Walter Tunis: Familiar faces in Lexington, new country festival in Cincinnati

Contributing Music WriterJuly 17, 2014 

Mic Harrison, second from right, and the High Score are set to take the stage Friday at The Green Lantern.

  • The week that was

    Kenny Vaughan at Willie's Locally Known: There is a marked difference between being a solo artist and performing on your own.

    With his bassist succumbing to stomach flu earlier in the day and his drummer taking another gig as a result, venerable Nashville guitarist Kenny Vaughan performed, quite literally, "on his own" at Willie's. But, if anything, that only heightened the stylistic breadth of his playing.

    Those expecting the kind of vintage country fare Vaughan ignites in his more familiar role as guitarist for country roots scholar Marty Stuart were rewarded with the Buck Owens-like groove of Country Music Got a Hold on Me and a truly fearsome blast of warp speed picking that served as a coda. But Vaughan's set list was hardly content to spend the evening in the country.

    The 90-minute performance opened with the clean jazz stride of Mose Allison's Ask Me Nice and concluded with a hearty encore of the Little Walter blues jam It Ain't Right. The latter was one of three tunes that sported help from Lexington guitarist and guitar maker Chad Underwood. The rest of the show employed looplike pedal effects that captured and played back riffs and grooves. That effectively allowed Vaughan to serve as his own rhythm guitarist.

    Such a practice has become increasingly popular among solo artists. But Vaughan's use of such technology was judicious. It wasn't implemented to create layer upon layer of melodies, as is the want of some guitar stylists. Vaughan used the effects primarily as a lean, rhythmic supplement during Ghost Riders in the Sky and as a harmonic device within the nocturnal jazz-blues soundscape of Mysterium.

    Technology, stylistic daring and pure instrumental prowess combined during the new Vaughan instrumental Blues for Bill, a jazz centerpiece colored by a splash of psychedelia that was named after the guitarist's one-time teacher, the then-unknown Bill Frisell; and an exquisite acoustic guitar reworking of Bill Monroe's My Last Days on Earth. Vaughan dedicated the latter to Tommy Ramone, who died a day earlier.

    Linking Monroe and The Ramones? No one but Vaughan would have attempted such a feat or made the results sound so honestly and simply poignant.

    Vaughan will perform with Stuart at 8:15 p.m. Friday at the Buckle-Up Music Festival in Cincinnati.

Mic Harrison and the High Score

9 p.m. July 18 at The Green Lantern, 497 W. Third St. $5. (859) 242-9539.

Chuck Mead and the Grassy Knoll Boys/The Smithdogs

8 p.m. July 19 at Willie's Locally Known, 805 N. Broadway. $10. (859) 281-1116.

With Forecastle playing to the rock 'n' roll masses in Louisville and the new Buckle-Up Festival staging a country and Americana takeover of Cincinnati, it seemed a fitting time to mention two first-rate but under-the-radar performances by a pair of frequent Lexington guests that will keep the home fires rocking this weekend.

Friday marks the return of Mic Harrison and the High Score to The Green Lantern. Harrison was a frequent performer during the late '90s at the now- defunct Lynagh's Music Club as a member of the Knoxville power-pop brigade The V-Roys. His string of albums with The High Score — the newest and best of which is 2012's Still Wanna Fight — toughens up the melodic edges, appropriates an accent of honky tonk here and Americana there, and always keeps a plentiful stock of pop-rock hooks, riffs and melodies at the ready.

Ned Van Go, a band with roots that began in Horse Cave and an electric folk-leaning sound that, in its own words "reeks of angst, bleeds of injustice and heartbreak and screams for salvation" will open.

Then, on Saturday, Americana journeyman Chuck Mead is back at Willie's Locally Known with his white-hot honky-tonk combo, the Grassy Knoll Boys. Mead is co-founder of the esteemed country-roots troupe BR549 and serves as musical director for the popular Sun Records-set musical Million Dollar Quartet. But Mead's records with the Grassy Knoll Boys favor lean hillbilly blues and honky-tonk swing. His newest album, Free State Serenade, is made up of songs — true and fabled — set in Mead's native Kansas.

For info on the Saturday show, go to

Buckle-Up Music Festival

2 pm July 18-20 at Sawyers Point/Yeatman's Cove, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Cincinnati. $65 single-day admission, $145 weekend pass.

No sooner does Cincinnati's new generation rock summit, the Bunbury Music Festival, pack up business for the year than its new country cousin, the Buckle-Up Music Festival takes over the same downtown performance areas.

The festival has designed a specific country mood for two of its three days. Friday's inauguration of the event, though, stresses variety with a lineup that includes afternoon sets by several young song stylists (Amanda Shires and former Lexingtonian Sturgill Simpson), two holdovers from Lexington's recent Red, White and Boom fest (Eric Paslay, Jamie Lynn Spears) and evening outings by a pair of torch-bearing traditionalists (Marty Stuart and Jamey Johnson). A retooled trio lineup of '80s hitmaker Alabama will headline.

Jump ahead to Sunday, and the festival turns on the pop with sets by an array of contemporary favorites that includes David Nail, Ty Bates, Thompson Square and headliner The Band Perry.

But it is Saturday's Americana-heavy schedule that proves Buckle-Up is built for speed.

Check out this lineup. Performing in succession (but on multiple stages with sometimes overlapping show times) will be Joe Pug, Houndmouth, Emmylou Harris, The 23 String Band, Drive-By Truckers, Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Old Crow Medicine Show and Willie Nelson.

But wait, there's more. Saturday's ridiculously rich roster gets underway with sets by two Lexington favorites — Coralee and the Townies and Sundy Best. You will have to make a choice, though. Both will be performing on different stages at 2 p.m.

For a full schedule of all performances on six Buckle-Up stages, visit go to For tickets, go to .

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at

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