Big didn’t always mean better when it came to live music staged throughout Central Kentucky in 2014. For proof, one need only to look again inside the cavernous confines of Rupp Arena, which cemented its reputation as a nearly exclusive venue for country music with a string of sold-out concerts highlighted by a two-night, four-show stand by Garth Brooks.
But there was so such more variety outside of the big house, even with the closing of Buster’s. The venerable Manchester Street venue went down rocking in 2014 with strong performances by Drive-By Truckers and Conor Oberst. To further illustrate, we offer our annual scrapbook of 10 shows from 10 venues.
As always, it’s not intended as a comprehensive list of what was necessarily “best,” although it goes without saying that the extraordinary Ian McLagan’s two-night stand (for WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour and at Parlay Social) this fall, less than two months before his death, stands as perhaps the year’s most unavoidably sentimental engagement.
This list also isn’t ranked in any way other than chronological order. It is simply a representation and remembrance of the outstanding and refreshingly diverse live music that visited our region over the past 12 months.
- Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt, Weisiger Theatre, Norton Center for the Arts in Danville (February). A revered classical pianist teamed with one of country’s foremost Americana songstresses for an evening that ran from Franz Schubert to Nina Simone.
- Steep Canyon Rangers, Paulie’s Toasted Barrel (June). The crowning event of this year’s Best of Bluegrass series offered a fun, accessible view of this contemporary string band while raising the bar as one of Lexington’s most expansive new music festivals.
- Simone Felice/Dawn Landes, Phoenix Park, WUKY Phoenix Fridays (June). In the end, Louisvillian-turned-New Yorker Landes stole the show. But the real triumph was the birth of a new outdoor concert series that was proved an audience hit by summer’s end.
- The Fairfield Four, Willie’s Locally Known (August). With a history that dates back nearly a century, this cherished a cappella gospel group stirred up some intimate jubilation on the stormiest night of the summer. The quartet even gave an “amen” to the kitchen staff.
- Audio One, Embrace Church (August). One of the highlights of the long-running Outside the Spotlight jazz series was the regional debut of this dynamic 10 member band led by Ken Vandermark that contained leaders of several past OTS performances.
- Ian McLagan/Janiva Magness, Lyric Theatre, WoodSongs (October). Torchy blues belter Magness was a delight. But the star was Rock and Roll Hall of Famer McLagan, who delivered a warm variation of his piano boogie sound six weeks before his death.
- Joe Ely and Joel Guzman, Natasha’s (November). Probably the finest rocker to soar out of Lubbock, Texas, since Buddy Holly, Ely opted for an acoustic duo setting with champion Tex-Mex accordionist Guzman to highlight brilliant Lone Star songcraft.
- Lucinda Williams, Lexington Opera House (November). As uncompromising as ever, Williams solemnly tore through songs of love and vengeance from her fine 2014 album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, aided by Wallflowers guitarist Stuart Mathis.
- Diego Garcia/Bear Medicine, Singletary Center for the Arts (November). Garcia’s self-involved acoustic music wasn’t that big a deal. But having a comfortable listening environment in which to absorb the songs of Lexington’s own Bear Medicine was.
- Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond (December). Amid a holiday season infatuated with music that was too stoic or too sentimental, this longstanding West Coast swing brigade discovered a Yuletide spirit as fun as it was instrumentally engaging.