The Red Mile Blues Festival
1 p.m. May 24 at The Red Mile Paddock Park. $10. (859) 509-3337. www.gbusy.com.
Until the late '90s, blues maintained a low but dependable profile in Lexington. You could find veteran John Hammond at Lynagh's, BB King at the Kentucky Horse Park with his annual touring festival or, going back to '80s venues such as Breeding's, contemporary giants from the Alligator roster that included Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks and the late Son Seals.
Of late, though, it had been a blue time here for blues music. Then things got Busy.
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Greg Thomerson, a longtime local blues harmonica player who performs under the name G. Busy, is an avid fan of the music. He took a stab last fall at running a performance space, the G. Busy Blues Room, on Anniston Drive. The venue did well with national acts but struggled to maintain a steady audience.
So Thomerson made the Blues Room something of a mobile enterprise that would present occasional concerts at various local venues.
"I decided I would just turn the G. Busy Blues Room into a promotion company," Thomerson said. "Then I could still bring in acts that were already coming through the area and put them in a venue with a location and size that would be appropriate for that artist."
First up on Thomerson's blues-on-the-move schedule is the debut of The Red Mile Blues Festival. This isn't a return to the manic, infield-size Memorial Day outings for which The Red Mile was known in years past. This is a vastly more intimate afternoon-into-evening gathering at the track's Paddock Park area. Local and regional performers will pepper much of the schedule. Thomerson will even perform with his G. Busy Blues Revue. Headlining will be the cheery roadhouse rock of Chicago's Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, which played to a packed house at the Blues Room in November.
Thomerson also plans a June 20 performance at The Red Mile's Round Barn, which will double as a rain site for Sunday's festival, by Chicago guitarist Nick Moss.
For now, though, a modest festival with a proven national headliner for an affordable $10 is the priority. Thomerson hopes that will be enough to make to the blues come alive at The Red Mile.
"I tried it for three months over at the Blues Room," Thomerson said. "The national acts had a draw, but it was difficult to keep it open on weekends. I didn't want to abandon the blues because I have this personal drive for the music.
"I just want to get gourmet blues back in Lexington."
Here's the lineup for the Red Miles Blues Festival.
Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials: a leading voice of rocking, new-generation Chicago blues.
Robbie Bartlett Blues Band: a longstanding Louisville blues and soul vocalist with a repertoire that balances tunes by Al Green, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Otis Redding with strong original works.
G. Busy Blues Revue: Thomerson's harmonica-driven band, which also will boast multiple guitarists, horn players and even a few University of Kentucky professors.
Velveeta Jones: a Danville/Central Kentucky electric blues quartet.
The City: a Lexington/Lex Jam-based blues and roots-music collective.
Here for the Party: an ensemble featuring members of the weekly blues-music showcase at O'Neill's Pub.
Lawn chairs and blankets will be welcome at The Red Mile Blues Festival. Coolers and bottles are a no-go.
Cookout on the rocks
Our neighbors at CD Central, 377 South Limestone, always know how to celebrate the unofficial start of summer. The store will again have hot dogs on the grill and free live music in the back parking lot Monday. On tap: Blue Suckers (noon), Goldenroad (1 p.m.), Spooky Qs (2 p.m.) and Alegionnaire (3 p.m.). Call (859) 233-3472 or go to www.cdcentralmusic.com.