The Moonshiner’s Ball aims to bring a mix of Kentucky and touring artists to the stage, and Friday afternoon and evening, the only way you could really tell the difference was when band members told us where they were from.
Lexington-area artists such as The Wooks and Justin Wells more than held their own with national acts such as Margaret Glaspy and the Marcus King Band, who were welcomed visitors to the Ball’s new mountain-surrounded home on Jenkins Farm in Red Lick Valley.
When I finished my drive down the narrow, twisty roads that lead to the new Estill County location, also home to the Red Lick Valley Bluegrass Festival, Louisville’s Quiet Hollers were holding forth with a nuanced set from their current, self-titled album. The five-piece was playing its third Moonshiner’s and clearly felt at home on the stage shaded from the mid-afternoon sun.
Justin Wells brought a band of Lexington all-stars to the main stage for a set that included thoughtful covers such as Dire Straits’ “So Far Away” and “The Fall” by Wells’ former band, Fifth on the Floor. Though now a solo artist, Wells was a more than generous host giving players such as guitarist and pedal steel player J. Tom Hnatow and drummer Robby Cosenza plenty of spotlight … or sunlight, as it was.
The Matt Fassas Trip brought well-constructed harmonies and a varied set from vocal showcases to bluesy jams, Fassas saying he was taking his new resonator guitar to the stage for the first time. Margaret Glaspy was the find of the day, coming to the main stage with a trio that in many ways hung on what she coaxed out of his angular lyrics and modest butterscotch Telecaster. It is easy to assume she is a lyric writer first, bending the music to suit the songs’ moods and surprising turns. With nods to jazz and punk, her often dissonant songs demanded a good listen.
Under the roof — the Moonshiner’s stages are set sort of catty-corner to each other — The Wooks kicked the event into party mode from solid renditions of their own hits such as “County Girl” to their take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” which brought the crowd to the stage. It seemed somewhat odd putting The Wooks – one of the most popular acts in the region -- on the smaller stage, but it worked as the smaller setting focused the band and crowd’s energy. And that primed the crowd for the Marcus King Band to take the main stage, the group’s 21-year-old namesake exuding the authority of a man with decades more experience.
Lightning surrounded the venue as King played, though rain held off most of Friday — I departed during King’s set. Last year’s Moonshiner’s, at the original venue in Berea, was plagued by rain and storms, and some fans wore boots around Friday as sort of a way to ward off the rain.
This was my first Moonshiner’s, so I did not have a basis to compare Jenkins Farm to HomeGrown HideAways. The common sentiment from people I talked to was that it was a much more open environment than the former venue. There was cell service — a few bars on my AT&T phone, full bars on my Verizon iPad — which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your desire for a weekend off the grid.
In any case, Moonshiner’s four, which continues through Sunday, seems to be off to a good start.
If you go
The Moonshiner’s Ball
When: May 19-21
Where: Jenkins Farm, 4405 Red Lick Road, Irvine
Moonshiner’s Ball lineup
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 Themoonshinersball.com/ 2017-schedule for details on other events including spoken word performances and kids activities.