Music News & Reviews

With new digs and deeper grooves, Moonshiner’s Ball is back for more

Ben Sollee and Vandaveer’s Mark Charles Heidinger performed at the 2016 Moonshiner’s Ball.
Ben Sollee and Vandaveer’s Mark Charles Heidinger performed at the 2016 Moonshiner’s Ball. Kim Blackburn Photography

Any young music festival aspires to growth. The Moonshiner’s Ball is certainly no different. Since it debuted in 2014 at HomeGrown Hideaways in Berea, the now-annual event counted on expansion. But the move this year to the larger Jenkins Farm in Irvine is an affirmation for a still-evolving festival a year after it was nearly washed out at its previous home.

“Last year was tough for us, because we got hit pretty hard by the rain,” festival organizer Travis Young said. “That definitely affected our gate sales. I believe that we would have sold the old venue out last year. But even with bad weather, we were getting close, so that was a good sign.

“We’ve been very aggressive in the way we’ve grown the festival every year. In four years, I think the budget has quadrupled. We’ve raised the bar every single year, which is kind of scary because we’re not the kind of festival that has corporate backing. We’re a festival that is doing it out of our own pockets completely independently and just hoping that people come out. We need people to come out. That’s the way we survive. We don’t spend our year courting sponsors. We spend our year seeing awesome bands and pondering how to build the best festival experience we can. That’s where our energies go to. We’re a festival of artists, so that’s what we focus on.”

Musically, many of the Moonshiner acts have taken their cue from string bands. Some might be rooted in bluegrass, but most use that music’s instrumentation to forge a far more progressive sound.

“We do like innovation,” said Young, who also plays banjo in the festival’s host band, the Lexington-based Blind Corn Liquor Pickers. “That is definitely a big part of what we look for in artists. We like artists who are coming out of a tradition that’s definable, but are taking that tradition in a direction you haven’t heard before.”

But the music at Moonshiners isn’t devoted exclusively to string-band variants. There are solo singer-songwriters along with more electric-minded jam and groove based acts. The trick, Young said, is to let the festival build in sound and texture as the day progresses.

We would have, essentially, the finest of what Kentucky has to offer on display one weekend for everybody to enjoy.

Travis Young, Moonshiner’s Ball organizer

“That’s an idea we had about lineup curation that’s a little bit different from what you see in most other festivals. Specifically, that means folk by day, rock by night. I love folk festival artists, but once it reaches that certain hour, you don’t really want quiet, pastoral folk songs. At 10 o’clock at night, everyone wants to party. So we believe during the day you put on singer-songwriters, you put on string bands and virtuoso jazz trios. Then, when you get to a certain hour, you want to get up and dance. So we’re combining what we see as two very common types of music festivals — the folk festival and the jam festival — into one. It’s like, why wouldn’t everybody enjoy all of this?

“What we ultimately want to build is one weekend where not an enormous number of people — let’s say 4,000 or 5,000 people — would come out and experience music, some of which they would be familiar with, some of which they would be completely unfamiliar with. Some of it would be by national performers that we had discovered and wanted to introduce to our audience. Some of it would be local and regional artists. We would have arts and crafts centers. We would have food trucks selling local food. We would have, essentially, the finest of what Kentucky has to offer on display one weekend for everybody to enjoy.”

If you go

The Moonshiner’s Ball

When: May 19-21

Where: Jenkins Farm, 4405 Red Lick Road, Irvine

Tickets: $35-$120


Moonshiner’s Ball lineup


1 p.m. Kevin Dalton

2 p.m. Restless Leg String Band

3 p.m. Quiet Hollers

4 p.m. Justin Wells

5:15 p.m. Matt Fassas Trip

6:30 p.m. Margaret Glaspy

7:45 p.m. The Wooks

9 p.m. Marcus King Band

10:30 p.m. Lil’ Smokies

11:45 p.m. Golden Dawn Arkestra

1 a.m. Trucker Hat Coalition


11 a.m. DeBraun Thomas Trio

Noon. Solid Rock’It Boosters

1 p.m. Blackfoot Gypsies

2 p.m. Tyler Childers

3 p.m. Dawg Yawp

4 p.m. Vandaveer

5 p.m. Jon Stickley Trio

6:15 p.m. Lydia Loveless

7:30 p.m. Johnny Conqueroo

8:45 p.m. Blind Corn Liquor Pickers

10 p.m. Aaron Lee Tasjan

11:15 p.m. Con Brio

12:45 a.m. That 1 Guy

2 a.m. Driftwood Gypsy


11:45 a.m. Darby & the Peep Show

1 p.m. Nellie Pearl

2:30 p.m. The Baja Yetis

4 p.m. Ben Sollee

Check 2017-schedule for details on other events including spoken word performances and kids activities.

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