Music News & Reviews

Organizers balance familiar with new at Festival of the Bluegrass

Brandi Hart of the Dixie Bee-Liners is a Somerset native.
Brandi Hart of the Dixie Bee-Liners is a Somerset native.

Festival of the Bluegrass

1 p.m. June 10 ($40), 11 a.m. June 11 ($45), 10 a.m. June 12 ($10) at the Kentucky Horse Park, 4089 Iron Works Pkwy. (859) 253-0806.

Surely one of the great challenges facing the Cornett family every year as it organizes and books acts for the Festival of the Bluegrass is to balance enough familiarity so that returning fans can count on hearing favorite acts alongside enough new and untested artists to keep the event from seeming like a rerun every summer.

Judging by the schedule for this year's festival, such a balance seems to be holding strong. For those preferring the sounds they know, there is the return of the Lonesome River Band and IIIrd Tyme Out on Friday night, and Central Kentucky's own J.D. Crowe and the New South and longtime festival fave The Seldom Scene on Saturday.

For those craving something new, I suggest a visit to the festival Friday for The Dixie Bee-Liners. Mixing rich folk narratives, Appalachian-style dulcimer music and, of course, traditional bluegrass, the band also sports some adventurous homegrown talent. Somerset native and former Lexingtonian Brandi Hart serves as lead vocalist and primary dulcimer voice. She formed The Dixie Bee-Liners nearly a decade ago with mandolinist/guitarist/singer Buddy Woodward after moving to New York.

The band's 2009 album, Susanville, is a challenging "concept" work. Its story line revolves around the highways and back roads of America, the trucks and autos that journey on them, the cafés along the way that serve as sanctuary and even the driving habits of those who perhaps stay the course too long (one of the highlight tunes is a neo-psychedelic banjo- and bass-fueled meditation called Lead Foot).

The instrumentation is often as novel as the narratives. When was the last time you took a listen to a bluegrass album that listed mellotron among its instrumentation? (Hart also is credited for playing "bass frog" on the album.)

Here is the full main stage schedule for this year's Festival of the Bluegrass:

Friday: Mountain Connection, 1 p.m.; My Favorite Bluegrass Band, 1:50 p.m.; Grass Stains, 2:40 p.m.; Joe Mullins, 3:30 and 8:30 p.m.; The Dixie Bee-Liners, 4:20 and 9:20 p.m.; Lonesome River Band, 5:10 and 10 p.m.; IIIrd Tyme Out, 6 and 10:50 p.m.; Kentucky Blue, 7:40 p.m.

Saturday: open stage, 11 a.m.; Bluegrass Collective, 1 p.m.; Driving Rain, 1:50 p.m.; Continental Divide, 2:40 p.m.; Nothing Fancy, 3:30 and 7:50 p.m.; The Seldom Scene, 4:20 and 10:45 p.m.; J.D. Crowe and the New South, 5:10 and 8:40 p.m.; Dry Branch Fire Squad, 6 p.m.; Mountain Heart, 9:30 p.m.

As usual, I highly recommend not brushing off the festival's Sunday morning gospel set. Though the main stage shuts down after Saturday's music ends, the humor and gospel fervency of Ron Thomasson and his long-running Dry Branch Fire Squad will provide a mini tent-revival of sorts on the secondary Progressive Stage.

Thomasson and company are worth hearing in any setting. But Sunday affords a very rare opportunity to hear them in one of the most intimate settings any festival can offer.

Kentucky Blue will open the Sunday schedule at 10 a.m.

You'll love Lucy

Fans of Lucy Kaplansky undoubtedly remember the folk songstress had to cancel a December show at Natasha's Bistro & Bar just a few days before the show. Her Web site said she called off four concerts to care for her ailing mother. Kaplansky is on the road again, and that means she will perform at Natasha's, 112 Esplanade, on Sunday. Rachel Pearl will open. (8 p.m. $20 in advance, $24 at the door. (859) 259-2754.

We ran an interview with Kaplansky in print in December, but the show was called off before the story went online. It's available now for a read at my blog, The Musical Box, at