The field, as is always the case this time of year in Louisville, is substantial.
No, we're not talking about the herd of Thoroughbreds that will be roaring down the stretch at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, but rather a seemingly inexhaustible supply of concert activity leading up to the two minutes when international eyes will be on the Bluegrass.
Some of the shows you can enjoy for free. Others are intended for more amply stocked pocketbooks.
But this year's Derby concert roundup is also going off the radar to recommend five club and amphitheater performances not directly involved with Derby-themed events. You have to admit, though, catching them in Louisville during Derby Week ups the cool factor a bit.
We will get to those entries in a moment. First, let's peek at some of the concerts representing both ends of the budgetary scale.
For those short on cash, there is the return of the Kentucky Derby Festival's parade of free entertainment at Waterfront Park — in particular, the nightly shows in the Kroger's Fest-a-Ville series. All performances are free with a $5 Pegasus Pin, available at pretty much every store in Louisville.
Performers this year include veteran pop-soul acts Rose Royce (of Car Wash fame) and Frankfort-born Midnight Star (No Parking on the Dance Floor) on April 28, former Company of Thieves singer Genevieve on April 29, Australian songsmith and Taylor Swift touring mate Vance Joy on April 30 and famed Miami DJ and one-time Kanye West touring pal Craze on May 1.
All performances begin at 8 p.m. except for Craze, who will start his Derby Eve party at 9. For more information, go to Discover.kdf.org/krogers-fest-a-ville.
Perhaps you had a good day at the track, resulting in some extra cash. In that case, check out Blackstreet, the hitmaking force behind 1996's No Diggity, with founding member Teddy Riley back on board. The group will headline the 100 Black Men of Louisville Derby Scholarship Gala on April 30 at the Galt House East Grand Ballroom, 140 N. Fourth. Single seat tickets for the benefit are $200 with table seating running to $2,000. For info, go to 100bmol.org.
Then on May 1, the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs presents its annual Fillies & Lilies benefit. This year's headliner will be veteran country star Sara Evans. The event gets underway at 7:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $599 with ticket seating at $4,000. Go to Derbyexperiences.com for further ticket information.
That brings us to the main event — the featured race, if you will — a field of five concerts with comparatively modest price tags. This is where the true Derby Week fun can be found.
April 28: Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys at The New Vintage, 2126 S. Preston. For more than 25 years, Big Sandy and company have been promoting a West Coast version of Western swing. Lexington audiences were introduced to his effortless singing as far back as the early '90s. Now Louisville gets to host the joyous Fly-Rite sound at the ultra intimate New Vintage. (8 p.m.; $10). (502) 749-4050. Newvintagelouisville.com.
April 29: Peter Hook and the Light at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington. How about this for an out-of-nowhere treat: Joy Division and New Order bassist Hook performing the former band's iconic 1980 Closer album in its entirety. Hook chronicled part of his remarkable post punk history with the 2013 publication of his second book, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. (9 p.m., $20). (502) 584-8088. Headlinerslouisville.com.
April 30: Ryan Adams/Jenny Lewis at Iroquois Amphitheater, 1080 Amphitheater Rd. Punkish upstart, Americana journeyman, solo folkie, Adams has been all of these over the year. On his newest album, simply titled Ryan Adams, he electrifies the confessional nature of his songs with a Neil Young-like looseness. Alt-pop priestess Lewis, long a favorite of Louisville crowds, shares the bill. (7:30 p.m., $47.50). (502) 368-5865. Iroquoisamphitheater.com.
April 30: Freakwater at The New Vintage. Having called Louisville home since forming at the dawn of the '90s, Freakwater (still featuring founding members Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean) became darlings of a fruitful alt-country movement as the decade progressed with music that embraced honky tonk, Americana, bluegrass and more. Jaye Jayle and Drunken Prayer open. (9 p.m.; $10, $12).
May 1: JJ Grey and Mofro at Iroquois Amphitheater. Once the master of swampy Florida funk, Grey has become quite the soul man in recent years. On his new Ol' Glory album, the Mofro chieftain infuses Southern blues with an obvious adoration of Muscle Shoals-style R&B. Anderson East and the Louisville Leopard Percussionists open. This show represents the peak of Derby Eve picks. (7 p.m.; $25-$30).