Full circle

When I came to Lexington in 1998 to become the arts writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader, I left a job as arts and entertainment editor for the Banner-Herald in Athens, Ga.

In our business, that can be seen as a demotion, though it is a transition many of us make — editing and reporting being distinctly different tasks. I thoroughly enjoyed directing A&E coverage in Athens but missed reporting and writing:  Too much desk jockeying, not enough shoe leather.

If Scott Shive got to use a 6-year-old photo to bow out, I'll use one to bow in. Both were shot for the launch of LexGo.com. © 2008 Herald-Leader file photo by Mark Cornelison.

If Scott Shive got to use a 6-year-old photo to bow out, I’ll use one to bow in. Both were shot for the launch of LexGo.com. © 2008 Herald-Leader file photo by Mark Cornelison.

And when I arrived here, there was a very distinct divide between editing and writing, writing and photography, etc.

The past five to 10 years have been rough on print journalism, with a steady downsizing and consolidation. I have been blessed to find unlikely opportunity in the change. In the earliest days of my career, I debated whether to follow writing or photography, and in recent years found my way back to taking pictures as part of my reporting work. And even more recently, in short bursts, I have returned to editing, standing in for my editor, Scott Shive, when he was away. It has been fun to return to that craft, making choices and calls that shape issues of Weekender, and our other coverage.

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch (1863–1944) - WebMuseum at ibiblioPage: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/Image URL: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/munch.scream.jpg. Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scream.jpg#mediaviewer/File:The_Scream.jpg

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1863–1944) – WebMuseum at ibiblioPage:  http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/munch.scream.jpg.

As many of you probably read last Friday, Scott is leaving for a job opportunity outside journalism. I greeted the news with an image of Edvard Much’s Scream and got misty when I got an out-of-office return email late Friday that read “Scott Shive no longer works at the Herald-Leader.” Our nine-and-a-half years is the longest editor-writer relationship I have enjoyed, and it has been a distinguished one for Scott as he launched our LexGo online entertainment page and revamped Weekender to the most logical and enjoyable format of any weekend entertainment tab I have seen. His broad imagination and vision have benefited readers through nearly a decade of big change in Lexington entertainment and journalism.

But now, it is time for a new era.

Scott’s position is not being filled. But it is being redistributed, and I get to have the fun of directing our local arts and entertainment coverage as an assigning editor, while continuing my work as a writer. It almost has me singing that Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus signature song, Best of Both Worlds, but not quite. (There’s a reason I write about singers, as opposed to singing.)

I get to work with the best group of freelance writers in Lexington, led by the iconic Walter Tunis, with the help of our great staff at the Herald-Leader, including Cheryl Truman, who now covers local media for us.

In the last week, I have been getting sympathetic looks from friends and colleagues who know life will be a bit crazier and more challenging without the guidance of Scott, whose departure I mourn.

But I am also excited.

Since I got here, all I have seen is Lexington’s arts and entertainment scene grow and diversify. Who in my profession wouldn’t relish having a part in not only covering that, but directing coverage of it?

A newspaper section is a reflection of its editor. I am not sure what my touch in 2014 and beyond will be. I have some ideas that are about to meet reality. One thing I would really encourage you to do is like LexGo on Facebook and follow it on Twitter, because those outlets are getting more active with news, features and live coverage.

While there may be some subtle changes in coming weeks and months, nothing major is in the plans now. For nine-and-a-half years, Scott has called a really good tune, and I am happy to keep playing it.

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Listening to … Morrissey, ‘World Peace is None of Your Business’

British rock singer Morrissey, the former front man of The Smiths, sings during his concert in Manila, Philippines on May 13, 2012. © AP Photo by Aaron Favila.

British rock singer Morrissey, the former front man of The Smiths, sings during his concert in Manila, Philippines on May 13, 2012. © AP Photo by Aaron Favila.

Twenty-seven years ago, Morrissey sang, “If you think peace is a common goal, that goes to show how little you know,” in The Death of a Disco Dancer from The Smiths’ final studio album, Strangeways, Here We Come. 

And if you have sort of missed that guy, you need look no further than the title of his 10th solo album, World Peace is None of Your Businessto know he’s back, at least for one more album.

140714Morrissey-AlbumThe album could almost be more aptly described as a follow up to his 2013 bridge-torching memoir Autobiography as any of his solo albums, which maintained his dark viewpoint but lacked some of the edge of his Smiths-era work.

This album brings back the guy that said by rights Sweetness should be bludgeoned in her bed (joking!), declared England was his and would spit in your eye if you asked why and wished you an unhappy birthday, “because you’re evil, and you lie, and if you should die, I may feel slightly sad, but I won’t cry.”

Moz and his band had a point of view. And that is once again on full display in this album that comes out shortly after Morrissey turned 55, the age at which he said he would likely retire from performing.

While we always got the impression that Morrissey was often just trying to be provocative and funny in his Smiths days, sometimes there were points to be made through the darkness, and there are now. Staircase at the University takes on academic expectations, The Bullfighter Dies derides animal cruelty, I’m Not a Man shreds macho culture, and the title track chastises those who think their voice stands a chance against the military industrial complex.

Then there’s the finale, Oboe Concerto, sending up the old-guy rocker whose friends are falling away. Morrissey was never subtle, even with himself.

To his credit, World Peace sounds far from Morrissey just trying to reclaim his youth. The lyrical voice is the same, but the viewpoint is more mature. And the music is quite a bit more lush and diverse, though sometimes sloppily so. And as acidic as The Smiths’ lyrics were, they were more often than not sung in Morrissey’s lovely tenor, which has aged very well.

If you always found the mopey act of The Smiths and their contemporaries such as The Cure and Bauhaus trying, there is no need to bother with this album. But if Meat is Murder and The Queen is Dead are still in regular rotation on your soundtrack, you might like hearing this guy at least one more time.

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SummerFest honors Joe Ferrell with first lifetime achievement award in outdoor theater

Director Joe  Ferrell looks over the script at the sound booth during a dress rehearsal of the Lexington Shakespeare Festival's "Much Ado About Nothing" at the University of Kentucky Arboretum in Lexington on Sunday July 9, 2006. Herald-Leader photo by Brian Tietz.

Director Joe Ferrell looks over the script at the sound booth during a dress rehearsal of the Lexington Shakespeare Festival’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at the University of Kentucky Arboretum in Lexington on Sunday July 9, 2006. Herald-Leader photo by Brian Tietz.

Longtime Lexington director Joe Ferrell was honored with the inaugural SummerFest lifetime achievement award before Friday night’s performance of Twelfth Night.

The newly established award was created to honor, “an individual who has contributed to the production of quality outdoor theatre in Lexington,” according to a SummerFest statement. While SummerFest itself launched in 2007 at the Arboretum on Alumni Drive, and this summer moved to the MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater in the Beaumont Circle area, the award looks back to the days of the Lexington Shakespeare Festival and Shakespeare in the Park, which started in 1982 and played several locations, including Woodland Park and Bell Court.

Ferrell has been part of many of those years, being the go-to director for Shakespearian dramas in the the event’s heyday of the late-1990s and early-2000s and showing a knack for classic and contemporary American drama as well. Ferrell has also made some onstage appearances, including a cameo in SummerFest’s 2008 production of Lord of the Flies. In recent years, he has served as an artistic director for SummerFest, though he is currently on hiatus from that role.

In an interview before SummerFest opened this season, executive director Wesley Nelson said that the award was an effort to honor the past of summer outdoor theater in Lexington as the company forges into the future at MoonDance. He said Ferrell was an obvious choice for the inaugural honoree given his influential service throughout most of the three decades of summer outdoor theater in Lexington.

Twelfth Night continues tonight and Sunday. SummerFest’s second production of this season, Little Shop of Horrors, runs July 23 to 27 and July 30 to Aug. 3.

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Eastern and Central Kentuckians well represented in 2014 Governor’s Awards in the Arts

Ralph Bright, 8, of Lexington, tried to play the trombone during the 2013 Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville. The Boyle County seat had two honors in the 2014 Governor's Awards in the Arts. © Herald-Leader photo by Briana Scroggins. Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/06/08/2671357/2013-brass-band-festival.html#storylink=cpy

Ralph Bright, 8, of Lexington, tried to play the trombone during the 2013 Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville. The Boyle County seat had two honors in the 2014 Governor’s Awards in the Arts. © Herald-Leader photo by Briana Scroggins.

Danville had a big day in the announcement of the 2014 Governor’s Awards in the Arts, along with several other Eastern and Central Kentucky entities and an internationally acclaimed rock band.

The awards are administered by the Kentucky Arts Council and presented by Gov. Steve Beshear in an October ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.

Judi photo

Judith Jennings. Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

Retiring Kentucky Foundation for Women executive director Judith Jennings snagged the top honor, the Milner Award. Jennings work has focused on arts in rural Kentucky and Appalachia, and her work with the foundation has focused on feminist art. In an interview with the Herald-Leader, published Tuesday, Jennings said she plans to continue her work following her retirement. The announcement from the Arts Council said, “Her work has allowed her to develop a strong local, regional and national presence that benefits Kentucky, Appalachia and rural America by advocating for expanding and diversifying the arts. Her expertise and national approach in addition to her writings on arts and culture challenge national stereotypes about community arts in Kentucky and support the transformative power of community-based arts and culture to create a better Commonwealth.”

Gospel stars Sandi Patty and Larnelle Harris, winner of the National Award, at the 2009 Dove Awards. © AP photo by Mark Humphrey.

Gospel stars Sandi Patty and Larnelle Harris, winner of the National Award, at the 2009 Dove Awards. © AP photo by Mark Humphrey.

The artist award goes to gospel singer and composer  Larnelle Harris, a native of Danville, Western Kentucky University graduate and Louisville resident. Harris has received five Grammy Awards, 11 Dove Awards and been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In addition to the Governor’s Award, he is a member of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.

Making it an even bigger week for the Boyle County seat, the City of Danville won the government award. Among Danville’s arts attractions are Centre College’s  Norton Center for the Arts, the Great American Brass Band Festival and the Pioneer Playhouse, which just opened its latest Kentucky Voices production, The Wonder Team, about the Centre College football team’s historic 1921 victory over Harvard. The awards announcement said, “The local government representing the City of Danville has played an integral role in the success of creating an arts- and culture-focused atmosphere that benefits its residents and attracts tourists from across the nation. … The city also was instrumental in obtaining Danville’s Kentucky Cultural District Certification.”

Neil Chethik, director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Tom Eblen.

Neil Chethik, director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Tom Eblen.

Lexington’s Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning took the education award for two decades of activities focused on promoting literacy and literary arts in Kentucky. “The Center aims to foster participation in the arts as a lifelong process for people of all ages, income groups and ethnicities, and partners with numerous community organizations to create programming and service opportunities to the benefit of the entire community and the Commonwealth,” the awards announcement said. The center is working on its own awards now, soliciting nominations for the next class of the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Merrill Richardson coordinates the in-house audio and television production from his control panel where he is surrounded by three banks of monitors during the UK-Alabama basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, February 9, 2010. Richardson is dir. of facilities and a 35-year employee of the facility. © Herald-Leader photo by Matt Goins.

Merrill Richardson coordinates the in-house audio and television production from his control panel where he is surrounded by three banks of monitors during the UK-Alabama basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, February 9, 2010. Richardson is dir. of facilities and a 35-year employee of the facility. © Herald-Leader photo by Matt Goins.

The Lexington Center and Rupp Arena Technical Services Staff gets the business awardfor “making Rupp Arena and the Lexington Center one of the finest presenting facilities in the country.”

Frankfort’s Robert Gates, Founder and former director of the Kentucky Folklife Program at Western Kentucky University, wins the folk heritage award. He was the state folklorist from 1989 through 2012 and developed the program as the state organization dedicated to “documenting, presenting and conserving the traditional art and cultural heritage of the Commonwealth.” He developed the Kentucky Community Scholars program that has trained more than 200 Kentuckians in documenting local culture and creating community projects.

The media award goes to Constance Alexander of Murray, who writes an arts column for the Murray Ledger & Times and is an award-winning poet, playwright, radio producer and memoir writer with extensive publication, production and broadcasting credits.

The Market House Theater of Paducah wins the community arts award. The 50-year-old community theater, “aims to enhance the quality of life in the community by providing ‘hands-on’ artistic and educational experiences for people of all ages,” the announcement said.

My Morning Jacket, winner of the national award. © Photo by Danny Clinch.

My Morning Jacket, winner of the national award. © Photo by Danny Clinch.

And the national award winner is Louisville’s My Morning Jacket, one of the most critically acclaimed bands working today, which maintains a close identity with its home state through residence and activity.

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Summer classic: ‘Mary Poppins’

 Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert in a scene from "Mary Poppins." © AP/Disney photo.

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert in a scene from “Mary Poppins.” © AP/Disney photo.

If the Kentucky Theatre’s Summer Classics series has a classic of its own, it has to be Mary Poppins. Showings of the Disney classic always attract packed houses of the young and young at heart.

The Mary Poppins story has been told in a variety of ways since P.L. Travers penned her first stories of the wind-blown English nanny in 1934. And as the the recent movie Saving Mr. Banks showed, Travers had grave misgivings about the 1964 film version of her story, and in reality, she never completely embraced the movie.

But audiences and critics sure did.

Mary Poppins has endured like few other films, charming through Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke’s performances and unforgettable songs such as A Spoonful of Sugar, Chim Chim Cher-ee and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (yes, I did copy-paste that).  Yes, it has been made into a Broadway musical and had other film adaptations, and audiences around the globe cheered as Miss Mary defeated Lord Voldermort and other bad guys in the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics.

But all that enthusiasm is attributable to this film, which we can see again this summer, on the big screen. It plays at 11 a.m., 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, at the Kentucky Theatre.

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Michael Cleveland at Southland Jamboree, Tuesday

Michael Cleveland on stage at the Festival of the Bluegrass with his eight-string fiddle. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

Michael Cleveland on stage at the Festival of the Bluegrass with his eight-string fiddle. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

Count me among the folks who was not prepared for what I heard when Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper took the stage last month at the Best of Bluegrass Festival.

I’ve just started to really tune into bluegrass music in the past couple years and had yet to hear the whole thing about Cleveland being named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s fiddle player of the year NINE times. But that was no surprise after hearing him blaze through a too-short set that impressed with his technical skill and expressive performance.

I was snapping photos that night, and our Walter Tunis was taking the copious notes. He wrote:

Much of his most absorbing work came while underscoring the leaner, lighter Farewell for a Little While and the patiently paced, old-timey charmer Fiddlin’ Joe. But For pure performance dynamics, however, nothing beat Cleveland’s transformation of Shenandoah Waltz into a lovely serenade of slo-mo swing that beautifully complimented the sublime Friday afternoon weather that made the often sweltering festival seem like a springtime escape.

OK, we cannot promise quite the loveliness of weather Tuesday night, when Cleveland plays the Southland Jamboree (Chris Bailey is calling for thunderstorms Tuesday). But Cleveland has certainly proven his fiddle prowess, and you don’t want to miss him twice this summer.

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Red, White & Boom 2015 announced

If you are wishing you were at Red, White & Boom this weekend, but were surprised it sold out in five hours, your chance to get tickets for next year is right around the corner.

Tickets will go on sale for the 2015 Boom at 10 a.m. Friday, July 11. The event will be June 26 and 27 at the home of the Lexington Legends, Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

Fans of the decade-old country music fest will note the move away from the Fourth of July weekend as Red, White & Boom started as a Fourth of July event in downtown Lexington before it moved to the Ballpark and, this year, expanded to two days.

“Red, White & Boom is part of Lexington’s 4th of July festival,” said Michael Jordan,  director of operations for Clear Channel Media and Entertainment in Central Kentucky, which presents the festival. “Next year, July 4 falls on a Saturday, so not wanting to compete against the other great events the city is hosting, we will move to the weekend before the holiday. Red, White & Boom 2015 becomes the kick-off to the week-long celebration.

“For the fans it also puts the event on a Friday and Saturday versus Saturday and Sunday, which we think the fans will appreciate.”

Two-day tickets for the 2015 Red, White & Boom will be $20, plus applicable fees. They will go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday at lexingtonlegends.com, the Whitaker Bank Ballpark box office or by phone at 1-866-698-4253. Jordan said that most of the tickets for the 2015 festival will be two-day tickets. Some one-day tickets will be sold at a date yet to be determined in 2015, and they will likely be more expensive per day than the two-day tickets that go on sale Friday.

Artists have not been announced for the 2015 event. This year’s lineup includes Lee Brice, Thomas Rhett,  Jerrod Niemann, Eric Paslay, Lucy Hale, Sundy Best and Jamie Lynn Spears.

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Listening to … Maggie Rose, ‘Cut to Impress’

Maggie Rose arrives at the CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. © Invision/AP photo by  Wade Payne.

Maggie Rose arrives at the CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. © Invision/AP photo by Wade Payne.

If you have not been listening to Maggie Rose, it isn’t because music critics haven’t been telling you to. We will tell you her chart performance in no way reflects her talent, which put her aptly titled Cut to Impress album on numerous Top 10 lists at the end of last year.

The album culminates a five-year recorded journey through the music business that had previously been highlighted by a notable, but maybe ill-advised Kings of Leon cover and music for some Disney Channel shows.

Maggie Rose-album coverThere is nothing Disney about Cut to Impress.

Rose’s debut album struts out of the speakers with a confidence that would make Loretta Lynn or Miranda Lambert proud. Her voice can soar or slice, and she is backed by a tight band that makes her sound torrential and expansive like on the rocker Fall Madly in Love With You. 

The album opens with the gritty murder song Preacher’s Daughter, includes another rough story in Looking Back Now, the self-medicating anthem Better and her signature song to date, I Ain’t Your Mama. Those and the album’s finale, Goodbye Monday, show a strength in bluesy, organic material Rose ought to consider as she preps for her next album, which at least those of us in the critical realm will regard as highly anticipated.

And Cut to Impress should also have us anticipating Rose’s 6:55 p.m. Sunday set at Red, White & Boom.

Getting ready for Red, White & Boom. Check out all the Herald-Leader’s coverage:

I will be out Saturday covering Red, White & Boom Saturday. Follow me on Twitter, and I’ll be using the #RWB2014 hashtag.

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Listening to … Chase Rice, ‘Ready Set Roll’

Chase Rice performs on stage the House of Blues on Saturday November 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, Calif.  © AP/Invision photo by Paul A. Hebert.

Chase Rice performs on stage the House of Blues on Saturday November 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, Calif. © AP/Invision photo by Paul A. Hebert.

Reading Chase Rice‘s biography after a few listens to his 2013 EP Ready Set Roll, it is no surprise to find Rice was a co-writer of Florida Georgia Line’s Cruise.

The six-song EP — seven if you get a physical copy — is the epitome of bro country with songs about partying, beer, trucks, pretty girls and sex (you have another interpretation of Country in Ya?), a bunch of product placement and not much else.

Chase Rice album coverIf you are into this brand of young, male escapism, you are going to love it when Rice hits the Red, White & Boom stage at 6:15 p.m. Sunday.

Rice has already had a remarkable number of vocations including University of North Carolina football player, NASCAR pit crew member and Survivor competitor.

He has been working at his country career for a while with two EP’s and the 2012 album Dirt Road Communion to his credit. His new album, Ignite the Night, comes out next month.

You have to hope there will be a little more variety than we get on Ready Set Roll, and the EP’s best track holds out some hope.

Jack Daniels and Jesus, only available on physical copies of the record, is something of a bro confessional that all the whiskey and one night stands have taken their toll, and Rice gives an outstanding performance on the song. It’s the tune that gives you a sense Rice has greater depth and could have a career ahead of him after country’s bromance is over.

Getting ready for Red, White & Boom. Check out all the Herald-Leader’s coverage:

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Listening to … Eric Paslay, ‘Eric Paslay’

Eric Paslay performs on Day 1 of the 2014 Stagecoach Music Festival at the Empire Polo Field, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Indio, Calif. © AP/Invision photo by Chris Pizzello.

Eric Paslay performs on Day 1 of the 2014 Stagecoach Music Festival at the Empire Polo Field, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Indio, Calif. © AP/Invision photo by Chris Pizzello.

How well does Eric Paslay navigate around the handful of cliches that have been dominating country music in recent years? His self-titled debut has a song called Country Side of Heaven, the title alone pleading for an eye roll.

And it does take the fetishism of rural life to an extreme, setting fishing, back porches and sweet tea in the great beyond. But it plays out so sweetly, ending with a request to find him when you get there, you forget what a cliche fest it is. And Paslay knows he’s having fun with this.

Eric-Paslay-album-cover-CountryMusicIsLovePaslay first made a name for himself writing No. 1 songs for Jake Owen, the Eli Young Band and others. And his songwriting skills elevate his own performance, which Red, White & Boom fans will see Sunday evening.

Probably the album’s highlight is Song About a Girl, which takes those well-worn country tropes and says at their essence, they’re all songs about girls: “don’t think too hard, dig too deep, or read between the lines, It’s a song about a girl.”

Paslay doesn’t so much skewer country stereotypes, like Kacey Musgraves, as he plays with them for an engaging album he should be proud to put his name on.

He sets everything in an easy groove and his pleasant voice with some clever touches like the fiddle and guitar riff that opens his big hit, Friday Night.

Like with Heaven, Paslay shows a spiritual side several times in this album, including his own version of Deep As It Is Wide, a song he first recorded with Amy Grant and Sheryl Crow. His more modest rendition of the song actually has a deeper sense of wonder than the trio, which really focused the listener on the performance.

But the best example of this is Less Than Whole, a song about forgiveness which could teach the vast majority of the contemporary Christian music community a thing or two about writing songs of faith. It coveys a strong message without beating the listener over the head with religious imagery or language.

And that is ultimately this newcomer’s gift: a deft hand at songwriting that raises his work above many of his contemporaries. While others seem to be trying to play a role, we get the sense Paslay is being himself.

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