“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” ~ Bernard Meltzer
Judy Sackett had seen Willie Nelson when he was a youthful 69. She enjoyed him back then, and loved the idea of seeing him again. So, off we went to the Outlaw Music Festival. Judy is a blast to travel with. She enjoys people. She enjoys food. She enjoys learning new things and going new places. I don’t think she’s ever met a stranger. We hadn’t been in our seats long before this couple made friends with us. We didn’t get their names, but I sure wish we had because they were awesome. He was especially fun, as you can see. The couple in front of us were nice, too. The young man especially. In fact, he took up with Judy, hanging on to her later in the evening when the whiskey kicked in and everything began to spin. Once, when I returned from the ladies’ room, Judy had another man chatting her up. I don’t know where he came from, but he wasn’t sitting near us. I had no idea she was such a dude magnet! I told ya, she’s a hoot to travel with. I’m glad we made some fun memories and met some great people along the way. If anybody down London (KY) way recognizes this couple behind us, tell ’em we said howdy.
I’d never seen Old Crow Medicine Show before, and let me just say that I hope I haven’t seen the last. This band is everything that’s great about music. They opened the festival, and frankly, they didn’t play nearly long enough. These guys are toe-tappin’, fun lovin’, high-energy Americana-bluegrass-country-swingin’ righteous musicians start to finish. Bruce McCain turned me on to them many, many years ago when he sang Wagon Wheel at Angie Bliss Fanning’s ranch, but for whatever reason, they kept flying under my radar. Not no more! These guys switched instruments as much as Lady Gaga switches outfits, and they played every one of them like masters. They’re great with an audience, they’re great with each other, and they ought to be a lot bigger than they are. I absolutely loved them.
The Head and The Heart played next. They had lots of fans at the festival, and I was glad for that, but they were not my cup of tea. I’m sure their records are lovely, but I don’t want to talk about them. I do want to talk about Sturgill Simpson, the third act of the evening. I became a big fan when Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was released in 2014. This Kentucky boy breathed new life into what passes for country music these days (Chris Stapleton notwithstanding). He was like a big breath of fresh air for me. Didn’t hurt one bit that he was born in Jackson either (that’s Eastern Kentucky not far from where I was born for those unfamiliar with Kentucky geography).
Sturgill did not disappoint, though he did not play a typical country set to be sure. He came out with both barrels blasting Brace For Impact (I’m terrible with titles but I think that was it). He never let up. Seriously – he rocked the entire set, blistering electric guitar in hand. In fact, he played guitar more than he sang. His connection was quite obvious with the other Kentucky home boy, drummer Miles Miller from Versailles (or as Sturgill rightly pronounced tongue-in-cheek, “Vers-eye” lol), and they played off one another to great effect. Perhaps the best of the band was bassist Chuck Bartels. This guy was perfect and it was his melodic solidity that bound the jam all together. It was great to watch them bob and weave around the way the songs were recorded versus the way they were interpreted live. You don’t usually see someone as young as Simpson do this sort of thing because it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t always work. When it does, it’s magic. And it’s exactly that kind of chemistry that makes live performing so important to the creative experience. Players get better and their material evolves and gives way to new melodies, new riffs, new structures, and ultimately, new songs. So, at first I raised an eyebrow at the sometimes stark departure from the song, but ten minutes in, I understood what I was hearing and fell in love all over again. It was gutsy, raw experimentation, and an audience doesn’t always get the opportunity to watch it unfold. It was a real gift, and I respect Sturgill Simpson even more for doing it.
And then came Willie. God bless his 85-year-old heart for hitting the road and sticking to it. Walking is hard for him, that is obvious, but his love for his band, for the audience, and for the music is equally displayed. You can tell that he especially loves his sister, whom he introduced as “my little sister, Bobby.” More than once he tossed the ball into her court and she played it to perfection each time.
I don’t think Willie played anything from his new album, which is completely brilliant by the way, but then, with sixty+ years of hits, he didn’t have to. He started with 1973’s Whiskey River. When released as part of the Willie Nelson and Family Live double album of 1978, it was the track that lead me to becoming a lifelong fan. A lot of people couldn’t believe I’d never seen Willie perform live before this festival, though I kind of had. More accurately, he’d seen me. When we played Farm Aid in 1990, he stood backstage with our manager during our set and remarked, “That’s a girl playing drums. Far out!” There weren’t many of us gal drummers back then. Willie enjoyed my playing, and although I didn’t get to meet him so he could tell me that in person, I was happy enough that he had kind things to say. If memory serves, we had to leave before he played later that night. Hence, I’d never seen Willie perform live.
My favorite part of Willie’s set was Sturgill returning to the stage to play the closing tunes with him. It was like watching the generational torches burn at once. Plus, Sturgill’s playing prowess fit right in with Willie, despite the powerhouse set he played earlier in the evening. He’s becoming the consummate player, that Sturgill. You may have caught him on SNL with Chris Stapleton a few months ago. It was peel your face off raucous, kind of like his set at the festival, though he was much more traditional and in-the-pocket for Willie, and that for me is the mark of an excellent player. He’s going to be around for a long time, and I hope Willie’s able to keep playing as long as he wants, too. I especially hope he’s able to continue giving these young acts the boost they need to be heard by his loyal fans. Willie is one of America’s greatest talents and one of our greatest citizens. He deserves every accolade given him. I’m so grateful I had a chance to see him play live after all these years of loving his music.
“Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.” ~ Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)
Wils Quinn is a student at UK who works with me. He’s also a drummer in a band called Johnny Conqueroo. I’ve been hearing about them for a few years. They’re sons of players who were around town when we were playing in town ( that was a long time ago). Wils gave me a copy of their latest EP and I had a chance to listen to it today. I love this band! Listening was like tripping down memory lane. They remind me of some 80’s punk bands if they’d been polished up just a little bit. And they really remind me of being in bands in the 80’s; when we played for hours, trying hard to get that sound. It was especially cool to hear this today as it’s Kiya’s birthday. When I met her, Radio Cafe had just released their EP that was heavily influenced by reggae, punk, and pop. That was an interesting combination to say the least. Johnny Conqueroo has got loads of 60’s rock influences with a good dose of heavy. Just the way I like it. Here’s a video of their single, Brick. I’m totally in love with the fact that there are still some kids in a garage somewhere thrashing it out, old school, and making their way without a formula. It’s a wonderful antidote to what passes for music these days. I know that makes me sound like an old fogey, but so be it. I hope they never stop playing. Wils Quinn for the win!
“The time will never feel right. We will never feel ready and the conditions will never be perfect. Life is short. Take a chance. Even the smallest step in the direction of your dreams can help you come alive.” ~ TinyBuddha
Garry Bibb was my sculpture instructor in college. He was known as a tough and gruff kind of guy. He was also a brilliant artist. I didn’t find him gruff at all. I found him really helpful. He didn’t ask anything of us that he didn’t ask of himself. He has a lot of work around Lexington, but one of my favorites currently stands outside the Fine Arts building. It’s called “WRFL Radio: Thunder of Universal Sound.” WRFL is UK’s student radio station. A group of determined students were deep in WRFL fundraising when I joined a band called Radio Cafe in the summer of 1985. (That band went on to become Stealin Horses). One of my first gigs with Radio Cafe was a fundraiser for WRFL on the lawn beside the student center. By 1988, the station had gotten its license and hit the airwaves. The band had gotten a deal with Arista and released our first album. That album and WRFL will celebrate their 30th anniversary this year. It feels like yesterday. It was a great time for music in Lexington. We were not the only band to land a major label deal, and WRFL wasn’t the only station supporting us all. Rock station WKQQ, itself a national heavy-hitter at the time, was on board, too. The whole Lexington music scene was stuffed with talent, enthusiasm, and support. I guess that’s why I’ve been a little perplexed at the lack of mention this period gets in books on Kentucky music and musicians. Maybe we were just too cool. It was punk and pop after all (mostly punk). Whatever the case, it was a great time to be in the music scene in Lexington and I’m grateful to have been part of it.
“One small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.” ~ Unknown
Today was Ruth’s annual Christmas soirée; tea a la Emily Post. Each year the cast changes slightly, including the pets, but the core library crowd is consistently present, and always the day ends with Christmas carols. I’m always pleased to be in their company. A good time was had by all.
“Never regret a day in your life. Good days give happiness, bad days give experience,
worst days give lessons, and best days give memories.” ~ Unknown
I’ll just leave this here, while reminding the universe that I’m still the drummer (and would like to play much, much more). That’s why. Plus, Mike Moore, also a drummer, is awesome and has the best shirts ever.
“We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible.” ~ George Santayana
When Marlon Hurst isn’t playing trumpet with Four Leonards (and a fifth), he’s conducting the Kentucky Bach Choir. I had the chance to photograph them during last year’s Christmas outing, but I shot mostly from the balcony. This year, though, I was able to work a bit more up close. I was able to get a good look at Marlon whose back is to the audience for the entire concert. I loved it! I could tell he was having a really good time. There’s just not much better in life than people who love what they do.
“I’ll tell you one thing for sure: once you get to the point where you’re actually doing things for truth’s sake, then nobody can ever touch you again because you’re harmonizing with a greater power.”
~ George Harrison
I’ve been thinking a lot about Ricky. He left this world yesterday afternoon. Many theater friends posted to his facebook page. Their most common thread was thanking him for giving them a chance to find their passion. Rick was a long-time theater director and actor. That was his passion. When we were kids we put on shows, made up commercials, and generally did lots of creative things. All of it was his idea as I recall. Seven years my senior, he never made me feel like I wasn’t old enough or cool enough to be part of whatever we were doing. When I read the gratitude pouring out for him, for treating those people the same way he treated me, without reservation, it warmed my heart beyond words. I was transported back to our silliest times. Like the time we made a commercial on an old cassette recorder about Ex-Lax, when we kept flushing the toilet over and over and over again until our mothers thought something bad had happened to one of us. Mom and I still laugh about that. No matter how much Ricky taught me about show business (theater was his thing, not mine, so in many ways I failed miserably), he taught me something much more important. He taught me how to laugh, and how to love people who don’t always fit in. These are but two gifts from him that I have carried every day. I have nothing but immeasurable gratitude. And who knows. Maybe one day I’ll take up theater.
“Some people want material things. Me, I just want peace, happy times, and people who love me.”
Marlon Hurst is one of the coolest people I know. You’ve met him before. He’s the music director at First Presbyterian in Lexington, and he spearheads the Music for Mission series that helps raise funds for various charitable organizations like Glean KY that benefited from last night’s Leonard Cohen tribute. Marlon is an exceptional musician, and last night I learned that he’s played trumpet since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He did an awesome solo with his brother David and sister-in-law Melissa’s band. You see, Marlon isn’t alone in his musical capabilities. His brother David is an excellent bassist (with a seriously cool Rickenbacher bass), and Melissa taught herself to play drums especially for the Cohen gig, which was approximately two months ago. She’s my shero: fearless and cool. She did a great job, too. These Hurst boys and their wives and kids are just the sweetest people ever, and I’m so lucky to call them friends.
Stacy took part in the exquisite Leonard Cohen Tribute this evening at Good Shepherd. She read lyrics to – oh gosh, I don’t remember now – but she read them as the musicians reassembled to sing what is unquestionably his most famous song Hallelujah. As expected, she was a pro. A total pro reading lyrics like the poetry they are. I’ve never seen anything more natural than Stacy in headphones behind a mic the way God intended. I’m so proud of her. What an excellent night of music.