Archive for misc.

rocking the new year with the band’s “rock of ages”

the-band-rock-of-agesWith all the Thanksgiving ballyhoo surrounding the 40th anniversary of “The Last Waltz,” the all-star swan song concert by the original lineup of The Band, it is perhaps understandable how this weekend’s 45th anniversary of a series of New York performances the group gave that became “Rock of Ages” – still one of the most soulful and engaging concert recordings of, well, any age – is getting overshadowed.

In retrospect, “Rock of Ages” and “The Last Waltz” accomplished essentially the same thing. Both treated the art of performance as a hootenanny of sorts. On “The Last Waltz,” infatuated with the idea of a grand farewell, The Band went to work with a hefty celebrity guest list of contributors. On “Rock of Ages,” the party was more contained and combustible with Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson being augmented by a five-man horn section playing sublime horn arrangements by the great Allen Toussaint. The latter’s charts also propelled “The Last Waltz,” but it’s on “Rock of Ages” where they were first unleashed, fashioning “Rag Mama Rag” into a barrelhouse breakdown and bolstering “Life is a Carnival” with a deep, punctuated groove.

The Band’s old boss, Bob Dylan, showed up for the final night (New Year’s Eve), as he did in “The Last Waltz,” even though recordings of his contributions were kept under wraps for over 40 years until a collection of concert out-takes were assembled and released as “Live at the Academy of Music 1971.”

The drive and rootsy integrity of “Rock of Ages” are cemented as soon as Helm guides the group through an album-opening “Don’t Do It” with a performance that transforms the largely overlooked 1964 Marvin Gaye hit into a barnstorming blast of brass and lean rock ‘n’ roll might. At the other end of the show, Hudson brings The Band down the home stretch with his calliope-like organ improvisation, dubbed “The Genetic Method,” that veers off into “Auld Lang Syne” in a bout of dizzy jubilance before collecting itself into the churning musical fireball that ignites “Chest Fever” and a loose encore reading of the 1958 Chuck Willis b-side “(I Don’t Want to) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes.”

As a whole, “Rock of Ages” was a both a summation and celebration of The Band in a way that was far more unassuming than the more purposely artful “The Last Waltz.” That’s why the former will forever be the better record.

Four decades ago, “The Last Waltz” honored a career – well, a phase of it, anyway – that had ended. Five years before that, the shows that became “Rock of Ages” placed the still actively vital music of The Band in proper perspective by placing it onstage without the intrusion of sentimentality. It was instead, a chapter of business as regally usual. As a result, its performances rocked like mad. That the music sounds so fresh and alive this New Year’s Eve, is a testament for a record that remains of and for the ages.


too close to touch plays the burl

Too Close to Touch. From left: Kenneth Downey, Mason Marble, Keaton Pierce, Thomas Kidd and Travis Moore. Photo By Graham Fielder.

Too Close to Touch. From left: Kenneth Downey, Mason Marble, Keaton Pierce, Thomas Kidd and Travis Moore. Photo By Graham Fielder.

Just a few years ago, Too Close to Touch was a band brewing in a basement, specifically one where guitarist Mason Marble and drummer Kenny Downey had been trading riffs and ideas. On Thursday, the Lexington troupe returns home as a conquering hero of sorts. Bolstered by a potent sound that blends metal and hardcore with an unsettled but anthemic pop undercurrent, Too Close to Touch will celebrate the release of “Haven’t Been Myself,” its sophomore album on the nationally distributed Epitaph label (due out Friday), with a performance at The Burl.

The quintet – rounded out by vocalist Keaton Pierce, guitarist Thomas Kidd and bassist Travis Moore – introduced itself with a self-titled EP disc that was picked by Epitaph in 2014. The sound that evolved through its 2015 debut album “Nerve Endings” has emerged full blown on “Haven’t Been Myself.” It has been slapped with all kinds of vague terms like “post hardcore.” But a listen to the new album reveals a loud, tight cohesive sound that, if anything, sounds like a metal-esque version of latter day Rush. The music is melodic but unrelenting and thunderous in its groove and momentum. But what makes it all accessible to listeners perhaps wary of all the loud and proud stylistic references, is Pierce’s singing. It reflects a lyrical cast that rails away with suitable authority, clarity and angst on “Crooked Smile” amid some very Rush-like guitar torrents. But on “Heavy Hearts,” a song offered as a free download last winter, the band cools to the demand of a more acoustic rooted, ballad-savvy sound.

Among the bands Pierce and company have been compared to are Emarosa, which Too Close to Touch has toured with.

Having already played Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati this summer as part of the Vans Warped Tour, Too Close to Touch also warmed up for its current concert trek by taking honors as Best Underground Band at the 2016 Alternative Press Awards.

Too Close to Touch performs at 6:30 p.m. September 22 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. Call (859) 447-8166 or go to Noble Giants will open. Tickets are $12, $15. Doors open at 6. This is an all ages, general admission event.

when i’m seventy four

paul mccartney.

paul mccartney.

Paul McCartney turns 74 today. If you don’t think that is a cause for celebration, your head hasn’t been in the headlines this year. The first half of 2016 has taken an alarming number of cultural legends from us along with scores slightly less iconic artists that have collectively defined the popular music that has befriended us over the last half century. The fact that Sir Paul is still here as an active performer in the face of such continuous loss is, well, beyond wonderful.

There is no denying that much of McCartney’s post-Beatles output has been uneven, especially in recent decades. But the paths his early songs forged have forever fortified pop music. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would be nearly as thrilled with a world without Hey Jude, Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, Let it Be, Back in the U.S.S.R., The Long and Winding Road, Penny Lane, We Can Work it Out and Blackbird as the one we have with them. Throw in post-Fab Four works like Ram and Band on the Run and, yeah, the bar was pretty well set at a level that a library of later works couldn’t hope to match.

Another anthology set, Pure McCartney, was released last week to commemorate the birthday, and it is probably as good an introduction as any to his non-Beatles work. But the only way to fully appreciate the scope, influence and sheer stylistic vitality of McCartney’s music is to pick up every studio record – Beatles and solo career-wise – he was involved with between 1964 and 1974.

Sir Paul is back in our region on July 10 with a concert at Cincinnati’s US Bank Arena – a visit that offers considerable comfort at a time when so many musical heroes have taken their leave of us. But the most obvious reflection on the day comes from a renewed listen to When I’m Sixty Four, a song remarkably grounded in its steadfast romanticism when the Beatles cut it in 1967: “Give me your answer, fill in a form; mine for evermore. Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”

But it was the song’s final off-the-cuff word that summated the mood of McCartney that still proves so captivating as the future rolls on: “Ho!”

another new morning for chris stapleton

chris stapleton at last night's CMA awards. photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.

chris stapleton at last night’s CMA awards. photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.

Like many Kentuckians, I’m all smiles today over the multiple wins by our own Chris Stapleton last night at the 49th Country Music Association Awards. But it’s not for perhaps obvious reasons.

Stapleton’s music runs against almost every commercial trend Nashville otherwise celebrated at the ceremony – so much so that victories for his highly traditional music in the album, new artist and male vocalist of the year categories are genuinely shocking for a genre that has turned its back so shamelessly on its past.

Maybe there are a few old souls left at the CMA that recall when country music wasn’t just another faceless form of poster boy pop (which is likely). Maybe Nashville is finally ready to return to its roots and get behind songs that are genuinely country in feel and narrative (which is highly unlikely). Maybe it’s all a fluke – meaning Stapleton has been picked out as a novelty by Nashville to promote a reflection of faith in tradition that will be purposely short lived (which is extremely likely).

None of this takes away from the grand night Stapleton had. Awards shows offer some of the best publicity – and, to many industry ears, validity – for an artist largely shunned by radio. To airwave kings like Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean, stylistic polar opposites of Stapleton, a CMA win translates into little more than bigger bragging rights. Given also the frequency of country awards programs, their impact on a career is usually just another notch in the proverbial belt.

But for Stapleton, still a new find for mainstream audiences despite years as an established songwriter, the impact of these wins will be considerable. What it means firstly is this morning many eager fans have woken up to what we knew here in Kentucky all along – that in a country world ruled by chart numbers, image and pop accessibility, Stapleton isn’t some contrived, corporate Nashville foot soldier. He’s a real deal singer and writer championing true country songcraft more than any commercially visible artist since Dwight Yoakam. That should make enthusiasts of all Kentucky grown music feel justifiably proud.

last of the hot burritos

wrflOne of the guiding local voices in Americana music makes its final bow this weekend. The Hot Burrito Show, WRFL-FM’s weekly serving of indie and roots driven country and more (sounds it has regularly dubbed “cosmic American music”) airs for the final time on Sunday (Aug. 23) from noon to 2 p.m.

The program, which has run continually for the past 25 years, has traced an entire generation of new and indie Americana sounds, running from the rise of so-called “alt-country” in the ‘90s to the music’s acceptance as a genre unto itself over the past decade.

Rob Franklin has been at the helm for the program’s entire run, aided by several knowledgeable co-hosts. For many, Hot Burrito has become a Sunday brunch time roots music tradition. Imagining weekends without it is a sad prospect indeed, although WRFL said in a press release last weekend it plans to carry on with a new, reformatted Americana music program. The release also said halting the show was the decision of the show’s hosts, not the station itself.

WRFL has been honoring Hot Burrito all week with each of the programs on its broadcast schedule playing one Americana track in tribute to the show.


dead again

trey anastasio, phil lesh and bob weir performing at the grateful dead's june 28 concert at levi's stadium in santa clara. photo by jay blakesberg/invision for the grateful dead.

trey anastasio, phil lesh and bob weir performing at the grateful dead’s june 28 concert at levi’s stadium in santa clara. photo by jay blakesberg/invision for the grateful dead.

The holiday weekend’s most prominent musical happening, at least from an historical pop perspective, will be the much ballyhooed finale concerts of the Grateful Dead at Soldier’s Field in Chicago.

The distinction of such an event isn’t so much the career coda itself, but how it is being marketed. In lieu of the standardized farewell tour, the surviving members – guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann – are playing a mere five concerts in two cities. The first were held last weekend at Santa Clara, Ca., near where the iconic psychedelic band got its start 50 years ago. The Chicago shows take place tonight through Sunday, almost two decades to the day (and at the same location) where the band played its last concerts with Jerry Garcia.

The figurehead guitarist died that August. For all intentions, the band dissolved with him. The four core members have toured as an ensemble a few times since then under the moniker of The Dead and, without Kreutzmann, as The Other Ones. These finale shows mark the first time they have performed as the Grateful Dead since 1995. While the members have stated these will be their final shows together, all will maintain separate careers.

Here is where the marketing savvy kicks in. This weekend’s performances – which generated over 350,000 ticket requests through advance sales – are being made available to fans worldwide through almost every media outlet available. There will be pay-for-view webcasts, on-demand viewing on satellite and cable television and even live simulcasts in over 1,110 movie theaters. For a full rundown of options, go to

Locally, the Dead’s performances will be shown at the Cinemark Fayette Mall tonight, Saturday and Sunday.

For those intrigued by this final chorus from the Dead, but feel less compelled to take part in all the revelry, recordings of the shows will be released on CD, DVD and Blue-Ray by Rhino Records as Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead. They are scheduled for release on Nov. 20.

This may well be the first time an official, formal concert recording (not a quickly produced, indie-manufactured “bootleg”) has earned a confirmed release date before the performances making up those recordings even took place.

Appraisals of last weekend’s Santa Clara performances – with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, pianist and longtime Dead co-hort Bruce Hornsby and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti augmenting the Dead quartet – were largely favorable. An Associated Press review by Lisa Leff of the opening concert on June 27 gave specific praise to a 20 minute version of Viola Lee Blues (cut originally for the band’s 1967 self-titled debut album) and the way it made Anastasio a key player in this brief Dead revival.

If you’re headed to Cinemark, be prepared for a long night. The June 27 concert lasted 3 ½ hours. The Fandango site said this weekend’s revelry could last as much as five hours each evening.

“I’m not sure we’re going to last five hours,” Weir told The New Yorker earlier in June. “Even back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, we didn’t play for five hours on many nights, despite being famous for doing that. You do it one time and you get famous for it.”

‘Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead’ will be simulcast at 8 p.m. July 3-5 at Cinemark Fayette Mall, 3800 Mall Rd. Tickets are $12-$14. Call (859) 971-0718 or go to

back to BoB

billy joe shaver kicks off BoB on june 9.

billy joe shaver kicks off BoB on june 9.

What would summertime be without a visit from our ol’ pal BoB?

While word on this year’s Best of Bluegrass festival has been long overdue, the wait will pay a substantial dividend. Organized and produced by the Lexington Area Music Alliance, BoB will again preface the Festival of the Bluegrass, as it has the last two years, and return for a second visit this fall ahead of the 2015 Breeder’s Cup.

This month’s three day Bob-fest, dubbed Lil’ BoB so as to differentiate the two events, kicks off June 9 with the return of Billy Joe Shaver to Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N. Broadway. While definitely not a bluegrass act, Shaver is a champion Texas songwriter and a long-heralded country/Americana stylist with strong cross generational appeal. For ticket info, call (859) 281-1116 or go to The Kentucky Hoss Cats will open.

The rest of Lil’ BoB emphasizes local and regional bluegrass. June 10 brings Custom Made Bluegrass to Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. The same evening Arthur Hancock and the Wooks with Kati Penn and Junior Williams of Newtown will perform a free show at Parlay Social.

On June 11, Canyon Collected headlines at Willie’s Locally Known while Shotgun Holler holds a CD release party at Parlay Social, 249 W. Short

For reservations and admission details on the Natasha’s shows, call (859) 259-2754 or go to. For the Parlay Social performances, call (859) 244-1932 or go to

That leads to the opening of the 42nd Festival of the Bluegrass, which runs June 11-14 at the Kentucky Horse Park (

But wait. There’s more BoB to go around. The event takes to the great outdoors this fall as a warm-up for the Breeder’s Cup.

Titled Big BoB, the fall installment brings in two white hot new generation national acts, Town Mountain and The Traveling McCourys, to a downtown stage at Courthouse Plaza on Oct. 28. Arthur Hancock and the Wooks will complete the bill.

happy trails, dave

david letterman's final "late show" airs tonight.

david letterman’s final “late show” airs tonight.

So it has all come down to this. After 33 years of stupid pet tricks, Top 10 lists and flying pencils, David Letterman will host his very last Late Show tonight. In all ways, a television era – perhaps the last of its kind – will end when the program signs off around 12:35 tomorrow morning.

As someone who watches very little TV (the local news, Modern Family reruns, that’s about it), The Late Show with David Letterman was a broadcast oasis presided over by an Olympian smart ass. He took shots at everyone, especially himself, and seemed to love nothing more than when a guest he had previously skewered (Bill O’Reilly, Martha Stewart, Dr. Phil) took the humor as exactly that.

He could be merciless when he sensed a guest was being opportunistic. Ages ago, when Jane Seymour was promoting a coffee table book designed as “a guide to romantic living,” he asked how the actress would encourage the romantic side of a garbage collector. The interviewed nosedived from there.

But when he was in the presence of greatness, he recognized it. One of the very few times Letterman was obviously star struck came during his NBC years when he interviewed a frail but feisty Bette Davis. His sentiments were similarly humble whenever he spoke of mentoring figures like Johnny Carson.

Then there was the humor. Sometimes the jokes were deliciously off center (my favorite Top 10 list remains “The Top 10 Amish Spring Break Pranks”). Sometimes it was unapologetically juvenile, like the dropping of everything from paint cans to pumpkins from the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, Letterman’s Broadway home during his CBS years. Best of all, though, was the way he turned stage hands, interns, costume designers, carpenters, the deli owner next door and, for a time, his own mother into comics just by having them act like themselves.

To this date, nothing cracked me up more than a recurring bit where a pair of deadpan New York stage hands would read transcripts from Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show. On the other hand, nothing he aired was more unsentimentally touching than a program-long interview/performance with an ailing Warren Zevon done shortly before his death from lung cancer and the singer’s reciprocal comment that Letterman was “the best friend my music ever had.”

All of this came together over the past six weeks or so as Letterman neared retirement. A bit as recently as last week where he interviewed Tom Waits while being handcuffed to George Clooney deserves placement in Letterman’s personal hall of fame.

I got to see Letterman tape his programs a half-dozen times in New York over the years. I got to witness a skateboarding dog, exasperated offstage staffers recoiling as Joan Rivers spewed obscenities, The Pretenders in glorious performance and some sharp verbal jousting with Robert Downey, Jr. But it all came down to Dave doing what he did in his historic theatre, ending his pre-show greeting to the audience each time with the promise that “we’ll have you out of here in time for happy hour.”

So cheers, Dave. Thanks for the laughs, the music and the company. Broadway and television simply won’t be the same without you.

phoenix rising

the black cadillacs.

the black cadillacs.

One of summertime’s new concert traditions reconvenes tonight with the second season of WUKY-FM’s Phoenix Friday concert series.

After a strong inaugural season last year, the series of free monthly concerts at Phoenix Park, W. Main and S. Limestone, will again bring together established local artists with up-and-coming national acts.

Tonight’s performance features The Black Cadillacs, a rock troupe formed in Memphis by cousins Will Horton and Matthew Hyrka. Now operating out of Knoxville, the band has released a self-titled five-song EP produced by Wilco alumnus Ken Coomer. The Other Brothers and Larkin Poe round out the bill.

The music starts at 5:30 pm and should wrap up around 9:30. Food vendors will be on hand throughout the evening.

The summer’s other three Phoenix Fridays shows will include Lexington pop cello stylist Ben Sollee (who made his series debut last August in the midst of a monstrous thunderstorm) with Humming House and Twin Lamb on June 19, the Nashville indie rock outfit Kopecky (which releases its new Drug for the Modern Age album next week) with J.D. Ghent and The Wags on July 17 and a fourth concert teaming an as yet unannounced headliner with The Vespers and Coralee and the Townie on Aug. 21.

Showtimes for those performances will also be 5:30 pm.

For more information, call (859) 257-3221 or go to

the kentucky music hall of fame 2015 induction

montgomery gentry (troy gentry, left, and eddie montgomery) are amoing the 2015 inductees to the kentucky music hall of fame.

montgomery gentry (troy gentry, left, and eddie montgomery) are amoing the 2015 inductees to the kentucky music hall of fame.

The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is proceeding with its 2015 induction tonight despite an abrupt change of leadership.

The organization fired executive director Robert Lawson in February. He was later arrested for stealing from the Hall of Fame and other Rockcastle County organizations.

A statement released by Roy Martin, chairman of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors, said, “The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame has terminated Robert Lawson as its Executive Director as of February 9, 2015. As part of its ongoing oversight, the Board of Directors detected several questionable financial transactions. Thankfully, we believe that the problem was detected quickly, before any more significant damage was done.”

The statement also said the Hall of Fame shared its findings with the County Attorney and Kentucky State Police and is co-operating with their investigations.

Lawson’s firing, however, will not derail tonight’s induction ceremony. The event, held every other year, will welcome six new groups of artists and music professionals at Lexington Center, including local members of the pop group Backstreet Boys and country duo Montgomery Gentry. Several of the inductees will also perform at tonight’s ceremony

Here is a look at the 2015 class of inductees.

Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson: Cousins born and raised in Lexington, Littrell and Richardson remain the Kentucky connection in one of the most commercially successful pop vocal groups of the ‘90s, the Backstreet Boys. While Richardson was absent from the group between 2006 and 2012, the Backstreet Boys remain active with recording projects and international touring.

Montgomery Gentry: After working for years locally in the band of John Michael Montgomery and on their own, Eddie Montgomery (John Michael’s older brother) and Troy Gentry established their own Southern rock-leaning country music career at the close of the ‘90s. Since the release of the duo’s debut album, Tattoos & Scars, Montgomery Gentry has chalked up numerous No. 1 country hits, including My Town.

Clarence Spalding: During the early ‘80s, Spalding was one of the managerial voices behind one of the most popular music clubs in Lexington, Breeding’s. But what sends him to the Hall of Fame is what he has accomplished since then. Over the past three decades, he has become one of the most respected managers in the country music industry with a client list that includes Jason Aldean and Brooks & Dunn.

Doc Hopkins: A native of Harlan County, Hopkins was introduced to banjo and steel guitar at an early age before a fascination with traveling medicine show acts hit after his family relocated to Rockcastle County nearly a century ago. During the 1940s, he was a regular performer on Chicago’s WLS Barn Dance and was rediscovered by a new folk generation taken with traditional and old-time music in the ’60s. Hopkins died in 1988.

Larry Cordle: Born in Lawrence County, Cordle was the songwriter behind several country hits for fellow Kentuckian Ricky Skaggs (most notably Highway 40 Blues). But he has also penned tunes that wound up on records by Garth Brooks, George Strait, Loretta Lynn and others. Curiously, Cordle’s anthem of Nashville commercialization, Murder on Music Row, was named Song of the Year by the Country Music Association in 2000.

The Moonglows: A pre-eminent pop vocal force during the 1950s thanks to the now-classic hits Ten Commandments of Love and Sincerely, the Moonglows cut much of their music after establishing a home base in Cleveland. The Kentucky connection comes from founding members Harvey Fuqua and Bobby Lester, who began singing together in Louisville as a duo around 1949. Lester died in 1980, Fugua in 2010.

Pete Stamper: A veritable country music entrepreneur, the Dawson Springs-born Stamper joined Red Foley’s Ozark Jubilee in the ‘50s, had a rockabilly hit (Cheva-Kiser-Old-Mo-Laca-Stud-War-Linco-Baker) in the ’60s and served as Dolly Parton’s road manager in the ‘70s. But he is best known regionally as a performer/comedian at Renfro Valley with an affiliation that began in 1950. Stamper is also a veteran broadcaster.

The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame’s 2015 Induction Ceremony will be held at 7 tonight at the Bluegrass Ballroom at Lexington Center, 430 W. Vine. Call: (877) 356-3263, (606) or got to

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