We kick off 2013 with one final look at 2012.
Compiled here isn't a Top 10 list of the year's best concerts, but rather a scrapbook of observations pulled from 10 exceptional performances that took place in 10 Lexington venues during the past year.
Here are the sounds I was privileged to have experienced in 2012.
Emmylou Harris at the Opera House (January): Singing songs of loss and mortality, the Americana matriarch delivered a performance that was elegant and a touch sagely. Original works from her Hard Bargain album, a loving tribute to Kate McGarrigle and covers of songs by Gram Parsons, Billy Joe Shaver and others dominated the set list. But an encore cameo by Harris' dog Bella nearly stole the show.
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Joe Bonamassa at Rupp Arena (May): It was another ultra-lean concert year at Rupp. Even the usual country suspects were in short supply. One exception was a late spring outing by guitarslinger Bonamassa. Even within Rupp's half-house set-up, the turnout was meager. But the blues scope of Bonamassa's set, from Peter Green and Savoy Brown inspirations to early ZZ Top covers, added up to quite a party.
Chuck Prophet at Cosmic Charlie's (May): Branding his Lexington return as a "poetry reading," San Francisco songsmith Prophet again proved to be a devilishly versed and original stylist. Employing new tunes from one of the year's finest albums (Temple Beautiful) as a catalyst, Prophet offered songs of baseball, murder, forgiveness and, as always, pure pop fun. The Flamin' Groovies encore cover was a blast, too.
Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers at The Kentucky Theatre (June): This marked the progressive pop piano man's first Lexington concert with a band. And what a stunner it was. As outwardly playful as it was rhythmically daring, Hornsby referenced such unlikely mentors as Bill Evans, Captain Beefheart and Levon Helm. But the show's clear, mischievous streak was entirely Hornsby's creation.
Peter Brotzmann and Jason Adasiewicz at Embrace Church (September): The Outside the Spotlight Series returned with a summit between two free jazz generations that also introduced a beautifully novel instrumental make-up. Specifically, it teamed saxophonist/avant garde chieftain Brotzmann, the artist who inaugurated OTS in 2002, with vibraphonist Adasiewicz for a set of wildly engaging improvisational duets.
Chris Hillman & Herb Peterson/Jim Lauderdale at Christ the King's Oktoberfest (September): Set under a blissful autumn sky on an equally inviting Saturday evening, Oktoberfest hit another home run with a free performance by Americana/bluegrass champion Lauderdale. But hearing Byrds co-founder and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Hillman harmonize with longtime pal Pederson was equally engaging.
Andrew Bird at the Singletary Center for the Arts (September): It has taken Bird an entire career to find a program that properly balances his distinct talents as a vocalist, composer, stylist, instrumentalist and interpreter. This show put it all on brilliant display — looped solos with classical flourishes, vocals of rich assurance and tunes that shifted from ambient fancy to back-porch folk. And did we mention the whistling?
Jorma Kaukonen at Natasha's (October): A blues fan's dream come true. For two full, crystal clear-sounding sets, guitar great Kaukonen covered tunes by Lightning Hopkins, Leroy Carr and his prime inspiration, the Rev. Gary Davis. Toss in a handful of Hot Tuna favorites both new (Children of Zion) and old (Hesitation Blues), plus the sweet mandolin support of Barry Mitterhoff, and you had one grand acoustic music feast.
Kenny Vaughan at Willie's Locally Known (November): Take your pick as to which was cooler — the fact that Lexington managed to host one of Nashville's most stylistically versed guitarists (encompassing blues, psychedelia and a whole lot of country) four times in 2012 or the fact that three of those visits were at the coolest new performance venue to open last year. Here's hoping Vaughan remains a regular.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Buster's (December): Having performed on The Late Show With David Letterman the night before, Isbell fortified the stunning country detail and spacious rock 'n' roll lyricism of his songs by returning to Buster's. But there also were plenty of nods to his Drive-By Truckers days as well as suitably jam-worthy covers of Jimi Hendrix's Stone Free and Neil Young's Like a Hurricane.