Festival of the Bluegrass
June 11-13 at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground, 1089 Iron Works Pkwy. $10-$45. (859) 253-0806. www.festivalofthebluegrass.com.
Few musical traditions in Lexington are as trusted as the string-music summit that rolls around every year on the second weekend of June. That's when the Festival of the Bluegrass reconvenes at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground.
Of course, whenever we get around to discussing it on a Friday, the festival is already in full swing, having commenced with a full evening of music on Thursday evening. But the weekend itself is when things seriously get into gear. The music runs all day Friday and Saturday on three stages and ends with what remains its best-kept secret on Sunday morning.
Most of the main-stage acts that have become not only welcome but expected performers over the years are back. But you might want to look closely at the schedule. Not all of them are playing on the days or even times that returning patrons at the festival are accustomed to. Gospel-based traditionalists Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, which in years past were staples on Saturday night and Sunday morning, will play this year on Friday alongside the Lonesome River Band and Central Kentucky's own Grammy-winning J.D. Crowe and the New South.
Also, the Virginia-bred Nothin' Fancy finds itself as part of the esteemed Saturday lineup this year with Mountain Heart and longtime festival favorite Seldom Scene.
We're also going to give a plug here, as we do most years, for the festival's Sunday morning gospel session. The main stage is dark by this point, and any number of vehicles loaded with exhausted bluegrass fans will be filing out of the campground. But on the tiny progressive stage is an ultra-intimate set by the extraordinary bluegrass gospel-based Dry Branch Fire Squad.
If you feel guilty about skipping out on church to attend, rest easy. The Dry Branch crew offers richly devout and earnestly traditional bluegrass gospel music. And although he is more a horseman than a preacher, mandolinist and frontman Ron Thomason keeps the spiritualism of the music very much in line. But he's also a humorist with a keen and quick intellect. A former schoolteacher, Thomason is sort of like bluegrass music's answer to Will Rogers — an artist likely to recite Shakespeare or bits of Jabberwocky during sound check. Yet he stays true to his rural country upbringing while deftly separating earnest gospel from pandering, theatrical sensationalism.
Dry Branch is worth hearing anywhere at any time. But in an ultra-informal tent performance at the end of the Festival of the Bluegrass, it will be a nourishing spiritual dessert.
For a full schedule of festival performance artists and starting times, go to www.festivalofthebluegrass.com.
Paleface comes to town
Schooled by the great songsmith Daniel Johnston, a contemporary of rock/pop stylist Beck and an inspiration to new-generation folk/rock celebs The Avett Brothers is the modern troubadour Paleface.
A longtime New Yorker who recently moved from Brooklyn to North Carolina (a journey chronicled on his new album The Show Is on the Road), Paleface is indeed on the road this summer, performing duo shows with drummer Monica "Mo" Samalot. He lands in Lexington on Saturday for a set at The Green Lantern, 497 West Third Street. Lexington's vintage jazz and blues faves The Swells will open. (9 p.m. $5. (859) 252-9539.)
Sollee on the lawn
As a prelude of sorts to his Lexington Opera House concert in July with Yim Yames and Daniel Martin Moore, Lexington cellist and folk/pop stylist Ben Sollee will show off his own music with a free performance Friday night on the Capitol Lawn in Frankfort. The Kentucky Coffeehouse Café is sponsoring the performance. (7 p.m. (502) 875-3009.)