Ben Sollee art project uses music to educate about groundwater

December 9, 2014

solleeLexington musician Ben Sollee and artist Kiersten Nash are leading an art project called Livestream to educate people about groundwater. Photo by Tom Eblen

Groundwater is one of Kentucky’s most abundant, precious and endangered natural resources. People rarely think about it because they can’t see it.

But what if they could hear it?

That’s the idea behind Livestream, a public art and education project being put together by Lexington musician Ben Sollee and a group of artists and scientists working with the Kentucky Geological Survey.

The National Endowment for the Arts last week announced a $40,000 grant to help pay for the project, which will be built next year in a city park, possibly Jacobson Park. Livestream also is receiving about $20,000 from LexArts and the city’s Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works.

The project began in 2010 when Sollee met Kiersten Nash, a New York artist who previously lived in Louisville. They wanted to collaborate on a project that would educate people about environmental issues.

“After lots of phone calls and ideas and brainstorming, we came up with this idea that we wanted to connect people with groundwater,” Sollee said. “But the question was how are we going to do that?”

How they plan to do that is fascinating.

The Kentucky Groundwater Data Repository, a project of the Kentucky Geological Survey, archives data from groundwater monitoring stations across the state. It has information on more than 92,000 water wells and 5,100 springs.

So the artists wondered: what if monitoring data from a few of those wells and springs could be transmitted live and turned into music that would reflect the groundwater’s changing conditions? To figure out how to do that, they worked with artist Bland Hoke, engineer Sean Montgomery and educator Dan Marwitt.

Sollee, who has gained a national audience for his jazzy, soulful cello music and vocals, recorded a catalog of phrases on his cello. Those phrases will be activated by monitoring data transmitted every 15 minutes from four groundwater sources around the state, said Charles Taylor, the head of the survey’s water resources section.

Two stations will be at McConnell Springs in Lexington and Mammoth Cave National Park in southern Kentucky. Two other sites under consideration are a spring at Carter Caves State Park in Eastern Kentucky and one at Land Between the Lakes in Western Kentucky.

That data measures five values for groundwater: acidity, flow, temperature, conductivity (its capacity to pass electrical current) and turbidity, or clarity. Values of each measure will be assigned to Sollee’s recorded cello phrases, which will be played through 20 large pipes.

“When the data hits a certain point, it will play the note, so it’s a dynamic soundscape based on Kentucky groundwater,” Nash said in July, during a demonstration of a prototype at the Downtown Arts Center. The demonstration used recorded groundwater data.

“As a composer, I wanted to be able to give the sound of the water something that felt very at home here in Kentucky, that had that kind of landscape, a little bit of roll to it,” Sollee said of his phrases.

The installation will be interactive with viewers as well as data. Sensors installed around the pipes will cause the volume to rise and fall, depending on viewers’ proximity.

“So as you walk up to the pipe the volume increases, and as you walk away the volume decreases,” Nash said. “It’s really a project where art, science and technology meet.”

LexArts and the city have collaborated on several smaller art projects to promote environmental education, but this is the biggest yet.

Livestream’s creators see potential for school teachers to develop environmental education programs around the installation. More information: Livestreamky.com.

“Kentucky’s in a really fortunate position — we have groundwater, an abundance of it, but we take it for granted and don’t always treat it right,” Sollee said, noting the effects of surface mining, suburban development and farming. “We hope this will increase affection for that resource.”


Artists must learn business skills to make a living from their art

November 17, 2014

lackyJohn Lackey at his studio at North Limestone and Sixth streets. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Lexington is starting to become a city where an artist can earn a living, but it requires almost as much focus on business as art.

Successful artists tell me they have had to learn strategy, salesmanship, client management and finance to earn money from their passion. Most of all, they have had to be flexible entrepreneurs, willing to try new things and see where they lead.

I talked about these issues last week with John Lackey, an independent artist in Lexington for a dozen years. Since 2010, he has operated Homegrown Press Studio & Gallery at the corner of Limestone and Sixth streets.

Lackey is best known for his intricate block prints and colorful acrylic paintings of Kentucky landscapes. They are fanciful scenes from nature, filled with swirling clouds and curly trees that almost seem to dance.

But Lackey does a lot more, both out of passion and necessity. He has done logos and other commercial art for businesses, including Alfalfa restaurant, where he once worked, and North Lime Coffee and Donuts, which shares his studio building. He also has produced more than a dozen concert posters for his favorite band, Wilco.

Lackey, this month, was commissioned by Kroger to paint an outside mural for its new Euclid Avenue store. The five interconnected, 12-by-7-foot panels along Marquis Avenue will depict “the trees with the most personality in Woodland Park, with human activity in the background,” he said.

He also is getting into filmmaking, after years of playing with time-lapse and animation photography. Lackey has an Indiegogo.com campaign that runs through Tuesday to raise money for a full-length movie. It will be set in Lexington’s northside and focus on themes of community and sustainability.

Lackey learned figurative art and print-making at the University of Kentucky, but some of his most useful professional skills were acquired during several years of hiatus between his studies, when he worked at lumber yards and car dealerships.

“I learned a lot that I still use today when I sold cars,” he said, including negotiating skills and how to read customers.

Lackey spent 14 years as a graphic artist for two Lexington TV stations, where he learned more about art and deadlines. He was then able to begin building an independent art career, thanks to an understanding wife with a steady paycheck.

Early on, he realized the work is a lot like being a home-improvement contractor. Customers who commission work have ideas, but often don’t know exactly what they want. That’s where listening skills and artistry come in.

Lackey said that being willing to try new things has helped him both get jobs and stretch artistically.

“At first, I didn’t do a lot of saying no, because I needed the money, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “It’s good if you have different things you like to do in art.”

The Kentucky Arts Council helped Lackey expose his work to potential clients. After being included in a show at the Governor’s Mansion, he was chosen to create the 2011 prizes for the Governor’s Award in the Arts. The council also helped him get a commission for four seasonal landscape paintings that now hang in the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s board room in Frankfort.

Many artists advise against doing free work to get exposure. While Lackey generally agrees, he follows his instinct on some projects where the payoff isn’t obvious.

For example, as a Wilco fan, he engaged others on the band’s website and volunteered to do artwork for a charity event. The band liked it and hired him to create concert posters.

The head of the Clyde’s restaurant chain around Washington, D.C., also is a Wilco fan. He saw Lackey’s posters and hired him to do artwork for the restaurants. The Clyde’s work was seen by Virginia-based Potter’s Craft Cider, which hired him to design its logo and labels. Such jobs can be vital income bridges between fine art projects.

Other free artwork has enriched his life, if not his bank account. Lackey has done more than 60 posters for the Holler Poet’s series at Al’s Bar, across East Sixth Street from his studio, where he occasionally reads his own poetry. Each poster became an opportunity to experiment with new techniques that have improved his work.

“For me, one of the benefits of being an artist is not having to do the same thing twice,” he said. “It keeps your brain regenerating.”


New Lexington radio station to focus on community engagement

June 21, 2014

If Lexington were to have a small, community-oriented radio station, what should its programming be? What roles should it play? Whose voices should be heard?

Those are some of the questions being asked by a local group now organizing such a station. They will convene several public meetings to get answers, and the first one is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., June 28 at Sayre School’s Buttery Building, 194 N. Limestone St.

The Federal Communications Commission recently awarded the group a construction permit for a 100-watt FM station. It must be on the air by October 2015 and would have a broadcast radius of 3.5 miles from its transmitter on the Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus at Leestown and New Circle roads.

The small coverage area would include downtown, Northside, the East End and as far west as Cardinal Valley. This diverse area of 93,000 people includes some of the largest concentrations of Latino and black residents in Lexington.

“We want to serve that community in a way that has never been done before,” said Mick Jeffries, a photographer, graphic artist and radio host on WRFL-FM, the University of Kentucky’s student-run station that he helped start 25 years ago.

lexonairlogo“The low-power FM movement has to do with trying to restore radio as a kind of education and community resource,” he said. “It’s largely educational and has a laboratory component to it. It’s nothing like commercial radio as we now know it.”

After commercial radio was deregulated in 1996, a dozen or so corporations quickly bought up most of the nation’s locally owned stations. They cut costs by replacing local staff and programming with syndicated content.

In reaction, the FCC in 2000 started granting licenses to non-profit organizations to operate low-power FM stations for community service. But, within months, radio-industry lobbyists pressured Congress to stop the FCC from issuing more licenses.

That changed in 2011 with the Local Community Radio Act, which allowed a new round of license applications last October. More than 1,200 have been granted. Lexington’s successful application was spearheaded by Debra Hensley, an insurance agent and former Urban County Council member.

Community engagement is Hensley’s passion. She has organized “social stimulus” events and produced videos and podcasts about neighborhoods and citizens. While they were working together on a podcast last year, Jeffries told Hensley about the low-power FM opportunity.

Hensley created a radio station organizing group that is seeking non-profit status. In addition to Jeffries, other board members include Hap Houlihan, formerly of The Morris Book Shop; Kakie Urch, another WRFL founder who now teaches new media in UK’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications; and Tanya Torp, a neighborhood leader in the East End.

They have reached out to many others for assistance, including BCTC, the local Latino arts and culture organization FLACA, the Urban League, WUKY-FM and the city’s Division of Emergency Management.

John Bobel, the division’s information officer, said a low-power FM station could be a valuable tool for reaching people in many of these neighborhoods during emergencies, as well as for communicating public safety messages.

“I am president of the William Wells Brown Neighborhood Association, and the way we get our word out is that I have to knock on doors to tell people what’s going on,” Torp said. “So having this kind of resource in our community is vital. A lot of people do not have Internet access. But a lot of people, including the elderly, have radios.”

The organizers see many potential roles for the station: covering neighborhood meetings; convening and broadcasting public forums; call-in shows discussing local issues, including wellness and nutrition; school music concerts and shows; and coverage of youth and league sports, including a Spanish-language show about Lexington’s Latino soccer leagues.

“Part of my job at UK is expanding use of different media to tell stories in different ways,” said Urch, who also sees educational opportunities for youth. She wants to create after-school workshops to teach middle and high school students to use technology and tell stories they care about.

Plans call for the station to have a free smartphone app that would allow broadcasts to be heard from anywhere, as well as a website with text, photos and video. Hensley wants a storefront studio in a visible location to increase public engagement.

“It’s not like we’re looking for syndicated programming that’s going to appeal to a certain market,” Jeffries said. “We want to engage people to actually help create the content for the station.”

Hensley knows the biggest challenge will be raising money to make it happen. She estimates about $50,000 in startup costs and an annual operations budget of as much as $150,000.

She is working on a three-year business plan, which would include grants, donations and, primarily, sponsor messages from local businesses and organizations, such as public radio does.

“We envision this as something the community sees, feels, embraces,” Hensley said. “So at this meeting we want to say, this is what we’ve got, this is what it could look like. What do you think?”

 


Like much of local black history, 1920s blues song a surprise

February 23, 2014

February is Black History Month, and this is the third year I have written one column a week during the month about Kentucky black history.

I’ve always found history interesting, but working on these pieces has been a special treat, because much of this information is new to both me and most Herald-Leader readers.

While I do some of the research myself, I get a lot of help from professional and amateur historians, both black and white. Like me, they have become fascinated with this rich vein of history that until recent years was rarely explored or publicized.

Special thanks this year to these sources for research, ideas and other information:

  • Yvonne Giles, an amateur historian who has become an authority on Lexington black history. Her extensive research on the Lexington Colored Fair was invaluable.
  • Maureen Peters, a Lexington architect, who pointed me to outstanding research that she and her friend, the architectural historian Rebecca McCarley, had done on brick mason and entrepreneur Henry Tandy and his son, architect Vertner Woodson Tandy.
  • Thomas Tolliver, a former Herald-Leader reporter who lives in the East End and is passionate about preserving its history.
  • Former State Sen. Georgia Powers of Louisville, who generously shared her own story and information about how the 1964 March on Frankfort was organized.
  • Former State Sen. Joe Graves of Lexington, another March on Frankfort organizer, who candidly discussed how the civil rights movement influenced his life and the white community.
  • The Kentucky Historical Society.

As a postscript, Kakie Urch, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications and a radio host on WRFL, sent me a 1920s blues song I had never heard of before: The Lexington Kentucky Blues, by Papa Charlie Jackson.

Click on the video below to hear Jackson singing about coming to Lexington to play at the Colored Fair, seeing the great racehorse Man O’ War, going to the races, spending time on Limestone Street and meeting J. Rice Porter, the Colored Fair’s president from 1926-28. It sounds as if he had a great time.

Like much of local black history before I started this project, the Lexington Kentucky Blues was new to me.

 

 


Don Wilson, Lexington’s generous Music Man, dies at 92

February 15, 2014

donwilson001Today’s Herald-Leader obituaries include Donald Eugene Wilson, who died on Thursday at age 92.

Don Wilson moved to Lexington after World War II and started work as a musical instrument repairman. He soon became famous as the baton-twirling drum major of the University of Kentucky’s Wildcat Marching Band, performing with his young daughter, Donna, from 1949-1955.

Wilson later opened Don Wilson Music on Southland Drive, which for decades has sold and rented the instruments that have helped make Central Kentucky’s high school bands some of the nation’s best. His spirit and generosity became legendary in Kentucky music education circles. I wrote this column about him when he turned 90 years old.

Rest in peace, Don Wilson. You brought the joy of music into so many Kentuckians’ lives.


MLK Day is one of Lexington’s great annual celebrations

January 20, 2014

140120MLKDay0080It seemed fitting that the annual march passed Eduardo Kobra’s new mural of Abraham Lincoln. Photos by Tom Eblen

The Martin Luther King Jr. celebration is one of my favorite annual events in Lexington, because it brings a diverse group of local people together to discuss important values and draw inspiration.

The 20th anniversary of Alpha Phi Alpha’s annual Unity Breakfast was especially inspiring because almost the entire program was done by Fayette County Public Schools students. They were all impressive. With sunny skies and mild winter temperatures, the symbolic march through downtown was more pleasant than it often is. And the program that followed the march was a great opportunity to hear Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of the great voices for civil rights for more than a half-century.

It’s a great day to be in Lexington.

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MLK Day speaker, singer a voice of civil rights for four decades

January 14, 2014

821024BerniceReagon003Bernice Johnson Reagon, right foreground, speaks during a performance by Sweet Honey in the Rock at 50th anniversary festivities for the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tenn., on Oct. 24, 1982. Other members of the a cappella ensemble performing that day were Yasmeen Williams, right, and, hidden behind her, Evelyn M. Harris, Ysaye M. Barnwell and Aisha Kahlil, Yasmeen Williams. Photo by Tom Eblen 

 

When Bernice Johnson Reagon thinks back on her childhood in segregated southwest Georgia, she recalls a force more powerful than injustice: music.

“I was born in a culture where music was breath,” she said in an interview last week. “If you start to sing as soon as you start to talk, then there’s no separation between talking and singing.”

Reagon will be doing a lot of both Monday, when she is to be the keynote speaker at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. program at Lexington Center’s Heritage Hall. And that’s a good thing.

In addition to being a much-honored scholar, historian and social activist, Reagon has provided one of the most beautiful and powerful voices of the civil rights movement for 53 years.

Reagon, 71, was born outside Albany, Ga., the third child of Beatrice and the Rev. Jessie Johnson.

“If we weren’t in school, we were in church,” she said, describing how she and her young friends sang grace at lunch and games on the playground. “Music was everywhere in the culture I was born into.”

Bernice Johnson Reagon: singer, civil rights activist. Photo by Sharon FarmerIt was only natural that music would play a central role in the Albany Movement, an anti-segregation coalition that in 1961 focused national attention on racial discrimination in her hometown.

While in high school, Reagon was secretary of the junior chapter of the NAACP. She later participated in some of the first civil rights demonstrations in Albany, which got her expelled from Albany State College and put in jail.

She joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and became a member of the famous Freedom Singers, a touring quartet formed by Cordell Reagon, the man she would marry.

“I didn’t go back to complete college until after my second child was born,” said Reagon, who graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta and earned a doctorate in history from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

“But I continued to do the work that got me put in jail,” she said. “I didn’t have to change who I was to do that.”

In 1973, while a graduate student and vocal director of DC Black Repertory Theatre, Reagon formed Sweet Honey In the Rock, a black women’s a cappella ensemble that has toured the world and has made acclaimed recordings ever since. Reagon led the group until her retirement from it in 2004.

“I came out of the civil rights movement with an understanding of and a respect for strong-harmony, unaccompanied singing,” she said. “And singing that in terms of text spoke to injustice and the importance of believing that you can change the world.”

Reagon is a history professor emerita at American University in Washington D.C. and curator emerita of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Her scholarship has focused on American black music traditions.

She was the principal scholar and host of Wade in the Water, a Peabody Award-winning series produced by the Smithsonian and National Public Radio in the 1980s. She was the score composer for Africans in America, a PBS documentary film series in 1998.

Reagon has been a music consultant, composer and performer for several film products, including BelovedEyes on the Prize and We Shall Overcome. In 2003, she wrote the music and libretto for Robert Wilson’s production, The Temptation of St. Anthony, which has been performed around the world.

Reagon’s many awards include a MacArthur Fellowship (1989) and a Presidential Medal for contribution to public understanding of the humanities (1995). She has a long list of solo and ensemble recordings. She has collaborated with many other musicians, including her daughter, Toshi Reagon.

Although much progress has been made since she began working in the civil rights movement more than a half-century ago, Reagon sees many challenges of injustice, imbalance and inequity, such as environmental justice and the very survival of the planet.

“My sense of injustice is much broader now,” she said. “I’ve found myself pulled to listen and learn, and I think that has kept me true to the young girl who was the secretary of the first junior chapter of the NAACP in Albany, Ga. I guess I’m describing a great life.”


Berea College archive preserves the sounds of Appalachia

December 29, 2013

131120Eblen-Berea0006

Renfro Valley radio show cast at the old barn stage in the early 1950s. Left to right are Ray Sosbyee, Linda Lou Martin, Claude Sweet and Glenn Pennington. Photo courtesy Berea College Special Collections and Archives.

 

BEREA — As soon as sound recording equipment became small enough to fit in a car trunk in the 1950s, academics began racing around the mountains, trying to preserve the music and stories of a disappearing Appalachian culture.

Now archivists at Berea College are in another race against time: to preserve those old recordings for the 21st century and beyond and make them more widely available through the Internet.

Over the past eight years, sound archivists John Bondurant and Harry Rice have digitized more than 3,000 hours of recordings. Bondurant figures they are about halfway through the archives’ current holdings.

Some of that material, as well as a more limited collection of digitized video and photos, can be seen and heard on the archives’ website:Libraryguides.berea.edu/soundarchivesguide.

131120Eblen-Berea0001The collection includes an impressive array of traditional Appalachian music, oral-history interviews, ballads, folk tales, old radio programs and black and white religious music. Plus, there are recordings of events, speakers and performances at the college going back to at least the 1960s.

Many of the recordings came from a collection started by Loyal Jones, who from 1970-1993 headed the college’s Appalachia Center, which is now named for him. But, over the years, many more collections have been donated to the college, providing a rich tapestry of authentic, one-of-a-kind sound.

The Appalachian music archives includes collections of fiddle, banjo and dulcimer tunes, band performances and recordings of Berea’s annual Celebration of Traditional Music, which began in 1974. Several collections focus on religious music, from Old Regular Baptist hymns to gospel music radio performances and Sacred Harp singing in rural black churches.

The archives also include broadcasts of John Lair’s Renfro Valley Barn Dance and related radio programs, which were broadcast between the late 1930s and the late 1950s on Cincinnati’s WLW-AM, Louisville’s WHAS-AM and the CBS Network. Although less famous than the Grand Ole Opry on Nashville’s WSM-AM, the shows had a huge impact on the development of country music.

131120Eblen-Berea0002Much of the radio collection was donated to Berea in the 1980s, when WHAS changed ownership and moved studios after the breakup of the Bingham family’s Louisville media empire.

“They called here and offered us these, implying that if we didn’t take them they would be thrown out,” Bondurant said. That archives included 1,500 16-inch transcription disc from the 1930s through the 1950s that were meant for short-term rebroadcast or advertiser verification.

“Like most media, it was never intended to be saved,” Bondurant said, so the transcription discs have been a challenge to copy before they disintegrate. “For most of these old programs, these are the only copies that exist.”

Those discs included episodes of Circle Star Ranch, a children’s radio show from the 1940s that featured a cowboy singer and the predecessor of WHAS-TV’s famous kids’ show, T-Bar-V Ranch, which had a loyal following among Louisville baby boomers.

Bondurant works in a tiny studio with a reel-to-reel tape player and a specially a specially modified turntable with a variety of sizes of phonograph styluses. Both are hooked up to a computer with digital sound software.

“Some of these materials, you have one shot; we play it to copy it and it should never be played again,” he said. “I’m trying to get the cleanest signal so it sounds like the original document.”

Bondurant, an amateur guitar player, worked in music licensing for Broadcast Music Inc., better known as BMI, in Nashville before earning a master’s degree in library science at the University of Kentucky.

Bondurant said the digital technology he uses to copy archival recordings has improved dramatically since he joined Berea College in 2005. And, unlike other preservation methods, digital copying makes it safe and easy to share material with researchers and other interested listeners more widely.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that digital technology is changing so fast, it will be a constant challenge to keep material preserved and accessible.

“The digital life cycle is a lot shorter than the analog life cycle,” Bondurant said. “We can still play recordings that are century old easier than we can play some DAT (digital audio tape) recordings from the 1990s that have essentially erased themselves.”

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Kentucky band from ‘Lincoln’ movie playing at Gettysburg 150th

November 13, 2013

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President Lincoln’s Own Band is scheduled to perform in Gettysburg, Pa., at the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. This group visited Washington D.C. in January when it performed as part of President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities. From left to right: Dana Schoppert, Reese Land, Dave Centers, Michael Tunnell, Dennis Edlebrock, Don Johnson, Don Johnson III, Jeff Stockham, Joseph Van Fleet and Garman Bowers. Photo provided

 

Bands usually hit it big with music that is new and different. But Don Johnson’s band is making a national splash by performing pieces that are old and authentic.

Johnson, who grew up in Lexington and now lives in Marion County, is the artistic director of President Lincoln’s Own Band, a uniformed military-style ensemble that plays Civil War-era music on original period instruments.

Since appearing in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed 2012 movie, Lincoln, the band has been a sought-after soundtrack for many events marking the Civil War’s sesquicentennial.

The band’s latest big gig is Nov. 19 at Dedication Day in Gettysburg, Pa., which will mark the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The band also played at Dedication Day last year, when Spielberg and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke.

The band also appeared in Killing Lincoln, a National Geographic film about the president’s assassination. It played at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History for two days during President Obama’s inaugural festivities in January and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in June.

At Gettysburg next week, the band will be sharing the stage with the U.S. Marine Band, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and historian James McPherson.

Johnson is still fine-tuning the band’s 30-minute concert lineup, but knows he will begin with My Old Kentucky Home, in honor of Lincoln’s birth state, and end with Yankee Doodle. Other likely tunes are Rally Round the FlagHail Columbia and We Are Coming, Father Abraham, which the band played in Spielberg’s movie. Johnson also said he will play “taps” at the ceremony.

“The sound of Civil War instruments was quite different from what you hear today,” Johnson said, explaining the appeal of his band’s authentic style. “It was a lot darker and more velvety and like a voice.”

Also among the group’s Kentucky members playing at Gettysburg will be Joseph Van Fleet, a trumpet professor at Eastern Kentucky University. For more information about the group, go to: Facebook.com/PresidentLincolnsOwnBand. 

 


Smiley Pete’s Crave festival a bid to expand its business model

September 16, 2013

Covering the local culture scene has long been an important part of the business model for alternative publications. But many are now finding they can make more money by actively nurturing that culture scene.

The classic example is a music festival the Austin Chronicle started in 1987. It attracted only 700 people the first year, but South by Southwest is now the world’s largest multi-venue music festival. It and affiliated SXSW digital media conferences have an annual economic impact on Texas’ capital city region of $190 million.

Other small publications in cities such as Toronto; Portland, Ore.; and San Jose, Calif., also have found success by organizing festivals. So why not Lexington?

cravelogoThat’s the thinking behind the first Crave Lexington food and music festival, Sept. 21 and 22 at the MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater at Beaumont. It is being organized by Smiley Pete Publishing, which produces the community magazines Chevy Chaser, Southsider and Business Lexington.

The festival includes a diverse array of local food and drink vendors, demonstrations of cooking and food preparation and concerts by a variety of musicians and bands.

“We see opportunity,” said Chuck Creacy, who with business partner Chris Eddie started the Chevy Chaser 16 years ago next month. “It has worked in other markets. Whether Lexington is big enough is a question. But people in this town love to eat and drink outdoors, that’s for sure.”

Crave is the biggest event Robbie Morgan has organized since she joined Smiley Pete two years ago as director of events and sponsorships.

“Part of the reason they brought me on was to expand our reach in the community,” said Morgan, an Anderson County native who moved back to Kentucky from Toronto five years ago.

Morgan has organized several small-business development seminars under the Business Lexington flag. And she created Tadoo Lounge, a series of free, early evening events the first Thursday of each month at Smiley Pete’s Old Vine Street offices that featured local musicians, food and drink.

The Tadoo Lounge events, which were designed to introduce a different slice of Lexington to the growing late-night local club scene, made enough money to pay the bands, Morgan said.

Crave Lexington’s goal this year is to establish a brand, show people a good time, break even and offer guidance for profits in the future.

In conceiving Crave, Morgan wanted to bring together the diversity of Lexington cooks and musicians for a family-friendly event. Special emphasis was given to exposing people to local resources they might not know about.

The venue — the MoonDance amphitheater — was a practical choice because of its good facilities. But she also noted that while downtown may be the hot entertainment spot these days, much of Lexington’s increasing ethnic and cultural diversity has settled in the suburbs.

On the food front, that meant a range of options. On the low end, Crave has assembled local food trucks with items costing as little as $1. On the high end, there is a 10-course, five-hour dinner Saturday night featuring Kentucky Proud food and drink prepared by local chefs including Ouita Michel, Jonathan Lundy, Toa Green, Rona Roberts and Jeremy Ashby. Tickets are $175 each.

“We have all this culture; how do you create opportunities to bring everybody to the same kitchen?” Morgan said, explaining the concept behind Crave. “Kitchens are where the best parties happen.”

On the music side, Morgan lined up 10 acts for the Crave stage, with an emphasis on local talent many people don’t know about. One example: the Pandya Family, a group of Indian musicians who Morgan said has played before 10,000 people in Chicago but has never done a show in Lexington, where they live.

Morgan said 10 percent of the proceeds from Crave will be donated to Food Chain, a Lexington non-profit focused on urban food production and preparation.

“This is a new role for local publications,” Creacy said. “But Chris and I decided sometime back that we wanted to move our business toward doing things that make Lexington the kind of place where we want to live.”

If you go

Crave Lexington

What: Inaugural food and music festival featuring local food and drink vendors, demonstrations of cooking and food preparation and concerts by Vandaveer, 23 String Band, Pandya Family, Kelly Richey and others. Organized by Smiley Pete Publishing.

When: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sept. 21; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 22

Where: MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater, 1152 Monarch St. at Beaumont Cir.

Admission: Free, but there is a charge for food and drink tickets. Some meal events also require tickets.

Learn more: Cravelexington.com


Things will be hopping Friday night on Bryan Avenue

August 13, 2013

Looking for something to do Friday night?  The North Limestone Cultural Development Corp., which calls itself the NoLi CDC for short, is having the first of what it plans as a series of “Night Market” events Friday from 7 p.m. until midnight on that cut-through piece of Bryan Avenue between Limestone and Loudon avenues. The event is free and open to the public.

Devine Carama Wind Sync and other local music acts will perform between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., after which the Lexington Film League will show the film, Koyaanisqatsi. There will be food from Bradford BBQ, ice cream from Crank & Boom and beer from West Sixth Brewery.

NoLi CDC describes the Night Market as, “A collaborative community pop-up event inspired by the concept of temporary urbanization. This process involves changing the dynamics of a specific space to further engage the community and foster relationships between local creatives and the public.”

Whatever. Sounds like fun. I’m going.

 


Whippoorwill Festival teaches skills for back-to-nature living

July 16, 2013

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Dave Cooper, right, organizer of the Whippoorwill Festival last weekend near Berea, stirs a pot of pinto beans while Carol Judy, center, of the Clearkfork Community Institute in Eagan, Tenn., leads a workshop on roots and other non-timber forest products. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

BEREA — How do you describe the Whippoorwill Festival? It is part Scout camp, part folkways festival and part family reunion, straight out of the pages of the old Whole Earth Catalog.

However it’s described, the third annual event brought more than 300 people from across the region to rural Madison County last weekend. They came for 3½ days of camping, communal eating, conversation, education, music, dancing and fun in a family-friendly atmosphere.

“It attracts an eclectic, interesting group of people,” said organizer Dave Cooper of Lexington, an environmental activist and former mechanical engineer. “You put them all together and interesting things happen.”

The Whippoorwill Festival is held at HomeGrown HideAways, a 100-acre farm and eco-friendly campground west of Berea that is tucked away below tree-covered hills.

The festival is one of three that owners Nathan and Jessa Turner host each year. HomeGrown HideAway also has the PlayThink Movement & Flow Arts Festival in June and the Holler in the Holler music and arts festival, Aug. 9-11.

Most people came to the Whippoorwill Festival to learn “skills for earth-friendly living,” Cooper said. There were more than 75 classes and demonstrations.

Many classes harked back to Appalachia’s pre-industrial lifestyle and heritage: cooking and bread-making over an open fire, making soap from goats’ milk, beekeeping, composting, starting a fire without matches, making paper, banjo playing and ballad singing.

130712WhippoorwillFest-TE0006Johnny Faulkner, a retired archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service at Red River Gorge, was teaching and demonstrating skills that Kentuckians were using long before the first white pioneers and settlers arrived.

He used a small billet made from a deer antler to chip or “knap” flint to make arrow and spear points for hunting. After he finished one, he showed me how they were attached to a spear made of native river cane and hurled at high speed with the help of a short stick called an “atlatl.”

“With that, they could throw a spear at 100 miles an hour,” he said. “I sure wouldn’t want to be hit by one.”

Norm Adkins of Richmond demonstrated a similar technique, but with materials beyond the traditional flint that Native Americans used. He had one bright green arrowhead he made from fiber optic plastic.

Other classes focused on food: oyster mushroom inoculation, hunting wild mushrooms, growing herbs and strawberries, making sauerkraut, growing nut trees, starting a community garden, composting, saving seeds and raising backyard chickens.

And still others were about skills for low-cost and back-to-nature living: basic bicycle and auto repair, wildflowers, spinning wool, knitting, making sandals and shoes, natural childbirth, stargazing through a telescope, hitchhiking and wilderness first aid.

“We live in Berea, and this is one of our favorite things to do every year,” said Chris Smith, an emergency room nurse who taught the wilderness first aid class and came for the weekend with his wife, Katie Gardner, and their two sons.

They were staffing a first aid station among the tents of several social activists groups, including Appalachian Water Watch, Kentucky Heartwood, the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition and Kentucky Mountain Justice.

“People see a lot of old friends here,” Smith said. “It gives them a break from protesting what they don’t like and learning more about what they do like.”

There was a contra dance on Thursday night and traditional music concerts Friday and Saturday evenings. Pam Gadd of Nashville came to perform with the New Coon Creek Girls string band and teach workshops on banjo playing and songwriting. She also wanted to take the composting workshop.

Wendy Welch of the Tale of the Lonesome Pine Bookstore in Big Stone Gap, Va., led a “running a successful small business in Appalachia” workshop, a skill Cooper wants to emphasize more at future festivals.

“Many workshop leaders come to the festival and talk about whatever their passion is, and often they are making a little business out of it,” said Cooper, who is trying to start a new organization, the Appalachian Small and Micro Business Alliance.

“It would be kind of a chamber of commerce to help nurture and grow these small startup businesses in the region,” Cooper said. “As we look toward the end of coal, we’re going to need lots of ways to create new economic models in Appalachia.”

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Equus Run Vineyards’ success has been about much more than wine

June 17, 2013

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Cynthia Bohn started Equus Run Vineyards in Woodford County 15 years ago as a retirement business for when she was ready to end her 30-year career with IBM as a computer engineer and marketing executive. The business now makes 15 varieties of wine and has a successful event business at the 48-acre winery. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

MIDWAY — Cynthia Bohn lived all over the country, as well as in England and the Netherlands, during her 30-year career as an IBM computer engineer and executive. Collecting wine became her hobby.

So, when she began planning for a retirement career, Bohn thought it might be fun to start a winery in Kentucky, where she had grown up in Louisville and on a Hart County tobacco farm.

“It was like a hobby that became a passion that became a business,” said Bohn, whose Equus Run Vineyards just celebrated 15 years in business and is about to launch a major expansion.

Although Kentucky had the nation’s first commercial winery in 1799, there were only three wineries operating in the bourbon state when Bohn started planning her business in the mid-1990s. Now, Kentucky has 67 operating wineries, with more on the way.

“It’s a very viable business model if you run it as a business,” she said.

Bohn said that after three flat years during and after the Great Recession, her revenues were up 17 percent in 2012 and 23 percent this year.

Equus Run now produces about 9,100 cases a year of 15 varieties of wine. The grapes come from her own eight acres of vineyards, and from contract growers in Western Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and California.

“There’s no way I could grow everything I need,” she said, noting that some grape varieties don’t do well in Kentucky’s soil and climate. Plus, having growers elsewhere is “sort of like an insurance policy” against unpredictable Kentucky weather, she said.

But Bohn has discovered that it takes more than grapes and good wine to make a successful winery of her size.

“The key thing with us is we diversified,” Bohn said as we sat on a deck outside her tasting room overlooking her vineyards — and gardens and sculptures and a putting green and an amphitheater. Coming soon: bike trails.

“We are in the hospitality and tourism industry; we just happen to sell wine,” she said. “It’s all about the experience. It’s about a day in the Bluegrass. It’s about a lifestyle, not just wine.”

In addition to the recreation facilities and places for hosting weddings, receptions and corporate events, Equus Run schedules programs where visitors can enjoy art, music and even learn to fly fish.

An equine artists’ group will be coming to the winery this summer to paint. Several “foodie” events are scheduled, including a shrimp boil and a “pizza and pinot” evening. There is a dinner theater series built around murder mysteries.

Several non-profit groups use Equus Run’s facilities for fundraisers. The winery donates the facilities and keeps only the revenues from alcohol sales, Bohn said.

“It’s been a great model,” she said. “It has worked for them and it has worked for us.”

Equus Run’s biggest annual event is this weekend: the 10th annual Francisco’s Farm Arts Festival, produced in conjunction with the Lexington Art League and Midway Renaissance. This is the third year Equus Run has hosted the regionally acclaimed arts festival, which was formerly at Midway College. Bohn expects as many as 10,000 people to attend.

She is looking for more ways to expand Equus Run, which now has 16 employees. She recently bought 10 acres across Moore’s Mill Road to add to her 38-acre property.

Until now, Bohn has been the winery’s sole owner. But she said she is partnering with local investors to build new hospitality venues and wine-production facilities to replace the ones in a former tobacco barn she has outgrown. Other future plans include finding a partner to offer regular food service.

Equus Run is surrounded by several horse farms, and Bohn said she tries to be a good neighbor by doing such things as ending concerts at 9 p.m., rather than the required 11 p.m.

“I love my neighbors; they are wonderful,” she said. “We could have easily been shoved aside. Instead, they embraced us. I think that speaks highly of the community.”

Bohn thinks businesses such as Equus Run can play a valuable role in increasing tourism in the Bluegrass, as well as just making this a more fun and interesting place to live. Personally, it is not only a good retirement business, but a lot of fun.

“You’ve got to love people, and you’ve got to love dealing with Mother Nature and her erratic weather patterns,” said Bohn, who added that tending grapes isn’t nearly as hard work as the tobacco-stripping she did as a teenager. “I very affectionately say I started with dirt and I have now retired with dirt.”

If you go

Francisco’s Farm Arts Festival

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. June 22, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 23

Where: Equus Run Vineyards, 1280 Moores Mill Rd., Midway

Admission: $10 per vehicle.

More information: Lexingtonartleague.org, Equusrunvineyards.com

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Holler Poets celebrates 5 years of showcasing Kentucky writers

May 25, 2013

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Eric Sutherland, founder of the monthly Holler Poets series, poses outside Al’s Bar at the corner of North Limestone and East Sixth Streets. The series will celebrate its fifth year, and 60th session, on May 29. Photo by Tom Eblen 

 

As the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War approached in March 2008, Eric Scott Sutherland was frustrated and angry. So he fought back the best way he knew how: with poetry.

The writer organized Poets for Peace, a protest reading in the newly reopened Al’s Bar at the corner of North Limestone and East Sixth Street. The event featured an all-star lineup of local literary talent, including Jane Gentry Vance, who was then serving as Kentucky’s poet laureate. Nearly 100 listeners packed the house.

“It was just electric,” Sutherland recalled. “You could sense it.”

Sutherland had tapped into more than public outrage over a tragic, costly and unnecessary war. People seemed hungry for poetry and a venue for self-expression.

“There was pent-up demand for what this guy was doing,” said Josh Miller, one of the bar’s owners. So Miller’s brother, Lester, asked Sutherland if he would organize an event like that at their bar every month.

The Holler Poets Series was born.

The series celebrates its five-year anniversary, and 60th session, on Wednesday. The free event will begin, as always, with an open microphone for any writer wanting to share his or her work.

Then there will be the featured writers. This month’s are Frank X Walker, Kentucky’s current poet laureate, and his fellow Affrilachian poet, Mitchell Douglas. The evening concludes with a musical act. This month’s is Christian hip hop artist Justin Long, who performs under the name JustMe.

Holler’s format has changed little since the series began in 2008 with the award-winning poet Maurice Manning, who now teaches at Transylvania University. Since the beginning, events have been promoted with unique posters created by artist John Lackey, whose Homegrown Press Studio is a couple of doors down from the bar.

About 80 writers have been featured at Holler, including other well-known Kentucky names such as Nikky Finney, Silas House, Richard Taylor, Erik Reece, Ed McClanahan, Gurney Norman, Crystal Wilkinson, George Ella Lyon, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Bianca Spriggs and Leatha Kendrick.

Lexington’s poetry scene has flourished in recent years. Holler Poets — some of whom were born in mountain “hollers” or like to speak loudly — is a big reason why.

Since the beginning, Holler’s goal has been to both raise the profile of experienced poets and encourage the development of new ones. “The open mic has inspired a lot of people to develop their craft, given them something to work toward every month,” Sutherland said.

“Holler Poets has been extremely important in encouraging new voices to emerge, to go from writing for themselves to writing for an audience,” said Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, a Bulgarian-born poet, WRFL radio host, and owner of the Lexington poetry book press Accents Publishing.

“I thought I would go and mingle with like-minded people,” said Tina Andry, who had written poetry all her life but mostly kept it to herself. “Everyone was so welcoming, and the next thing I knew I was publishing a book.”

The Poets for Peace event on March 30, 2008 was followed a year later by Peace in the Mountains, where writers decried what environmentally destructive methods of surface mining for coal is doing to Kentucky’s land, water and air. Holler readers frequently critique an American society that values money more than people. Several of the events have been fundraisers for peace and environmental groups.

“For me, everything is political,” said Sutherland, 41, a Shelbyville native who studied natural resource conservation at the University of Kentucky and has earned his living as a baker and arborist. “It has been rewarding to use art as a way to inform people about what’s going on.”

Sutherland has been surprised by Holler’s popularity. He can’t remember an event where Al’s Bar wasn’t filled with people.

“I knew that our literary heritage would support it and that it was needed,” he said. “But I didn’t know it would catch on. I think the time was just right.”

Sutherland knew he had arrived when, at Holler’s three-year anniversary, Lester Miller surprised him on stage with a fancy certificate proclaiming him as the poet laureate of Al’s Bar.

Accents Publishing will soon publish Sutherland’s fourth poetry collection, Pendulum, inspired by his experiences working at the lobby café of Lexington’s downtown Central Library. Books are important, but Sutherland thinks Holler shows that performance can make poetry a more powerful artistic medium.

“When you hear people up on stage baring their soul, which takes a lot of courage, it ignites something in the listener,” he said. “I think people yearn to feel connected to other people. Poetry is really the last vestige of a direct expression of humanity.”

If you go

Holler Poets 60Five-year anniversary

When: 8 p.m., May 29

Where: Al’s Bar, 601 N. Limestone

Who: Affrilachian poets Frank X Walker and Mitchell Douglas, hip hop performer JustMe. Open microphone for other poets, with sign-up beginning at 7 p.m.

Cost: Free.

More information: EricScottSutherland.com

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Bryan Station drum major will help lead Rose Parade honor band

December 26, 2012

Members of Lafayette High School’s band won’t be the only Kentuckians marching through Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day for the annual Tournament of Roses Parade.

The Bands of America Honor Band, made up of teenage musicians from across the nation, includes 14 Kentuckians. And Grant Knox, 17, a senior at Bryan Station High School in Lexington, will be one of four drum majors leading the 300-piece ensemble.

“I’m very excited,” said Grant, who has been Bryan Station’s drum major for the past two years. He will fly to California on Dec. 27 to begin preparation.

Grant’s mother, Vicki Knox, a lab technician at the University of Kentucky, said her son decided to put together a videotape application for the Honor Band after hearing from several friends in the Lafayette Band that they would be going.

“He did it all on his own and we thought, yeah, right,” she said. “And then he heard that he had been accepted as one of four drum majors.”

Knox said the Honor Band application was typical for her son, who from an early age has set goals for himself and worked hard to accomplish them.

She was working as assistant daycare director at the Salvation Army in Lexington when Grant was 5 years old. He was fascinated by the organization’s brass band and kept saying he wanted to learn to play an instrument.

“He didn’t want to go home one day and our minister came through and said, ‘Grant, what’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I want to play a horn,'” his mother said. The band leader said that when he was old enough to get a sound out of a mouthpiece he would start teaching him. Grant did it immediately.

Grant has been playing with the Salvation Army band since he was 10 and is now an assistant teacher. He said he also arranges music for Bryan Station’s pep band. Grant plans to study either music education or political science in college, possibly at Murray State University.

Knox said her health will prevent her and her husband, David, a letter carrier, from making the trip to California. But they will be in front of the television New Year’s Day to watch for their son.

The Honor Band has performed twice before in the Tournament of Roses Parade, in 2005 and 2009. The organization’s website says these other Kentuckians were chosen by video audition for the Honor Band:

Jessica Adams, Grant Arnold, Tanner Calvert, Trevor Rosania and Travis Rosania of Montgomery County High School in Mount Sterling; Grey Arnold of J.B. McNabb Middle School in Mt. Sterling; Kristin Darland and Rebecca Palmer of Henry Clay High School in Lexington; Alex Hezik of Campbellsville, a student at Western Kentucky University; Elizabeth Howell of Lexington, a Lafayette High School graduate; Kristen Shearer of Bourbon County High School in Paris; and Emily Shouse and Hannah Shouse of Louisville Male High School.


Band that performed in ‘Lincoln’ included four Kentuckians

December 15, 2012

The Civil War band President Lincoln’s Own posed with Lincoln director Steven Spielberg on Nov. 19 after he spoke in Gettysburg, Pa., at ceremonies marking the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The band includes four Kentuckians. From left to right, Garman Bowers, Jeff Stockham, Wayne Collier of Lexington, Denny Edelbrock, Reece Land of Campbellsville, Steven Spielberg, Don Johnson of Lebanon, Mike Tunnell of Louisville, Dana Schoppert, Chris Johnston, Mark Elrod and Jay Norris. Photo Provided.

 

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, features several notable Kentuckians of the past, from the 16th president and his Lexington-born wife to a long-forgotten congressman from Owensboro.

When I wrote about them last month, I didn’t know that four modern Kentuckians also appear in the acclaimed movie. They provide an authentic taste of Civil War music on period brass instruments.

About 15 minutes into the film, President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, is shown at a flag-raising ceremony. A 12-piece military band wearing red uniforms plays as the crowd sings, “We are coming, Father Abraham,” a popular patriotic song of the day.

The scene was filmed in Petersburg, Va., in December 2011. But it wasn’t until the movie was released this fall that members of the band, President Lincoln’s Own, were allowed to reveal their participation.

The Kentucky musicians are Wayne Collier, a Lexington lawyer with Kinkead & Stilz; Reese Land, associate professor of music at Campbellsville University; Michael Tunnell, a University of Louisville music professor; and Don Johnson, a musician and antique instrument collector from Lexington who now lives in Lebanon.

The band also played with Spielberg when he spoke Nov. 19 in Gettysburg, Pa., at ceremonies marking the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“It was one of those who-you-know situations,” said Collier, explaining how a real estate lawyer and amateur trumpeter found his way into a Spielberg movie touted as an Academy Award favorite.

The Civil War band grew out of Kentucky Baroque Trumpets, an award-winning group that Johnson, Collier and two others formed in 2005. Collier has been playing trumpet since he was 10 and earned a music theory degree from the University of Kentucky before going to law school. The Tates Creek High School graduate got to know Johnson, who went to Henry Clay, when they played together in a youth orchestra in the early 1970s.

To film the scene in Lincoln, band members drove to Petersburg, Va., one weekend last December. They found tons of dirt spread on the streets in a neighborhood of antebellum buildings “at great expense, I’m sure,” Collier said.

Band members had been told not to shave or cut their hair for a month before filming so makeup and hair stylists could make them look authentic to the period. They were then photographed so the makeup and styling could be quickly recreated before filming on Monday morning.

Band members practiced their music on original Civil War-era horns, which are pitched higher and are more difficult to play than modern instruments. Collier said he had it easier than some because he played a horn from his own collection: an 1861 nickel-silver D.C. Hall E-flat alto with rotary valves.

After makeup, costuming and rehearsal, band members attended a cast party and met actress Sally Field, who had visited Lexington last year to prepare for her role as Mary Todd Lincoln.

Filming the flag-raising scene took three hours. Freezing temperatures made it difficult to play the antique brass horns. But Spielberg liked the band’s performance so much that he made the unusual decision to use the live performance rather than redub the music with a studio recording.

In the movie, the band members are seen and heard for only a few seconds — and they were left out of the credits, which was a disappointment.

Collier said his legal background helped him appreciate the dialogue-heavy movie, which focuses on Lincoln’s legal thinking and political arm-twisting in 1864-65 to enact the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery. Lincoln thought the amendment was legally essential to expand and make permanent his 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.

A key figure in the movie is U.S. Rep. George Helm Yeaman, a lawyer and judge from Owensboro whom Lincoln cajoles into becoming a key swing vote for the amendment.

After seeing the movie, Collier found copies of two Yeaman speeches. One was given in 1862 on the floor of the House, criticizing the legal weaknesses in the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln was trying to fix two years later. The other speech was given in 1899, when Yeaman taught constitutional law at Columbia University in New York and was reflecting on the amendment.

“He was a lot brighter than he came across in the film,” Collier said of Yeaman.”Compared to him, our role in the movie was minuscule. But it was a phenomenal experience.”

 


Lafayette Band prepares for trip to Tournament of Roses Parade

November 28, 2012

Saxophone players, left to right, Jacob Slone, Nick Michl, Horace Hunter Jr., Clinton Hamilton, Chase Harberson and Jonathan Greene rehearse making a 110-degree turn on the route of the Tournament of Roses Parade. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Lafayette High School Band members, parents and staff usually can catch their breath this time of year, between the end of marching band competition and the start of concert band season.

Not this time.

The band, whose championship tradition goes back more than half a century, is preparing for its biggest, longest and most complicated trip ever: to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.

Lafayette, which has twice been the featured band in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, is the first Lexington band to be chosen for the Tournament of Roses. Lafayette was selected in October 2011 in its third application over the past eight years, said Chuck Smith, the director since 1996.

As part of the application, uniformed band members met at the school one Saturday morning in April 2011 to make a video of them marching a flawless 110- degree turn. Television cameras show each band making a turn like that onto Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard during the Tournament of Roses Parade.

“We try to find opportunities that are unique for our students,” Smith said. “And this will be an action-packed adventure.”

The band’s large instruments and equipment will leave for California by truck on Dec. 21. Seven days later, the band’s 212 members, plus about 500 parents and fans, will fly out for the seven-day, six-night trip.

“There are a lot of logistics,” Smith said. “It has been quite a process, and I have had a lot of help. It truly has been a group effort.”

Mellophone players McKenxzy Boateng, left, and Michael Railey rehearse with the Lafayette High School Marching Band.

Lafayette will be one of a dozen high school bands from around the country in the parade. The band also will appear Dec. 30 in the Tournament of Roses Bandfest, performing the field show that won Lafayette its 17th state championship this year.

After a modest New Year’s Eve celebration on “Kentucky time” — 9 p.m. California time — it will be lights out until 3 a.m., when band members must rise to make the hour-long trip from their hotel in Anaheim to Pasadena to line up for the parade.

While in California, band members will get to go to Disneyland, visit Universal Studios, tour Hollywood, play on a Pacific Ocean beach and have dinner aboard the Queen Mary steamship, now a hotel docked at Long Beach.

“It’s going to be a really memorable, life-changing trip for many of these kids,” said Joey Maggard, who with his wife, Sara, was president of the band parents’ group last year and stayed on after their son’s graduation to coordinate this trip. “For some of them, it will be the first time they’ve ever been on an airplane.”

Until they leave for California, band members will be practicing that 110-degree turn and building up stamina for the 5.5-mile parade, which is twice as long as the Macy’s parade. Smith said the students will march many miles around the school’s track over the next four weeks.

The band will play My Old Kentucky Home during the parade, the 1981 Journey hit Don’t Stop Believin’ and John Philip Sousa’s U.S. Field Artillery March, which includes Lafayette’s school fight song.

You can get a preview of the performance on the evening of Dec. 6, when Lafayette marches in the annual Lexington Christmas Parade downtown.

Lafayette’s band parents organization has raised money all year to help reduce students’ $1,525 all-inclusive trip fee, and to cover part or all of the cost for students whose families can’t afford to send them.

Beth Potter, who with her husband, Jack, is president of the parents’ group this year, said the band has received cash and in-kind donations from business sponsors and residents who contacted them after hearing about the trip. Donations are still being accepted on the band’s website, Lafayetteband.org.

“We couldn’t be more proud of these kids,” Potter said. “It has been a huge group effort from a committed group of parents and kids who will be mighty proud on New Year’s Day.”

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Woody Guthrie’s music still rings true on his 100th birthday

July 14, 2012

Woody Guthrie would have been 100 years old on July 14. Because the folksinger died of a neurological disease in 1967, at age 55, many people now know little about him besides his most famous song, This Land is Your Land.

It is a wonderful song that would make a good National Anthem. It is less bombastic than the unsingable Star Spangled Banner, more aspirational than America The Beautiful and less presumptuous than God Bless America.

In fact, Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land in 1940 because he got sick of hearing Irving Berlin’s God Bless America on the radio. He disliked the song because he thought God had already blessed America with beauty and abundance, and it was every citizen’s responsibility to care for and share it.

Guthrie originally called his song God Blessed America, and the chorus ended with the words, “God blessed America for me.” After writing the song, though, Guthrie set it aside for five years. When it was finally performed, Guthrie had changed the title and had rewritten the chorus to end, “This land was made for you and me.”

As referenced in the song, Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was a rambler who roamed America — from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters — collecting folk tunes and writing more than 3,000 songs.

Guthrie had three wives and eight children, including folksinger Arlo Guthrie. He was mentor to other folksingers, including a young Bob Dylan, who said of Guthrie’s songs: “They had the infinite sweep of humanity in them.”

The Oklahoman became a well-known troubadour during the Great Depression, spending a lot of time with people who had been thrown into poverty by the Dust Bowl and economic collapse.

A 1939 song romanticized the gangster Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd as a modern Robin Hood. It includes these lyrics, which still ring true:

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered

I’ve seen lots of funny men;

Some will rob you with a six-gun,

And some with a fountain pen.

Alarmed by how unrestrained capitalism had failed so many Americans, Guthrie also feared the right-wing power then rising in fascist Spain and Nazi Germany. His guitar displayed the slogan, “This machine kills fascists.”

Like many people during the Great Depression, Guthrie held strong leftist sympathies. He wrote a folksy column, called Woody Sez, for communist labor newspapers, but lacked the interest or discipline for ideological politics.

When attacked by conservatives, Guthrie replied with a joke: “I ain’t a communist necessarily, but I been in the red all my life.” In reality, he was more of a populist troublemaker who wrote what he saw and enjoyed tweaking the rich and powerful.

Guthrie also was something of a patriot, capitalist and person of faith. He served in World War II. He wrote some of his most memorable songs — Pastures of Plenty, Roll on Columbia, Grand Coulee Dam — during a month-long government job promoting the construction of hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest. He said Jesus Christ was one of the two men he most admired. (The other was humorist Will Rogers.)

It is always easier to dismiss someone because of who or what he is than to listen to what he has to say, especially when his message is uncomfortable.

Guthrie got a close-up view of how the American dream became a nightmare for many people during the Great Depression. That view shaped his vision of this nation and its promise for true greatness. His lyrics seem appropriate again today, as the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class shrinks.

While extolling America’s natural beauty, This Land is Your Land is really about how inclusiveness and the promise of shared prosperity are what make the United States special. This land is not just for the rich, but for everyone. It wasn’t just made for me, but for you, too.

The little-sung last verse — the one we were not taught in elementary school — is especially poignant as we mark the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth:

In the squares of the city / In the shadow of the steeple

Near the relief office / I see my people

And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’

If this land’s still made for you and me.

 

THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND 
words and music by Woody Guthrie 
Chorus:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

Chorus

I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

Chorus

The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me

Chorus

As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side  .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Chorus

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Chorus (2x)

©1956 (renewed 1984), 1958 (renewed 1986) and 1970 TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc. 
(BMI) Source: Arlo.net, The Official Arlo Guthrie Website.


Off the Clock, Kentucky’s new chief appeals judge is all rock ‘n’ roll

July 7, 2012

 

Glenn Acree, who plays bass, keyboard, harmonica and sings with the band Off the Clock, was struggling through a late-night gig last Saturday at the Parlay Social nightclub on Cheapside.

His voice was shot from an outdoor concert the night before at Keeneland, where temperatures in the 90s had sapped the 57-year-old musician’s strength.

Besides, it had been a stressful week: His high school baseball coach and another mentor from his youth had both died.

Oh, and he had been sworn in as chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

That’s right: When he’s not wearing a black robe and helping decide some of Kentucky’s most complex legal cases, Acree is wearing jeans and covering classic rock ‘n’ roll.

“I kind of tried to keep this extracurricular activity of mine a secret, because you don’t know how people will react,” Acree said. “But golf could never do for me what music does for me. This is a complete release.”

Occasionally, Acree will be onstage and an attorney who has practiced before him will come up with a strange look on his face and say, “Aren’t you judge …” Acree said. “Sometimes it’s people I know really well, and they didn’t know I did this.”

Musical talent runs in Acree’s family. His father “could pick up anything and play it,” he said. His uncles, Rollin and Johnny Sullivan, became Grand Ole Opry stars as the comedy duo Lonzo and Oscar. His nephew, Jordan English, is a rising professional singer and songwriter.

Acree joined the Army after graduating from Metcalf County High School in 1973. When his hitch was up, he went to the University of Kentucky and considered medicine, journalism and history. He spent a semester playing keyboard for the Kentucky HeadHunters, but he never wanted a music career.

Acree earned a master’s degree in history at the University of Maryland and was planning to go for a doctorate when his brother-in-law suggested law school instead.

Acree spent a decade with the Lexington firm McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, where Terry McBrayer became a mentor. He then did a variety of legal work with partners and on his own.

Among his clients were the state Realtor and homebuilder associations. Their conventions would sometimes end with Acree pulling out his guitar to entertain. “It was a nice tool for me to have to get to know my clients on a different level,” he said.

Word of Acree’s talent got around. In 1999, a friend asked him to perform with other amateurs at a benefit for Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “I said I couldn’t play in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know who weren’t drinking,” he said. But he did, and the audience approved.

Then Acree discovered his brother-in-law, Victor English, was a good singer and guitarist. They formed Off the Clock with friends. Their wives, Lisa Acree and Susan English, joined in as singers.

Benefit concerts led to paying gigs at bars, clubs and events, including Alltech’s annual international symposium. The band practices each week at Acree’s house and plays a gig or two a month. Other current band members are Pat Hanna, Phil Simmons, Bobby Zimmerman and Mike Marsh.

“None of us does it for the money,” Acree said. “At our age, if you gave us roadies, we’d do it for free.”

Former Gov. Ernie Fletcher appointed Acree to a Court of Appeals vacancy in 2006, and he was elected to the post soon afterward. On June 5, Acree’s colleagues elected him to a four-year term as chief judge. His first day on the job was July 1.

Acree knows two other Kentucky judges who play music on the side: Jeffrey Walson, a family court judge in Clark and Madison counties; and Steve Wilson, a circuit judge in Warren County, who for many years was lead singer with a band whose name always makes lawyers chuckle: Skip Bond and the Fugitives.

Wilson was one of the first people to congratulate Acree on his new job, but the call included a warning: “Just because you’re a judge, don’t be so highfalutin that you quit playing music.”

There seems little chance of that happening. “I don’t want people to think I don’t take this work seriously just because I have so much fun playing music,” Acree said. “But most people say, ‘It humanizes you, judge.'”

 


Get musical instruments out of closet, into schools

April 25, 2012

Will Lovan knows he is fortunate.

When he wanted to learn to play the trumpet, his parents bought him one. After all, Joel and Tracy Lovan were brass players in high school and college, and Joel, now retired, was band director at Crawford Middle School.

Lovan, above, was talented enough to get into the School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School, which enabled him to join the award-winning Lafayette Band. The sophomore is now an all-state trumpeter and plays in the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra.

But he knows that other aspiring musicians are not so fortunate, including many kids who live near his home in North Lexington.

So when Lovan, 16, was looking for a service project to organize and lead as part of the requirements to earn his Eagle Scout rank, he had an idea: Why not urge people to donate unused musical instruments to the elementary schools that feed into Bryan Station High School?

“My goal is to get more kids involved at an earlier age,” Lovan said. “And to get the instruments that Bryan Station needs to have the kind of feeder system Lafayette and Dunbar have. Even if they’re beat-up instruments, we can have them fixed.”

Lovan and fellow members of Troop 282 will launch the instrument drive Saturday by distributing flyers in several Lexington neighborhoods. He also is appealing to parishioners at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary Church, which sponsors his troop, and members of his own church, Crestwood Christian.

Instruments can be dropped off at any of three music stores: Don Wilson Music, 275 Southland Drive; Fred Moore Music, 443 South Ashland Avenue; and Hurst Music, 101 North Mount Tabor Road. Or contact Lovan at (859) 559-1077 or WLovan@gmail.com to have an instrument picked up.

Cash donations to pay for replacing pads, corks and missing parts on donated instruments can be made to the Will Lovan Instrument Drive at any Central Bank branch.

Even before he launched the instrument drive, Lovan was given two flutes and two clarinets. He soon hopes to have a basement full of instruments so Shaun Owens, Bryan Station’s band director, and Michael Payne, the assistant director, can have them reconditioned. Then they will join the inventory of loaner instruments for students at the 10 elementary schools and five middle schools that feed into Bryan Station.

Owens said he was thrilled when Lovan approached him with the idea.

“The fact that he was willing to make this happen here meant a lot to me,” Owens said. “He is a Lafayette student, and there are students in Lafayette’s feeder pattern that are just as needy and just as deserving.”

But Bryan Station’s service area has a larger population of students with economic circumstances that might prevent them from becoming involved with music.

“A lot of these kids may be afraid or hesitant to do it because they know that Mom or Dad don’t have the money to go get them an instrument,” Owens said. “We want to make sure every kid who wants to do this has the opportunity to experience it.”

Students who can’t buy an instrument can rent one from local music stores, but some kids can’t even afford that. For them, Bryan Station and its feeder schools don’t have enough loaner instruments to meet the demand.

Owens said he sometimes must use a lottery to lend popular instruments in elementary schools. If a student ends up with his second or third choice, the desire to learn might be diminished.

“I want to make sure those kids are immediately successful,” he said. “If they don’t get that immediate feedback, they’re more likely to give up.”

School music programs teach students music, but, more importantly, they teach life lessons: dedication, practice, teamwork and striving to be the best you can be.

Lexington has been home to many of Kentucky’s best high school bands and orchestras for decades, so Lovan knows there must be a lot of old instruments gathering dust in people’s homes.

“I hate to see an instrument sitting in a closet being unplayed,” Owens said. “It would be much better in the hands of a young person who could make wonderful music with it. You never know what kind of difference you could make in their lives.”