His father, Ennis Whiddon, worked with Habitat for Humanity for over a decade before passing away two years ago. Putting on these events is a way to honor the memory of a man who spent his life building – first structures, then souls.

“He was the kind of guy who got really excited about engineering schematics and dirt,” says Whiddon.

As the son of a sharecropper, Ennis Whiddon knew poverty firsthand. He went into construction, then later in life, the ministry. Habitat for Humanity was his way of bringing the things he cared about together. He also cared deeply about music, instilling a love of playing in his son.

“He loved to put on big ole’ barbecues and have bluegrass bands come and raise money for Habitat builds,” says Whiddon. “I think Habitat kept Dad alive for a couple years. He loved the sense of community, he loved the sense of fellowship. The best way to honor the memory was to serve an organization that served him.”

To do that, Whiddon had to draw upon his strengths…while overlooking a glaring weakness.

“I knew I didn’t have Dad’s construction gene. I’m completely inept at that,” says Whiddon. “But I did get a little bit of his logistics planning, community building, active listening, networking…and I love playing rock music.”

This unconventional approach to giving back sits just fine with Habitat for Humanity, according to Communications & Major Gifts Officer at Lexington Habitat for Humanity, Trish Roberts Hatler.

“We love community partnerships,” says Hatler. “It gives us the great opportunity to share our mission.”

It is not uncommon for those in the community to find other ways to support Habitat for Humanity without lifting a hammer, she notes.

“We have a lady who brings lunch to builds,” Hatler offers as an example of others can give. “Time, money, whatever…it has to work for the person as well as the organization.”

She also appreciates the creative effort going to benefit her organization.

“The more interesting and inventive, the more successful it usually will be,” she says. She’s looking forward to attending the event at The Burl, but will not divulge the costumes that she and Lexington Habitat for Humanity CEO Rachel Childress will be wearing.

As for Whiddon, for him the Zombie Prom will serve as a fitting capstone – for now – to a cascade of benefit shows, especially in light of what sounds like a crushing musical workload of finishing a solo album, working the next half of an album with his usual band Palisades, putting out a film score, and starting up a new musical project to bow in December. This is all in addition to his regular gig as a professor and Director of Transy’s Writing Center. With all of this on his plate, he’s reluctant to say if he’s ready to put together another benefit, but he won’t discount the idea out of hand.

“I have some ideas in the works,” Whiddon says, arching an eyebrow, “and I’m always up for an adventure.”

The Zombie Prom to benefit Habitat for Humanity takes place on Saturday, October 28th at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at http://www.ticketfly.com.

Habitat for Humanity is the largest construction company in the world, active in over 70 countries, and has provided better housing to over a million families since 1976. Lexington Habitat for Humanity has served over 500 families locally and celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2016. For more information on Lexington Habitat for Humanity, visit http://www.lexhabitat.org.

(Full disclosure: the author, along with half of Lexington, is a longtime friend and recidivist bandmate of Dr. Whiddon, and during this interview, the author agreed to drive Dr. Whiddon to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland, Ohio, in exchange for gas money, a free ticket, and probably a long conversation about how Cheap Trick and Mötley Crüe are underrated.)

Arts

Scene&Heard: The Sway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arts

Scene&Heard: Maggie Lander

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

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

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

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

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

(Image by Ben Keeling)

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

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

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

Cara chats with Maggie…

(Performance photos by Cara Blake Coppola)

Arts

Scene&Heard: This Was What They Wanted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Set List:

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

2. Chris Sullivan- Famous Blue Raincoat

3. Warren Byrom and Chris Sullivan- Suzanne

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

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

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

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

8. Eric Cummins- Tonight Will Be Fine, Darkness

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

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

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

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

13. Rob Rawlings- Iodine, Paper Thin Hotel

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

15. Elias Aaron Irving Gross- Chelsea Hotel

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