What: An Evening of Music by the Velvet Underground. Matthew Clarke opens. 9:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Green Lantern, 497 W. 3rd. $8.
Scott Whiddon figures maybe 10 to 15,000 people, in total, saw the Velvet Underground perform, an estimate given credence by the sluggish sales the New York band posted for the four studio albums it released between 1967 and 1970.
But the Velvets — Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and (following Cale’s dismissal) Doug Yule — were cultural icons of the rock underground during its day and an overwhelming artistic inspiration to successive generations of bands that followed in its wake. So it’s hardly surprising the Velvets’ influence also reaches to Lexington.
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For the third time in as many years, Whiddon, frontman for the local indie pop trio Palisades, and a like-minded crew of musical pals (guitarist and vocalist Tim Welch, guitarist Willie Eames, drummer Robby Cosenza, keyboardist and vocalist Kim Conlee and violinist Sam McWilliams) will offer their own takes on Velvets music — from the psychedelic street sounds of their 1967 Andy Warhol-produced debut (“The Velvet Underground and Nico”) to the raw experimental grind of their 1968 follow-up (“White Light/White Heat”) to the comparatively relaxed and almost folkish stride of their first post-Cale record (1969’s “The Velvet Underground”) to the more streamlined electric charge of what became Reed’s last album before departing for a solo career (1970’s “Loaded”).
The six will perform as Sister Ray on Saturday at the Green Lantern. The band’s name comes from the title to the cacophonous, lo-fi 18 minute riot of a song that concludes “White Light/White Heat.”
“I remember being 13 or 14 years old and spending the weekend at a friend’s house,” Whiddon said. “Their older brother came home from college with one of the compilation albums by the Velvets, one that focused mostly on the first record. It was tremendous. It was one of the first steps where those songs got into the DNA of how I thought about the world.
“From the Velvets, you can follow a path to a lot of noise bands, you can follow it to R.E.M., you can follow it to Yo La Tengo.”
As is always the case with any local act, the challenge of mounting a Sister Ray performance centers largely on logistics. All of the members juggle duties in other bands (in many instances, several other bands) as well as family responsibilities and assorted day job demands. But that doesn’t prevent the yearly Sister Ray outings from maintaining a familial feel or diminish the band’s devotion to the Velvets’ music.
“One of the things that just makes me smile is how musicians of this caliber, whenever we do this sort of thing, are willing to make the time and effort to take part,” Whiddon said. “The first thing is that. Then there is the fun part, of course. We get to play songs that we love that perhaps made a mark at some point in our lives when we were falling in love with music.
“But you also have to live up to all of that. You know you want to play really, really well and you want to honor that tradition. So it’s always fun, but it’s also a question of presenting this music to people who also love those records.”
The Earls of Leicester
Throughout his career, Jerry Douglas has always been ahead of the curve. Take the case of a 2012 solo album the dobro pioneer and one time Lexingtonian released that encompassed much of the progressive string music styles he has developed over the last four decades, from bluegrass to new grass and wiry variations of folk and fusion.
The album title? “Traveler.” How curious that another Kentuckian – namely, country/soul sensation Chris Stapleton - did pretty well with a record bearing the same title three years later.
Douglas will return to his one-time-home turf on Thursday. But this time, his more modernistic music will be put on hold to embrace traditional bluegrass – specifically, the catalogue, musical innovations and scholarly picking styles of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The devotion to the duo is so prominent, in fact, that the Grammy winning band Douglas will be fronting will bear their names, not his – The Earls of Leicester.
Of course, the late winter touring run constitutes just a sliver of the actual traveling Douglas will be up to. At present, he is in the United Kingdom with his ongoing Transatlantic Sessions project. Then come May, he will be back out with the Jerry Douglas Band, which tackles the full stylistic range of his music (as highlighted by the wonderful 2017 album “What If”). And, yes, while there are no concert dates with them in the near future, Douglas remains a vital member of Alison Krauss and Union Station.
But on Thursday, tradition reigns as Douglas brings his sterling bluegrass ancestry back to the Bluegrass.
Another Saturday night with Chris
Speaking of Stapleton, just a few weeks after his “Saturday Night Live” stand with surprise guest and fellow Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson, Stapleton is back on late-night TV this Saturday, making his debut on the long-running PBS series, “Austin City Limits.” The 11 p.m. broadcast on KET (Ch. 46, Spectrum Ch. 12) will feature the Johnson County-raised Stapleton and the Oklahoma group Turnpike Troubadors. Of course, there are also two chances to see Stapleton live in Kentucky this year as he headlines Louisville’s Forecastle Festival July 14 and Rupp Arena Oct. 27.