Five smaller venues offer big musical treats

Contributing Music CriticSeptember 22, 2011 

Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City is known for its intimate, inviting setting and high-quality bluegrass music. Concerts from major performers are scheduled between October and April.


Like most metropolitan locales, Lexington appreciates enormity. If you've ever experienced a sold-out event at Rupp Arena, be it a Wildcats game or a Kenny Chesney concert, you know this city loves a whale of a shindig.

When it comes to music, going for something smaller and different often offers great rewards. It could be fringe jazz in a black box theater, bluegrass in a barn or folk in a coffeehouse.

Here are several suggestions for more intimate and distinctive events, venues and artists to engage with. All are part of any essential Central Kentucky artistic experience.

The Kentucky Coffeetree Café. Despite the name, this very intimate Frankfort venue is one of the region's most inviting and attentive music rooms. Everyone from local folk and bluegrass artists to national touring acts (among them the Dave Matthews Band's Jeff Coffin) visit. There is seating for only 50 to 60 patrons. As such, performances feel like house concerts. Visit:

The WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. A Lexington institution, the internationally distributed WoodSongs tapes nearly every Monday at the Kentucky Theatre. Guests range from grass-roots unknowns to nationally acclaimed artists (Hot Tuna and The Blind Boys of Alabama played there this summer). Reservations are a must as the tapings invariably sell out. Visit:

The Outside the Spotlight Series. Specializing in free jazz and improvisational music programs, this 9-year-old concert series has introduced Lexington to such heralded but decidedly non-commercial artists as Peter Brotzmann and Ken Vandermark. Venues for OTS shows vary from show to show. This is jazz that asks for active as opposed to passive listening. Brave ears will be rewarded. Visit:

Meadowgreen Park Music Hall. Experiencing bluegrass music in the Bluegrass region is a must. And, hands down, there is no more inviting or unspoiled environment to do so than Meadowgreen Park Music Hall. A barn-like venue in Clay City, it is devoted solely to bluegrass concerts by major names between October and April. A must for any bluegrass enthusiast. Visit:

Coralee and the Townies. Whenever out-to-town friends (or even in-town ones) ask for a recommendation on fine local music, this is the band I direct them to. An outstanding, intuitive and downright fun ensemble that recalls the cosmic country music Gram Parsons pioneered in the late 1960s, Coralee and company also possess a vibrant Americana soul sound all its own. Visit:

More Central Kentucky bucket lists:

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at

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