Rich Copley: A lively Lexington music scene is as viable as we're willing to make it

Herald-Leader Culture Columnist,Rich CopleyJune 14, 2014 

Standing in the parking lot at Short and Mill streets Wednesday night, I realized I had a choice.

I could go a few blocks one way to Parlay Social and see Larry Cordle, Or, I could walk across the lot for a taping of Red Barn Radio with Misty Mountain String Band. Then again, I could do what I ultimately did and hit Paulie's Toasted Barrel to see the Local Honeys and Steep Canyon Rangers, the guys who played with Steve Martin in his banjo-playing incarnation.

For one week, the organizers of the Best of Bluegrass festival created what a lot of people say they would like to see regularly in Lexington: a lively music scene that gives people hard choices to make.

Monday night, energy focused on Esplanade, where Natasha's Bistro & Bar was as packed as most of us have ever seen it for the double bill of Town Mountain and Lonesome River Band.

On Tuesday, the focus went to the East End, where The Roys played Willie's Locally Known with last-minute openers NewTown, which was rained out of its Southland Jamboree show. A few blocks over, Blind Corn Liquor Pickers was playing its home venue, Al's Bar, with Danville's Blind Ricky.

Waiting between bands at Al's, I struck up a conversation with a woman who had come from Mount Sterling, attracted by the activity Best of Bluegrass had stirred up. She had never been to Al's, but as a longtime fan of New Grass Revival, she was attracted by the bands' modern takes on contemporary bluegrass.

The price wasn't bad either: free.

All of the acts listed above, as well as Dale Ann Bradley, who needs a truck for all her awards, and Stone Cold Bluegrass were free, supported by Best of Bluegrass sponsors.

That is an aspect of the festival, a prelude to this weekend's Festival of the Bluegrass at the Kentucky Horse Park, that probably cannot be duplicated on a nightly basis in Lexington.

But the scene is something organizers would like to see.

Before last week, which really should be declared Lexington Bluegrass Week in the future, I talked to a lot of people interested in music for a story on the state of bluegrass music here in the heart of the Bluegrass. It was a scene that is getting better than it was but still could use some improvement. Several venues such as Willie's had attempted to program bluegrass exclusively but found they needed to broaden their offerings to be viable. Audiences, they said, needed to be a little more broad-minded and willing to pay at least a few bucks to support the music.

There also needs to be an active scene in general with first-rate local and touring artists to build up.

Lexington has seen that during the past week. In addition to this all-star lineup of bluegrass, we have had visits from the likes of Drive-By Truckers at Buster's on Saturday and Alejandro Escovedo on Sunday at Natasha's, which the woman I chatted with at Al's was going to see. Local rockers Palisades hosted an all-star show of local talent as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest film series.

Several times, we have had city leaders and representatives come back from towns such as Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., crowing about explosive music scenes that bring life to the city streets well after dark. There is a danger in trying to duplicate what someone else does or having unrealistic expectations based on cities with much larger populations.

But there is nothing wrong with aspirations, and this was a week that showed what Lexington is capable of, if it really wants it. I am proof that our city can have nights when people stand in a parking lot downtown wondering which of the numerous performances within a few blocks they want to see.

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Email: rcopley@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @copiousnotes.

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