Tonight, roughly 25 visual artists from the region will gather at Old Tarr Distillary on Manchester St. along with music notables headlined by famed indie songsmith and Louisville native Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
The collective name for this gathering is Tsuga Art & Music, tsuga being the botanical name for hemlock trees. Therein sits the impetus for the evening: to raise awareness of endangered Eastern Kentucky hemlock tress invested by Asian insect predators. All proceeds from the event will go to Kentucky’s Hemlocks, an alliance of government groups, non-profit organizations and citizens working to save the trees.
The free part of the Tsuga show will spotlight paintings, sculptures, stained glass, wood block prints and more from Central Kentucky artists. The music begins at 8 with Englishman (a pop-folk project led by The Scourge of the Sea’s Andrew English) and the roots jazz and blues musings of local faves The Swells. Then comes Billy.
Over the past 15 years, Billy – or, as Kentuckians familiar with his music know him, plain ol’ Will Oldham – has embraced an indie aesthetic for crafting roots-driven folk with flashes of punkish intuition and loads of Appalachian inspiration. Recordings from the ‘90s, when Oldham performed in various guises of his Palace Music persona, also reflected a healthy dose of pop-savvy melodic strength.
But in the role of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Oldham has clearly outgrown the Palace. Johnny Cash covered the title tune to the 1999 Billy-billed album I See a Darkness for 2000’s American III: Solitary Man. And in an odd but immensely enjoyable turn, Oldham teamed with the California Guitar Trio for a reggae-funk update of the Lynyrd Skynyrd arena rock warhorse tune Free Bird. It’s featured on the trio’s 2008 Echoes album,
Oldham sticks closer to his country/folk comfort zone on the newest Billy record, Lie Down in the Light, which hit stores late last spring. Still, tunes like For Every Field There’s a Mole, which blurs stylistic contours with bright, boppish electric piano, best reflects Oldham’s mischievous pop spirit.
The ever prolific Oldham already has a new album titled Beware! ready for release in March. A press release states the new record is “Stronger. Stinkier. It blooms in low light and cold but thrives in the sun.” Hmm.
The Louisville renegade string band The Picket Line will back Oldham at tonight’s Tsuga fest.
The Tsuga Art & Music benefit at Old Tarr Distillery on Manchester St. begins with a free group art show at 5 p.m. today. Music featuring Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Swells and Englishman starts at 8 p.m. with a $15 admission charge Call (877) 367-5658.