Keeneland announces festival with ‘A-list music’
It is finally here. Creating a national buzz after being announced in April (shoot, even Rolling Stone ran a story on it), Railbird has arrived. For two days on four stages (three for music, one for food exhibitions, Lexington gets to show off to the rest of the country that it can stage an attention-grabbing music festival, too.
The acts will be coming in from all over. One, in particular, is a country cousin Lexington knew about long before the rest of the world discovered him. Others represent decades of gospel-soul fervor, a champion Lone Star dance hall heritage and, yes, some blistering rock ‘n’ roll.
A few attractions hail from right here at home – soul/funksters Joslyn and the Sweet Compression, the power trio Johnny Conqueroo, bluegrass upstarts The Wooks, Americana chieftain Justin Wells and more – to spice up the event.
But the bumper crop of out-of-town guests will be plentiful. Here is a rundown of 10 not-to-miss acts as you come up on the inside this weekend at Railbird.
Like Sunday Railbird headliner Hozier, Saturday’s top-billed Raconteurs seemed liked a curious billing when the festival was announced. Then June rolled around and with it the release of the Detroit garage rock troupe’s first album in over 11 years, “Help Us Strangers.” Suddenly, the all-star quartet of Jack White, Brandon Benson, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler shot to the top of the charts, making the Raconteurs one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll deals of the summer.
When the pride of Lawrence County played a pair of sweaty, sold out shows last summer at Manchester Music Hall, the writing was on the wall that Childers’ extended reign in Lexington clubs had ended. He was now a national – and, in some cases, global – sensation whose brand of rurally inflected narratives and neo-psychedelic country soundscapes were now destined for larger halls. Now we have “Country Squire,” a new album that should keep Childers’ hot streak rolling for some time.
Carlile has maintained a devout fanbase for well over a decade thanks to a string of critically lauded recordings, a fierce sense of performance independence and a skyrocketing vocal command. But there is no denying how much her visibility has grown over the last year thanks to the broad appeal of her “By the Way, I Forgive You” album, a show-stealing Grammy performance of “The Joke” and buzz surrounding the impending release of the debut album by her all-star country troupe The Highwomen.
Old Crow Medicine Show
A string band that began with a preservationist love of old-time string music and speakeasy-era bawdiness, Old Crow Medicine Show has long been a band fighting its way out of a time capsule. Its vintage sound remains intact, but the addition of percussion and assorted electric flourishes has widened the intent and intensity of its music. The Dave Cobb-produced “Volunteer” album mirrored that maturity but the upcoming “Live at the Ryman” reminds us of how forceful its rustic string sound remains.
Gary Clark Jr.
The Austin, Tx.-born Clark has been a heralded guitar hero ever his first Warner Bros. recordings were released in 2001. His music wasn’t limited to the blues-based jams of his predecessors, though. Clark also drew on soul, hip hop and rock and roll. Like many guitar greats, it took a few years for his music to reflect more than mere performance stamina. The 2017 concert album “Live/North America” and especially 2019’s “This Land” widened the topicality and stylistic scope of his playing.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Paul Janeway and his troupe of Alabama pop-soul revivalists were instant Lexington favorites from the moment they played their jubilant music within the tiny confines of the original Willie’s Locally Known locale on North Broadway. A pair of sold out Opera House in November 2017 confirmed the ensemble’s mounting popularity. On their newest album, “Young Sick Camellia,” Janeway still sings with the falsetto and glee of a vintage soul titan. The groove, however, touches on soul, R&B and even disco.
Few could have imagined such a prolific and vital run for a veteran gospel monarch such as Staples. Since 2007, her albums on the Anti label have been produced by such mavericks as Ry Cooder, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, M. Ward and, on the new “We Get By,” Ben Harper. Not bad for an artist many know mostly through decades-old gospel-soul records with the Staples Singers. Make no mistake, though. Having turned 80 in June, Staples remains loyal to the past while clearly addressing the turbulence of the times.
No other Americana woman other than Emmylou Harris has been more influential than Williams. Add in the volatility and human candor of her songwriting and Williams might even emerge the overall champion. Her 1998 album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” was enough on its own to define a landmark career. But there were enough other triumphs that pre and post dated that classic, from 1988’s “Lucinda Williams” to 2016’s “The Ghosts of Highway 20,” to lift Williams to the ranks of legendary.
Robert Earl Keen
Coming from a generation of Texas songsmiths that gave us Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, Keen is a master of his trade. As a songwriter, he spins sagas of detailed human vulnerabilities, circumstance and heritage balanced with reflections of often hysterical human shortcomings. Onstage, he matches those works with a band that adheres to the finest of Lone Star dance hall traditions and spirit. He remains a giant among Texas song stylists.
I’m With Her
Enforcing a Railbird roster rich with female talent is the trio of Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins. Though all have released a series of strong solo albums, their collaborative work on 2018’s “See You Around” is especially arresting. Its musicality is light but grounded, a product of their accumulated bluegrass and folk inspirations. But with producer Ethan Johns providing the only outside instrumentation, the three are an assured, contained unit, even when their songs turn gloriously restless.
If you go: Railbird
when: 1 p.m. Aug 10, 11. Gates open each day at 12 p.m.
where: Keeneland, 4201 Versailles Rd.