Music News & Reviews

The City 
is a working persons' band

Gene Woods is deep in a groove.

With his Stratocaster in hand, he's singing a song — one of his songs — into a hot mike. At a break, he spins to his left to put the focus on vocalists Jane Harrod and Lara Brier as they purr the chorus.

Seconds later, the singers are out front on their own as Woods and drummer Arthur Rouse, percussionist Steve Parrish and keyboardist Tom Martin get into a little jam at the back of the stage.

"What really makes this exciting for me is the ability to express ourselves in original music," Woods says of the band, The City, a jazzy, bluesy act that's just starting to make some noise in Lexington.

He's not doing it for the money.

Woods has a pretty good day gig: He's chief executive of St. Joseph Health System.

Most of his bandmates also have solid day jobs. Brier is the drama teacher at Sayre School. Harrod is a landscaper, Martin is the editor of Business Lexington, and Rouse owns Video Editing Services. Parrish recently retired from a career as a psychiatric nurse.

"He's still a psychiatric nurse," Martin jokes, and Woods adds, "We just don't pay him on this side of things."

Rounding out the lineup for the band are:

■ Brian Powers, bass, who works at the University of Kentucky College of Law and is working on setting up his own law practice.

■ Chris Goode, trumpet, attorney.

■ Mike Meuser, trombone, attorney.

■ Dr. Jay Zwischenberger, harmonica, chief of surgery at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.

■ Paul Osbourne, saxophone, who has had a variety of jobs, including stockbroker and financial consultant.

"All these day gigs are to put food on the table," Osbourne says. "My life is music. Since I was 13, I played music."

Everyone in the band has significant musical experience, and several are playing in other bands. They all have had other careers but have kept music as part of their lives.

Rouse, a filmmaker, and Brier, an arts teacher and actor, have regular opportunities to work music into their day jobs.

Others, like Woods, made it a hobby.

"The intensity of the day jobs is such that sometimes you need a place to decompress," Woods said. "For me, it's not been a round of golf; it's been playing and writing music."

Woods and Martin first got together when Martin interviewed Woods for a Business Lexington story. At the end of the interview, Martin asked Woods what he liked to do for fun. He said he played guitar and wrote music.

Martin suggested they get together. Soon, they and others were having jam sessions at the Old Vine Street offices of Smiley Pete Publishing, Business Lexington's home.

Several of the members were a major part of LexJam, once-a-month jam sessions open to musicians of all ages and levels at Natasha's Bistro and Bar, which Martin co-founded with Torques drummer Mike Thompson.

"That started as an idea to get people to come play music and kind of elevate the idea that music is a community builder, and also fun," Rouse said.

The City began out of a desire to focus on Woods' music. There also is a philanthropic element.

The group is dedicated to playing fund-raising events for arts groups, such as the Seen and Be Scene benefit for Actors Guild of Lexington on Saturday at Spindletop Hall.

Judging by response to the band's first show, groups that get The City to play for them might do fairly well. The band's debut show, in April at Natasha's, packed the restaurant. Upcoming gigs include The Red Mile Blues Festival on May 24, Thursday Night Live on June 11, the Lexington Art League's Fourth Friday on Aug. 28 and an Aug. 7 benefit for the Music Institute of Lexington. The group has made the Music Institute its "cause," particularly because its instruction extends beyond traditional classical instrumentation.

It's all part of a theme of building community.

"We call this band The City for a reason," Woods says. "The vibrancy of any city is its arts and its music."

In return, the band has received some complimentary services itself, including the use of Long Island Recording to practice on Sunday afternoon and the use of the sound system in the Round Barn at The Red Mile.

The entrepreneurial spirit is a distinctive aspect of The City. But in many ways, the players are like anyone else who forms a band: They like to play music in front of an audience and enjoy the camaraderie of a band.

"In my professional circle, which I spend a lot of time in, if it wasn't for the LexJams, I never would have had the opportunity to meet these folks," Woods says. "So it is a way to build community. Now, you meet people at a gig, and you continue to expand your network and your connection to a place like Lexington."