Music News & Reviews

Wooks and friends throw Halloween party, school kids get the treats

C.J. Cain, Roddy Puckett and Arthur Hancock of The Wooks at the 2016 Crave Lexington Music and Food Festival. Hancock has traded the banjo for a guitar while he recovers from a hand injury.
C.J. Cain, Roddy Puckett and Arthur Hancock of The Wooks at the 2016 Crave Lexington Music and Food Festival. Hancock has traded the banjo for a guitar while he recovers from a hand injury.


Featuring The Wooks, Town Mountain and NewTown. 5 p.m. Oct. 27 meet-and- greet benefit for CAN’d Aid Foundation at the Barrel House, 903 Manchester St. 859-608- 6221. $15. Live music by Geno Seale, Senora May Childers, and Chris Shouse.,

7 p.m. Oct. 27 at Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St. $18. 859-537- 7321.,

It’s the final weekend before Halloween with all kinds of festively ghoulish activities reaching their zenith. But for Friday night, at least, consider exchanging your spooks for Wooks.

The Lexington-based progressive bluegrass troupe The Wooks will be teaming up with some cross Town string band traffic — specifically, from pals in Town Mountain and NewTown — to create an event called Wook-O- Ween. Here’s the really cool part: The music the three bands will serve up tonight at Manchester Music Hall will be only part of the fun. Proceeds from an accompanying silent auction and a pre-show meet-and-greet next door at the Barrel House will go to the CAN’D Aid Foundation, a nonprofit that coordinates instrument donation and musician interaction at various levels of public education.

“We found a school up in Estill County (West Irvine Intermediate) where a friend of mine, Chris Shouse from the 23 String Band, is now teaching,” said Wooks guitarist CJ Cain. “He helped facilitate getting the instruments into the school. We’ll be presenting the instrument donations there on Thursday, the day before the show, then play a few songs for the kids and talk about the instruments and some history of the music.”

That’s not the only way Wook-O- Ween hits home for the Wooks. The co-billed Town Mountain (the Asheville, North Carolina-based ensemble that has been a favorite of Lexington audiences for years) and fellow local troupe NewTown aren’t just acclaimed bluegrass bands. Both have strong personal and professional ties to The Wooks and to Cain, in particular.

Town Mountain
Town Mountain is Jesse Langlais, Zach Smith, Jack Devereux, Phil Barker and Robert Greer. Libby Gamble

“The guys in Town Mountain are good friends outside of the music, and that’s something you just always cherish,” the guitarist said. “When you run into somebody on the road, it’s just nice to see a familiar face. They have all given us really good advice over the years and been really good friends They are great musicians, too, so it made sense for us to try to get on as many shows with them as possible.”

The NewTown connection goes back even further. Cain played with fiddler/founder Kati Penn Williams in formative versions of the band and contributed two songs to NewTown’s 2016 album “Harlan Road,” which was cut after he left to join The Wooks.

“Kati hired me before I was probably ready to be hired. She taught me a lot about playing, about what I needed to do to become a better player and what she needed out of me, which was a lot of motivation. You don’t really get the opportunity to play shows like this with these kinds of bands in your hometown very often.”

Newtown, from left: Hayes Griffin, Kati Penn, Mitchell Cannon, Travis Anderson and Junior Williams. Kim Brantley

As has been the case with most of The Wooks’ performances since the early summer, Friday night’s show will feature a six-member lineup. A prolonged hand ailment has caused banjo player Arthur Hancock to switch to co-guitar duties with Cain. Louisville banjo player Aaron Bibelhauser will augment the roster along with mainstay members Jesse Wells (fiddle), Galen Green (mandolin) and Roddy Puckett (bass).

“We’re just kind of taking it one day at a time,” Cain said. “It’s not an ideal situation. But, really, Arthur and I started out just as a duo doing double guitar, singer-songwriter stuff at Willie’s (Locally Known) when I wasn’t on the road with Kati. So we’re fortunate he can play the guitar well and is really comfortable with that. We’ve also been lucky to have some really incredible players to help us fulfill the band’s needs on the banjo. So it’s a tough situation, but when folks like Aaron come along, it kind of eases things. We’re not trying to rush or put any drastic pressure on anything as long as the music is going well.”

O’Connor Band with Mark O’Connor

7:30 p.m. October 28 at Haggin Auditorium of Transylvania University. Free (tickets required). 859-281- 3615.

It was just under two years ago on a Lexington stage that multi-Grammy winning fiddler and composer Mark O’Connor gave a preview what was going to be his primary performance focus for the future.

Mark O’Connor, left, and The O’Connor Band performed at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 12 in Los Angeles. The band plays Transylvania University on Oct. 28. Matt Sayles Invision/AP

At a December 2015 concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts, the renowned bluegrass, Americana and classical music stylist — a musician so completely versed he devised his own teaching method for the fiddle — presented an acoustic music ensemble that featured his wife (fellow fiddler and vocalist Maggie O’Connor), his son (mandolinist Forrest O’Connor) and now daughter-in-law (third fiddler and co-vocalist Kate Lee). Together with guitarist Joe Smart and bassist Geoff Saunders, they form the aptly named O’Connor Band.

The band’s debut recording “Coming Home” earned a Grammy earlier this year for best bluegrass album. A follow-up concert set, “O’Connor Band Live!,” was released in June.

Now here is the best part. The O’Connor Band will perform a free concert on Saturday at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium. Though no admission is required for this installment of the Fred K. and Dorothy J. Smith Endowed Concert Series, you will need tickets.