Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Oktoberfest's great Americana lineup is free for all

Chris Hillman, left, and Herb Pedersen are on the bill Saturday night at Christ the King Oktoberfest.
Chris Hillman, left, and Herb Pedersen are on the bill Saturday night at Christ the King Oktoberfest.

Christ the King Oktoberfest

Sept. 21-22 at Cathedral of Christ the King, 299 Colony Blvd. Free. (859) 268-2861.

With the Boomslang festival in full rocking mode at various downtown locales this weekend, some of the most ridiculously cool Americana music of the year will be offered free at the more suburban Christ the King Oktoberfest.

Things get under way Friday night with the Grammy-winning — and extremely kid-friendly — singing cowboy troupe Riders in the Sky. Guitarist Ranger Doug, bassist Too Slim, fiddler Woody Paul and accordionist Joey the Cowpolka King have been making Lexington a regular stop for years at Christmastime. This year, instead of the fake campfire prop used at the group's indoor shows, the real thing might be needed to fend off the autumn chill. But then, harmony-rich cowboy classics like Wah Hoo, Cool Water and Back in the Saddle, as well as the comedic corn and rounds of yodeling that have long distinguished Riders concerts, should supply ample warmth.

Two of Kentucky's finest, Mitch Barrett and Coralee and the Townies, will kick off the evening at 5:30. The Riders should be on about 9.

How do you top that? Try a Saturday bill featuring a set from Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson, with Americana/bluegrass great Jim Lauderdale as headliner.

Hillman is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee for his work with The Byrds. But as a founding member of The Flying Burrito Brothers, he is an even more revered figure to Americana audiences. Hillman's longtime musical partnership with veteran California songsmith/instrumentalist Pederson was showcased in the '80s/'90s country troupe The Desert Rose Band and a series of collaborative albums, including the 2010 concert document At Edwards Barn.

Lauderdale, fresh from emceeing the Americana Music Awards earlier this month in Nashville, performed in Lexington as recently as last summer at the Festival of the Bluegrass. But instead of a bite-size bluegrass-fest set, he will get a full-length headlining spot Saturday night at Oktoberfest.

The Oktoberists, The Blind Corn Liquor Pickers and The Kentucky Hoss Cats will get Saturday's music started at 1:30 p.m. Hillman and Pederson start the evening sets about 7:30.

All this? For free? How absurdly fantastic is that?

EKU got soul

The Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts in Richmond gets in on the busy weekend fun with two worldly but dramatically varied servings of soul music.

The first comes Friday by way of a return performance by the Rev. Al Green. Known largely for a string of volcanic and very secular Memphis soul hits for the Hi label during the early '70s, including Tired of Being Alone, Let's Stay Together and I'm Still in Love With You, Green eventually answered a higher calling and became an ordained minister in 1976.

Two previous performances at Danville's Norton Center for the Arts — the most recent being Halloween 2010 — relied heavily on the Hi material with a brief nod to Green's recent trio of Blue Note albums and a powerful funk reinvention of his 1972 hit Love and Happiness. (8 p.m. $95.50-$105.50. (859) 622-7469.

Then Sunday, make way for the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi, a percussion ensemble that creates a soul sound that is, literally, big as all outdoors. That's because their huge ingoma drums are hollowed-out tree trunks. The drummers play with such ferocity that they sound as if they are hitting the trunks with logs. Recruited for such esteemed projects as Joni Mitchell's album The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Peter Gabriel's WOMAD Festival, the Drummers of Burundi create a sound as musical as it is thunderous. (2 p.m. $30-$40.)

Along comes Mary

It speaks to the embarrassment of musical riches before us this weekend that we're just now getting around to telling you about Mary Gauthier's performance Sunday at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue.

Gauthier is an astounding Nashville-by-way-of-New Orleans songwriter who, on the 2010 album The Foundling, draws on her own orphaned past for inspiration. The recording enlists the help of two Cowboy Junkies — Michael Timmons as producer and sister Margo Timmins as harmony vocalist — and Kentucky native Darrell Scott, who co-wrote the devastating Another Day Borrowed. Strong as that project remains, a subsequent album of demo-style recordings released last year as The Foundling Alone is preferable. It underscores with even greater emotive clarity the quiet urgency of songs such as The Orphan King ("you don't know alone until you sit on the throne") and Mama Here, Mama Gone.

This will be an early evening show (8 p.m.; $15 in advance, $18 at the door), so you will be able to catch the performance in its entirety and still make it downtown before The Jesus and Mary Chain takes the stage at Buster's at 10:30 to close out Boomslang.

Call (859) 309-9499 or go to for more info on the Gauthier performance.