The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Not everyone can play an arena. Regular attendees at Rupp Arena concerts have certainly sat through performances by opening acts, sometimes even headliners who were not ready for a cavernous performance space — who it seemed would be more comfy playing for a few hundred people, rather than several thousand.
And it has happened at Winter Jam, the Christian rock tour that visited Rupp for the fifth consecutive year, Saturday night.
But this year, the tour delivered an arena-ready show from the top to the bottom of the bill. Even rootsy Dara Maclean made a complete connection with her voice and the support of a guitarist and cellist, seemingly hung out on a stage in the middle of the arena, ready to be swallowed up by the space.
Winter Jam 2012 was headlined by Christian rock arena masters Skillet, which brought its full arsenal of pyrotechnic, hydraulic gear for the show, including a new lift for drummer Jen Ledger’s kit. Christian rock fans who attend the Ichthus Festival regularly are abundantly familiar with Skillet’s show, which leans almost exclusively on songs from its last two albums, Awake (2009) and Comatose (2006).
Regardless of how often you have seen the show, which is somewhat tweaked every time, it is still a sight to behold, and charismatic frontman John Cooper gets incredible support from the frenetic band of multi-instrumentalist Korey Cooper (his wife), guitarist Seth Morrison and drummer Jen Ledger. You watch them perform and it’s no wonder they’re all so thin.
But they had some energetic competition from old man Peter Furler, 45, the former Newsboys frontman who was back on the Winter Jam tour as a solo act for the first time. Striking out on his own seems to have reinvigorated the Aussie Christian rock icon who swung through a set of his new music including I’m Free and Newsboys classics such as Entertaining Angels with his all-star pick-up band of fellow-former Newsboy Phil Joel on bass, Superchick guitarist Dave Ghazarian and drummer Jeff Irizarry. With none of Skillets rides or explosives, the quartet brought a garage-rock feel to their set, albeit on an arena level.
Kari Jobe looked in no way ready for the big house of Rupp when she stepped onto the stage, but soon the pixie-esque solo artist was creating the most ethereal moment of the evening with Revelation Song, as she repeated the final lyrics and the audience sang them back to her while guitarist Hank Bentley backed it with a distorted echo.
That’s how you fill an arena.
In Lexington, we probably have benefited from getting Winter Jam two-and-a-half months into the tour, when the artists have had plenty of time to warm up on arenas around the nation. The tour has succeeded in large part because of its $10 admission fee that makes it a youth-group leader’s dream to bring kids too. But it never hurts when the artists — rounded out Saturday night by Group 1 Crew, Building 429 and Sanctus Real — are strong enough that the audience feels it got much more than it’s money’s worth.
That doesn’t always happen in arena rock, these days.
Miranda Lambert has postponed her sold-out concert Friday at Rupp Arena in Lexington due to a death in her family. The rescheduled show will be Feb. 26.
Lambert’s father-in-law, Dick Shelton, died Tuesday in Oklahoma, according to a statement from Lambert’s publicist. Shelton was the father of Lambert’s husband, fellow country music star Blake Shelton. His death prompted the cancellation of concerts this weekend in Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C. , as well as Lexington.
“Thank you to the fans for all the support and prayers,” Lambert said in the statement. “This is a really difficult time for our family and the most important thing is being together. Tell your loved ones you love them.”
Tickets purchased for Friday’s sold-out concert will be honored at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26, according to the release.
Dec24Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Agape Theatre Troupe, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Balagula Theatre, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Eastern Kentucky University, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, Musicals, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Studio Players, SummerFest, Theater, Transylvania University, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, UK;
We did not have a major international event in Lexington this year like 2010’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, but it felt like a big year in the arts.
WEG was a catalyst for a lot of big names and big plans for Lexington arts organizations and presenters, but the major events of 2011 came a bit more naturally. It was an important year for the arts in Central Kentucky as the organizational and physical landscapes shifted.
How many college orchestras could claim a year in which they played with superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman and orchestral superstars the Boston Pops, complete with Keith Lockhart on the podium? The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra could, and it played a world premiere by Thomas Pasatieri. Major accomplishments are becoming routine under John Nardolillo’s direction.
Also coming from the UK School of Music was the Opera Theatre’s innovative production of Porgy and Bess, which recorded multiple sellouts at the 1,500-seat Singletary Center and employed a new video projection system created by UK’s Viz Center for the sets.
The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra opened its 50th anniversary season with another violin superstar, Midori, and continued some changes that it experimented with last year, including having Picnic With the Pops at Keeneland and taking its annual Messiah performances to area churches.
As is becoming more the case, numerous new works were premiered in Central Kentucky this year, including the orchestral version of Daniel Thomas Davis’ Book of Songs and Visions, which he originally composed for the chamber ensemble at the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington. This year’s festival world premiere was Daniel Kellogg’s Look Up at the Sky.
ActOut Theatre brought Stephen Currens’ The Happy Hour to the stage, and Christmastime brought two world premieres: Margaret Price’s musical Looking for Mrs. Santa Claus at Studio Players, and Robyn Peterman-Zahn’s Smackdown for the Christmas Crown at The Rep, a new company making its debut.
An arts district?
The Arena, Arts and Entertainment Task Force has primarily been a sports story, to this point, focused on what kind of home court the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team will have. But the whole project has major implications for arts and entertainment in Central Kentucky beyond what effect renovations in Rupp will have on arena acts that play Lexington. Included in the discussion have been possibilities for new venues, including an amphitheater near the arena, a possible new home for area orchestral groups, and a downtown campus for the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. The effort to reimagine the arena area also has revived a decades-old debate about whether Lexington needs a 2,000- to 2,500-seat performing-arts theater, which does not appear to be in the cards with recently approved plans.
This story will evolve over the years because the project reportedly will take more than a decade to complete. But 2011 is the year things seriously started to happen, and the arts have had a seat at the planning table.
Speaking of major performing-arts theaters, a new one opened this fall: the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts in Richmond. It is the first new major arts venue of more than 1,000 seats to open in Central Kentucky in several decades, although Lexington’s Singletary Center for the Arts and Opera House, and Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts have undergone major renovations in recent years.
EKU made a provocative move in hiring former Norton Center assistant director Debra Hoskins as its director, and she brought the Norton Center playbook, booking big names including B.B. King, Peter Frampton and Wynonna Judd for the opening season of the new theater.
In possibly a hint of how arts programming at Central Kentucky theaters might be realigning, new Norton Center director Steven A. Hoffman programmed more of a connoisseur/adventurer season at his venue, with shows like the Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata performing a reimagined Sound of Music and avant-garde violinist Hahn-Bin this fall.
A realigned theater scene
No genre realigned in Central Kentucky this year as much as theater in Lexington. Actors Guild of Lexington staged what has been a successful comeback, with a dizzying number of shows for one calendar year, mostly at its new venue off Harrodsburg Road, near the Fayette County-Jessamine County line. Meanwhile, several new theaters emerged, including ProjectSEE Theatre, which has programmed a season at the Downtown Arts Center and Transylvania University; SummerFest, which staged its first fall and indoor show with August: Osage County and has plans for a spring production; and The Rep, which grabbed the musical theater baton from Paragon Music Theatre, which went on possible permanent hiatus with the departure of founding director Ryan Shirar.
Other players moving around and positioning themselves in 2011 included On the Verge, which had a successful site-specific performance at a funeral home with Three Viewings and then presented its first theater production with God of Carnage at the Downtown Arts Center. And Balagula Theatre continued growing its own niche, performing Naomi Wallace’s contemporary classic One Flea Spare for the playwright and participating in a competition with the Kentucky Women Writers Conference that will result in a world premiere production early in 2012. Agape Theatre also has continued to innovate, with new productions illustrating the black experience in Kentucky and beyond, including a collaboration early in the year with eventual National Book Award winner Nikky Finney.
With all the shifting, the Lexington theater scene has become a true ensemble cast, with no leading theater — although Lexington Children’s Theatre is the leading professional house — but with lots of interesting character actors.
A news release cited “overwhelming response” to the show in announcing its extension beyond its originally slated closing date of Jan. 8. According to spokeswoman Sheila Kenny, more than 30,000 people have attended the exhibit, which features dissected human bodies in a variety of forms to provide a better understanding of how the body functions and how people’s actions affect it. The center has provided educational tours of the show as well as public visits.
Tickets are $14 for ages 19 to 59, $12 ages 60 and older and students with IDs, $11 ages 4 to 18, $10 military with ID, and free to ages 3 and younger. Tickets are available at the door or in advance by calling (859) 233-3535 or at Ticketmaster.com.
Exhibit hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. During the holidays, the exhibit is closed Christmas Day and will have normal operating hours on all but New Year’s Eve, when it will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Lexington Center directors will announce the next exhibit coming to the Museum and Gallery, which is in the space formerly occupied by the UK Basketball Museum, in mid-January.
Central Kentucky Christian music fans, it seems, can pretty much lock the second Saturday of March onto their calendars for Winter Jam.
Skillet will lead the Winter Jam 2012 tour into the home of the Cats on March 10 with Sanctus Real, former Newsboys frontman Peter Furler, Kari Jobe, Building 429 and Group 1 Crew. This means that all that pyro we’re used to seeing out at the Icthus Festival will now be contained inside the arena.
I have this distinct memory of the last time Skillet was on the Winter Jam tour in 2008. It was the first time I took photos at Winter Jam, and no one warned me about those flame throwers at the front of the stage, so when the first ones went off I was feeling a bit … uh … toasty.
Anyway, Skillet in the arena. Should be a good time. As always, tickets are $10 and they are only available at the door. Earlier this year, Winter Jam 2011 attracted 16,431 people to Rupp.
Newsboys may be the comeback story of Christian rock.
I purposely did not qualify that statement with “of the year” or “of the decade.” Christian pop has never been a genre that completely let faded heroes of the past back into the limelight, and just three years ago, Newsboys looked like it was essentially done.
Back then, it would have been hard to belive Newsboys would be headlining the most successful Winter Jam tour ever, as of last night in Rupp Arena, and they’d be putting on a killer show. But Saturday night, before a crowd of 16,431 paying customers, the resurgent quartet showed off the perfect formula for rebirth.
The key ingredient is new frontman Michael Tait. Here in Central Kentucky, we’ve been able to watch him grow into this role a bit as Newsboys played the Lexington area three times in the last year. But last night, he was perfectly at ease exhorting the crowd, playing every part of the stage and drawing from two iconic bands’ catalogs of hits.
That’s part two of the formula: With Tait, Newsboys credibly performs its own catalog and that of his former band, dc talk. That would make this a greatest hits act if not for the third ingredient, some terrific new material like the title track from the new chart-topper, Born Again. It gives Newsboys a cross-generational appeal they might not have otherwise had.
Mar11Filed under: Ichthus Festival, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion, Rupp Arena; Tagged as: Anthony Armstrong, Break Me Down, C.S. Lewis, Chris August, Conan, Faceless, Feed the Machine, Francesca Battistelli, Ichthus Festival, iTunes, Jason Castro, Joe Rickard, KJ-52, Kutless, Michael Barnes, Newsboys, NewSong, Randy Armstrong, reathe Into Me, Red, Rupp Arena, Sidewalk Prophets, Skillet, TBS, the David Crowder Band, Till We Have Faces, Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Until We Have Faces, Winter Jam
In 2006, the band Red released its debut album, hoping someone would listen.
The group wasn’t even on a label at the time, but slowly people tuned in to the hard-rock sounds of the disc, which spawned the hits Breathe Into Me, Break Me Down and a couple of other chart-toppers. The album ended up nominated for the Grammy Award for best rock or rap gospel record.
Five years later, Red doesn’t release albums quietly.
Quickly after the Feb. 1 release of Until We Have Faces, Red was hovering near No. 1 on iTunes’ sales charts, and the band was booked on TBS’s Conan and NBC’s Tonight Show With Jay Leno, national television debuts for the band.
“We can’t even believe the numbers that are coming in,” guitarist Anthony Armstrong said a few days after the album’s release. “Some amazing things are happening.”
For Central Kentucky fans of Red, one of those things is a slot on the Winter Jam tour, which comes to Rupp Arena on March 12. The bill is topped by the resurgent Newsboys, the David Crowder Band, Kutless, Francesca Battistelli, Jason Castro, Chris August, Sidewalk Prophets, KJ-52 and tour hosts NewSong.
But Red is easily the hottest band at the moment on the show, like many other bands successfully crossing the line between mainstream and Christian venues.
“We try to play the same way whether we are playing in a church or a bar,” Armstrong said at last summer’s Ichthus Festival. “We want people who see us to say, ‘Those guys are the same no matter where they play. They’re not putting on an act or trying to hide anything.’”
One thing Red showed very well at Ichthus, where it was the Friday evening main stage opener for Skillet, was that it could play to a huge crowd — sort of like the one it will see in Rupp Arena, where last year’s Winter Jam drew 14,756 fans.
Mar7Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, dance, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater; Tagged as: Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Aldean, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Frankin, rain, Rascal Flatts, Rupp Arena, sellout, Singletary Center for the Arts, sold out, University of Kentucky basketball
Last week at le blog and in Sunday’s Herald-Leader, I wrote about the recent wave of sellouts at Lexington venues, including three shows over the weekend – Jason Aldean at Rupp Arena, Itzhak Perlman at the Singletary Center, and the Beatles show Rain at the Lexington Opera House.
That raised some questions in a couple different ways, in part because empty seats were spotted at some shows we mentioned, and because of disparities in the numbers of patrons at “sold out” shows, particularly in Rupp Arena.
So what constitutes a sell out, and does it necessarily mean absolutely no seats are left?
In the case of Perlman, it did mean all tickets were gone, but generally the answer depends on a number of things.
Obviously, the first reason why we sometimes see empty seats at sold out shows is people don’t show up. Yes, it seems bizarre that someone would pay significant money to see a show and then not attend, but it happens for a variety of reasons.
Second is that sellout does not necessarily mean every seat has been sold. Read the rest of this entry »
Mar3Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, Current Affairs, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater; Tagged as: 42nd Street, Carl Hall, Cats, Chris Isaak, Emmylou Harris, Gustavo Dudamel, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Aldean, Kathy Griffin, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Franklin, Michael Grice, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Norton Center for the Arts, Porgy and Bess, Rascal Flatts, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Steve Martin, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic
The afternoon of Feb. 6, I was standing in line at the Singletary Center for the Arts box office behind a handsomely dressed couple that looked like they had just come from church to see the final performance of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Porgy and Bess.
When it was their turn to be served, the man held out his credit card, and the ticket agent said, “I’m sorry. This performance is sold out.”Metropolitan Opera soprano Angela Brown as Bess in the sold-out Feb. 6 performance of the UK Opera Theatre production of “Porgy and Bess.” Photo by Tim Collins for UK Opera Theatre.
That’s become a more common occurrence at Lexington-area shows recently. Just this weekend, Rupp Arena presents a sold-out performance by country star Jason Aldean Friday night, the Lexington Opera House hosts two sold-out performances by theBeatles tribute show Rain and Saturday night’s concert by violin legend Itzhak Perlman and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is so sold out even people who know people couldn’t get tickets.
This follows recent sold-out or near sold-out shows at those venues by artists such as pop star Chris Isaak, comedian Kathy Griffin, the touring production of Spamalot! and country stars Rascal Flatts, Rupp’s first non-UK basketball sell-out of 2011.
So, is the sell out back? Is a recovering economy starting to show up at the box office?
Well yes and no, venue directors say.
Yes, things do seem to be better than they were in the depths of the great recession in 2008 and ‘09. They also see other factors from a string of very popular acts to a pure desire on consumers’ parts to go have fun to ticket prices coming back to earth.
As street weeks go, this one is off -the-charts for Nashville rockers Red.
Unit We Have Faces sat perched upon the iTunes chart as we started our conversation with guitarist Anthony Armstrong, and the quartet had just booked its national television debut, an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show Feb. 8 (11 p.m., TBS). They’ll be on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno the following week.
“This album has some of the hardest songs we’ve ever written and some of the most commercial stuff we’ve ever written,” Armstrong said.
We were chatting for a story that will appear early next month to preview Red’s appearance on the Winter Jam tour, which hits Rupp Arena March 12. But with Until We Have Faces such a hot topic now, this seems like a good time to let you listen to our interview.
Hit play to hear our conversation about the new album, lead singer Michael Barnes’ voice and Red’s talent for playing really big venues such as the Ichthus Festival and Rupp.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich