You don’t need to diss Kentucky to praise Louisville

Louisville's Jim James in concert with My Morning Jacket at the University of Kentucky in 2011. © Herald-Leader photo by Rich Copley.

Louisville’s Jim James in concert with My Morning Jacket at the University of Kentucky in 2011. © Herald-Leader photo by Rich Copley.

So, late last week, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that NPR’s World Cafe was devoting some time to a “sense of place” focus on Louisville.

The River City is happening, on many levels. Downtown is in full revival, with great nightlife, the KFC Yum Center establishing itself as a nationally noted venue, rockers My Morning Jacket and actress Jennifer Lawrence having become global stars, and the local scene boiling over.

Hats off to you, Louisville, from a few miles east on I-64. The show I heard Saturday night on WUKY was going great, with WFPK DJ Laura Shine spinning her top 5 Louisville acts, including Wax Fang and Cabin. Then we got to this comment (it starts at the 12-minute mark on the player), when Shine was trying to explain why Louisville was such a music hotbed at the moment:

“It’s this place for creativity to just really thrive, maybe because it’s affordable for one thing; for the most part, it’s a very affordable city. Very friendly. There’s tons going on in terms of visual arts and all the arts, actually. It’s also a huge foodie town; great restaurants and clubs, and all kinds of things. It all kind of melds together to foster an environment where I think people feel very free to create, which, maybe, the rest of Kentucky, not so much. But Louisville, for sure.”

Creativity. The rest of Kentucky, not so much. For real? I really hope that was simply a poor choice of words.

Even in other segments under the “Sense of Place: Louisville” banner, World Cafe was spinning nationally regarded acts including Cage the Elephant, which is from Bowling Green; Ben Sollee, from Lexington, although he did go to the University of Louisville; and the Everly Brothers (Don was born in Brownie). That’s some mighty respectable Kentucky talent from outside Louisville. When Paste magazine named the top 10 bands you should listen to now, No. 1 was Lexington’s Matt Duncan (although he is erroneously listed as from Louisville), who is now preparing the Broadway debut of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with fellow Lexingtonians Stephen Trask and Justin Craig. Also on that list were Lexington acts Oh My Me and Fanged Robot.

Eastern Kentucky boasts a track of asphalt known as the Country Music Highway, which earned that name based on the many stars who emerged from it, including Loretta Lynn and Dwight Yoakam, and it inspires artists to this day. Kentucky’s latest Grammy Award winner is songwriter Josh Osborne of Virgie in Pike County, who co-penned Kacey Musgraves‘ Merry Go Round and has several chart-toppers to his name. We’re working on a story for Sunday about Lexington-based, Prestonsburg-born Sundy Best, which has made some noise in country circles in the past few weeks.

We could go on and on. But the point is there is a lot of creativity across Kentucky. It might not be as geographically concentrated as it is in Louisville, which is the largest city and metro area in the Commonwealth by pretty healthy margins. But it is undeniably there, from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River.

None of this is to denigrate Louisville, which as we said is on a roll and should enjoy it. But while basking in the international spotlight, could Louisville’s tastemakers refrain from denigrating the rest of the Commonwealth?

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