A pack of singing cowboys, a heap of bluegrass (much of which is being led by the ladies), acts stopping in the region en route to Bonnaroo, some serious Lone Star storytelling and a show that is altogether Phish-y — it all makes for a pretty full weekend in and out of Lexington.
Here is a look at the summer concert fun at hand.
Riders in the Sky, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen
7:30 p.m. June 3 at Lexington Opera House. $28.50-$30. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.
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The need to check the calendar is understandable, with Riders in the Sky returning to town Friday night. After all, the Grammy-winning Western music troupe has made Lexington a regular December stop on its annual holiday music tour for a nearly a decade.
There will be no Christmas lights on the cardboard cacti Friday, though, as the troupe known individually as Ranger Doug, Too Slim, Woody Paul and Joey the Cowpolka King uphold the great singing-cowboy traditions of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
The venue will be different as well. The Riders' many holiday shows have all been staged at The Kentucky Theatre. Friday, they move up to the Opera House.
If you go, we implore you to arrive early enough to hear the opening set by Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen. Hillman discusses his extraordinary career on Page 9.
Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas
8 p.m. June 4 and 5 at Louisville Palace, 625 S. Fourth St., Louisville. $49.50-$59.50 for each performance. Ticketmaster.
Amazingly, it has been nearly seven years since we heard new music from Alison Krauss and Union Station. But the bluegrass-pop princess has been anything but idle, having picked up an armful of Grammy Awards, including album of the year, for her hit 2007 collaborative recording with Robert Plant, Raising Sand.
Krauss is devoting this year to work with her Union Station mates: guitarist/vocalist Dan Tyminski, banjoist Ron Block, bassist Barry Bales and dobroist and one-time Lexingtonian Jerry Douglas. Capping Krauss's return to the contemporary string-music sound that catapulted her career is a new album, Paper Airplane, which reached No. 1 on Billboard's country, folk and bluegrass charts shortly after its release in April.
The album is a typically rich-sounding set that matches Krauss's regally delicate singing (on Richard Thompson's Dimming of the Day and Jackson Browne's My Opening Farewell, in particular) with the more rustic, folk-informed singing of Tyminski (on Peter Rowan's Dust Bowl Children).
There is no Lexington date in the immediate future for Krauss, but she will perform a two-night stand at one of her favorite venues, the Louisville Palace, on Saturday and Sunday. She and Union Station recorded its double-disc concert album Live there in 2002.
This weekend's performances will prepare Krauss and company for a set next weekend at Tennessee's mammoth Bonnaroo festival.
A recent posting on The Low Anthem's Web site said the folk troupe with the exquisitely antique sound was thrilled that its recent tour in support of its fourth studio album, Smart Flesh, "ended in time for the rapture." Alas, the rapture never happened. For that matter, neither did the end of the band's road adventures. Touring duties resume for The Low Anthem with a concert Saturday at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Road, Louisville. (9 p.m. $10. (502) 584-8088. Headlinerslouisville.com.) The band also heads to Bonnaroo next weekend.
McMurtry times two
You have two opportunities this weekend to catch one of Texas's most heralded songsmiths, James McMurtry. Unfortunately, both require a road trip. McMurtry performs Friday night at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville (9 p.m., $15) and Saturday at Southgate House, East Third Street in Newport. (8:30 p.m., $17-$20, (859) 431-2201, Southgatehouse.com.)
Although he released the fine CD/DVD Live in Europe in 2009, McMurtry hasn't issued a new studio album since 2008's Just Us Kids. That recording stands as one of his best works. Its songs, all full of homey charm and dark rural story lines, are required listening of any McMurtry fan.
Jam-band favorite Phish is back in action this weekend for a performance Sunday at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati. (7 p.m. $41.50-$56. Ticketmaster.)
This seems to be a particularly good time to catch Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon and Page McConnell in action. Many fans think the side projects the band members stay engaged with on their own time have had a positive effect on Phish's ensemble shows. Judging by the recent concert recordings the band has made available online through its LivePhish series, the effect is strong indeed. A sprawling June 2010 performance from Columbia, Md., boasts a 20-minute version of You Enjoy Myself full of the prog-style fancy and spry lyricism that bolstered Phish shows in the '90s.
Phish will present further proof of its current performance worth with the release this summer of the three-hour CD/DVD Live at Utica, recorded in October.
Two not-to-miss bluegrass outings slip into town next week. On Monday, Rhonda Vincent teams with country music great Gene Watson for WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at The Kentucky Theatre (6:45 p.m. $10. (859) 252-8888. Woodsongs.com.)
Then on Thursday, the Steep Canyon Rangers help kick off the Festival of the Bluegrass at the Kentucky Horse Park. (7 p.m. $25. Festivalofthebluegrass.com.) Vincent and Rangers vocalist Woody Platt will chat with us in Sunday's Arts + Life section.