in performance: festival of the bluegrass, day 1

the lonesome river band performing last night at the festival of the bluegrass. from left: brandon rickman, randy jones and barry reed. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

the lonesome river band performing last night at the festival of the bluegrass. from left: brandon rickman, randy jones and barry reed. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

Where else but at a bluegrass festival will you find the headlining band conducting a live survey of which audience faction – the Baptists or the Methodists – can hoist the most cups of beers for a toast.

For the record, the Methodists won out as the 42nd Festival of the Bluegrass got underway at the Kentucky Horse Park last night, but only because Lonesome River Band guitarist and co-vocalist Brandon Rickman goaded then on more. With an audience participation interlude this reverential, one couldn’t help but wonder what the tone will be for the gospel performances that will close the festival on Sunday morning.

For the Lonesome River Band, the set was a homecoming of sorts. Festival regulars absent from the lineup last year due to scheduling conflicts, banjo great Sammy Shelor and what is easily one of the veteran band’s strongest lineups returned with an assured set built around a roster of expert players (including mandolinist and Strunk native Randy Jones, who doubled as a commanding high tenor vocalist) and a setlist that leaned heavily on the fine 2014 album Turn of a Dime.

While tunes like Teardrop Express offered a checklist of requisite bluegrass woes (“heartache, trouble and pain”), the band continues to be driven by a level of musicianship that stressed ensemble feel over solo grandstanding. Even the jam Shelor instigated during Jack Up the Jail provided plenty of room to showcase fiddler Mike Hartgrove before the instrumentation giddily shifted gears.

Chris Jones and the Nightdrivers preceded with a set that stressed a hushed, husky vocal style akin to the singing of Gordon Lightfoot and a sense of stylistic variety also shared by the two Central Kentucky bands – The Velvet Blue and The Wooks – that opened the evening.

Jones and company opted for a country accent for much of its original material. Some tunes were decidedly contemporary by bluegrass standards (Lonely Comes Easy, the title tune to the group’s 2013 album). Others revealed a more vintage cast like the C.W. McCall spoken verse trucking song Wolf Creek Pass that closed the set. The biggest curiosity however, was a delicate and exact reading of Edelweiss that became an exhibition of brilliant tone by mandolinist Mark Stoffel.

The Wooks, with Frankfort favorite Kati Penn sitting in on fiddle, was by far the most progressively minded troupe of the night with a set split between jam-savvy originals (Turtle in the Creek) and covers of staples by Robert Earl Keen (The Front Porch Song), Bruce Springsteen (a take on Atlantic City that owed more to The Band’s 1993 remake than the Boss’ original) and the Grateful Dead (Franklin’s Tower).

The Velvet Blue asserted comparative traditionalism with a set-closing My Old Kentucky Home delivered as a weepy mountain ballad. Though purposely melancholy, it still got the festival crowd – Baptists and Methodists alike – on their feet.

ornette coleman, 1930-2015

ornette coleman.

ornette coleman.

As a precocious fan of fusion music, my gateway drug into the world of jazz, Ornette Coleman was a total mystery at first. Try as I might as a teenager, I just couldn’t connect the dots within the kind of abandon his music reached for. But then some things, especially fine art that steers clear of the obvious, takes times to understand and ultimately appreciate.

In a life that ended yesterday in Manhattan at age 85, Coleman shattered harmonic, compositional and especially improvisational expectations of jazz music.

The standard line from traditionalists was that Coleman’s music was, in essence, anti- jazz. Many dismissed it as noise and “jive.” But while he indulged in free forms of time and harmony, there were also strong undercurrents of bebop in the saxophonist’s playing. But when he met up with like-minded proteges like Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, the unorthodoxy of Coleman’s music simply exploded.

The quartet’s groundbreaking 1959 Atlantic album The Shape of Jazz to Come is considered a vanguard work for so-called “free jazz” expatriots. I have to admit later works for Blue Note (the live 1965 trio date At the Gold Circle), Columbia (1971’s Science Fiction) and a jumbled fusion/funk work for Horizon/A&M (1977’s Dancing in Your Head) pulled me in first, albeit reluctantly. But once those Atlantic records soaked in, the freshness and immediacy of Coleman’s sound didn’t seem so offsetting. It just seemed wonderfully of-the-moment, as all did great jazz.

Near as I can tell, Coleman never played anywhere close to Lexington. But the legacy his music bares is more than apparent in the Chicago, New York and European artists that have performed locally for the Outside the Spotlight Series. In their hands, as it was in Coleman’s decades earlier, the music didn’t wear its traditional reverence openly. But it was there, a stepping stone to a brave and unflinching musical territory where possibility was boundless.

Ornette Coleman opened the door to that world and dared naysayers to enter while simultaneously welcoming them.

critic’s pick 278: ryan adams, ‘ten songs from live at carnegie hall’

ryanadamsRyan Adams has long been one of those Jekyll and Hyde artists that intersperse performances of poetic intimacy with outings of full-tilt electric immediacy. It’s a balance that mirrors such classicists as Neil Young without ever sounding imitative.

Ten Songs from Live at Carnegie Hall is a curiosity that allows the Jekyll persona to emerge out of a Hyde outburst. Specifically, it documents two solo acoustic dates at the landmark New York venue last November that fell in the midst of nearly a year’s worth of grungey electric shows. That doesn’t keep it from being a wonderfully unsettled concert keepsake, though.

The entirety of both acoustic performances was chronicled in the spring on the limited edition, 6 LP vinyl-only package Live at Carnegie Hall. It sold out quickly but remains available for hardcore fans in digital form through the usual online outlets. This week brings us Ten Songs from Carnegie Hall – a fine 50 minute sampler split evenly between songs from both shows.

While the full vinyl set serves essentially as a career retrospective, Ten Songs is a bookend affair that offers five songs from Adams’ first two solo albums (2000’s Heartbreaker and 2001’s Gold) with the remainder representing the here and now (three from 2014’s Ryan Adams along with two new tunes).

Sometimes these new readings vary greatly from their studio originals, like the reconstruction of the churchy, power chord-fueled Gimme Something Good into a pensive, internalized confession and a gorgeously delicate update of Gold’s Nobody Girl stripped of its mounting electric charge.

In other instances, these takes very much follow the lead of their previous incarnations, as with two Heartbreaker works that begin and end Ten Songs – a reflective Oh My Sweet Carolina rich with country despondency and the stark guitar/harmonica kiss-off incantation Come Pick Me Up.

For those thinking Ten Songs is a strictly melancholy affair (and the brooding piano balladry of Gold’s Sylvia Plath and the very Nick Drake-like cast of the new This is Where We Meet in Our Mind certainly enforce that notion), there is a bright retooling of Gold’s New York, New York to serve as a pop affirmation.

That Ten Songs leaves you hungry for more goes without saying. Loads of treats from the vinyl set are absent here, including the title tune from 2011’s extraordinary Ashes & Fire, the robustly brittle cover of Bob Mould’s Black Sheets of Rain and a truckload of hilarious between-song banter. Still, this is a sublime little trip through Adams’ brilliantly restless musical mind, complete with enough four-letter bombs embedded in the lyrics to earn Ten Songs a parental advisory label.

Having that plastered on the back and white cover photo of Carnegie Hall in all its grandeur was no doubt viewed by Adams as a point of pride.

billy joe shaver’s diamond status

billy joe shaver.

billy joe shaver.

Peruse the songs that have flowed from the pen of Billy Joe Shaver over the past 40 years ago and you will find one fabulous yarn after another. All may be country by design. But even a perfunctory listen reveals how worldly the lyrics are.

“I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I’m going to be a diamond someday.”

“The devil made me do it the first, the second time I did it on my own.”

“I’m a pistol packing papa with a million dollar smile. I’m fit to kill and going out in style.”

At age 75, the fire and spirit of Shaver’s music has not remotely begun to settle. In a lifetime full of personal loss (his son and musical partner Eddy Shaver died of a drug overdose in 2000) and artistic triumphs (Bob Dylan referenced the elder Shaver in the 2009 song I Feel a Change Comin’ On), the songsmith remains a Texas soul unspoiled by Nashville country consumption. He also has no interest in letting the dust settle under his boots. Shaver remains a prolific writer and concert performer that doesn’t understand why other artists of his generation (or younger) haven’t remained similarly invested in their craft.

“I figure if the boot fits, then wear it,” said Shaver, who kicks off this year’s Best of Bluegrass with Tuesday performance at Willie’s Locally Known. “I don’t put nobody’s name down or nothing. There are just guys that are capable of writing real good stuff, but they’re just kind of slacking off.”

Defining the current state of Shaver’s tireless career is a 2014 recording that takes a friendly jab at his own professional and personal stance. It’s titled Long in the Tooth.

“It’s a challenge for me to write songs,” Shaver said. “But I love a challenge. I want to write these suckers right, too, man. I always feel that way when I’m writing this stuff, and I can tell when I have a good one. Long in the Tooth just leans more toward the truth. You get a little older in age, so you just try to be as honest as you can be. But I guess everybody else is, too.”

The record kicks off with a tune destined to a Shaver classic, Hard to be an Outlaw. New generation country stars may sing of trucks, beer and beaches. Shaver sings of mortality and sin, but does so with the same Lone Star honky tonk soul that has drawn artists like Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, The Allman Brothers Band and dozens of other notables to cut his songs.

“It’s hard to be an outlaw,” Shaver sings, “who ain’t wanted anymore.”

Far more sobering is American Me, a decidedly non-jingoistic tale centering around South of the border mischief with a devastating climax. (“The woman I loved was left waiting for me. I broke her sweet heart, American me”).

“I kept hanging on to that thing for years and years,” Shaver said of American Me. Finally, Ray Kennedy (who co-produced Long in the Tooth) heard it. He threw a couple of fantastic words in there and made it come together real good. It’s a real good song, really poetic.”

Of course, Shaver is well aware that fans, critics and fellow artists still flock to warhorse songs like Georgia on a Fast Train, When the Word Was Thunderbird and especially Old Five and Dimers Like Me (the title tune to his 1973 debut album) that defined his career and songwriting reputation decades ago.

Old Five and Dimers… man, that one was loaded for bear. Actually, that’s the song I keep trying to beat. It’s pretty true to life. I mean, these songs are so old they’re new.”

Billy Joe Shaver and The Kentucky Hoss Cats perform at 8 p.m. June 9 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N.Broadway, for Best of Bluegrass. Tickets: $20-$40. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to www.willieslex.com.

pop pilots heading homeward

twenty one pilots: josh dun (right) and tyler joseph. photo by jabri jacobs.

twenty one pilots: josh dun (right) and tyler joseph. photo by jabri jacobs.

While they haven’t fully comprehended the success that has greeted them this summer, Tyler Joseph and Joseph Dun are returning to Ohio this weekend as champions.

Known collectively as the modern pop, dance and beat-savvy duo Twenty One Pilots, the two will help close out this year’s Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati – a skip down the Interstate from their hometown of Columbus.

What makes this quasi-homecoming so momentous is the Herculean task Joseph and Dun pulled off. Last week, the band’s newest album, an indie record of wildly varied pop called Blurryface, entered the Billboard 200 chart at No. 1. By selling over

146,000 units in its first week of sales, the album edged out the Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack and the un-killable Taylor Swift for the top spot.

“To be totally honest, I had no idea what that meant,” said drummer Dun by phone earlier this week. “Part of me didn’t really want to know just because I like going onstage and playing my drums. I never wanted to get too focused on all the other stuff going on. I was like, ‘Hey, as long as you’re telling me things are going well, I’m good with that.’

“But what I’ve really taken from this is somehow this crazy number of people have decided to buy into what we’re doing and want be a part of it. To me, the most powerful marketing tool is word of mouth. That’s why this is really an honor, to have people really resonating with this.”

Blurryface is like an exploding scrapbook of pop references from the instant the album opening Heavydirtysoul uses hip hop verses to mask for a lyrical unrest (“this is not rap, this is not hip hop; just another attempt to make the voices stop”) that explodes with a Pet Shop Boys-like chorus that will likely bounce in your brain for weeks.

At the other extreme of a record dominated by Joseph’s cinematic keyboards and Dun’s roaring percussion is perhaps the most unexpected instrumental voice of any dance-pop hit this year: ukulele. Its sound saddles up alongside the pounding Dun drum intro of We Don’t Believe What’s on TV without diffusing the song’s underlying agitation.

“I’m a fan of my own band,” Dun confessed. “I know that sounds weird. I think sometimes even talking about art can be weird.

“Everything we’ve ever done we’ve approached with the idea of the live show. Tyler and I were picturing ourselves onstage playing these songs while recording them. There’s nothing more exciting than that.

“We’ve been able to do a couple of festivals and a couple of small shows in the UK so far. But with Bunbury coming up and having it so close to home for us, we’re excited to bring this music to life for friends and family in an atmosphere that feels like home.”

While the sound of Blurryface is, for all its stylistic variance, huge, don’t expect any kind of expanded lineup of the band to take the stage at Bunbury. Onstage, as on record, Twenty One Pilots is the creation of just two people.

“It’s just us. I play drums and Tyler sings and plays piano, a little ukulele and some synth stuff. We rely on electronic technology for some of our sound.

“Since the beginning, when we decided on just having two of us in the band, we both realized a bit of an insecurity. We were feeling like a duo might not be entertaining enough. So to go out onstage every night and battle that insecurity, that sort of fear, is good for us. I don’t know if I would ever want to be at a place where I go onstage and have nothing to conquer. There are mental, emotional and maybe even spiritual things happening that potentially need to be defeated. That’s part of playing live. It’s such an addicting feeling.”

critic’s picks 277: keith jarrett, ‘creation’ and david torn, ‘open sky’

keith jarrett creationAside from their alliance as bandmates on the ECM label, Keith Jarrett and David Torn exhibit little stylistic simpatico. But on their newest recordings, that very distinction expands the art of solo performance.

Jarrett has come to define the role of modern piano improviser over the past four decades, infusing his solo concerts with impressionistic rapture and chamber-like completeness. Torn is more of a sculptor whose solo work welds together shards of electric ambience, unrest and distortion for an unclassifiable sound both delicate and disturbing.

Each artist regularly performs and records in collaborative settings. But on their splendid new ECM releases, Jarrett and Torn explore their opposing musical worlds on their own.

Jarrett’s Creation differs from his other solo piano albums in design and well as temperament. In the past, his solo concerts have been preserved in essentially complete form regardless of length (1978’s infamous Sun Bear Concerts even went so far as to chronicle five full concerts on 10 LPs).

Creation instead opts for selections pulled from spring and summer 2014 performances in Tokyo, Toronto, Paris and Rome. Obviously, the full continuity of a singular concert is absent. But in its place is a nine part suite rich in exploratory texture that possesses a flow quite separate from the concerts themselves.

You hear a gorgeous transition, for instance, from the opening Toronto excerpt, which establishes a subtle but brooding tension, to the ballet-like grace from the Tokyo performance. It’s as if someone opened the curtains and let the sun pour in.

While Creation has its darker moments (Parts VII and VIII, both from the Rome concert, sound beautifully turbulent yet still pastoral), the overall feel is lighter and more understated than the music on many Jarrett piano records.

With hints of Jarrett’s debut ECM album Facing You also bubbling under the surface, Creation is a summation as well as reflection of a champion improviser’s musical intuition at work.

david torn open skyTorn’s Only Sky oozes in with waves of plaintive electric sound, an ambience that howls in the background before serving as a choral effect for the jagged and sometimes industrial guitar sounds Torn detonates on top of the music.

There are echoes of Robert Fripp and ECM veteran Terje Rypdal within sound sculpture pieces like At Least There Was Nothing, which zooms into the audio cosmos before Torn pulls the music back to earth with Eastern colors on the lute-like oud, the only real non-guitar voice on the record.

But Torn manipulates sound so completely throughout Only Sky that guitar takes on keyboard, string and even percussive qualities. Yet on Spoke With Folks, his sound is laid almost bare with a chattering, chiming folk melody that serves as a rootsy retreat in the eye of this sonic hurricane.

jean ritchie, 1922-2015

jean ritchie.

jean ritchie.

It’s easy for anyone in Kentucky who grew up with the music of Jean Ritchie to claim her as their own. That’s a polite way of saying it was easy to take her for granted.

To us, she was a teacher and neighbor whose graceful but topical songs became a part of our very artistic upbringing. Decade and after decade, we would see her perform with a dulcimer on her lap, a voice sent truly sent from a higher place than the Southeastern Kentucky mountains she hailed from and songs that served a folk primer for successive generations.

To the rest of the world, she was rightly viewed as a folk matriarch, a regal but uncompromising representative of Appalachian culture and the inspirations and activism that fortified it. Here in Kentucky, she was more than that. She was practically family, an artist so much a part of our art that it seemed inconceivable to picture our state’s heritage without her.

I can’t even remember the first time I heard Ritchie, who died yesterday at age 92. For the longest time, I couldn’t separate the songs she wrote from the traditional tunes she made her own. Regardless of the demarcation, she was the one who introduced me to The Cuckoo, Shady Grove, Wayfaring Stranger and other folk essentials. I would hear countless versions of these songs through the years, many by artists from Europe and beyond. But Jean Ritchie forever fashioned the blueprint.

I was a sophomore in college when None But One was released. The first album cut for the Greenhays label she began with husband George Pickow, it was a renaissance work for Ritchie, exposing her to an emerging folk and bluegrass generation that favored tradition but also sought ways to connect it to the causes and influences of the day. To that end, Ritchie was no finer conduit. She was the voice of Appalachian tradition but never sounded remotely out of time with her songs.

I didn’t get to see Ritchie perform, however, until 1982 when she played with longtime friend and fellow folk giant Oscar Brand at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Her songs were forces of nature. You almost sensed the presence of Leadbelly or Pete Seeger, iconic artists Ritchie and Brand befriended in New York decades earlier. But Ritchie never made the songs sound weighty. The music of the mountains remained her native tongue. She upheld a culture and invited all to share in its beauty.

in performance : david torn

david torn.

david torn.

David Torn prefaced his solo guitar performance last night at The Monastery in Cincinnati with an eerie tale told with considerable jocularity.

The story dealt with a premonition so strong that it caused Torn and his wife to walk out of a hotel restaurant in Woodstock, NY for fear of an impending calamity. Later that evening, a murder was committed in the hotel.

A veteran of prog-related collaborations, film scores and guitar innovations for more than three decades, Torn told the story with such a wicked grin, almost like an aside, that you couldn’t doubt the authenticity. The same held true for the performance, Torn’s first ever concert in the region. For all the turbulent layers of manipulated sounds he created through an arsenal of pedals, knobs and electronic gadgetry, there was considerable animation at work. Talk about your premonitions.

Torn joked early that describing the onstage process of his playing was next to impossible. “Good luck if you’re hoping for an explanation.”

In essence, he simultaneously recorded and played. Certain riffs and melodic fragments became loops, although that process was used sparingly. More often, the recorded parts were processed electronically and regurgitated in a variety of ways.

In some instances, the sound returned in waves of choral like ambience that seemed to converse in call-and-response fashion with the live guitar playing. At other times, the sound was far more corrosive, tinkering with the very tonality and pitch of the music.

There were times when the electronic enhancements subsided to where an almost folkish lyricism peaked through. But one long improvisatory passage instead concluded with wildly oscillating guitar frenzy that coalesced into a blast that sounded, quite literally, like an explosion.

As a reference point for unsuspecting listeners at The Monastery (a renovated church now operating as a recording studio), Torn offered a bit of familiarity with the Johnny Nash reggae-pop classic I Can See Clearly Now. But his version was anything but obvious. Torn deconstructed the work, elongating and rewiring its sunny melody with the kind of stylistic curiosity one would expect from Bill Frisell. But Torn’s mechanics made it sound like an entire infantry was converging on the tune.

“I think of these technologies as instruments,” Torn said with another grin. “Until they break.”

in performance: hot rize

hot rize: nick forster, bryan sutton, tim o’brien and pete wernick.

hot rize: nick forster, bryan sutton, tim o’brien and pete wernick.

Well into a wonderfully schooled and tasteful two hour performance last night at the Lyric Theatre, Tim O’Brien referred to the concert credo Hot Rize has long worked by.

“We have to play one prison song, murder ballad or coal mine-caving-in tune or we lose our bluegrass license.”

With that, the champion band made good on their word and launched into Ninety Nine Years, a tune of incarceration and remorse set to an assured ensemble tempo, a potent vocal wail and instrumental passages, especially by O’Brien on mandolin and banjo great Pete Wernick, full of rhythmic depth and driving lyrical grace. It was enough to make you forget just how unrepentantly bleak the song was.

That, of course, is one of the great charms of bluegrass music, not to mention a component that sits at the balance of tradition and innovation that has long fueled Hot Rize.

Disbanded since 1990 save for sporadic reunion shows, Hot Rize hasn’t visited Lexington since a Festival of the Bluegrass date in the late ‘80s (although O’Brien, Wernick and guitarist Bryan Sutton have all played here several times on their own). But all it took last night was the show-opening Blue Night, the first song from the band’s first album in 1979, to re-establish ties. The song was a crash course that covered the quartet’s many performance virtues – namely, sterling group harmonies (in this case, by O’Brien, Wernick and electric bassist Nick Forster), string soloing of impassioned but unassuming dignity and the kind of understated authority that only comes from bands that have been around the block a few times.

In a way, Hot Rize is a cultural anomaly, having taken inspiration from its Colorado roots despite the fact none of its four members are natives of the area. But the love of the band’s adopted homeland informs many of its finer songs, especially Western Skies, one of seven tunes performed from When I’m Free, Hot Rize’s first studio recording in 24 years.

While the band can pick with the speed and ferocity of newer generation bluegrass troupes, some of the evening’s most absorbing music came from songs that were more relaxed in tempo and bittersweet in theme, like the title tune to 1987’s Untold Stories and O’Brien’s new Blue is Fallin’.

The mood lightened considerably for a mid-show set by Hot Rize’s country and swing alter ego incarnation as Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, which blended austere country classics such as Always Late With Your Kisses with interludes of comedic corn (like the plug for the faux-sponsoring Waldo’s Discount Donuts: “You bite it, you bought it”).

But the last words, curiously, went to Sutton who gathered the quartet around a single microphone for I Am the Road. How fitting that a show with such sagely musicianship would conclude with four confident voices locked in gospel kinship.

the hotwiring of hot rize

hot rize: pete wernick, nick forster, bryan sutton and tim o'brien.

hot rize: pete wernick, nick forster, bryan sutton and tim o’brien.

For over two decades, Hot Rize existed as a bluegrass band in limbo.

An acclaimed Colorado quartet that served as a conduit between string music tradition and the progressive variations that began to take hold of bluegrass in the late ‘70s, the quartet – Tim O’Brien, Pete Wernick, Charles Sawtelle and Nick Forster – amicably disbanded at the dawn of the ‘90s. But Hot Rize didn’t fully vanish.

Sporadic reunion shows affirmed the band’s legacy as its members pursued disparate solo careers. Even Sawtelle’s death from leukemia in 1996 didn’t end the Hot Rize saga.

But in 2014, things shifted. Hot Rize committed to cutting its first album of new songs in 24 years – its first recording, in fact, to feature all-star guitarist Bryan Sutton, an avid fan of the band as a kid, as a recruit.

“We overcame the biggest obstacle that we all felt,” Forster said. “And that was, ‘Can we make a new Hot Rize record? Can we do something without Charles, given the passage of time, given all the things we’re doing now, and make it feel like Hot Rize?’ And we proved to ourselves that we can. The fans are responding, and I think the record sounds like a Hot Rize record. That’s kind of a load off for us, a nice milestone.”

Next up was the prospect of performance. To support the resulting record When I’m Free, the fully reconstituted Hot Rize committed to several extended runs of touring, which will include its first Lexington performance since an appearance at the Festival of the Bluegrass nearly three decades ago.

“Once you get in to a more refined sense of connection and communication with each other, you go beyond just thinking about remembering the songs or remembering the parts or trying to recreate something,” Forster said. “Having lots of opportunities to play music together, especially with a whole bunch of new songs, really made for a very different experience. It was really the first time we were able to have that experience with Bryan in the band.

“Perhaps it’s just super subtle and it’s the kind of thing only I would notice. But it’s palpable. It really felt like we were really digging into a slightly deeper level of what it means to be in Hot Rize.”

For Forster, the 24 years between the decommission of Hot Rize from full time duty and the release of When I’m Free was spent in eTown, a public radio music and interview program he organized and continues to host out of Colorado. In fact, Hot Rize used eTown’s Boulder studio to record When I’m Free.

“I think eTown has really helped me understand the arc of a show and how to present it, how to connect it and how to engage an audience. I’ve always been the emcee in Hot Rize, too. That’s one of the reasons eTown exists.”

Forster isn’t sure what the future will hold for Hot Rize. The band agreed to a one year commitment for the making, promoting and touring of When I’m Free. That period will conclude this fall.

“I think we’re all a little overcommitted and starting to feel the pressure of maintaining multiple careers at the same time, so I think there will be a happy respite when we’re done. But I also think we’ve grown closer in a way, so my guess is there will be more recording, whether it’s another Hot Rize record or in some other configuration. It’s just really nice to be out playing music together again, especially with new material that’s fresh for us and fresh for our audience.

“It just makes it real again for us as a band. Whether we know it or are even acknowledging it, we’re infusing some really creative energy into this particular foursome.”

Hot Rize performs at 7:30 tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third. Tickets: $38.50-$44.50. Call (859) 280-2218 or go to www.lexingtonlyric.com.

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