Temperatures are in the teens, but that doesn't stop a long line from forming at the entrance to Redmon's on Main Street just before midnight on Super Bowl Eve.
The shivering line suddenly warms when two guys hit the sidewalk: A long-haired, bearded blond with a backpack that looks bigger than he is and a guy with a red ballcap and denim jacket with an American flag on the back. They slap some high fives and sign a few autographs as they navigate their way backstage through the hard-drinking crowd.
It wasn't but three years ago that Nick Jamerson and Kris Bentley, now known as Sundy Best (no, that's not a typo), thought they were lucky to get a gig at Redmon's. Now, fans are lucky to get in to see them in their old stomping ground.
"It was a dream come true for us because when we were in college, that was the only place I ever went," guitarist Jamerson says.
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Bentley, who plays a percussion instrument called the cajón, says, "Us learning how to put on a show down there and interact, and bring people in and keep them down there until 2:30 at night really helped us grow."
Sundy Best certainly has grown since those first forays into Lexington in 2010.
Now, the Lexington-based duo has videos in rotation on CMT, songs on satellite radio and has expanded its touring reach across the country, including three performances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in the past four months.
Tuesday is a red-letter day on the group's calendar with the release of its second album, Bring Up the Sun, Sundy Best's debut on eOne Music.
"Their personality comes across easily; it's them," says Van Fletcher, the eOne vice president of music who signed the group. "They're not trying to be anybody else. They're songs you can relate to, whether you're from Kentucky or anywhere else."
All you have to do is listen to Sundy Best's debut album, 2012's Door Without a Screen — with songs like Mountain Parkway and Kentucky Women — to know the guys are from the Bluegrass States and that their roots are east of Lexington.
Sundy Best's name is rooted where their music careers began while growing up in Prestonsburg.
"Church," Jamerson says over lunch at Cheapside Bar and Grill on a Friday afternoon in February before heading off to shows in West Virginia. "His dad was the praise and worship leader at their church, and my mom was the children's choir director at our church."
Both of their families were involved in music professionally or as accomplished enthusiasts.
Jamerson remembers visiting his grandfather's house at Thanksgiving and Christmas, "and my grandfather would play banjo, my grandmother would play guitar, my great-aunt would play mandolin, the doctor from up the road would come and play fiddle, and it's just this big bluegrass lineup in the living room."
Bentley says, "That's pretty standard in Eastern Kentucky. ... Once we got out to Lexington, we found out it's not really normal for people to grow up in that type of environment."
They also had inspiration from the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg, seeing acts such as Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels and Montgomery Gentry. They found themselves living another dream in late January, when Sundy Best played a homecoming show at the center.
"That was our Grand Old Opry growing up," Bentley says.
As Sundy Best's star has risen, the guys have tried to carry that down-home family feel with them, referring to fans as "Kinfolk" and using the hashtag #kinfolk on their active Twitter and Instagram feeds.
From drums to cajón
Bentley and Jamerson left Prestonsburg for college. Bentley played basketball at Centre College in Danville, and Jamerson played football at what was then called Pikeville College.
In 2010, when Jamerson was getting ready to graduate, he was playing some solo shows and contacted Bentley about getting together. Their first gig was at Champs Sports Bar and Grill in Pikeville. The duo soon began playing around Eastern Kentucky.
Their first Lexington performance was playing the patio at bd's Mongolian Grill in Hamburg, starting a string of patio gigs, which inspired Bentley to downsize from a drum kit to the cajón (pronounced ka-hone), a Peruvian instrument that is essentially a box the player sits on and slaps with bare hands.
"You can't really play in a restaurant with a full drum set," says Bentley, whose long blond hair becomes a show of its own during performances. "You can't turn the volume down on that."
Even though their stages are getting bigger, Bentley says he is inclined to stick with the cajón, and Fletcher says the instrument helps set Sundy Best apart.
At first they played as Nick and Kris, but when Larry Redmon booked them at his club, he said, "We need a name to promote."
It's 'Sundy' on purpose
"It was originally going to be Sunday's Best, but then we said, 'No, Sundy Best,'" Bentley says. The "a" was dropped from Sunday because "that's the way we talk."
Jamerson says, "It's weird saying Sunday," and Bentley adds, "It's like there's an extra syllable in there."
They know some people have thought, "They're so dumb, they can't even spell Sunday."
"I was an English major at Centre College, I know how to spell Sunday," Bentley says, laughing. "We can spell."
Jamerson says, "We're just so comfortable being ourselves, we didn't really care what people thought. We liked it."
With songs like Drunk Right, the band is much more oriented to Saturday night than Sunday morning now. Bentley and Jamerson say religious allusions have a tendency to come up "because that was such a big part of who we are."
"I sent a song to someone the other day and he said, 'That sounds like a praise and worship song.' I said, that's not what I was trying to do, but sometimes it comes out."
Jamerson and Bentley were itching last month for their new album to come out.
"This is the most excited I have ever been," Bentley says.
Says Jamerson: "The first one was very Kentucky-centric. For the first time in our lives, we were missing Eastern Kentucky and things we took for granted. So it was very Kentucky-centric. This one, there will still be references only people in Kentucky are going to get. But it's a lot more broad, and it's going to open up some doors for us."
The video for one of the first songs from the album, Until I Met You, was shot in Lexington by their longtime collaborator, Lexington videographer Coleman Saunders, using local talent. Within a month of being shot, it was on CMT.
'People love them'
As their career grows nationally, the Sundy Best guys still are capable of getting geeked over local milestones, like playing Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Center's Round Ball Bash before the Kentucky- Tennessee game and having former University of Kentucky basketball star Nerlens Noel come onstage for a photo.
"I saw this as a tailgate kind of event, and they fit that perfectly," event organizer Courtney Feltner said. "I had heard a lot of buzz about them, and when I started listening, it was wonderful — very relaxed and very Kentucky."
As the new album comes out, Sundy Best hopes to convert a lot more fans.
The Cardinal Hill performance attracted a crowd of fans including local notables such as WKYT chief meteorologist Chris Bailey, who hails from Eastern Kentucky. "I fall under the kinfolk hashtag," he said.
Fletcher says one thing that bodes well for the group is that the guys play with the same enthusiasm away from their home base.
"They might play for 30 people in a bar in Georgia," Fletcher says. "But those 30 people love them and they buy the T-shirt and a CD, and they tell their friends about them."
He expects that sort of appeal to take them far.
However things turn out, Bentley and Jamerson say they will stay loyal to Redmon and his club, which they say gave them a shot when no one else would.
"People started taking us seriously when we started playing at Redmon's because that's a premier music venue," Bentley says.
"I'm really glad that people didn't give us a chance, because it lit a fire under us, like we have something to prove," Jamerson says. "I don't hold anything against anyone, because I'm happy with our life and how it turned out."
Says Bentley, "It went the way it was supposed to."