Alltech Festival seeks big names

Seven concerts and performances have been booked for the Alltech Festival in 2008 and three more for 2009, but the program's director says that's just the beginning.

”We are going to see if we can pull off a big one in 2009“ that will lead up to a statewide entertainment crescendo surrounding the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010, said Thomas Stephens.

Stephens' boss, Alltech President Pearse Lyons, spoke of U2, The Eagles or maybe even The Rolling Stones when he introduced the idea of the festival in January.

Stephens, 33, a Lexington native and Loyola-trained lawyer, won't promise to reach such lofty heights after being on the job just two months.

He does say an A-list act like the Stones is more likely now because he's learned a lot about booking artists.

What he promises is a world-class legacy event for 2011 and every year afterward that will remind Kentuckians that their state hosted one of the premier international equestrian events and that Alltech's $10 million contribution as naming sponsor helped make it happen.

”I've got some ideas about that, but we'll have to wait and see,“ he said recently.

An international biotechnology company based in Nicholasville, Alltech wants to use its financial clout to underwrite events statewide, especially at Kentucky's rural regional arts centers. Many of those centers are relatively small and located in less populous areas where enough tickets can't always be sold to attract high-quality artists, Stephens said. Alltech's financial backing can remove that barrier.

But so far, it's been easier said than done.

Of the 10 events listed on the festival's new Web site,, only one — a Nov. 2 concert by country singer Patty Loveless at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg — will be at a rural regional center.

Two others will be in Louisville and seven will be in Lexington, including the inaugural Alan Jackson concert at Applebee's Park on July 30.

The other Lexington events are all at the Singletary Center for the Arts at the University of Kentucky, which is a regional arts center — albeit a large, urban one.

Stephens said his goal is to spread events to more of the smaller regional centers.

”It will happen, I think,“ he said. ”We're still learning and trying to build relationships with them.“

The festival was launched in January as a cooperative effort among Alltech, the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College, UK School of Music, LexArts and the Kentucky Arts Council.

The structure proved to be too large and complicated for quick action, so Lyons moved the operation ”in house“ at Alltech. He put Stephens, who had done some of the festival's legal work, in charge.

So the Alan Jackson concert, the first to be announced, was a milestone, Stephens said. ”It was a great learning opportunity for us. ... We were getting our sea legs.“

Now that he knows how the booking business works — and with two years to go before the World Equestrian Games — Stephens is more confident than ever that he can land a ”big one.“

Two years leaves little time to waste in lining up The Eagles or U2, he said, but ”Alltech has the resources to corral a big group.“

Lexington has some advantages, too. It is only the nation's 109th largest entertainment market, Stephens noted, but it is less than 100 miles away from Cincinnati — the 24th largest — and Louisville — the 38th largest.

A-list or less, ”we are absolutely committed to having entertainment in Lexington and around the state in 2010.“

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