The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
UPDATED, 4 p.m. July 11: Organizers of the 2011 Spotlight Lexington festival announced Monday that the event, seen as one of the legacy projects from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, has been canceled because of a lack of financial support.
Spotlight 2011 was to be a successor to last year’s hit downtown event during the Games, which featured free public performances by such big-name acts as Blake Shelton and Trombone Shorty. Festival chair Kip Cornett said that though the 2011 event was announced last winter with a quarter of its funding pledged by St. Joseph Health System, a groundswell of additional funding did not materialize. The festival that could have been presented would have been a shadow of its original self, he said.
“It was a little surprising,” Cornett said of the fund-raising shortfall, “but we decided that we didn’t want to do something halfway.”
Cornett said that the committee needed $400,000 to $450,000 to present a Wednesday-to-Sunday downtown festival in the fall along the lines of the Spotlight 2010, which took place over two weeks and three weekends on several downtown stages.
Cornett said fund-raising efforts drummed up about $280,000, and then “we hit a cavalcade of ‘We can’t do it this year,’ and we ran out of doors to knock on.”
It was particularly disappointing, Cornett said, because there was a lot of talk about creating legacy events and projects from the World Equestrian Games, and Spotlight seemed poised to be one of them. According to Lexington police estimates, 175,000 people attended Spotlight events last year.
Dec27Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, Arts administration, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Central Kentucky Arts News, Christmas music, Classical Music, Country music, Downtown Arts Center, Film, Horsemania, Kentucky Theatre, Laura Bell Bundy, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Secretariat, Singletary Center for the Arts, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Allison Kaiser, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Fortnight Festival, Balagula Theatre, Blake Shelton, Debra Hoskins, Eric Seale, Gustavo Dudamel, Haiti, Institute 193, John Lithgow, La Bohème, Laura Bell Bundy, Lexington Art League, Lexington Chamber Chorale, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Marvin Hamlisch, Ouanamithe, Phillip March Jones, ProjectSEE Theartre, Rolling Stones, Scott Terrell, Southeastern Theatre Conference, Spotlight Lexington Festival, Stephanie Pevec, Steven A. Hoffman, The Chieftains, Thoroughbred Community Theatre, Tony Bennett, Trombone Shorty, U2, UK Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Lexington’s 2010 year in arts could not have been weirder if you took the city and plopped it in the middle of Florida. Between some major changes at area arts institutions and the unprecedented wave of local and national arts activity prompted by the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, it was a year unlike any we have had or will probably see again.
■ While we did not get U2 or the Rolling Stones as WEG organizers had originally hoped, the games did fill up theaters, and in many cases, theater seats during the two weeks and three weekends of the games. Topping the bill was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the Norton Center for the Arts. It was a booking that was deemed impossible by New York agents and drew national attention, all made possible by the persistence of for Norton Center assistant managing director Debra Hoskins who smoothed the road with bourbon and chocolate.
The event itself was an unforgettable evening for the audience and a great experience for area musicians and others who got to interact with one of the world’s great orchestras and shining stars.
Other great performances brought in by the Games were an evening with Marvin Hamlisch and the UK Symphony Orchestra, which had a great fortnight playing for the opening ceremonies and a production of La Boheme as well; Blake Shelton, Trombone Shorty and Laura Bell Bundy at the Spotlight Lexington Festival downtown and performances by Tony Bennett, John Lithgow and the Chieftains.
There is talk of extending both the Spotlight and Alltech Fortnight festivals, which presented the bulk of the entertainment, into the future. But we probably won’t see this level of activity again unless the games come back.
The Games also brought a number of high profile art exhibits to the area including a retrospective of the horse in American art at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky and the Gift from the Desert look at Arabian horses at the International Museum of the Horse.
■ Scott Terrell was hired as the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music director in 2009, but this is the year we really started to see his vision for the orchestra unfold, and its reverberations in the community. Unveiling the orchestra’s 2010-11 season, he showed he was willing to break traditions and initiate new collaborations. He presented Messiah is a smaller format than years past and brought groups including local school and college choirs into the Philharmonic fold for performances that broke the orchestral concert mold. He also instituted a new style of concert preview with the Kicked Back Classics event at the Downtown Arts Center in November.
The moves have not come without some friction, which change often produces. There was unhappiness over the Lexington Singers not being part of the Messiah this year, as Terrell wanted to go with a smaller chorus and the Singers did not want to downsize. Enter the Lexington Chamber Chorale as a new collaborator and the Singers presenting their own Messiah in a holiday arts season whose calendar was largely rewritten this year. Precipitated by the changes, the Singers are asserting themselves more as an entity in their own right, un-tethered to the Philharmonic calendar.
How all of this will settle remains to be seen. But it is clear this will be a new Philharmonic under Terrell’s baton.
The orchestra also got a new executive director as Allison Kaiser came over from the same post at the Lexington Art League and Stephanie Pevec took over that post.
■ This was the year without Actors Guild of Lexington. Long regarded as Lexington’s flagship theater for adult audiences, financial troubles and management departures in 2009 all but shuttered the company this year except for one production, a concert version of The Who’s Tommy at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom and the new Moondance at Midnight Pass amphitheater. That said, theater thrived in the area with first rate productions by the Lexington Children’s Theatre and area college and community groups and emergence of some new organizations such as ProjectSEE Theartre and productions out of the Thoroughbred Community Theatre in Midway. And there were successes such as Balagula Theatre’s strong showing in the Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention here in Lexington. Actors Guild has announced a lineup of shows for 2011 under the guidance of new artistic director Eric Seale, but the group will be joining an active theater scene.
Some other big stories of the year that is now almost done were:
■ Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts tapped Steven A. Hoffman as its new director, following the departure of longtime director George Foreman to the University of Georgia. With this month’s departure of assistant managing director Debra Hoskins, there has been a complete turnover in management at the Norton Center. This will be a story to watch in 2011.
■ Alltech launched a project sending University of Kentucky voice students to Ouanamithe, Haiti, to launch a music program and form a children’s choir. The choir came to Central Kentucky and made several appearances during the World Equestrian Games.
■ The Southeastern Theatre Conference, the nation’s largest regional theater convention, came to Lexington for the first time in more than 20 years, and by all accounts, it went wonderfully.
■ Secretariat brought some Hollywood glamour back to the Bluegrass, including a gala premier at the Kentucky Theatre attended by star Diane Lane and many others.
■ Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy launched a country music career with her Mercury Nashville debut Achin’ and Shakin’.
■ Horse Mania returned to the streets of Lexington, 10 years after the original edition in 2000.
■ Michael Tick was named the new dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Fine Arts.
■ The Pioneer Playhouse in Danville suffered massive flooding during rainstorms in early May, but recovered and went on to a successful season thanks to an army of volunteers.
■ Phillip March Jones’ Institute 193 emerged as a major force in creating and presenting visual arts in Central Kentucky.
■ Among world premiers in Lexington this year were Aleks Merilo’s Blur in the Rear View and Bringing It Home: Voices of Student Veterans, by UK Theatre, Beth Kander’s See Jane Quit by Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theatre, Roger Zare’s Geometries by the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Frank X Walker’s I Dedicate This Ride at Lexington Children’s Theatre, and the regional premier of Brian Hampton’s The Jungle Fun Room by Studio Players.
The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra launches its post-World Equestrian Games Season Friday with a concert that is part of a new cultural exchange.
Shanghai violinist Sha will be the featured soloist on the concert performing the The Butterfly Lovers violin concerto, a famous 1950s piece by Chen Gang and He Zhanho. Her appearance is part of the launch of the new Confucius Institute at UK, a language and arts exchange program with the Chinese government.
In addition to the Chinese piece, the orchestra will also perform two very familiar pieces from the classical canon: Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Graduate conductor Dan Chetel will make his conducting debut with the UK Symphony on the Egmont.
The downbeat is at 7:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 29) in the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall. Admission is free.
Oct10Filed under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, ballet, Country music, dance, Music; Tagged as: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Blake Shelton, J.D. Crowe, Jim Newberry, Juggernaut Jug Band, Laura Bell Bundy, Lula Washington Dance Ensemble, Sam Bush, Spotlight Lexington Festival, Trombone Shorty
The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games weren’t even over when Mayor Jim Newberry’s office said a committee will be formed to explore making the Spotlight Lexington Festival or something like it an annual fixture on Lexington’s events calendar.
When it was announced more than a year ago, Spotlight seemed like a somewhat shaky proposition. It appeared to lean too heavily on who stepped forward and said they wanted to perform and not enough on producers selecting people for the stage. The national artist component of the event had not come into focus either. But as the Games drew closer, it looked more and more poised for success: some top shelf national talent anchoring a number of nights at the Courthouse plaza stage with satellite parties at Cheapside and Triangle Park, all for free.
And people responded, overflowing the plaza for Blake Shelton’s opening-night show on Sept. 24, despite a torrential downpour that arrived the same time Spotlight did. Though official numbers are not in – Mayor’s office spokesperson Susan Straub told the Herald-Leader’s Andy Mean 125,000 were estimated to have attended the first 14 days of Spotlight – the event seemed to follow a basic producing logic: If you book big-name talent like a Shelton or Trombone Shorty or Laura Bell Bundy or J.D. Crowe, people will come out for it, particularly for free.
There were other nights that were not as great. I went down the first Tuesday night when the Juggernaut Jug Band out of Louisville was playing, and there were a hundred or so folks on the plaza, maybe just as many down at Cheapside listening to a blues act. You could regard it as disappointing, but then again, with all due respect to the Juggernaut Jug Band (which I enjoyed), would you expect them to draw thousands out on a school night? Other nights, I was told there were more people on stage than were in the plaza – again, probably a function of name recognition, getting the word out in a tsunami of activity and school nights.
With 17 days on its schedule, Spotlight had a lot of stage time to fill, which is one of the ways it looks like a good idea that could be improved upon. Here are a few things to look at:
Focus: Of course a legacy Spotlight would not be as long as the World Equestrian Games. Bring it down to a handful of nights over one or two weekends, fill each evening with a quality headliner maybe supported by Juggernaut Jug Band-level groups, and you have something more consistent. Read the rest of this entry »
During the two weeks of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, my former colleague Heather Chapman and net pal Alison Kerr have been running a series of contests to raise money for Alltech’s Sustainable Haiti Fund at their respective blogs, The Mother Tongue and AliThinks. The endgames of the contests to see who could drum up the most donors have ranged from the poetic (odes written to one another) to the slapstick (pies in the face). But they are united in the goal to raise money for Alltech’s efforts to help in the desperately poor and unfortunate nation.
The last contest ends at 5 p.m. Friday (Oct. 8 ) and there could be WEG event tickets in it for you. Check out Heather’s post for the skinny.
Kenny Rogers was joking around with Buddy, his new best friend in the front row at the Lexington Opera House, who he was tossing $10 bills for every song he remembered when Rogers played it.
The Gambler joked about buying fans, and then said Buddy, “is going to be so excited about country music, he’ll go out of here and buy a Garth Brooks CD with my money.”
Funny thing is, Kenny Rogers was something of a Garth Brooks of his era. Like Brooks, Rogers piled up a stack of hits and helped bring country music to an audience of people who never tuned their dials to country radio stations.
It would have been nice if Rogers showed a little more respect for that catalog of hits during his 23-song set Thursday night that clocked in at just over 90 minutes.
Rogers took the stage for the show that was part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival singing a couple lesser-known tunes including Love or Something Like It and engaged in a lot of stage patter, almost ribbing the crowd that had paid $79 to $99 each for tickets to a fault, before getting into the meat of his hit parade with Through the Years and You Decorated My Life.
At 72, he looked trim – chasing twin 6-year-old boys around may help – if a little stiff. His voice seemed to falter in some early numbers but gained strength during the show until he gave a nearly full-throated rendition of Lady that reminded listeners of the early 1980s and why this man was such a huge star.
It seems Rogers didn’t want people to leave saying he didn’t play their favorite song of his as he hit most of the high points in his catalog, including solo versions of some of his duets - We’ve Got Tonight , which he originally sang with Sheena Easton, and Islands in the Stream, which he and Dolly Parton made famous.
The disappointing thing was a lot of those hits were abbreviated, with dropped verses or bridges and abrupt endings. It was particularly annoying on Coward of the County, where the middle verses about Becky were omitted so the title character’s revenge on the Gatlin boys made no sense.
Those perfunctory renditions of several classics made what could have been a reflective trip down memory lane feel more like a K-tel album, with three-and-a-half minute hits trimmed so they could fit 20-plus tunes on a single vinyl album
Rogers was an amusing host, joshing with Buddy, giving a couple shout-outs to his friend, former Gov. John Y. Brown, and supporting a cheer to bring back his fast food franchise, Kenny Rogers Roasters.
What he missed was a chance to make sure Buddy wanted to pick up a Kenny Rogers CD.
I went out to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Monday to help man the Herald-Leader table in the trade pavilion. But a Facebook note from Adam Luckey kept me around for a while.
Adam and Ryan Case had a 3 p.m. performance on the stage in the Kentucky Experience Pavilion. Their performance was presented by the Kentucky History Museum Theatre, and they delivered two distinct short shows. “Look for My Picture” is the History Center’s play about Franklin Sousley, the Kentucky native who participated in raising the United States Flag at Iwo Jima in World War II. Luckey emodied the excitable 19 year old, at one moment asking his girl to wait for him and the next making history. The next play was Jack and the Robbers, a little bit of mountain stortelling with music and group participation.
On what looked like maybe a slow day at the Games, Adam and Ryan drew about two dozen people. The Kentucky Experience stage, presented by the Kentucky Arts Council, has been a little controversial because of coal advertising at the stage. But it works as a nice chance for Kentucky artists like Ryan and Adam, and musician Jim Olive, who was was slated to play later, to show their talents to a wider audience.
This had to be a heckuva way to come home.
Playing on a huge stage in center of downtown Lexington, Laura Bell Bundy could see signatures of the Lexington skyline, including the distinctive blue squiggle atop the Fifth-Third Bank building; the bustle of activity at Limestone Street establishments like Sidebar and a huge crowd stretched out before her.
The Lexington native has played her hometown a couple times since her major label country debut was released in April. But the Spotlight Lexington Festival, held in conjunction with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, was her biggest stage so far. She made the most of it with a 90-minute set that added some dimensions to our perception of Bundy, who we know best as a Broadway baby.
She got to that business right away, opening her show with I’m No Good (For Ya Baby) and Boyfriend , two “shakin’” tunes from her “bipolar” – as she described it – album Achin’ and Shakin’.
While I’m No Good featured a disturbing amount of choreography, both songs put Bundy in a more bluesy, soulful mood that people who’ve heard her radio singles or followed her Broadway career never knew existed.
Indeed, while Bundy has entered the country market, you could have called this concert “Laura Bell Bundy in a Soulful Mood” for all the covers she trotted out from Marvin Gaye (Let’s Get it On), Aretha Franklin (Respect and Think) and Tina Turner (Proud Mary – yes, it’s a CCR song, but in her black fringe dress, Bundy was definitely doing Tina’s version). Playing a headlining gig with one album under her belt, Bundy had to pad the set with covers, but it was a crowd-pleasing selection, including tastes of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, the Bob McDill classic Song of the South and Shania Twain’s Any Man of Mine.
They all worked, but the biggest testament to Bundy’s album is how well selections from it held up next to those classics. Please was the highlight of the set, marrying Bundy’s ability to stretch a phrase with her theatrical flair, dropping to her knees in the finale. And Everybody was an exuberant anthem that easily could have ended the show if Bundy hadn’t wanted to channel Tina and present a three-song encore including opener Andy Davis singing yet another soul classic, Stevie Wonder’s Signed Sealed Delivered.
Sep30Filed under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Classical Music, Lexington Opera House, Music, Opera, Reviews, UK; Tagged as: Alfredo, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Fortnight Festival, Giacomo Puccini, Gregory Turay, La Bohème, La Traviata, Manuel Castillo, Mary-Hollis Hundley, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Mitchell Hutchings, Nicholas Provenzale, Reginald Smith Jr., Rent, Richard Kagey, University of Kentucky Opera
Over the last decade, the University of Kentucky Opera program has been lucky to count Gregory Turay among its alums.
He’s the one who fulfilled the dream of winning at the national level of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, making it into the young artist program and embarking on an international career that we could sometimes tune in on TV or radio. And he occasionally came back for a recital or even a role, as he did in 2006 when appeared as Alfredo in a benefit performance of La Traviata.
UK and Lexington area opera fans are even luckier to have Turay as an artist-in-residence, leading a full UK Opera production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme as part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival in conjunction with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
The Richard Kagey sets and 1920s vibe will be familiar to local opera fans who saw this production in 2008, but the faces are different as many of that productions’ stars have moved on.
Clearly, with many of its artistic leaders involved in numerous activities related to the World Equestrian Games – including UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey heading up the opening and closing ceremonies – the program decided its best contribution to the cultural element of the Games was to revive a recent success.
And Boheme provides a nice showcase for several of the program’s most talented students, particularly Reginald Smith Jr. as Colline and Nicholas Provenzale as Schaunard, a really nice progression for him from Eisenstein in last spring’s production of Die Fledermaus. We’re also introduced to new UK doctoral candidate Mitchell Hutchings as Marcello, and he fits right in with the program that puts a heavy emphasis on acting in its operas.
We are in a caravan of vans heading from Danville to Bluegrass Airport. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is on a plane heading from JFK Airport in New York to Bluegrass Airport.
Around 2 p.m. we are supposed to meet. It will be an unprecedented meeting: one of the world’s greatest orchestras and hottest conductors, Gustavo Dudamel, coming to a small Southern city. The staff of the Norton Center for the Arts has planned a full day for the VPO with a visit to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and two horse farms in the offing before heading back to their hotels in Danville. We will keep you posted with a live blog through the afternoon and evening. ~ Rich
1:45 – A major logistical operation is afoot, moving gift bags brought up from Danville in minivans onto a pair of Bluegrass Tours buses that will transport the orchestra. A big black SUV awaits maestro Dudamel, as if he were a visiting head of state.
1:55 – Minor crisis: No bottle openers for the bottles of Kentucky Ale being given to the musicians. Fortunately, there are college students around who tend to carry such things on their key rings (and a Herald-Leader arts writer’s OBX botlle opener has been impressed into service), and the airport gift shop just made a killing on bottle openers.
2:30 – The Vienna Philharmonic have arrived. Gustavo Dudamel immediately asked for one of the blue horse stickers that airport hospitality personnel were passing out and affixed it to his lapel. The musicians gathered up their belongings and got on the Bluegrass Tour buses waiting outside. And Norton Center director Steven Hoffman went to work passing out bottles of Kentucky Ale. When he offered water, a chorus of “Nooooo” rang out from the musicians.
4:30 – The Vienna Philharmonic had a quick, but eventful visit to the World Equestrian Games. Alltech founder and president Pearse Lyons met the orchestra and Maestro Gustavo Dudamel, who were serendaded by the Haitian Harmony Children’s Choir and Tonan Tynan.
6 – Finally a Vienna Philharmonic musician had to play. After listening to local bluegrass band Kentucky Blue for a while, VPO violinist Erich Schagerl borrowed Marty Harley’s fiddle and joined in for a few numbers, to the delight of his orchestra-mates, party guests and the band.
8 p.m. – Gustavo Dudamel is currently standing with a bluegrass band, Kentucky Blue, listening intently to renditions of House of the Rising Sun and other tunes at Taylor Made Farm.
“He really got into it,” Kentucky Blue mandolin player Ron Mobley said. “He was standing there saying, ‘This is amazing, this is amazing.’”
Mobley said a lot of the Vienna Phil musicians complimented the band, and when they acted surprised, Mobley says the visitors said, “Music is music, no matter what it is.”
A day of events has turned into a little party under the stars for the maestro and the Vienna Philharmonic.
9:15 p.m. – At the end of an eventful day, the Vienna Philharmonic buses are headed home to Danville. When a few fireworks appear in the sky, Norton Center director Steven A. Hoffman looks back at the passengers on Bus B and says, “That’s for you.”
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