As Driftwood Gypsy starts winding down on stage, Rebecca Richter and Kate Douglas decide to let their dogs have some exercise. There was plenty of room to do it at WUKY’s Saturday evening “Commons Crossing” concert.
WUKY may be the University of Kentucky’s radio station, but its new studios are six miles away from campus on the north side of Lexington. It’s a little dot of blue on a vast patch of green lawn and field that proved to be a perfect playground for playful pups Amos Moses, Leo and Ernie.
And the station’s big back yard was a big inspiration to producers Ed Commons and Warren Cobb, primarily known for their work with “Red Barn Radio.”
They came to see the new studios, which the station began broadcasting from in April, at the invitation of station manager Tom Godell.
“We saw the studio and walked out onto the patio and said, ‘Oh. Here’s an opportunity,’” Commons said.
On the lawn, on the air
The opportunity was to present an outdoor concert series on the station’s back lawn, putting the artists on the patio and letting the audience spread out on lawn chairs and blankets. It was an idea Godell expressed when he gave the Herald-Leader a tour of the station in the spring — presenting shows in the station’s back yard and spacious music studio.
But they added another twist.
“We also pitched the idea of doing a live broadcast from 7 to 8, say, and surprisingly, without hesitation, they said, ‘Sure, we can do that,’” Commons said. “So here we are on the lawn and live.”
The show was dubbed “Commons Crossing,” in recognition of Commons and the fact the studios sit right next to train tracks where trains regularly roar by — the audience is encouraged to cheer the train.
The series launched July 7 with a concert by Joslyn & The Sweet Compression that attracted more than 300 attendees and continues through Sept. 8 with a lineup that includes Magnolia Boulevard Aug. 18 and Trippin Roots for the finale. This Saturday, the artist is Wynn Taylor and Stop 22, a project devoted to supporting and raising awareness of veterans with PTSD.
“This focus is strictly local, and sending it out on the WUKY transmitter to people who maybe are not plugged in to what’s happening in music locally,” says Commons, noting that a “local music resurgence” helped inspire the series. “Hopefully it will help that crowd grow.”
Cobb did the booking and says, “I think I only had one band that I wanted to be in the series that couldn’t be in because it was completely booked. Other than that, everybody else was really thrilled to do it, and not only that, but be part of a concert series that was a live radio show at the same time, which makes it sort of a unique experience for the audience and the band.”
“That opens us up to more possibilities, more ears that are listening,” Driftwood Gypsy guitarist David “Chill” Napier says after the band’s July 28 set. “We want to get more ears on our music.”
Fans who came out get a little something extra, as Driftwood offers up a couple extra tunes after the show goes off the air, with plenty of sunlight covering the field.
Commons notes, “Since we’re an early show, you can come out to this and still go out to dinner and a show afterward in the city. So we’re kind of like the opening act, in that regard.”
It’s also a show that won’t put a dent in fans’ wallets.
“Most people don’t get to see these acts for free,” Cobb says of the series’ lineup. “If you’re going to The Burl, you’re paying 15 to 20 bucks to get in to see these guys.
“I tried to book bands that would pretty much fill The Burl on a Friday or Saturday night.”
In and out concerts
Only four shows in, “Commons Crossing” has already had a chance to try out another unique feature: the shows can go inside in inclement weather. The July 21 concert with Restless Leg String Band was moved into the station’s spacious music studio, coming the day after severe storms ravaged the Bluegrass, and weather still seemed dicey.
“It went really well, actually,” Cobb said. “Because of the rain, we didn’t really have the huge number of people come out that we thought might. So pretty much, we had the number of people we could fit inside come to the show. The band loved the space inside, because acoustically, it’s fantastic.
“We want them all to be outside, if we can. But unfortunately, we don’t have much control over that.”
And fans love being out in the field.
“It seems pretty laid back, like we’re out in the country,” Richter says, while letting her dogs frolic in the field. “I live downtown, and usually just do things down there.”
Bernadette Bodhi, who works professionally as Prizma The Clown, sits toward the back of the field painting kids’ faces and twisting balloons into animals.
“I’ll be here,” Bodhi says, noting she likes the adventurousness of the series. “I love taking risks, and I’ll come to a local concert anytime.”
Commons encourages fans to enjoy the setting as well as the music.
“If they get here early, there’s a pair of deer that come up, and there’s usually a fox. One red fox,” Commons says. “They love music. I don’t know. It’s kind of cool to still be within the city of Lexington and see that kind of nature. It really feels like we’re somewhere in the country.”
IF YOU GO
What: Live performance and radio show from WUKY-FM.
When: 7 p.m. Saturdays. Gates open at 6, and the show runs an hour.
Where: WUKY studios, 2640 Spurr Road; free parking at adjacent Kentucky Eagle, Inc.
Aug. 4: Wynn Taylor & Stop 22
Aug. 11: Women of the Bluegrass
Aug. 18: Magnolia Boulevard
Aug. 25: Kevin Dalton and the Tuesday Blooms
Sept. 1: Sean Whiting
Sept. 8: Trippin Roots