The Southland Jamboree has experienced a plethora of changes since its inception in 2006, including a 2015 move from Collins Bowling on Southland Drive to the Moondance Amphitheater in Beaumont Center along with a move from Tuesdays to Mondays.
Through the changes one constant has been NewTown.
The Central Kentucky bluegrass troupe has played at the Jamboree every year since the music series’ inaugural show on May 30, 2006, although the group was then the Kati Penn Band.
Like the Jamboree, NewTown has been prone to change. In 2015, the group welcomed guitarist Hayes Griffin after C.J. Cain departed to help start The Wooks. Coincidentally, it was Cain that ran into Griffin at a jam session at the 2015 International Bluegrass Music Awards in Raleigh, N.C., and connected him with Penn.
NewTown is planning on returning to the IBMAs in 2017 to perform, and if things go really well, collect a bit of hardware. The group was recently nominated on the second-round ballot for song of the year with “Harlan Road” and emerging artist of the year. Penn is also nominated for female vocalist of the year and fiddle player of the year.
The IBMAs are spread out over a week, so there’s a lot of time where the musicians attending are not busy, so they’re going to get out and jam more ... we may have something on Tuesday and nothing else until Friday, so what are you going to do in between?
Kati Penn of NewTown
Penn says she’s been attending the IBMAs every year but one since she was 12, with the exception being in 2013, when she was eight months pregnant. Penn says one of the most enjoyable aspects of the IBMAs is the chance to pick and perform with many of the top musicians in the industry.
“The IBMAs are spread out over a week, so there’s a lot of time where the musicians attending are not busy, so they’re going to get out and jam more,” Penn said. “At the IBMAs we may have something on Tuesday and nothing else until Friday, so what are you going to do in between?”
“Harlan Road” is one of four songs off NewTown’s 2016 album of the same name written by Irvine resident Tyler Childers, who is preparing to release a record of his own produced by fellow Kentuckian and Grammy winner Sturgill Simpson. Cain also penned two of the record’s cuts along with writing contributions from Jeremy Garrett of Infamous Stringdusters and Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon.
The band acquires most of its music from other writers or from reinventing old songs, Penn says, with the exception being the instrumental “The Feast of the Gryphon” from Griffin, with Penn adding that mandolin player Mitchell Cannon recently produced an instrumental that the band anticipates will be on their next record.
“I’ve tried my hand at songwriting, and it’s just not good,” said Jr. Williams, NewTown banjo player and Penn’s husband. “I leave that to the professionals.”
Penn says the distance between band members — Penn and Williams in Lexington; Griffin in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Cannon near Asheville, N.C., and bassist Travis Anderson in Knoxville, Tenn. — leaves practices few and far between, forcing the group to do much of its experimenting on stage rather than behind closed doors.
That can be inspiring.
For NewTown, the inspiration to jam more live came from Penn forgetting words to a song at a show, leaving her to improvise with sweet chin music on the fiddle. The group, although perplexed, liked what they heard, and now the group members don’t shy away from becoming more improvisational during their shows.
Matt Wickstrom: @wickstromwrites
If you go
What: Performing for the Southland Jamboree
When: 7 p.m. June 26
Where: Moondance Amphitheater, 1152 Monarch Street
Other area NewTown dates
July 6: Hometown Throw Down at the Estill County Fair, 38 S. Irvine Road in Irvine, with Tyler Childers & The Foodstamps, The Wooks and more. $12. Bit.ly/2rHAFNW.
July 28: Opening for Tyler Childers at the Mountain Arts Center, 50 Hal Rogers Drive in Prestonsburg. $17. Macarts.com.
Aug. 25: The Burl, 375 Thompson Road. $10 advance, $12 at the door. Theburlky.com.
Sept. 23 and 24: Bourbon & Beyond Festival on The Bluegrass Situation stage. Festival headliners are Eddie Vedder, Stevie Nicks and the Steve Miller Band. Champions Park, 2050 River Road in Louisville. Tickets from $69.50 single day, $139.50 both days. Bourbonandbeyond.com.