Music News & Reviews

Like a fine bourbon, venerable stars highlight Louisville fest’s lineup

David Byrne is the penultimate act at Bourbon and Beyond Sept. 22.
David Byrne is the penultimate act at Bourbon and Beyond Sept. 22.

Bourbon and Beyond

11 a.m. Sept. 22, 23 at Champions Park, 2050 River Rd. in Louisville. $90-$500. bourbonandbeyond.com

There is a certain irony in the fact that one of the summer’s last large-scale music festivals takes place this year on the first calendar day of autumn. Then again, calling Bourbon and Beyond a music festival in the first place is somewhat misleading. After all, look what the event’s title promotes ahead of everything else. Even the advertising slogan tells you what to expect and in what order of priority: “A perfect blend of bourbon, food and music.”

For our purposes, we will politely refer you to the event’s website, bourbonandbeyond.com, to fill you in on the bourbon distillers and food vendors that will be out in force for Bourbon and Beyond’s sophomore outing this weekend. What we will focus on here is the Beyond: specifically, the live music.

John Mayer and Sting will headline extensive Saturday and Sunday rosters, respectively, that will play out on three different stages.

That’s all well and fine, but it’s the supporting sounds that distinguish this year’s Bourbon and Beyond. In fact, each night sports an honored rock elder performing just before the headliner. Both artists will be making their first Louisville appearance since 2013.

Saturday’s bill features David Byrne, who last appeared in a collaborative setting with St. Vincent at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Byrne is still touring like mad with his 11 member, unanchored, barefooted and gray suited band along with a setlist that blends tunes from his recent “American Utopia” album, lesser known solo career songs and a wide array of Talking Heads hits and obscurities. At Cincinnati’s PNC Pavilion last month, the 66-year-old Byrne displayed tireless vocal and physical vigor. This is the single-most-essential set to catch all weekend.

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Robert Plant plays Sept. 23 at the Bourbon and Beyond Festival. Big Hassle Publicity

Similarly, Sunday brings Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters back to Louisville. Having performed with the band in its formative stages at the 2013 Forecastle festival, Plant has since released two sublime records — 2014’s “Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar” and 2017’s “Carry Fire.” Both cater to the quieter but still potent extremes of a now-70-year-old voice that, decades earlier, fronted the dynasty band Led Zeppelin. Newer Plant music, though, dips, into more discreetly intense shades of folk, psychedelia and, yes, rock ‘n’ roll.

Want more? How about Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, Brian Setzer, Keb’ Mo’ and JJ Grey and Mofro on Saturday with Counting Crows, Gov’t Mule, The Del McCoury Band, The Magpie Salute and Kentucky’s own Ben Sollee on Sunday. Check the festival website for the full day-long performance schedules.

While Bourbon and Beyond limits itself to a two night run at Champions Park, the festival weekend actually kicks off on Friday night (Sept. 21) with a tie-in concert at Louisville’s Iroquois Amphitheater by St. Paul and the Broken Bones, the Alabama rock and soul army that never seems to be too far from Kentucky when a festival is brewing. (8 p.m., $15-$40). For tickets, go to iroquoisamphitheater.com .

Blind Corn Liquor Pickers

9 p.m. Sept. 22 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Road. $10. theburlky.com

Zoe Speaks

6:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at Minglewood, 159 N. Limestone. $10. zoespeaksmusic.com

This weekend is new music time for a pair of long-running Central Kentucky roots music-and-more troupes this weekend.

On Saturday, the always engaging Blind Corn Liquor Pickers celebrate the release of its newest album “The Sentence” at The Burl with Johnny Conqueroo and Solid Rock’It Boosters along to fill out the bill. “The Sentence” doesn’t radically alter the Pickers’ sound. The album-opening title tune is a crash course on what the band does best: amped-up bluegrass with the drive of elemental rock ‘n’ roll and the roaring voice of Beth Walker in the driver’s seat. “The Great Unknown,” though, reverts to cozier country turf while “The Welder” is a driving acoustic hullabaloo. “The Sentence” kicks off what will be a busy fall for the Pickers. The band will again host The Moonshiners Ball this year from Oct. 11-14 at Rockcastle Riverside in Livingston. We will detail the event, as well the current doings of headliner James McMurtry, closer to the show dates.

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Arlo Barnette, Owen Reynolds, Carla Gover, Mitch Barrett and Zoey Barrett are Zoe Speaks. zoespeaksmusic.com

Then, on Sunday, the newer, bigger Zoe Speaks is back to celebrate the release of its fourth album, “Wings,” at Minglewood. Initially a folk duo consisting of banjo player, guitarist and vocalist Carla Gover and guitarist and vocalist Mitch Barrett with preferences reflecting strong mountain accents, Zoe Speaks split after a decade to pursue to outside projects. When it returned, Gover and Barrett had recruited bassist Owen Reynolds. For “Wings,” the band has become a quintet with the addition of vocalist Zoey Barrett (daughter of the band’s co-founders) and her fiancé, guitarist, keyboardist and percussionist Arlo Barnette. Topping off the record’s cross-generational folk appeal is the addition of Jesse Wells (of Town Mountain, The Wooks and, currently, Tyler Childers fame) as co-producer and fiddler.

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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit performs during the final day of the Forecastle Festival at Waterfront Park in Louisville on July 15. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Jason Isbell returns to Kentucky

This week began with Americana superstar Jason Isbell announcing a new round of solo, acoustic dates, including two mid-December shows in Kentucky.

Isbell will return to the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond at 8 p.m. Dec. 15 ($55-$85, ekucenter.com). Then he’ll take a spin down to Prestonsburg for an 8 p.m. Dec. 16 show at the Mountain Arts Center ($30-$70, macarts.com). Isbell’s last Kentucky stand was in July at Louisville’s Forecastle Festival with his band, The 400 Unit.

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