Brian Adkins has spent his entire life fascinated by bluegrass music — its sounds, its heritage and especially the artists who brought it to life onstage.
“I grew up in Elliott County and cut my teeth on Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley. My uncle used to buy their cassette tapes from them in person when they were teenagers at a barber shop in Sandy Hook.”
So when Adkins and four Bluegrass natives partnered to purchase the iconic Versailles property now known as the Kentucky Castle and make it a public-friendly facility, the idea bloomed to present live music.
Guess what kind of music.
“When we took over, we knew we wanted to do a lot of amazing things,” Adkins said. “But we specifically wanted to do some things that put Kentucky’s best foot forward. We wanted to display some things that are very specific to Kentucky and some of the art forms and entertainment that Kentuckians provide. So, obviously, with me as a big bluegrass and country music fan who has been really crazy about a lot of Kentucky artists, I think music was something that we wanted to pursue as an event.”
That took Adkins and his partners to Michael Johnathon, the veteran Kentucky folksinger, producer/host of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour and overseer of the long-running Troubadour Concert Series, whose performances through the years have regularly included such esteemed bluegrass pioneers as Bill Monroe, Alison Krauss, Seldom Scene and Tony Rice.
“I suggested a bluegrass concert series — a pristine, high end, elegant, under-the-stars at the Castle concert series,” Johnathon said. “I feel Central Kentucky kind of gave away its bluegrass roots a long time ago, so I thought this would be a great thing to try to do.”
With that, a series called Concerts at the Castle was born. Its inaugural performance featuring banjo player and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band alumnus John McEuen will be presented Thursday on the roof of the Castle. There are contingency plans on the ground level in case of rain or high wind, so the show will go on.
I feel Central Kentucky kind of gave away its bluegrass roots a long time ago, so I thought this would be a great thing to try to do.
Five other bluegrass and Americana-related performances are confirmed for the series: Jerry Douglas (June 7), the Kruger Brothers (July 12), Riders in the Sky (Aug. 9), Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver (Aug. 23) and Darrell Scott (Sept. 20). All concerts are on Thursday nights. Showtime each evening is 7:30 p.m. The Castle also has package deals for each show that includes dinner.
“These artists are all friends of mine, so it just took a phone call,” Johnathon said. “‘You want to do this? Give me a Thursday and we’re done.’ It’s nice in that they all bring a different facet of bluegrass with them.
“The only thing that I regret is that we were not able to get a female representative of the genre. I tried. I tried really hard. It was just a matter of scheduling. Dale Ann Bradley and her group could not make it work. Rhonda Vincent wanted to do it, but the routing didn’t make it work.”
For Adkins, the series furthers the very purposeful outreach he and his partners have designed for an iconic Central Kentucky property that, for much of its existence, was privately held and, in essence, a colossal mystery to everyone who drove by it on Versailles Road. Co-owner Matt Dawson said other music presentations are being pursued, including a country concert series called Nashville Knights that will present J.D. Shelburne July 6, and local musicians playing in the restaurant and Inn lobby.
“The Castle is now owned by five guys who grew up here in Kentucky,” Adkins said. “All of us have driven by the Castle, wondering what was inside, admiring it for years. All of us are day job working guys with no generational wealth who have always longed, ourselves, to see what was inside. I didn’t know that I would ever see the inside of the Castle.
“For us to have an opportunity to be part of something that I think means a lot to a lot of Kentuckians is really an incredible experience for us. We want everyone in Kentucky to be able to see inside the Castle. We don’t want this to be seen as a place that is off limits to the average person, that it’s something only a very wealthy person can rent out. We want to have events that a person who grew up where I grew up who loved bluegrass music could come for an affordable amount and have an amazing time listening what is probably Kentucky’s truest art form.”
If you go
Concerts at the Castle
May 31: John McEuen
June 7: Jerry Douglas
July 12: Kruger Brothers
Aug. 9: Riders in the Sky
Aug. 23: Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver
Sept. 20: Darrell Scott
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m., dinner at 6 for dinner and show patrons
Where: The Kentucky Castle, 230 Pisgah Pike
Tickets: $35 show, $95 dinner and show