Hear live roots music, or tap into a thriving cultural scene
By Walter Tunis | Contributing music writer
If you’re new to Lexington, it’s expected that the outlines of our live music community will seem a little unfamiliar. But to be honest, much of the environment is just as foreign to those of us living here.
That’s because over the past year, there has been a major turnover in the number of major live music venues. Some hangouts relocated and reinvented themselves while others established new names in very familiar digs.
Here are some of the reimagined venues that represent a revitalized Lexington music scene:
Buster’s Billiards and Backroom: What is referred to locally as “the distillery district” along Manchester Street may well represent the new entertainment face of downtown. Though the district is still in the very early stages of a massive face lift, Buster’s is leading the way for what is, hopefully, to come.
It’s a pool hall, as the name implies. But it’s also a sprawling music room that can accommodate 1,000 patrons. Having opened last September, following the 2008 closing and demolition of the original Buster’s on Main Street, the venue has presented shows by such varied artists as The Derek Trucks Band, Drive-By Truckers, Ani DiFranco, Henry Rollins, Mastodon, Silversun Pickups and Dropkick Murphys, along with scores of regional bands and local benefits.
On tap at Buster’s this fall: Big Head Todd and the Monsters (Sept. 16, 2010), Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (Sept. 17), The Hold Steady (Sept. 29) and Citizen Cope (Oct. 12).
Cosmic Charlie’s: Throughout the 1990s, the Woodland Avenue haunt known as Lynagh’s Music Club became one of the most esteemed venues in the city, introducing Lexington to world-class artists such as Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Alvin, Billy Joe Shaver and more. The club closed in 2002, but the venue lives on today as Cosmic Charlie’s.
The club is roughly half the size of Buster’s but has become a hit with college crowds. It’s well within walking distance of the University of Kentucky campus and boasts a heavily eclectic musical menu. Since the club is named after a Grateful Dead song, it’s not surprising to find a live music calendar heavy on jam bands. But Cosmic Charlie’s also has played host to everything from vintage country (Charlie Louvin) to Japanese psychedelia (Acid Mothers Temple). The Whigs, The Apples in Stereo and Jolie Holland also have played there over the past year.
Natasha’s Bistro: Natasha’s is anything but new, having moved from a Southland Drive location to just off Main Street on Esplanade (across the street from the Kentucky Theatre) in 2001. But after renovating what was a boutique area into an expansive performance space last year, it has become a wonderfully intimate venue showcasing local theater, touring and regional arts groups and an increasingly healthy lineup of national concert acts.
Among the guests playing to audiences limited to 100-plus over the past year: The Punch Brothers, Over the Rhine, Sara Watkins, James McMurtry, Peter Case, The Hot Club of Cowtown and Michelle Shocked.
Leading the fall concert lineup at Natasha’s will be the extraordinary California Guitar Trio with Lexington guitar great Ben Lacy on Sept. 16.
Bar Lexington: Once it was called A1A. Then it became the relocated home of The Dame. Now the entertainment complex on East Main Street is Bar Lexington.
It began making serious noise as a music establishment last winter and became home for, among other musical activities, the Outside the Spotlight Series of improvisational and free jazz concerts. The great European avant garde saxophonist and bandleader Peter Brotzmann has played there twice since February.
Similarly, Bar Lexington’s primary concert room, The Roxy, brought in Southern soul/funk merchants J.J. Grey and Mofro earlier this month.
By Rich Copley | email@example.com
The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games have upped the ante on Lexington’s arts and entertainment scene, filling the calendars of area venues with high-profile acts between Sept. 25 and Oct. 10, 2010.
Acts playing during the games include Nickleback at Rupp Arena Oct. 7, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy with the Lexington Philharmonic at the Singletary Center on Sept. 30 and Lexington’s own Laura Bell Bundy downtown as part of the Spotlight Lexington Festival on Oct. 1.
But big-time entertainment and active arts groups are nothing new to the Horse Capital of the World, which has a pretty active arts and entertainment scene year-round.
The major venues in Lexington are the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts and the Lexington Opera House.
The Singletary Center is home to many UK and community groups, and presents its own Singletary Signature Series, which this season features saxman Branford Marsalis (Nov. 13), rocker Chris Isaak (Dec. 11) and the National Symphony Orchestra (Feb. 23, 2011).
The Opera House’s signature series is Broadway Live, which will present several recent Broadway hits including Spring Awakening (Oct. 29-31), Monty Python’s Spamalot! (Jan. 14-16, 2011) and Legally Blonde — The Musical (April 15-17, 2011).
Danville’s Centre College boasts another major Central Kentucky venue in the Norton Center for the Arts. This year it has secured the region’s arts event of the year with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by classical music superstar Gustavo Dudamel (Sept. 27). That is already a tough ticket, but seats for other acts such as the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart (Nov. 11) and the Joffrey Ballet (April 7) are still available. Marquee stars also come in to perform with local artists. The UK Symphony will present a pops concert conducted by Marvin Hamlisch (Oct. 2) and violin soloist Itzhak Perlman (March 5, 2011).
The UK Opera Theatre has become Lexington’s de facto opera company. Among the opera’s performances this season will be a revival of its 2008 production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme (Sept. 30-Oct. 3) and a new production of George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess using state-of-the art video technology to transport the audience to Catfish Row (Jan 28-Feb. 6, 2011).
The Lexington Philharmonic is entering its second season under music director Scott Terrell’s baton, and it will include new innovations such as a few concert preview nights at the Downtown Arts Center and its annual Messiah performance, this year at the Cathedral of Christ the King (Dec. 2 and 3).
The Lexington Children’s Theatre has a national reputation for launching new works.
Studio Players is Lexington’s oldest community theater troupe, performing a mix of community theater favorites and contemporary hits.
Balagula Theatre operates at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar and presents offbeat material along with dinner.
In recent years, Lexington has seen a spate of solid independent productions, meaning it pays to pay attention to shows that pop up on the schedule.
Among the premier community theaters in the area is the Woodford Theatre.
In Boyle County, Pioneer Playhouse is the commonwealth’s original and longest-running summer outdoor theater. In summer, arts fans can indulge in SummerFest in July in the Arboretum, and Ballet Under the Stars in August in Woodland Park.
Each August, Woodland Park also hosts the Lexington Art League’s renowned Woodland Art Fair, renamed in 2009 as The AFB Art Fair @ Woodland Park.
The Art League’s home is in the LAL@Loudoun House gallery, where patrons can see a full season of exhibits, including January’s popular Nude 2011, touted as the nation’s largest exhibit devoted to nude art.
The area’s largest museum is The Art Museum at UK, in the Singletary Center, which exhibits a season of touring shows and works from its collection.