March 2008 Issue
Their Old Kentucky Home
Mention Kentucky, and music immediately comes to mind. And, as these musicians attest, the sounds of the state span the gamut from bluegrass and beyond, songs that have garnered fans here and around the globe.
Poetry from the Past
Dale Ann Bradley’s clear mountain soprano rings out as a bittersweet love letter to her childhood. It was, Bradley, 43, describes, a lot like a lyric from the Dolly Parton song, “In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).”
“We were up a holler in Bell County with nothing,” she says. “But although we were poor in cash, we were rich in love.”
The daughter of a Primitive Baptist minister who worked in the mines, Bradley didn’t have easy access to recorded music. She still remembers the excitement surrounding the arrival of the family’s first TV set, a black-and-white hand-me-down.
“Oh, how I loved watching Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton,” she recalls. “Dolly was raised less than 100 miles from where I grew up, so her songs were hitting exactly the way I was living.”
An 8-track tape player she received as a gift expanded Bradley’s repertoire to include Loretta Lynn (“She recorded the best gospel album I ever heard”), Charlie Pride and Janis Joplin.
“Listening to Janis when I was in high school is about as rebellious as a Primitive Baptist minister’s kid was going to be able to get,” she says. “I was intrigued by her rawness and the adversity she faced. Janis was a sad person in everything she went through.”
Those musical influences are reflected in Bradley’s storytelling style. On her ninth CD, “Catch Tomorrow,” Bradley pays homage to tales handed down by kinfolk and friends. “Run Rufus Run” is about neighbors who supplemented their income by making a little moonshine. “Grandma’s Gift,” Bradley explains, is for all those grandmothers who have “kissed cheeks and wiped tears.”
“I hope people who listen to my music derive some strength from the lyrics, from hearing about people who have persevered and overcome adversity,” Bradley says. “The results are always positive.”
For information about Bradley’s concert tours, visit www.daleann.com. Instruments are Everything
To members of the baby-boom generation, the term “jug band” conjures up nostalgic scenes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” when Briscoe Darling and his boys would come down from the mountains for impromptu musical interludes with Sheriff Andy Taylor.
Mention that fact to Gil Fish, the leader of Kentucky’s Juggernaut Jug Band, and he’ll patiently set the record straight.
“It’s a common misconception.” Fish says, “that jug bands are nothing but a bunch of guys on ‘Hee Haw,’ blowing on a jug while dressed in overalls and sitting on a hay bale.”
True jug bands, he explains, were born in river towns, including Louisville and Cincinnati, where musicians would stage minstrel shows using empty liquor jugs, kazoos, washboards and other homemade instruments.
“It became an artform all its own,” Fish says.
High-school students during the folk movement of the 1960s, Fish and bandmate Roscoe Goose were captivated by sounds made famous in their home state. Forty-three years and seven CDs later, the Juggernaut’s sound –– made by a foursome on traditional instruments, plus jug, washboard, washtub, and whatever else is at hand –– has gained a following from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Key West, Florida.
Fish is proud of the fact that the band’s musical selections span the gamut. A typical set can include the 1920s hit, “The Sheik of Araby,” followed by The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and Aram Khachaturian’s classic “Sabre Dance.”
“One of the biggest thrills of being in this band is that we get to play such a variety –– ragtime, swing, blues, rock ’n’ roll parodies, you name it,” Fish says.
For more information about the band, visit www.juggernautjugband.com.
Singer-songwriter Mitch Barrett believes in singing what’s on his mind –– thoughts, feelings and ideas, he says, that most of his listeners can relate to.
“Music has helped me deal with a lot of things in my life,” Barrett, 47, says, “and I see that with other people, too.”
Born in Barrett Holler, the place his family settled several generations ago near Berea, Kentucky, Barrett has remained true to Appalachian roots reinforced during family sing-alongs with his grandparents on banjo and guitar, and Sunday church services spent standing side-by-side with his mother singing “Amazing Grace,” “In The Garden” and other hymns he’s grown to love.
“The music I do now is influenced from the old tunes,” he says. “It’s not as fast as traditional bluegrass music. As my 10-year-old daughter Zoey says, ‘It doesn’t get on my nerves as much.’”
Barrett began putting music and lyrics together at age 13, patterning initial attempts after his idols, James Taylor and Jackson Browne.
“There’s nothing like a good lyric,” he explains. “And I like a song that has a beautiful melody. I think that’s missing a lot in our music today. When something matters to me, the lyrics just pour out.”
Barrett’s work reflects that passion. His latest CD, “Heart & Soul,” is balm for a recent divorce, reflected in “Paper Bags and Cardboard Boxes” and “No Promises Broken.” At the same time, his words reach beyond the introspective. They often present a social consciousness he hopes will catch on.
“Through each song, I hope that I can carry my listeners on a two-minute journey,” Barrett says. “I’m not real preachy, I just like to make observations.
“I don’t have any answers, but I got several questions.”
For more information about Mitch Barrett, visit www.mitchbarrettmusic.com.
From their poppy red wool uniforms to the instruments they play, Saxton’s Cornet Band is the real deal –– and then some. For more than 150 years, members have mirrored the sound, appearance and conduct of brass bands that were prominent during the antebellum and Civil War eras. And, for authenticity’s sake, no detail is too large or small to overlook.
“We encourage new members of the group to get contact lenses,” says the band’s general manager and e-flat cornet player David Goins, with a smile. “No one in the band wears modern eyeglasses because, frankly, it ruins the experience.
“Since our goal is to put you back in that era, we want to look that way, we want to sound that way and we want to act that way.”
Saxton’s Cornet Band dates back to the late 1850s when Lexington, Kentucky, sign painter Henry Saxton and musical family members organized the troupe to play concerts, dances, parades and funerals.
Like their founder, today’s band is the epitome of versatility, no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon Line the engagement is on: A “blue” event calls for patriotic songs such as “Yankee Doodle” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” while down South the playlist often includes “Dixie” or the romantic “Lorena.”
“When people think of Kentucky, they think of bluegrass,” Goins, a band member since 1992, says. “But now that I’m doing this, I think of bluegrass as almost modern music. We give our listeners a pretty good feel of what original Kentucky music was like.”
For more information about the band, visit www.saxtonscornetband.com.
Carry A Tune
Music events are plentiful in the Bluegrass State. One of the premier concert venues is Renfro Valley Entertainment Center
, which hosts the biggest names in country music. The Renfro Valley complex, which includes a motel, restaurants and boutiques, is located at Interstate 75 exit 62, Renfro Valley. Call 800/765-7464 or visit www.renfrovalley.com.
Other Kentucky music events and attractions include: Seventh-Annual Bluegrass Returns to its Roots Festival:
April 10–12; Owensboro, 800/626-1936. www.executiveinnrivermont.com W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival:
June 7–14: Audubon Mill Park, Henderson, 800/648-3128. www.handyblues.org
Paramount Arts Center: Ashland, 606/324-3175. www.paramountartscenter.com International Bluegrass Music Museum:
Owensboro, 270/926-7891. www.bluegrassmuseum.org Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum:
Renfro Valley, 877/356-3263. www.kentuckymusicmuseum.com
... AND THEY'RE OFF!
While visiting the Bluegrass State, be sure to partake of another popular pastime: watching the horses at one or two of the legendary tracks Kentucky is also famous for.
Keeneland Race Course,
4201 Versailles Rd., Lexington, 800/456-3412. www.keeneland.com
. Known for its live thoroughbred racing, the course is also home to more than 1,500 horses, five dining rooms and a clubhouse.
May 3, Churchill Downs, 700 Central Ave., Louisville, 502/636-4400. www.kentuckyderby.com
. America’s most-famous race for 3-year-old thoroughbreds annually draws 150,000 fans to historic Churchill Downs.
Kentucky Derby Museum,
704 Central Ave., Louisville, 502/637-7097. www.derbymuseum.org
. Adjacent to historic Churchill Downs, the museum showcases the state’s racing heritage.
Kentucky Horse Park,
4089 Iron Works Way, Lexington, 800/678-8813. www.kyhorsepark.com
. Devoted to the region’s equine heritage, the park features a Parade of Breeds show and a Hall of Champions.