HARRODSBURG — Starting his sixth year as director of Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts, Steve Hoffman feels like he is reaching a place many artistic programmers hope for.
"Our audience appreciates high quality performances and is willing to try something new while also having the comfort zone of what they like," Hoffman says over lunch at the Kentucky Fudge Company in Harrodsburg, near his Danville venue.
In recent seasons, the comfort zone would be acts like Texas blues practitioners ZZ Top, which Hoffman says was last season's most successful act, while something new might be song-interpreter Cyrille Aimée, who gave a crowd-pleasing regional debut last season to an audience that was, for the most part, unfamiliar with her.
"Our audience has been very open with positive critiques and constructive feedback," Hoffman says.
That sort of response guided him in constructing the 2015-16 season, which again boasts some big names like legendary Southern rocker Gregg Allman and conductor Philippe Entremont and guitarist Pepe Romero with the Munich Symphony Orchestra, comic actor Jim Belushi and jazz star Diane Schuur with the Count Basie Orchestra. But within those names, Hoffman also wants audiences to discover artists such as bluesmen Corey Harris and Eric Bibb, modern dance troupe the Parsons Dance Company and Cantus, which Hoffman says you can file under, "If you love Chanticleer, you'll probably love ... ." Hoffman also jokes that the booking of guitar duo Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge is "part of our effort to bring in every member of The Punch Brothers in their own group." Eldridge is the guitarist in the Americana band led by mandolin superstar Chris Thile, who was at the Norton Center last season with bassist Edgar Meyer.
Also in the bluegrass and Americana vein, superstar duo Dailey & Vincent will bring their Christmas show to Danville this year.
One thing that stands out on the new calendar is several shows oriented toward children, including Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Live! and VeggieTales Live.
Hoffman took a pop culture cue booking Aquila Theatre to present The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in March, invoking a time-honored character who is hot again thanks to TV series on CBS (Elementary) and PBS (Sherlock).
Season tickets go on sale Monday in packages that include options for audiences to build their own seasons of shows they want to see.
Hoffman says, "Our hope is everyone comes out and makes their own discoveries."