Archive for October, 2010

in concert: robert randolph and the family band

robert randolph. photo by danny clinch.

robert randolph. photo by danny clinch.

The first half of Robert Randolph’s galvanizing performance last night at Buster’s essentially was an introduction. Judging by the fact that the venue was pretty well packed by the time the pedal steel guitar star hit the stage around 11 p.m. (jeez guys, is it really necessary to drag things so close to the witching hour on a Sunday night?), such formalities really weren’t necessary. But Randolph offered them anyway..

He displayed the potency of tone of his slide driven instrument, which often sounded like a turbo charged bottleneck as opposed to the polite country music device the pedal steel is usually known as. He then showed its adaptability as a stylistic voice by allowing the pedal steel to rip through the show-opening I’m Not Listening, its accompanying cover of Bob Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm and the monstrous, bass ignited funk manifesto Squeeze.

There were suggestions in those songs that Randolph has grown into a more stoic and studious player onstage. But he also devoted the early segments of the concert to showing his love of a party mood. He jammed away on the Slim Harpo boogie groove of Hip Shake with an entourage of about 20 female patrons from the crowd dancing onstage behind him. Prior to that, he parked himself square on the stage floor to conjure some color out of a portable lap steel guitar.

But it was at the half way point that Randolph showed the serious, earthy might of his music. On two back-to-back songs from his recent We Walk This Road album, Randolph and his Family Band (which included sister Lenesha Randolph on vocals and cousins Danyel Morgan and Marcus Randolph on bass and drums, respectively) matched thick, gospelesque grooves and narratives. The resulting Dry Bones and Traveling Shoes wounded up sounding irresistibly funky as a result. But the blues and gospel heritage of both songs, enforced by the brief snippets of ages-old field recordings that prefaced them (the same pairings are used on the album) finally revealed the full spiritual depth of Randolph’s music. He just had to deal with a little icebreaking first before this evening service could completely come to order.

in performance: the richard thompson band

richard thompson. photo by pamela littky.

richard thompson. photo by pamela littky.

With Richard Thompson’s current band tour bypassing the region entirely, we were left with an option of journeying to Nashville on Saturday evening to catch the veteran British songsmith in full electric splendor.

By that, we refer to the fact that most of Thompson’s performances tend to favor solo acoustic settings. And believe me, that’s great. Few artists create such complete musical atmospheres without accompaniment as Thompson. But when the opportunities arise to catch Thompson in an amped up ensemble mode, they should be seized – especially when they fall on a weekend.

That brings us to this two set performance at the Tennessee’s Performing Arts Center’s sadly underfilled Polk Theatre. The first set was the killer – an entire performance of Thompson’s new Dream Attic album, all 13 songs worth, played from beginning to end. The quintet Thompson has assembled for this tour is the same one that cut the recording at a series of West Coast performances last winter.

Being as Dream Attic, even by Thompson’s terms, in especially British in compositional design, there was an abundance of the guitarist’s typically wry humor, from his explanation of the ceremonial, pre-Christian melodies that percolated through Burning Man (“Do we have any pre-Christians here tonight?”) to the promise of impending polkas at the conclusion of Demons in her Dancing Shoes (“Security, bar the exits”).

During the show’s wildest moments, the folk-rock inspirations became hearty beasts indeed. That was especially true of the lurid murder ballad Sidney Wells, the saga of a serial killing taxi driver that split musical leads between multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn (on soprano saxophone) and violinist Joel Zifkin. But when the narrative was complete, Thompson took the wheel on guitar for a series of mad slip jigs. It was the easily the evening’s most dramatic and boisterously British performance of the night.

The pace downshifted for the noir-like Crimescene, the lovely eulogy A Brother Slips Away and the romantic postscript If Love Whispers Your Name, the latter of which slowly built itself into another fearsome electric lather.

The second set, dubbed by Thompson as “music you actually paid to hear,” indulged in comparatively familiar fare – a late night jazz reverie reading of Al Bowlly’s in Heaven (with Zorn leading the pace on alto sax), a jubilantly poppish Wall of Death and an expansive You Can’t Win with another explosively wiry guitar workout.

But even here there were surprises, like the set-opening Time Will Show the Wiser, an Emitt Rhodes pop nugget that Thompson helped refashion in 1967 for Fairport Convention’s self-titled debut album, and an intensely Eastern One Door Opens driven by drummer Michael Jerome’s lean hand percussion turns on djembe. The latter was one of the evening’s few strolls outside of the dark, droll British folk tradition that has long been such a fertile playground for a songwriter and guitarist who never ceases to astound.

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in performance: patty loveless

patty loveless.

patty loveless.

The hero’s welcome was not at all lost on Patty Loveless.

“Well, you can tell I’m in my home state,” said the Pikeville/Elkhorn City native before she sung as much as a single note last night at the Kentucky Theatre. Such a celebratory attitude was maintained for the following 90 minutes as Loveless courted her audience with a song selection that weaved its way in and out of contemporary country through more rural rooted, bluegrass-accented fare and a vocal presence that was as technically commanding as it was casually inviting.

Let’s cover this latter point right off the bat. At 53, Loveless has arguably never sounded better. Her tone remained a secure fit for the traditional country contours of The Night’s Too Long and the more contemporary and rockish I’m That Kind of Girl, a pair of 1990 hits that opened and closed the program. But it was on the title tune to 1996’s The Trouble with the Truth album that vocal turns and colors presented with zero fanfare or flash revealed what a versed and mature stylist Loveless still is.

The midsection of the show briefly highlighted her last two indie albums – the 2008 retro country covers collection Sleepless Nights and the more Appalachian inspired Mountain Soul II. From the former came the Ray Price classic Crazy Arms, performed with quietly majestic country grace, and a suitably looser take on the George Jones staple Why Baby Why. The Mountain Soul II highlight was Harlan Howard’s Busted (a huge country hit in decades past for both Ray Charles and Johnny Cash). Here, Loveless rolled crisply with the tune’s melodic charm, making this possibly the merriest (and most hapless) song about complete destitution ever constructed.

Loveless came packed with a sterling seven member band, as well, that included fiddler/violist/mandolinist Deanie Richardson (who also played Lexington last week as an auxiliary member of The Chieftains) and the extraordinary pedal steel guitarist Pete Finney, who offered a prelude full of brilliant but beautifully reserved country authenticity before of one Loveless’ most lusciously torchy laments, You Don’t Even Know Who I Am.

All of these elements – performer, repertoire and band – converged a final time for an encore version of Darrell Scott’s You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive. The tune has obvious personal resonance for Loveless, whose father was an Eastern Kentucky coal miner. But it was nigh-impossible to not listen this performance last night with bigger ears. Coming a day after the world watched the televised rescue of 33 Chilean miners from a month of underground captivity, this plaintive ballad for and from Harlan took on an undeniably global profile. And after hearing one of Kentucky’s finest bring the song to life again last night, you wished the rest of the world could have heard it.

loveless return

patty loveless.

patty loveless.

Patty Loveless’ music always seems to return to Kentucky even though the singer herself doesn’t make it back to the Bluegrass – or at least to Lexington concert stages – nearly often enoiugh.

Listen to her extraordinary 2008 country covers album Sleepless Nights and you get a sense of how the singer raised in Elkhorn City as a true coal miner’s daughter came to the music of Webb Pierce, Jack Greene, Kitty Wells and other mentoring recording artists as she played Louisville clubs as a youth with her brother.

Then dig into last year’s Mountain Soul II, a sequel of sorts to Loveless’ 2001 string band-savvy Mountain Soul – a record that reflected her Appalachian roots while reaching out to an Americana audience that existed outside of country radio.

But that doesn’t mean Loveless has actually been burning up Central Kentucky stages over the years. She played Rupp Arena with Vince Gill during the latter singer’s commercial heyday in the ‘90s, a period that paralleled Loveless’ own run on the country charts with hits like Blame It On Your Heart, You Can Feel Bad and Lonely Too Long. There were also frequent appearances at Renfro Valley around the time she switched major record labels from MCA to Epic.

“You know, I’ve been at this touring situation going on 23 years now,” Loveless said last week by phone prior to a Portland, Oregon performance. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve played Lexington.”

The official answer: a Rupp appearance in January 2002 as part of the Down from the Mountain Tour, the hit Americana caravan that included Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and Buddy Miller.

But Loveless is about to become reacquainted with her Central Kentucky fans in a big way. On Thursday, she performs a program at the Kentucky Theatre of songs covering 22 years worth of recordings. Then in February 2011, Loveless will receive the big nod from her home state – induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in a class that will include Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, John Michael Montgomery, Molly O’Day, The Goins Brothers and Larnelle Harris.

“Yeah, that’s the biggie,” Loveless said. “I am so honored. And I know my brother is really proud that I’m going to become a member of the Kentucky Hall of Fame. I owe him so much. I know my whole family is very proud of this.”

Talk of sibling Roger Ramey comes up initially when conversation turns to Sleepless Nights, a record purposely reflective of the country music generation Loveless – born Patty Lee Ramey – grew up with.

 “I started out performing country music at the age of 12, so some of the songs on Sleepless Nights… it’s kind of like I was performing them when I was a young girl.”

In 1971, brother Roger convinced his teenage sister to come to Nashville, where he worked for The Porter Wagoner Show. Wagoner took to young Patty’s singing enough to introduce her to his singing partner, an up-and-coming singer/songsmith by the name of Dolly Parton.

“These were the people who were trying to help and encourage me as a young girl,” Loveless said. “My brother was the one who was brave enough to push me through the doors. I was a very shy kid. My music was a way for me to come out of that shyness. It seemed my brother was one of those guys who could sell ice to the Eskimos. He wouldn’t allow anybody to say no to him.”

Stardom didn’t exactly ignite from there. A steady touring job with the Wilburn Brothers led to less glamorous gigging in the Carolinas. Marriage. Divorce. Life. It all transpired over the next decade until producer Tony Brown signed Loveless to MCA. A label switch to Sony/Epic in 1992 and a series of strong albums all produced by current husband Emory Gordy, Jr. led to Mountain Soul – and, now, Mountain Soul II.

“To me the first Mountain Soul record was special,” the singer said. “It was actually a little side project, an addition to what I was doing when I was with Sony. It turns out I had fans who wanted to hear me make such a record. Then fans requested me to do another record like it. All I could do was to call it Mountain Soul II so that people would know the content of the record. But it is a little bit different.”

Where the first Mountain Soul was exclusively acoustic, the second one employs discreet colors of electric and pedal steel guitar. And while there are echoes of the Appalachian ancestry of the earlier record, particular in Loveless’ version of the gospel nugget Working on a Building, the country music sweep of Mountain Soul II is broader.

It runs from the album opening take of Harlan Howard’s Busted – a cornerstone hit of Ray Charles’ country adventures – to the almost otherworldly treatment of Emmylou Harris’ Diamond in My Crown, which features a cameo by the divine Miss Emmy.

“What you hear there is this old pump organ that Emory’s mother had gotten for him. It’s an 1849 St. Louis pump organ – upright, of course – that he’s playing. We cut it at home. Emory is all the way downstairs playing. I’m up two floors in our studio doing my vocals. And that is all that is happening on that recording.

“Emory ended up getting Emmylou to do her part in Nashville. So that was an overdub. But the wonderful thing is that Emmy and I have worked together enough over the ears that when we hear each other sing, it’s almost like we’re in the room together.”

Patty Loveless performs at 7:30 tonight at  the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are $44.50. Call: (859) 231-7924.

his father's voice

tim o'brien and bryan sutton

tim o'brien and bryan sutton.

On the inside cover to his fine new Chicken & Egg album, bluegrass/Americana songsmith Tim O’Brien offers two remembrances of his father, who died recently at the age of 96.

The first comes directly from his dad: “I have never had bad ham. I’ve had some that’s better than others, but I’ve never had a bad ham.”

The second is O’Brien’s own reflection: “My dad’s gone. But I see him smiling.”

Life. Love. Death. Aging. Faith. Humor. Each of these themes factor into a recording dominated by crisp, predominantly quartet tunes that reaffirm O’Brien’s status as an almost scholarly songwriter and instrumentalist. His father’s presence is keenly felt several times particularly in the unexpectedly whimsical Not Afraid O’ Dyin.’ But his inspiration seems less like an obvious muse and more like a discreet accompanist. It’s like he is taking part in the sessions – even if it’s just to watch and listen.

“He really is accompanying this thing,” said O’Brien who performs with guitarist Bryan Sutton at a free convocation concert on Thursday at Berea College. “My mother had died three years before him, so this was kind of the end of that generation. It’s a thing to swallow, for sure.

“You have your own kids and you think about the fact that you’re following in your parents’ footsteps. But when they go, it becomes another step on that journey. So, yeah, there are a couple of songs about my dad on the record. But it’s also about everyday life and getting through it all.

“I don’t ever sit down to write about any one thing. I just write about what I’m interested in. I’m interested in how people get through their lives and the different elements that surround that. I mean, when you’re a teenager, it’s all about sex. Then it just changes as you go on from there.”

Chicken & Egg is the latest in a string of worldly solo recordings O’Brien has fashioned since the dissolve of Hot Rize, the acclaimed Western bluegrass ensemble he helped pilot over three decades ago. The album’s 14 songs, he insists, were “just ready to come out… like an egg.” But as a writer, O’Brien said he doesn’t like a song to be fully fleshed out before it goes into a recording studio or onto a concert stage.

“It’s like you build a frame and then start filling it in. If I have a set of songs, then I kind of look for the center and build from there. I try to keep an open mind. That helps the music develop. But I also try to pay attention on where I feel that real center of the music may be, or whatever it was that drove me to write the song to begin with.”

While O’Brien’s last album, Chameleon, was an extraordinary unaccompanied record, Chicken & Egg thrives on collaborations with a small group of bluegrass based pros that includes Sutton, bassists Dennis Crouch and Mike Bub and fiddler Stuart Duncan. But a collaborative spirit also drove three other projects that are making up much of O’Brien’s musical life on the road this year.

The first was a call last spring to join Mark Knopfler’s band for a string of North American concerts. The veteran British rock stylist has had a longstanding admiration for Nashville musicianship.

“When you get inside of Mark’s songs, you realize, ‘There is an amazing body of work here.’ And working in a bigger band like that – Mark has an eight-piece band – I also learned how important it can be not to play, that the stuff you don’t play makes the stuff that you do play count a lot more. And that’s a hard lesson to learn.”

O’Brien then moved to his current tour with Sutton, an equally industrious string music artist and a compelling onstage foil.

“He’s just a complete musician,” O’Brien said. “He comes from the old time and bluegrass worlds. That was his dad’s music and his grandfather’s music. When I first saw Bryan, he was playing with Ricky Skaggs and was just on fire. He has matured a lot since then, but he’s still got that fire. And it’s really great to see that. It gets me excited when we’re onstage.”

Finally, there are a brief series of Hot Rize reunion shows (with Sutton filling in for the late Charles Sawtelle) that O’Brien will take on the road later this month. Hot Rize has regularly reunited for festival dates, but not for a tour – even a short one, like the 10 day swing it is about to undertake.

“We’re going to get on a bus and drive around,” O’Brien said. “Just like we used to.”

Tim O’Brien and Bryan Sutton perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at Phelps Stokes Chapel of Berea College. Admission is free. Call (859) 985-3000. Brings Out MasterCard Card

Manufacturing Close-Up October 2, 2010, First National Bank of Omaha, and MasterCard Worldwide announced the launch of the MasterCard credit card, which provides enhanced rewards for customers.

According to a release, the card offers customers additional savings on online purchases, as well as reward dollars on other purchases made when using the card.

“We’re always looking for ways to provide our customers with the best value and superior customer experience,” said President, Jonathan Johnson. “We’re excited to be working with MasterCard and First National Bank to offer our customers an easy way to stretch their shopping dollars and save even more on purchases.” Customers who sign up for the MasterCard credit card will receive a free membership to Club O Rewards,’s exclusive customer rewards program. Club O Rewards provides customers with access to exclusive shopping events and sweepstakes, as well as free shipping and 5 percent back in Club O Rewards Dollars on qualified purchases. The MasterCard credit card enhances these benefits by providing an additional 3 percent back in Club O Rewards Dollars on purchases, for a total of 8 percent back in rewards dollars on qualified purchases made with the card, plus an additional $10 Club O Rewards Dollars credit the first time the card is used. go to web site overstock coupon code

“First National Bank of Omaha has been focused on providing our customers with outstanding customer service and innovative financial products for more than 150 years,” said Stephen F. Eulie, president of First National Credit Card Center. “With a strategic focus in the partnership space, we feel this partnership with and MasterCard is a perfect fit. We’re able to expand our partnership business, while simultaneously providing’s customers new ways to get more value for their money.” The company noted that in addition to receiving 8 percent back in Club O Rewards Dollars on purchases at, MasterCard cardholders earn 1 percent back in Club O Rewards Dollars when they make purchases at other retailers, including grocery stores, gas stations or thousands of other merchants where the MasterCard credit card is accepted. MasterCard cardholders can use these accumulated Club O Rewards Dollars to purchase merchandise on “ is a leading online retailer with a customer base that seeks quality and affordability, and First National Bank of Omaha is a leader in credit card co-brand programs,” said Craig Vosburg, Group Executive, Market Development, U.S. Markets, MasterCard Worldwide. “This partnership demonstrates that MasterCard’s commitment to making the online shopping experience more valuable for online merchants and consumers has made us the brand of choice for e-commerce.”, Inc. is an online retailer offering brand-name merchandise at discount prices. The company offers its customers an opportunity to shop for bargains conveniently, while offering its suppliers an alternative inventory distribution channel. regularly posts information about the company and other related matters on its website under the heading “Investor Relations.” MasterCard Worldwide advances global commerce by providing a critical economic link among financial institutions, businesses, cardholders and merchants worldwide. As a franchisor, processor and advisor, MasterCard develops and markets payment solutions, processes over 22 billion transactions each year, and provides analysis and consulting services to financial-institution customers and merchants. go to web site overstock coupon code

More Information: ((Comments on this story may be sent to

critic’s pick 145

The “guitar music” of today usually addresses one of two musical camps: an unbending classical repertoire or a rock star school of performance theatrics.

On two new releases, the California Guitar Trio and Marc Ribot continue to pursue their respectively progressive voices for guitar outside those arenas. The CGT’s Andromeda discovers a compositional voice all its own while New Yorker Ribot is more (metaphorically and literally) cinematic on Silent Movies.

Andromeda is an unassuming triumph for CGT instrumentalists Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya. It is the first album in the group’s 20 year history to focus exclusively on original works. Sure, fans that have caught the CGT in concert over the years may have been charmed by the stylistic reach of its cover material (classic rock, ethnic folk, prog-psychedelia and more). To a degree, such inspirations nurture these compositions. Hazardous Z has a deep rhythmic pull that mixes flamenco and prog-ish fancy while Middle of TX operates with neo-Western flourishes that morph into a rockish twang and, eventually, a melodic affirmation that would do U2 proud.

But there is also a strong emotive resonance to this music that puts the trio in the guitar pantheon of such esteemed veterans as Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett. You hear it in the chiming refrain from the extraordinary Cathedral Peak (done up in a band style arrangement) and the beautifully wistful Portland Rain (which yields to suitably rockish orchestration).

The recording was cut in a Louisville recording studio located above a funeral home and sound likes a dream. Thus Andromeda is indeed otherworldly at times. But its design still revolves around three ever-crafty acoustic guitar journeymen.

Ribot is often viewed as an avant-garde soldier. But he’s really more of a chameleon who has authoritatively dabbed in free jazz, jagged funk and punk, Cuban tunes and country music (he was chief guitarist on the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss Raising Sand album).

On Silent Movies, his playing unfolds in quieter but not always settled solo guitar serenades that were composed for films, suggested by them or imagined for movie projects Ribot turned down.

That doesn’t always translate into pretty picture music. Empty is pretty much that – a sketch of sparse, stoic notes that form fascinatingly brittle melodies. Bateau suggests a more wiry wilderness, like the one Ry Cooder so expertly designed during the ‘80s for his soundtrack music. But its light folkish strain isn’t as rural – or as geographically definable at all, for that matter.

Silent Movies‘ most vivid images emerge during Delancey Waltz. Its elegant melody is lovely but slightly harrowing – a postcard from a rhythmic resort where Ribot’s often furious muses retire to when they want some quiet time.

the weeks of WEG

troy "trombone shorty" andrews performing at spotlight lexington.

troy "trombone shorty" andrews performing at spotlight lexington on sept. 26.

“You would think this was New York or something,” commented Chester Grundy when introducing David Sanborn on Saturday at the Singletary Center for the Arts as two-plus weeks of concert activity surrounding the World Equestrian Games headed to the finish line.

It was something of a delirious blur, to be sure. On my end, it translated into 13 performances over 17 nights. And that schedule was light compared to what those  directly involved with the festivities were dealing with. Waiting in line at Nickelback over the weekend, I commented to an Alltech rep that I had seen about four free nights in just over two weeks. “That’s four more than we’ve had,” was the weary reply.

But it was a fine and exhilarating showing for Lexington. Admittedly, it was also something of overkill at times with a flood of same-evening concerts working against each other. Nickelback, for instance, was one of nearly a dozen major shows going on in the region on Friday.

Hopefully, a little of that WEG magic will carry over next year to perhaps a summertime variation of Spotlight Lexington or another, smaller Alltech sponsored event. For now, we bid goodbye to the festivities with a scrapbook of the fall shows, presented in chronological order, taken in over the WEG weeks. Each one embodied a different but profound sense of celebration.

+  Little Feat kicking off the Alltech Fortnight Festival with the New Orleans rumble of Calling the Children Home at the Opera House.

+ Ralph Stanley and a merry crowd singing the spiritual I’ll Fly Away together under a tent at the Christ the King Oktoberfest.

+ Randall Bramblett singing a stirring solo acoustic version of the beautifully unsettling Disappearing Ink at Natasha’s.

+ Trombone Shorty fronting the irresistibly funky brass syncopation of Get Your Groove On at Spotlight Lexington.

+ The Hold Steady, in one of the few moments where it wasn’t overcome by its own mad guitar designs, encoring with Stay Positive at Buster’s.

+ The Deftones bringing the thunder with the lyrically and musically pensive Hole in the Earth before a sold out crowd at Buster’s.

+ The Del McCoury Band devoting nearly an entire set to the music of bluegrass forefather Bill Monroe at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort.

+ The Chieftains embracing their Irish heritage with the lovely harp serenade Carolan’s Concerto at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

+ Ivan Neville’s Dumpstafunk designing a churchy funk groove around the intro to Shake It Off at Buster’s.

+ The Punch Brothers mixing bluegrass fancy with deflated domestic bliss during Next to the Trash at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.

+ JD Crowe and the New South reasserting the essentials of its bluegrass drive with Shuckin’ the Corn at Spotlight Lexington.

+ Nickelback turning tales of celebrity excess into a curious folk-pop sing-a-long during Rockstar at Rupp Arena.

+ David Sanborn winding the Fortnight Festival down with the organ-sax driven soul-blues of Hank Crawford’s The Peeper at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

Peter Gabriel offers new music service

Bath Chronicle, The May 22, 2008 Legendary musician and recording artist Peter Gabriel has teamed up with a firm of speaker manufacturers to provide a new download subscription service.

The former Genesis vocalist has collaborated with Bowers and Wilkins to form Music Club, a new provider of cheap album downloads.

Albums will be recorded at Mr Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Box before being made available to download as MP3 files for a month. site bowers and wilkins

Artists Skip McDonald’s Little Axe Collective and Gwyneth Herbert are among the first to sign up to the scheme at the studios which have produced albums for performers including Kylie Minogue and the Manic Street Preachers.

One album will be offered each month to those who subscribe to the service which will provide free studio time to the artists involved.

Mr Gabriel said: “For artists, Music Club is a dream proposition because they get some great time in the studio, access to really good recording facilities and can experiment without being committed to anything or anyone beyond a month with Bowers and Wilkins.” A Bowers and Wilkins spokesman said: “In these turbulent times of change for the industry, the work of many great artists, whose work happens not to fit neatly into the categories set out by music industry executives, never gets to see the light of day. this web site bowers and wilkins

“We thought it was time to redress the balance.

“The Real World partnership is part of an innovative business model that provides a brilliant deal for artists, and helps make sure we attract world-class talent.”

in performance: vox arcana

vox arcana: james falzone, tim daisy and fred lonberg-holm. photo by david sampson.

vox arcana. from left: james falzone, tim daisy and fred lonberg-holm. photo by david sampson.

Early into last night’s mix of modern classicism and improvisational exploration by Vox Arcana, muffled pops could be heard under the music. It wasn’t the sound system at the Loudon Ave. performance space known as Collexion. There wasn’t any. Aside from modest amplification and electronics servicing cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, this was an unplugged show in the truest sense. No, the pops turned out to be the distant boom of fireworks marking the conclusion of the Spotlight Lexington festival a mile or two away and, with it, the World Equestrian Games.

But in this ultra-intimate room before a mere handful of listeners, life went on with an hour long set featuring three of Chicago’s finest improvising talents – drummer/percussionist/group leader Tim Daisy, clarinetist James Falzone and the ever resourceful Lonberg-Holm.

Staged as part of the Outside the Spotlight Series, Vox Arcana offered music that proved as challenging as anything Chicago has sent Lexington over the series’ eight year run. That was mostly because Daisy’s compositions worked off of treacherous, classically derived and, at times, minimalist trio exchanges. But that doesn’t mean the music didn’t swing. It did and mightily so.

On the show opening The Number 7, animated flourishes with Daisy on marimba opened out into free style improvisations by Lonberg-Holm and Falzone that eventually settled with Daisy relocating behind a meager sized drum kit, snapping out swing on a snare with brushes.

The set closing White Lines was an especially large thrill. After navigating through unison lines that sounded as sharp and penetrating as gunfire (though nowhere near as loud), the group had a field day with tempos, decelerating to the music to a near stop. Then the three re-connected for a beautifully hushed set of exchanges with a strong conversational intimacy. Then chaos. Then those breakneck leads again.

Given the flood of musical activity over the past two weeks and the last hurrah of Spotlight Lexington downtown, it was perhaps inevitable that a decidedly non-commercial performance like this would get lost in the shuffle. That’s still too bad, though. Vox Arcana signaled with thoroughly unforced authority last night that life after the Games had already begun.


The Capital Times December 5, 1996 Art Juedes and Rick Gering once sold track shoes out of the trunk of a car, taking home $5 a week after plowing any profits back into their floundering business. eastbay coupon codes

“In the second year, we made about $20 a week,” Juedes said.

Today, the 44-year-old partners — boyhood chums born two days apart in a Wausau hospital — are multimillionaires.

They announced a deal this week to sell their 16-year-old company, Eastbay Inc., a catalog company of sports shoes, clothing and equipment, to Woolworth Corp. for about $146 million.

The pair own 52 percent of the stock Woolworth agreed to buy for nearly $24 a share.

As entrepreneurs, Juedes and Gering beat the odds time in their rags to riches success, said Randy Cray, chairman of business and economic departments at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“Success stories like that are few and far between,” he said.

Richard Judy, a UW-Stevens Point professor of management, attributed their success to “just plain luck,” some good salesmanship and an understanding of the market.

“They were in the right place at the right time with the right product. They hit on the right area,” Judy said.

Eastbay, the brainstorm of two buddies who once had careers in education, grew into the nation’s largest direct marketer of athletic shoes and apparel.

In founding Eastbay, Juedes and Gering, who were both runners in high school and college, wanted to provide high-performance track and field shoes to high school athletes in central Wisconsin.

Instead of having athletes travel to larger cities like Appleton and Madison to find proper shoes, they decided to bring the shoes to the athletes.

With $7,000 worth of shoes in the trunk of an America Motors AMX, the men began visiting schools in a 50-mile radius of Wausau, selling shoes one pair at a time. here eastbay coupon codes

“More coaches heard about us and liked what we could bring them,” Gering said. “One would tell another and it grew from there.” With little income in the early years, Juedes relied on his wife, Barb, for financial support, and Gering lived with his parents.

A third partner in the venture, Don Trzebiatowski, a track teammate of Gering’s in college, dropped out after five months.

“It came down to money,” Trzebiatowski said. “I wasn’t real comfortable with owing people money. I grew up on a farm and if you couldn’t pay for it, you didn’t buy it.” Instead, Trzebiatowski became a loyal employee, on the payroll in just about every capacity for all but 10 months of the company’s life.

Slowly, Eastbay grew. Its territory increased to 100 miles from Wausau, it added baseball and wrestling shoes to the lineup, a toll-free number was included on the catalog for the first time in 1983.

Gering laughs when recalling that the toll-free number was added just in case anyone wanted to order by phone. “Sometimes, we weren’t always on top of things,” he said.

By 1986, the pair said they each made the equivalent of a teacher’s salary.

The rest is history. Eastbay sales grew between 100 to 300 percent from 1986 to 1988, a president was hired in 1992 and a public stock offering was made in 1995. The company now has 1,300 full, temporary or part-time workers.

Eastbay weathered some storms, especially when Nike pulled its line of popular shoes, including Nike Air, then 40 percent of the business.

“We were nervous, but our business grew by 10 percent that year,” Juedes said. Nike retuned in 1994.

“We never got into the business to get rich,” Gering said. “We did it because we enjoyed it.” Juedes concurred. “I have the same wife I had when we started the business and a lot of the same friends,” he said. “I don’t think people will look at me differently now that I have money.” The sale to Woolworth, a New York-based retailing giant with 3,500 stores worldwide selling athletic shoes and apparel, including Foot Locker, awaits approval from Eastbay shareholders and necessary regulators.

Eastbay will operate as part of Woolworth’s Athletic Group.

in performance: the david sanborn trio

david sanborn. photo by lynn goldsmith.

david sanborn. photo by lynn goldsmith.

David Sanborn remains a curiosity in the world of commercial jazz. His recordings, especially his popular ‘80s albums, were conceived with generous pop accents and glossy production designs. That translated into a profile that has served Sanborn well in the marketplace but has often made serious jazzers dismiss the saxophonist has just another crossover merchant. But listen to most of the albums he has made over the past 15 years, and you hear a serious instrumentalist and improviser with obvious devotion to organic sounding soul, blues, R&B and, yes, jazz.

Sanborn chose to take further steps in those directions last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts for one of the final performances of the Alltech Fortnight Festival. Dismissing the percussive, almost orchestral sound of past touring ensembles, Sanborn played with a gloriously direct but still stylistically flexible trio that featured the great B3 organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Byron Landham. The trio’s sound was full and soulfully expressive as it sought out the earthy essence in several of Sanborn’s more pop savvy works.

The show-opening Comin’ Home Baby, for example, moved to a vastly looser groove than the already crafty studio version on Sanborn’s 2003 timeagain album. DeFrancessco offered luxuriant, summery organ lines while Lyndham trumped with the first of two extended solos bearing a construction that, in spots, suggested the latter recordings of Max Roach. Sanborn, in turn, introduced a game plan he went to often last night. He offered cool thematic variations that slowly generated a soul serenade built upon gospel before his solos broke into the stratospheric squeal that has long served as the crescendo of his distinctive alto sax sound.

Much of the program was devoted to Sanborn’s two most recent albums, 2008’s Here & Gone and 2010’s Only Everything. While produced by pop impresario Phil Ramone, the records lean heavily toward the soul-jazz sound sax giants Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman fashioned for Ray Charles nearly a half-century ago.

For Crawford’s The Peeper, Sanborn let his alto sax groove along to the tune’s inherent lyrical bounce with DeFrancesco underscoring an equally pervasive sense of swing. Marcus Miller’s Charles remembrance Brother Ray went for a deeper old school soul load and an overall churchier rhythmic feel. And on Basin Street Blues, the organ and drums were slowed to a patient, ultra cool pace (until Landham’s second solo of the evening, that is ) that provided Sanborn’s alto sax lead with a quieter but still profound glow.

An encore of The Dream offered another chance of reinvention. A hit from the slickest sounding era of Sanborn’s recording career (the mid-to-late ‘80s), it was performed as a pop meditation minus the frills. For a smooth jazz star earnestly pursuing his roots, the tune was nothing short of a soul reclamation.

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in performance: nickelback/jd crowe

nickelback's chad kroeger

nickelback's chad kroeger.

Early into its deliriously thundering show last night at Rupp Arena, post grunge pop celebs Nickelback served up a tune called Photograph that employed a video montage as a backdrop. It included a brief slide show devoted to the city they were currently playing in. One of the photos used in its Lexington tribute was of a vintage poster for a bluegrass festival. Never mind that it was for a festival in Louisville. The thought, as they say, was there and the connection between ear crushing, pop friendly, party savvy arena rock and the Kentucky-born art known as bluegrass was weirdly cemented.

But then, both seemingly disparate musical worlds had already become neighbors. Over the course of the evening, Spotlight Lexington and the Alltech Fortnight Festival headed into their final weekend by presenting champion bluegrass and charttopping guitar rock within blocks of each other.

At Spotlight Lexington, Kentucky’s own Grammy winning J.D. Crowe and the New South held court at Courtyard Plaza before a healthy multitude as sundown approached on an extraordinary fall evening.

Banjoist Crowe and company performed a set full of staples that have distinguished their sets for years. Among them: the harmony rich cover of Merle Haggard’s Back to the Barrooms, the light country affirmation of You Can Share My Blanket and the richly traditional charge of Bill Monroe’s Molly and Tenbrooks. Topping them all, still, was the instrumental Shuckin’ the Corn, which has long been a showpiece for Crowe’s Earl Scruggs-inspired command of “the ol’ 5 string.”

jd crowe

jd crowe

But what impressed especially was the New South’s performance consistency and command of the outdoor setting. Last night’s performance before the thousands gathered downtown was as casual (but exact) and intimate as if the band was playing at a bar. Admittedly, the decades Crowe has spent playing bluegrass festivals has helped establish such adaptability. But last night, the group sounded downright familial in the heart of downtown, right down to the youth of 5 or 6 standing next to us playing some wicked air banjo to Billy G. Salvation.

We had to skip Spotlight headliner Sam Bush in order to make to Rupp for Nickelback –  which, in turn, meant forgoing arena show openers Buckcherry and Three Days Grace. The Canadian rockers called the party to order by shooting off earsplitting fireworks with the house lights still on. From there, the show opening Burn it to the Ground and Flat on the Floor indulged in arena rock spectacle with earsplitting, metal-seared but still curiously melodic music and a carnival of fireworks, explosions and video projections designed to make the hi-jinx of singer/guitarist Chad Kroeger and company seem even larger.

Nickelback also had its decidedly poppish side to show off. Rockstar, for example, was performed as part of a stripped down, sit down set half way through the two hour show on a second stage in the middle of the arena floor. While it proudly proclaimed adoration for the rock ‘n’ roll good life, the tune’s sing-a-long delivery and folk-pop strains made it more of an everyman anthem. But with the electric rants Animals and Something In Your Mouth, Nickelback summoned a sound that wasn’t just loud. It was massive with a mix of huge melodic hooks and vital band delivery that kept Nickelback’s louder side from falling into the familiar pop-metal ditch.

The show marked a huge attendance drop off for Nickelback, though. Its February 2009 outing at Rupp drew over 17,000. Last night’s pull was quoted by Rupp officials as 7,000 – although, in fairness, the turnout inside appeared slightly larger. But the concert was also part of eight regional events the Fortnight Festival juggled last night. Admittedly, the lure of free bluegrass down the street likely didn’t dampen the Nickelback turnout much. But when Lexington hosts this much marquee music in the course of a single night (the Charlie Daniels Band was playing nearby at the Opera House, as well), someone’s star power is going to take a hit.

(Updated 10/11/10: On Monday, Rupp updated the attendance figure to the Nickelback concert to 10, 700.)

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