Music News & Reviews

Bluegrass in the wintertime

Robert Greer and Adam Chaffins of Town Mountain at The Breeders’ Cup Festival in October.
Robert Greer and Adam Chaffins of Town Mountain at The Breeders’ Cup Festival in October.

For many people, bluegrass is the sound of summertime. It is a homespun acoustic reverie with such an obvious sense of social invention and interaction that one can’t help but think the music was at least partially designed to be enjoyed in festival settings in the great outdoors.

Granted, such an environment might seem unimaginable in the dead of winter. This weekend, however, the string sounds of bluegrass will head in from the cold to take over multiple venues, from a celebration and promotion of one of those very festivals to return outings by two celebrated acts representing multiple bluegrass generations that have essentially grown up in front of Lexington audiences. There also is the latest installment in the region’s foremost fall-to-spring bluegrass concert series. All are worth exploring, if for no other reason than that they constitute the most realized sense of summer any of us will experience for a while.

Town Mountain

Opening: Whiskey Bent Valley Boys. POSTPONED. NEW DATE TBA. Cosmic Charlie’s. 388 Woodland Ave. $15. 859-309-9499.

Simply put, no bluegrass band of national prominence has made Lexington such a vital part of its growth process in recent years as Town Mountain. The Asheville, N.C., troupe that plays to the more rhythmically intense corners of string-band tradition has gone from playing the intimate listening-room environments of Willie’s Locally Known and Natasha’s Bistro to a headlining gig at last June’s Festival of the Bluegrass and a featured slot downtown at the Breeders’ Cup Festival in October. In filling the gap before an inevitable outdoor return later in the year, Town Mountain was set to warm up the midwinter with another concert Friday night at what has become its current indoor venue of choice, Cosmic Charlie’s. But Friday's show has been postponed due to the winter storm. A new date will be announced.

A new album produced by roots-music scholar Dirk Powell is completed and awaiting release in the spring. Until then, fans should check out Town Mountain’s recent two-song EP disc The Dead Session, which offers covers of two classics (Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo and Big River) popularized by the Grateful Dead, a band whose ties to bluegrass roots were considerable.

11th annual Kentucky Bluegrass Music Kickoff

Jan. 22, 23 at the Roby Dome, Marion County High School, 735 E. Main St. in Lebanon. $10-$49. 270-692-0021.

Since we’re talking summer in January here, the single act that defines bluegrass music during warmer times in Kentucky has to be Seldom Scene. The Americana-rich quintet, which has performed in the Washington, D.C., area since 1971, has not only been a staple act of the Festival of the Bluegrass every June for decades, but has long been one of the event’s most popular draws. Its performance of the Herb Pederson road lament Wait a Minute is practically an evening ritual.

In fact, Seldom Scene has so long been associated with the festival that any other regional appearance at any other time of year seems rather foreign. But this weekend, the band makes its way to Lebanon for the two-day Kentucky Bluegrass Music Kickoff. There will be workshops and related performances all day both days, with doors opening at 6 p.m. for the concert entertainment Friday and Saturday. Seldom Scene will perform Saturday.

This will be a noteworthy evening for the band. The last original member of Seldom Scene, Ben Eldridge, announced his retirement last week. Rickie Simpkins, who has performed in Kentucky regularly with Emmylou Harris and Tony Rice, will assume duties on banjo and fiddle, joining the current roster of Dudley Connell, Lou Reid, Fred Travers and Ronnie Simpkins (Rickie’s brother).

Still more grass

▪  Although not exclusively a bluegrass event, the Moonshiners Ball has become a popular summer gathering in Berea of string band- and jam- related ensembles hosted by Lexington’s own Blind Corn Liquor Pickers. Taking a cue from other summer festivals eager to drum up interest during the winter, the event is presenting Halfway to Moonshiners Ball on Jan. 23 at Cosmic Charlie’s, with sets by the Liquor Pickers, Restless Leg String Band and Johnny Conqueroo. (10 p.m., $10). This year’s Moonshiners Ball is scheduled for the weekend of May 20 to 22. For more info, go to

▪  Finally, we have the torch-bearer of bluegrass music during the winter months, the annual Saturday night series of bluegrass shows at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City. This weekend’s performance features Billie Renee and Cumberland Gap from Mount Sterling, another fixture of summer bluegrass festivals, with the Central Kentucky-rooted quartet Scott Fields and Kentucky Blend (7 p.m., $10). Call 606-663-9008 or go to

Walter Tunis is celebrating 35 years covering music for the Herald-Leader.