Music News & Reviews

Fortnight Festival: Oktoberfest music organizer: This really is my last year, maybe

Peter Rowan, left, and his bluegrass band first performed at Oktoberfest as a favor.
Peter Rowan, left, and his bluegrass band first performed at Oktoberfest as a favor. Tim Benko

It has become a sort of unintended talking point every year at the Cathedral of Christ the King's annual Oktoberfest celebration.

Will this be the last Oktoberfest for which Kevin Wilson organizes the music performances that helped transform the long-established community event into one of the fall's most prestigious free music festivals?

As has been the case in recent years, Wilson, who left his job at Christ the King in 2007 to direct outreach programs for Louisville's St. Francis of Assisi church, is again saying that this will be his final Oktoberfest. Trouble is, this time he sounds as if he means it.

"This will be my eighth year producing the entertainment," Wilson said. "Obviously, I'm real proud of what it's become. I still love supporting Christ the King and I'm especially proud of the community spirit at work in all of this, too. It's such a great thing for the community. And in addition to supporting Christ the King School, the money raised at the festival also gets channeled to various other non-profits. So it's definitely a great thing to be involved in.

"But after eight years, I'm just not sure what the future holds."

Maybe he doesn't. But what we do know is that since he began booking Oktoberfest's music, the event has become something of a haven for nationally recognized Americana artists. Among the acts to have played during Wilson's Oktoberfest tenure: Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey of R.E.M. and The Minus 5, Jay Farrar of Son Volt, Alejandro Escovedo, Mark Olson and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, Peter Rowan, Sam Bush, Tim Easton, and J.D. Crowe and the New South.

"Initially, they just wanted me to run what was already going on," Wilson said. "I took it upon myself to kick it up a notch. It still blows my mind that people like Peter Buck and Peter Rowan, who originally came only as a favor to me, genuinely love to play this event now."

This year's Oktoberfest lineup is a touch leaner than in past years, but it offers two world-class bluegrass headliners prestigious enough to make both Oktoberfest evenings part of the mammoth Alltech Fortnight Festival, the extensive statewide musical celebration organized in conjunction with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Friday night's headliner will be Grammy-winning bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley, who at age 83 has been a banjo and band-leading force in string music for more than 60 years. His music has become an integral part of soundtracks for films and, as of last spring, a Colorado ballet production.

Saturday marks the return of Rowan, an Oktoberfest regular. His music has taken him from alliances with such collaborators as disparate as Bill Monroe and Jerry Garcia, but he has exhibited a scholarly command of country and bluegrass styles. His newest album, Legacy, credited to the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, is a wonderful traditional recording with a generous Zen accent. Rowan also will be part of Monday's taping of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at The Kentucky Theatre.

"The lineup is probably a little less eclectic stylistically than some other years, too," Wilson said. "But you can definitely do worse than having Peter Rowan and Ralph Stanley playing in your church parking lot."