Displaying items by tag: Western Kentucky

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Fair-Weather Kings – Weathering Bowling Green’s Rolling Musical Seas

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/22/13)—Hearing it from the proverbial “horse’s mouth” makes it official: “energetic” ranks highest among the descriptors fans use to define the sound and feel of Bowling Green, KY’s beloved five-piece band, the Fair-Weather Kings. And it’s a fact that is duly justifiable. Comparison-wise, many say the quintet’s unique style is akin to the vibrant, nationally-acclaimed indie sounds of The Strokes and The Arctic Monkeys.

Yet, once you start trying to dial in their insightful works any further—to do their sound justice through words, so to speak—the process of classification becomes much deeper and, perhaps, more metaphysical. That being said, here’s my personal take: the Fair-Weather Kings strike hard on the head of modernity’s pop-rock stake, while remaining punctual, compositionally edgy, fun, and experimental in a not-too-abstract way. Their lyrical originality, atmospheric grooves, and consistently frantic, multi-layered live performances—which come courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Wesley Stone, guitarist Zach Barton, bassist Jason Williams, keyboard/synth player Craig Brown, and drummer Marcus Long— mix together well, producing a seemingly perfect storm amidst an electric and inspirational musical climate.

While the Fair-Weather Kings have yet to gain a large-scale, national following, they have received a wealth of veneration from all corners of our region and beyond. In fact, the respect the Fair-Weather Kings have deservedly garnered from their peers since forming just under two years ago is evidenced by the fact that they have remained afloat, relevant, and well-loved in the virtual sea of talent found in Bowling Green.

So how do the Fair-Weather Kings maintain their prowess in such a saturated musical market? What’s their origin story and creative process? And what is their ultimate goal with music? To find out the answers to these questions and much more, I recently got the chance to speak with FWK frontman and guitarist, Wesley Stone, who informed me that weathering west Kentucky’s blooming and inspirational entertainment scene isn’t always an easy task to master.

Who are the members of the Fair-Weather Kings, where is each member from, what are your ages, and what instrument(s) do each of you play?

I’m Wesley Stone and I’m on lead vocals and guitar. Zach Barton plays guitar, Jason Williams is our bassist, Craig Brown plays keys/synth, and Marcus Long is our drummer. Zach, Marcus and I grew up in Hopkins County, KY. Craig and Jason grew up in Bowling Green. We all currently live in Bowling Green. We are all in our late 20’s, with the exception of Marcus, who is in his early 30’s.

How and when did the band first form?

We first formed in October of 2011 with Zach and I just sort of jamming around on occasion and presenting songs to each other. After a bit, we tracked down a drummer and bass player to sort of feel out the whole band thing. After a couple months, we had worked out a few songs, but our drummer and bass player at the time weren’t really a good fit with the type of music we were writing, so that’s when Marcus joined, along with another friend of ours, Will Kronenberger, who played bass. Shortly after they joined, we picked up Rory Willis to play keys, who was Will’s roommate at the time and the owner and operator of Greyskull Recordings. We all wrote and worked on the songs that would end up on our debut, self-titled EP and played our first show in January of 2012.

Where did the name of the band originate and how does it fit with the music or “feel” of the band?

The name sort of became a formality at a certain point. We knew we had to call ourselves something, so we just started throwing out a bunch of ideas over the course of a week or so. Ultimately, “The Fair-Weather Kings” came about when we combined two of our favorite names that we had come up with. I can’t really remember what those were, though. Fair-Weather….something and something…Kings. There isn’t really any intended significance as far as the name representing our music or style. I’m sure I could dig up some philosophical meaning to it, but, really, it was just the first name that we all agreed upon that remotely sounded cool.

What influences do you all draw inspiration from both musically and in life?

We have a wide variety of musical influences—too many to even begin listing them—but we all draw from some variety of rock or pop music, and we all have our own favorite singer-songwriters. We also get inspiration from the many great bands we hang out with and play with around Bowling Green. Mainly, our songs are inspired by love, life, and the universe, and revolve around observations within each.

How has the band changed over time?

The biggest change that has occurred for us has been losing and gaining members. Will and Rory got busy with their jobs and other projects, and that is when Jason and Craig stepped in. They both came in with completely different styles than Will and Rory, which ultimately changed our sound. But it was for the better. Each previously written song has since evolved into something that is, in many ways, completely different from what you hear in our recordings, which were all done with Will and Rory. Again, this evolution has been for the better. The songs have gotten tighter and even experimental at times, which make them fun and different every time we play them live. You will very rarely hear the exact same version of a song from show to show.

How do you all define the sound of the Fair-Weather Kings?

That’s always a hard question to answer, and I usually just refer to what others have compared it to or said. The most common word used to describe our music is “energetic,” and we have been compared to The Strokes and The Artic Monkeys.

Like you just said, a good deal of the Fair-Weather Kings’ music is highly energetic and, at times, feverishly frantic, which comes across well during your live shows. By the same token, you all seem to be very tightly-knit as a multi-piece band. That being said, how do you approach the creative process? Do songs come together spontaneously or is it more of an intensive, day-by-day process?

The majority of our songs were songs that I had already written or were nearly complete ideas that I then presented to the entire band. From there, everyone just sort of filled in the gaps with each of us giving the others input and experimenting with various ways to approach them. However, we have also written several songs that blossomed out of a jam session during practice.

While the band’s sound is ultimately rooted in rock, you all also incorporate a variety of electronic, synthesized sounds in your music through guitar effects and keys/synthesized sounds. Do you think it’s important to remain open to different sonic avenues in the modern age for the sake of creativity?

We keep ourselves open to various sounds and even various styles for the sake of creativity. I think if we confined ourselves to a specific sound, or tried to write songs that adhere to a specific style or sound, it would hinder us creatively. We are constantly picking up things from other bands and each other, which steers each new song or idea in a slightly different direction.

You guys hail from one of the region’s most vibrant music scenes—Bowling Green, KY. How much of an effect has that environment had on the band’s approach and creative evolution?

It has its positives and negatives. On one hand, all the bands are learning, supporting, and challenging each other to become better. On the other hand, it’s a constant struggle to keep from getting lost in the mix of all these great bands and musicians in the area. Either way, we are proud to call Bowling Green home and love being associated with its rising music scene.

You all played at the inaugural Mad Flavor Arts & Music Festival in Madisonville this past June. Why did you all decide to play the festival and what was your overall take on the event?

It sounded like a fun time. Again, Zach, Marcus, and I grew up in the area and still have friends and family there, so it seemed like a great opportunity to not only play our music to some different faces, but to also visit with some familiar ones. We had a great time and got some great feedback on our set.

If I’m not mistaken, your self-titled EP and single, “Satellite Galaxies”, were both recorded at Greyskull Recordings in Bowling Green. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like recording there.

During those recording sessions, Rory Willis was still our keyboard player. We recorded all the tracks on the EP in a “live” fashion where everyone was being recorded at the same time, minus the vocals, so, really, it was just like a more structured and professional practice—except we played every song a dozen times. We did “tracking” for Satellite Galaxies, meaning we each recorded our parts individually. That process is slightly boring, but produces a much higher quality end product. It also allows for changes, and gave Rory the ability to piece together the best parts of each take.

Are you guys working on any new music at the moment?

Yes. We have two new songs that we have been playing live for a while that haven’t been recorded, and we are currently working through some ideas for at least three more. We are taking our time with the new material—screening it so to speak. The first album was composed of literally every song that was presented. This time around, we are being a bit pickier and are presenting lots of ideas that will be narrowed down to a few songs at a time.

From your perspective, why is it important for area citizens to get out and support local musicians and artists?

Because most of those local musicians and artists want to be national musicians and artists, and the road to that outcome is paved by every single person’s support.

Over the years, what’s been one of the band’s favorite shows and/or biggest accomplishments?

One of our best shows was a house-show at a place dubbed The Manor. It is right next to Greyskull—which is where we rehearsed at the time—in the basement of this old Civil War hospital that is now a private residence. There were a ton of people all giving us as much energy as we were giving them. Those are the best types of crowds. I’ll take a crowd of 20 people that are all getting into the music over 2,000 motionless bodies any day, and that’s when we put on the best show, too. It’s a give and take relationship when it comes to our performances, and we were getting and giving quite a bit at The Manor that night.

What is the end goal for the Fair-Weather Kings?

Ultimately, we want to reach as many people as possible with our music. So, short answer: major label support.

Where and how can people check you out and purchase your music?

We have a ReverbNation profile, as well as a Bandcamp profile. We don’t really charge for digital downloads, and both places have all of our recorded material for free. We have physical copies of our debut EP, which we have re-released with “Satellite Galaxies” for sale on our Bandcamp page. We have stickers and t-shirts for sale there as well. Of course, you can pick up any of those things at our shows, too.

In closing, feel free to give any shout-outs you want.

All of our fellow BG Sceners…
Canago, Buffalo Rodeo, Morning Teleportation, Schools, Chris Rutledge, Sleeper/Agent, Cage the Elephant, Opossum Holler, The Reneaus, The Beech Benders, Plastic Visions, The Black Shades, Lost River Cavemen, Fat Box, The Hungry Ears, Technology vs Horse, and others…

Also…
D93 WDNS, Revolution 91.7 WWHR, Spencer’s Coffee House, and Greyskull Recordings.


____________________________________________________________________

Want to hear the Fair-Weather Kings right now? Check out the ReverbNation player attached below this article. Want to support the band by downloading some Fair-Weather Kings tracks or purchasing some merchandise? Visit the official FWK BandCamp page by clicking here.

For more information on the Fair-Weather Kings, such as upcoming shows and updated news, visit their official Facebook page by clicking here.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos by Jessi Smith

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West KY Native Drops Debut Hip Hop Album, 'Rhyme and Reason'

ATLANTA, GA (8/5/13)—Atlanta based hip hop artist Macho Mic’s official debut album, Rhyme and Reason, has been long overdue. Writing and producing his own music since his teens, this Kentucky native has poured his heart and soul into this 16-track, full-length album.

Packed with complex lyricism and wit, each track on the album allows this up-and-coming artist’s true skill to shine. This skill allows him to take full advantage of every beat on the album, all but two produced by the artist himself. His intricate rhyming structure and use of wordplay are evident in each of his tracks, from the hard-hitting ‘All You’ to the booty-centric ‘Widallat.’ Two singles have been released from the album: "Resurrection of Real," which he performed at Harlem Nights with Coast 2 Coast Live, and the uplifting and honest "Never Ever."

Macho Mic is already working on his next album, which may be dropping later this year. Three new songs can be heard on his website www.MachoMic.com. He has also just finished his mixtape, Unbridled Spirit, which is expected to be released on August 10th, 2013. Compiled of past and present songs, Unbridled Spirit allows Macho to give his own perspective on tracks by artists that he respects. It also shows his variety of subject matter and displays his versatility as an artist.

If you’re in the area, you can catch him performing at Smith’s Olde Bar, August 29th. He’ll be competing for the top spot in the 2Racks Rap Contest, so come show some support for Macho Mic and many other hip hop artists.

For additional information on Macho Mic or to set up an interview, please contact Michael Camacho at (270) 836-4921 or via email at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To learn more about Macho Mic, click the following the links:

http://machomic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MachoMic
https://soundcloud.com/machomic
https://twitter.com/machomic

Sugg Street Post
Information and photos provided by Macho Mic 

 

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JT Oglesby – Long Live Kentucky Music

"credit" Jessi SmithHOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/2/13) – To create, one must be inspired. Early on, when discovering one’s love for music, that motivation is drawn from music itself. A song is just so good that simply immersing yourself in it isn’t enough. It becomes your muse for creation.

Nationally recognized thumbpicker and Hopkins County resident, JT Oglesby, believes that there is more to making music than merely constructing it. He believes that modern musicians should pay homage to those who have influenced them first and foremost. Musicians of the past should be recognized as their musical stylings are passed on to future generations of music-makers that, in turn, are able to embellish upon them.

Kentucky music started pouring out of the Appalachian Mountains during the 18th century and, throughout the American folk music revival of the 1960’s, Appalachian musicians heavily influenced the early development of old-time, country, and bluegrass music. Bill Monroe—the “father” of bluegrass music—was born in Ohio County, Kentucky. And Merle Travis, whose syncopated style of finger picking set him apart from the rest, hailed from Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. It is no secret that Kentucky’s history is rich with musical talent.

Recently, the Sugg Street Post sat down and talked with award-winning thumbpicker JT Oglesby about his life, his muses, and some of the current musical projects he is involved in.

What makes JT Oglesby tick? How has music shaped his journey through life? And, was he really roommates with iconic Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain? The answers, as well as some amazing photos, can be found below.

"credit" Jessi Smith
Jessica Dockrey - So which guitar is your “go-to” guitar?

JT Oglesby - The acoustic guitar that I normally play was made for me in 1994 by Del Langejans in Holland, MI. There was a five year waiting period to get one of these guitars back then. I signed with Decca Records around that time and they contacted Del Langejans about doing a sponsorship with me. He doesn’t do that because he makes guitars one at a time, so he told me he’d give me a guitar and let me skip the waiting period.

That guitar was in a house fire recently and I almost went to jail over it. I was starting to walk in the house to get it and a fireman was like, “Get back! This house is on fire!” I said, “I don’t care! This is my property!” He was like, “Do you want me to get the cops over here?” I said, “Do what you want. He’s going to have to pull me out of my house. There is a guitar in there that I’m getting.” He said, “You’re not going near that house.” I said, “There is a guitar in there worth $10-20,000. There is only one in the world. It was made in 1994 just for me. I know exactly where it is and I’m getting it.” So, the cop came up and said, “You’re going to have to get back, man.” I said, “We’re fixing to get bad. You’re going to have to take me to jail because you are going to have to drag me out of that burning house.” The fireman was like, “Look man, if you step back I will try to get that guitar for you. We’ll make a deal.” I said, “Isn’t that how the world works?” [everyone laughs] So I walked back with the cop, and about 5-10 minutes later, he brought my guitar out. Smoke was coming out of the sound hole. It’s fine, perfectly fine. Actually, it’s deeper sounding. I think it sounds better now.

Luke Short - It aged it—real fast. [laughs]

JT - Yeah, it’s aged. I haven’t changed the strings yet. They’re covered in smoke. When I get done playing, my hand is black. But I got it back. That’s all that matters. That’s the guitar I want to pass down to my sons. I was willing to die to try and save it. That guitar is like me, man. It’s been beat the s*** out of. It’s been through fires, seen its licks, and been all over the country. You can tell it’s been worn and traveled.

"credit" Jessi Smith
When I play electric, I love to play my Danelectro. It’s messed up right now and I can’t play it, so I’ve been playing a cheap early ‘90s [Fender] Telecaster I bought. If I need a Tele sound, I’ll have it, but I don’t want to play it overall. At one point, I decided I wanted a baritone guitar. [Kentucky singer-songwriter] Chris Knight and I decided we needed a baritone. So, I went to a friend of mine who is a steel guitarist and sells steel guitar strings. I took that Tele in there and had him put the biggest strings he had on it. Man, I couldn’t bend them. I used it as a baritone with Chris Knight for years. Now, it’s just my full-time electric guitar. I’m used to it. It has high action and it buzzes when you get up in the 12th fret, but I know all that so I know how to compensate for it.

Jess - Yeah. Just work around it.

JT - Yeah. I know how to adjust the tone when it’s too tinny. I know it. It’s beat up. LLKM [Long Live Kentucky Music] is carved into it. It’s stickered all up. [everyone laughs] I scratched the Fender logo off of the headstock, too. I paid money for it. I’m not going to advertise for them. So, I scratched that out.

Jess - You mentioned MHH Productions earlier. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that actually is?

JT - Midwest Hillbilly Hardcore. They do music promotion for Farmageddon Records. I’m really into Farmageddon. It’s like gothic Americana, doom country, hellbilly—things like that. I call what I’m doing with this one band right now, called Johnny Law, honky stomp. It’s hard core. MHH is a Terre Haute, IN based promotion and booking company. Aaron Pup Syester is the founder. They had us up there this past weekend. Next weekend they are having the Stellar Corpses, which is a psychobilly band. They had Joe Buck up there. He’s a badass from Murray, KY. They had him on Halloween, which was an insane show because Joe Buck is insane anyways. He’s a one man band, but he isn’t like Patson [Patrick Richardson]. He has a beat and he’ll jump from guitar to mandolin to banjo and stuff while he keeps that bass drum beat going.

We’re all tied in. I’ve played with Hank Williams III and he’s played with Hank Williams III. That seems to be the common thing with these guys. We’re all sort of branches out from two bands –The Legendary Shack Shakers and Hank Williams III. Those are the two bands all these guys spawned from. Everybody in The Solid Rocket Boosters is basically a member of The Legendary Shack Shakers or The Dirt Daubers, which is another spinoff from the Shack Shakers. All these other guys I keep running into are all tied in. My bass player is Hank William III’s guy and he’s with him all the time. When he’s not with Hank, he’s with me. That just seems to be the thing. We’re just a bunch of country cats and skaters that dig metal and punk. I was on the Pedals Plus trick team here in Madisonville for bicycles at one point.

Luke - I was on their skate team when they started getting skateboards and stuff.

JT - Yeah? I was on their bike team man! Rick [Caskey] got pissed at me and fired me because I wiped out real hard at a show I did out at the mall and a bunch of people laughed at me. I flipped the whole crowd off. [everyone laughs]

"credit" Jessi Smith
Rick had a quarter pipe and part of it came off as a launch ramp. He told me, “I want that ramp back.” I was like, “You’re not going to get your damn ramp back. You fired me.” So, after a couple hours had passed, he called my mom. Mom was like, “I’ll talk to him.” She walked out of the house to talk to me and I had a big bonfire going. It was the launch ramp. [everyone laughs] I was like 14-years-old. I poured gas over it and set it on fire.

That’s another thing—we’re all ex-skaters and stuff. We grew up in the country listening to Conway Twitty and, I hate to say Merle Travis and Merle Haggard because it’s cliché anymore—but we did. We grew up listening to Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Junior. Then again, at the same time, we were listening to Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen, and all these other guys man—T.S.O.L. and The Faction. We listened to all this stuff and then turn around and we’d be listening to Slayer, Mayhem, and all this other black metal stuff just because it was intense.

So here we were, just a bunch of hicks that knew all this hardcore stuff and loved adrenaline. So, here we are today. We love our country, we love Hank Williams, and we love Waylon Jennings, so we’re going to play like that. It’s in our blood. Merle Travis is a big one for me. But, at the same time, I want it to rock, you know? [laughs] So I just hooked in with a bunch of cats who have meshed all this together. It’s a total new scene. As far as I know, there has never been anything like it before. You’ve got guys like Phantom of the Black Heels, Slim Cesna’s Autoclub—one of my favorite’s—and 16 Horsepower. 16 Horsepower was a major one until they broke up. David Eugene Edwards, the lead singer of 16 Horsepower, formed Wovenhand. Now, they are good, you know? He draws a lot from Nick Cave, Joy Division—stuff like that—but he also puts some world music into it. He’s hardcore into Shamanism, so he’ll draw from that as well, but he’s also a hardcore Christian. Actually, Wovenhand is classified as a Christian band. How? I don’t really know. There are a lot of bands that a lot of cats don’t know about. I took my friend and drummer, Clint Combs, with me to a show once. Clint’s mind was blown. He was like, “I didn’t even know this existed. I love country and all that, but dude, all these guys are metal heads and punk guys. They are seriously hardcore.” I was like, “Yeah man. These guys are still skating and everything.” He loved it. He told me, “About three years ago you tried to introduce me to this kind of stuff, but I didn’t get it. Man, I have to tell you, I get it now.” [everyone laughs]

Jess - Well, tell me a little bit more about your life growing up. Where were you born?

JT - I was born in Hopkinsville [Kentucky]. I lived on Chicken Road. Now it’s just called Animal Circle. It was country back then. Now, it’s a lot of houses. There wasn’t any of that then. My brother and I, we would just hang out because there weren’t really any other kids around. Cooksie—Greg Rodgers—lived down the street from me. Me and Cooksie would go set rabbit boxes out. We would just do stuff you do in the country, because you don’t have anything else to do, you know?

"credit" Jessi Smith
My dad had a guitar, which I still have. I used that guitar when I was playing with Chad [Estes] in The Blackgrass Saints. But dad had an electric guitar I couldn’t touch, too. He wouldn’t let me touch it. The acoustic I could play sometimes, but he wouldn’t let me touch his electric. He had a Fender Champ [amplifier], too. That’s where I got my Fender Champ. Dad knew how to play G, C, and D. He played “Fox on the Run” and I remember hearing that over and over. My uncle was in bands and he had long hair and was really flamboyant. He wore big bellbottoms, wildly colored polyester, and platform shoes. He was like the David Bowie of Western Kentucky or something. [everyone laughs] He was insane. I loved him though. We were tight.

My wife Savannah says I’m more like my grandmother than anybody else in my family. My grandmother, on my mom’s side, was an Oates. Warren Oates, the actor, is one of my cousins on that side of the family. Anyway, my grandmother was orphaned when she was a kid and was raised by my great aunt, “Mama-P”, and great uncle, “D-Daddy”. They were basically my grandparents, because they raised my mom, too. Actually, I was named in honor of D-Daddy. His name is JD, so when I was born my mom and dad named me John Thomas and called me JT in honor of my uncle. He and I are tight as can be—always have been. He was a circuit preacher down in Nortonville for a while, but then he moved to Herndon, KY. I would go with him and we’d hit up like four churches in one day. I’d go down there and ride the circuits with him every Sunday.

Jess - Where you actually playing at the churches with him?

JT - No. I wasn’t playing then. I plucked a little. If you look at my Facebook page you’ll see pictures of me all the way back in diapers on the guitar. I’ve always been drawn to guitars. I’ve always been drawn to music. I remember, I had a Mickey Mouse record player and I would listen to The Ventures over and over again. “Walk Don’t Run”; I loved it. [everyone laughs] What’s really funny is when I was about 25, I met Nokie Edwards, the guy that wrote that song. He’s a former member of The Ventures. He had a BBQ cookout and we sat and played “Walk Don’t Run” together. That was kind of cool.

Luke - I bet that was kind of surreal.

JT - Yeah. I told him, “Man, do you know how long I’ve been a fan of you?” He was like, “How long?” I said, “Since you and Mickey Mouse were my two favorite artists.” [everyone laughs]

Jess - That’s awesome.

JT - Here’s another funny story for you. Now, I’m a huge rockabilly fan, more psychobilly than rockabilly really. I don’t know a whole lot of pure rockabilly even though The Solid Rocket Boosters play a lot of pure rockabilly. But, one day, I’m sitting there and I’ve been hanging out with this dude all day in Nashville, TN. I noticed that Elvis kept coming up in conversation. I’m not a real big Elvis fan past the Sun Record days. I’m just not a big Elvis fan. So anyways, me and Thom Bresh, which is Merle Travis’s son, have been buddies since I met him in Oklahoma when I was like 17. So Bresh had a gig that night, and me and this other cat just kept talking and hanging out all night. He was just super cool. We’d been talking about everything and Elvis kept coming up. He kept dodging all these questions about Elvis and I kind of assumed he was like me. I thought, “Maybe this cat is not an Elvis fan.” But we talked about everything. It was just like hanging out with a buddy.

"credit" Jeff Harp
So he and I are sitting there together while Bresh is doing his show. Bresh was like, “I have a real good friend here tonight. He’s in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He made this little lick famous.” [JT plays the lick on Luke’s acoustic Seagull] I was like, “Oh my God. Scotty Moore is here! There is no denying who made that lick.” He said, “My buddy, Scotty Moore.” I was in my seat looking around everywhere. That’s the Sun Record days and that’s the dude that did it, man. He said, “Scotty, will you stand up?” That old cat I’d been hanging out with stood up right beside me. All day long I’d been hanging out with Scotty Moore and I didn’t know it. After I found out who he was, we got to talking. He was like, “Look, all I was trying to do behind Elvis was pick like Merle Travis. I couldn’t do it. That’s how Rockabilly pickin’ came around.” Therefore, you can kind of credit Merle Travis, who is from here, right outside of Greenville, KY.

Anyways, I tried everything back when I was younger. I played basketball. I didn’t like it, because you couldn’t hit people. I moved on to football. I was good at football, but then I found bicycles and freestyling. I got into freestyling hardcore on bicycles. I mean hardcore. I got on the Pedals Plus trick team and I shredded my body and bike. Eventually, I got tired of it and I went to skating. I got a [Powell Peralta brand] Per Welinder street model board that I just loved. Matter of fact, I’m thinking about getting a tattoo somewhere of the skull from that board on there. I rode and rode. About that time, we moved to Nortonville. So, I had several guys that I ran with that skated and we got in trouble for wall riding at the bank and stuff. I was about 12 or 13 then. I skated until I was 16.

When I was 16, I got a [Pontiac] Trans-Am and that’s when I realized how much of a damn gypsy I was. The first weekend I had it, I put 500 miles on it. Mom told me not to leave town. I broke down way out of town and mom and dad had to come and get me. One night, I just randomly decided that I wanted to go see the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, TN. I wasn’t supposed to leave Nortonville, but I drove to the distillery anyway. After I got there, I decided it wouldn’t be that far for me to go to Knoxville, TN. So I drove on to Knoxville. Then I decided I might as well go on to Gatlinburg, TN. [everyone laughs] I drove to Gatlinburg. I had to be in Nashville early the next morning and I was broke. I called my parents collect and they’re like, “Where are you?” I told them, “I’m in Galtinburg. I don’t’ know if I’m going to make it home or not. I may need you to come get me. Of course, there were no cellphones at the time. We made it in by the skin of our teeth. I got home about four or five in the morning, fell asleep, woke up, ate, and headed to Nashville. I was just around. I’ve always been a drifter. Some people say I’m a loner, but it’s not really that I’m a loner so much as a drifter.

Jess - I’ve always been the same way. Of course, when you are traveling around you are always somewhere new, meeting new people. You’re never really alone, but you are kind of by yourself.

JT - For the people that are stationary, you’re a loner. You know? But you’re not. You’re always out meeting and making new friends. Can you pull up YouTube for a minute?

"credit" Jessi Smith
Jess - Yeah.

JT - Type in Phantom of the Black Heels, “I’m Raising Hell Again.” This will give you an idea of some of the cats. Hear the banjo?

Jess - What’s interesting about it is that so many people think that you can’t make new music. They think it’s all been done, but it really hasn’t. This song is kind of eerie sounding.

JT -  Now type in The Legendary Shack Shakers, “Blond Blue Wrist.” Do you remember back when that vampire cult down in Murray killed those people?

Luke - Yeah. I remember that.

JT - This is what this song is about. I was in New Orleans and they were headed to New Orleans. The Shack Shakers have songs on True Blood, Duplicity, and on a Geico commercial.

Luke - Do they really? I didn’t know that.

Jess - I didn’t either.

JT - Steven King actually listed The Legendary Shack Shakers as one of his favorite bands.

Luke - I’ve wanted to get into playing banjo man.

JT - Yeah? I had a banjo. I played gigs some with it. Have you heard The Dirt Daubers? [JT pulls up The Dirt Daubers on YouTube] That’s my friend Jessica [Wilkes] that is singing. My buddy J.D. Wilkes is the frontman. They are based out of Paducah. Mark Robertson is on bass.

Luke - Is that a ukulele banjo?

JT - It’s a mandolin banjo, actually. He played that at the last gig I played with him. It was awesome. A lot of times I’ll play the washboard with them.

Jess - Tell me a little bit more about life growing up after you set out gypsy-style.

JT - After I got my car, I was traveling all over the place listening to cats playing the guitar. I was buying a lot of instrumental cassettes at the time, too. Everybody kind of thought I played guitar because I was so into it, but I never did. I used to hang out in Crofton at the pool hall a lot. My friends and I would go down to B-Line because they’d sell us liquor when nobody else would, because we were underage. My buddy’s dad owned it. We would hang out in there and if the cops came we’d just sneak out the back and run down the railroad tracks. My friend Chuckie Wallace played the guitar some, so I decided I wanted to play some, too. I took my dad’s acoustic and I took his electric. I call his electric guitar the “Satan Signature Series.” I took it with me one night, and while I was pulling out at a gas station, a woman t-boned me going 60 miles per hour. The neck of that electric guitar went completely through my dad’s acoustic guitar. So, insurance-wise, we got enough money to get another acoustic. I got a 12 string and hated it. I traded it back in for an Alvarez limited addition.

"credit" Jessi Smith
Well, I had cracked a vertebrae in my back at one point, and I couldn’t really do anything. One day, my grandfather said, “G. M. Clayton has a barn right across the road where they play music every Saturday night. You ought to go over there and try to learn with those cats.” Well, I was already interested in thumbpicking, without realizing it was thumbpicking, because [KET’s series] Kentucky Afield has “Cannonball Rag” as their intro song. I had never heard anything like it. That’s cool, you know? So I went over to G. M. Clayton’s barn that night and [internationally-recognized thumbpicker] Eddie Pennington just happened to be there. Eddie’s my cousin. He played and I was like, “What the hell?” [laughs] Well, he thought I played too, so he was like, “Get up here!” So, I got up there and I didn’t know how to play anything. He said, “Take it.” I said, “I don’t know how to play.” He said, “You don’t know how to play and you still had balls enough to get up here?” [laughs]

He offered to teach me how to play. So, I took him up on it and he taught me a few songs. Within three months I was playing at the international championship out in Arkansas. I took 3rd place and all I knew were three songs. The next year I went back and became national champion. At that same time, I was building the band with Chris Knight and he and I were practicing, goofing, drinking beer, and fishing. We were serious, but not real serious. Chris was writing songs and we were playing them.

Chris went to Nashville one night when I was in Seattle. I was going to Seattle a whole bunch back then—it was early in the ‘90s during the grunge outbreak—and music was everywhere. I think I taught Kurt Cobain’s stepbrother rockabilly.

I met Kurt Cobain one time. That’s a story I’d actually like to set straight, though. I’ve heard everything from, “JT was best friends with Cobain,” to “JT lived with Cobain.” No, no, no. The real story is that I missed a plane. A friend had told me about this band called Nirvana. This was after [Nirvana’s freshman album] Bleach, but before [Nirvana’s chart-topping album] Nevermind. They were playing downtown in the U District in Seattle. I was at the bar and Cobain came up and he got a beer. I said, “Hey man, I’m really enjoying it. Y’all are rockin.’” He was like, “Thanks man. I appreciate it.” Then he walked off. That was it. I was not friends with Cobain. His stepbrother went to Seaholm High School, so I knew his stepbrother, but not him. Technically, I can’t even verify that it actually was his stepbrother. Someone told me he was his stepbrother after the fact. It’s not like he came to me and told me he was Kurt’s stepbrother or anything like that. You know how stories grow and escalate. That’s the true story about it. I never claimed to be best friends with Kurt Cobain. It was just a brief meeting.

"credit" Jessi Smith
So, I was in Seattle and Chris [Knight] called me and he was like, “Man, I’ve got things going. I went down to Nashville and did a writer’s night. A guy approached me, gave me his card, and he wants me to come talk to him. He works for BlueWater Publishing.” He said, “You need to get back down here and we need to get something moving.” So we booked every Tuesday night at Jack’s Guitar Barn. Monday night was Keith Urban’s Four Wheel Drive. That was his first band when he was down there. They played Monday night at Jack’s. Jack’s was co-owned by Steve Earle. So, we had every Tuesday night and we hit it religiously.

We were sleeping in the back of Chris’s truck. Chris met up again with Frank, the guy who gave him his card, but Frank didn’t remember him. So Chris just gave him a rough demo that he made at home. Next thing you know, Frank calls Chris up and he’s like, “Look. Here’s the key to my house. You can stay here.” So we were living in style then. He signed Chris with BlueWater Publishing and they were sticking us in the studio 12-14 hours a day recording demos. We’d do what we could. We recorded everything Chris had written and then we’d also do covers.

During that time, Frank got hired by Decca [Records] and signed Chris to Decca. Then we were really high rollin’, because we were on Decca’s expense account. Chris and I had the first number one album on the Americana format. A lot of cats don’t realize that. Americana was a brand new format because they didn’t know where to put us. We were too rock for country, too country for rock. So Frank was like, “There is this new format called Americana. I think that’s where you need to go.” So he started pushing us to Americana, and boom, we had the first number one on it. They had Chris and I booked for two weeks in L.A., plus 315 other tentative dates. At that time, my son was about to be born and they were pushing me to get new gear. I wouldn’t do it and they were getting pissed. I quit because I didn’t want to leave my son. I mean, he would have been walking before he ever met me, you know? Plus, I didn’t like the whole commerciality of it. I didn’t want to wear a damn cowboy hat. I quit music for like five years altogether.

Jess - You didn’t play at all?

J.T. - Nope. I wouldn’t even listen to it. I would only listen to talk radio. It burned me that bad. Eventually, I started getting back into it again. [James] Mike Harris, Pat Ballard, and I started doing gigs around Hopkins County. It was fun. It broke me back in, but I wanted to branch out more. So, being the wanderer that I am, I met a couple guys from Paducah and I decided I wanted to go there. J.D. Wilkes and Layne Hendrickson invited me down, so I went. There was a cool scene in Paducah and I didn’t know anybody, so I started going down there and hanging out. I met a bunch of people. We all hit it off and now we are like brothers. It’s been a wild ride man. I’ve met a lot of my heroes.

"credit" Jessi Smith
Jess - Who are your ultimate heroes?

JT - Django Reinhardt, a gypsy jazz guitarist from the ‘30s and ‘40s. Mose Rager from Drakesboro, KY. He’s been dead for years. Odell Martin from Allegre, KY. Odell is dead as well. There are so many. Slim Cessna from Denver, CO. He’s amazing. That would probably be the top ones right there.

Jess - So what musical projects are you currently involved in?

JT - Right now, I’m with The Solid Rocket Boosters, which is based out of Paducah. I’m also with Call Johnny Law, which is based out of Glasgow, KY. Patson [Patrick Richardson] and I have a band we’re putting together called The Balls, because there is two of us. [everyone laughs] Our insignia is a flag. I’m holding a guitar, he’s holding drums, and we’re shaking hands in the middle. I’m going for the whole Colonel Sanders look because I’m a Colonel, a Kentucky Colonel.

Recently, I worked on a show with KET spotlighting the Paducah music scene. That’s another project I’ve taken part in lately.

Jess - How did you come to help KET with the Paducah music scene project?

JT - Five years ago, I was sitting around drunk one day reflecting on my first couple gigs with The Dirt Daubers. The Dirt Daubers actually formed in England at a film festival. J.D. Wilkes has a film called Seven Signs. Well, they were presenting it at this film festival over in England, and they decided that before the movie started J.D. and his wife Jessica would get up there and play a few Kentucky folk songs. Well, the first person on his feet was Les Claypool from Primus. Les confronted J.D. in the back and told him that he needed to form a band. So before J.D.’s first American gig, he contacted me and was like, “Dude, can you come down and help us?” So I went down there.

"credit" Jessi Smith
Anyways, it was around that time, I was drunk, and out of the blue I was just like, “Man! Friggin’ Dirt Daubers rock!” I love them. So I called up KET and I was like, “I need somebody in charge of shows.” They sent me through to this guy and he was like, “This is Brandon Hickey. Can I help you?” I said, “You need to do a show about my friends down in Paducah. The Dirt Daubers rock!” [laughs] They said they’d take it into consideration. Well, about four months ago I got a call from Brandon Hickey saying they’d gotten a green light for the show. I had almost forgotten I’d ever called them. I’m hoping, with these new contacts at KET, that they might take my advice on other projects they should consider. A vision without any ambition or drive is like a wingless bird dreaming of flight. I’ve never been afraid to ask anybody to do anything. You can’t be shy. You only go through life once. It’s not like it’s going to kill you and if it does it’s your time. I’ve always had that approach about everything, man. I’ve done a hell of a lot. I’ve been a lot of places. I’ve met a lot of people. Just approach others as human beings. That’s the main thing.

Jess - How did you meet your wife, Savannah?

JT - That’s a funny story. I was having a busy year when I met her. I was playing with The Dirt Daubers and Bawn in the Mash.

Jess - I love Bawn in the Mash!

JT - The Solid Rocket Boosters is a combo of Bawn in the Mash and The Legendary Shack Shakers. Josh Coffey, their fiddle player, is like a brother to me.

OK, Savannah. The Glema Mahr Center for the Arts contacted me and they wanted me to do some music for the play Grease. I had to turn them down. I was too busy. Then, I got to thinking about it and decided to go for it anyway. So, I called [Glema Center Community Programs and Marketing Coordinator] Lynn Curtis back and told her I had a lot going on, but that I still wanted to help. Lynn told me that all she needed was for me to make the last week of practices and the shows. She didn’t expect me at every single practice, because she knew I could handle it. Regardless, I did manage to make every single practice. I’d drive in from Henderson or wherever, make the practices, and go back to gigs. Savannah was doing make-up for Grease. Come show time, [Glema Center Director] Brad Downall came up and was like, “Ok. Time to go get make-up.” I was like, “I’m not doing make-up.” Brad said, “You need makeup. Go see Savannah.” I looked in there, saw Savannah, and was like, “Alright. I’m getting make-up. [everyone laughs]

So, I go in there and she’s listening to “Happiness is a Warm Gun”— I’ll never forget that. She had a killer playlist on her iPod. I kept letting everybody else go in front of me and I just kept talking to her. We did this over and over before each performance. At one point, she lost her phone. She gave me her number so I could text it and try to help her find it. So, I texted her. So she goes, “Well, you have my number.” I couldn’t tell if it was an, “Ok. You have my number,” or an, “Oh crap. You have my number.” Maybe she thought I was a creeper, you know? [laughs] So a few days passed, I texted her again, asking if she found her phone. I didn’t hear back for a while. Then she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I was like, “Cool. It’s back on.” I was just getting out of a relationship and she was just getting out of a relationship. Of course, she had just moved back from England too, so I sent her a message on Facebook. I didn’t hear anything back. I sent another. I didn’t hear anything back. So I sent this apology message, “I’m sorry. I’m not a creep. I won’t bother you anymore. I hope I didn’t offend you. I wasn’t trying to flirt.” Stuff like that. And then, out of the blue, I get this long message back from her and in it she said, “I wouldn’t mind if you did flirt.”

So, one night I sent her a message letting her know that I was going to be with Bawn in the Mash at The Apple in Murray, Kentucky with [local musician] Johnny Keyz and his girlfriend, Devon. They love Bawn in the Mash. Well, Savannah had sent me a message that she was going to be in Paducah for a cast party. At one point during the night, Savannah sent me a text that said, “We’re getting in the hot tub.” I pretty much picked Johnny and Devon up and threw them in the car. I didn’t even pay my tab. I had to drive completely back to Murray the next day to pay my tab.

"credit" Jessi Smith
So, we got down there and Savannah and I got to talking. The group of us went for a walk. Eventually, she separated from the group to look at some sculptures by herself. I was on it. [laughs] We left the crowd and went walking. It was the most magical night of my life. We sat down at the pier and we talked. We talked about the history and architecture of Paducah. It was just the most beautiful night I’ve ever had. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I kissed her down on the pier and it was magic. We just realized we are pretty much one and the same. She’s adventurous, she loves to travel, and she’s just perfect for me. She is my soul mate. I’ve learned a lot from her and she’s learned a lot from me. It’s been a great relationship. My family just worships the ground she walks on. I couldn’t ask for a better mother for my kids. Savannah has been a really good role model to them. She’s really been a blessing to my whole family.

Luke - She plays music too, doesn’t she?

JT - Yeah, she plays the guitar and she writes some. She plays the saw some. I love the saw. I call it the poor man’s theremin. That’s a fully Appalachian instrument that was developed in the Appalachian Mountains. I like the spooky sound of it. I’ll play minor chords and then I get her to play the saw behind me.

Jess - Tell us a little bit about The Dirty Rounders.

JT - We were one of the first acoustic bands around here back in the mid to late ‘90s. Everybody was going full electric. So, around the time I quit the Nashville scene, I came back to Hopkins County and I was like, “I’m going to form a band and break every rule they have for music around here.” You had to have lighting, your set-list, and everybody wanted to be famous. I’m completely against that, man. Forget fame. So I was like, “Look man. We’re going to wear ripped up jeans, use candles for lighting, and we’re not going to have a set-list. We’re going to play acoustic instruments, we’re going to cuss, and we’re going to play whatever the hell we want to play. If they throw us out, they throw us out.” [GypsyLifter frontman] Chad Estes, my brother Joey, and I did it. I would play guitar, mandolin, banjo, and rain stick. Joey would play everything I played, but he’d play accordion, too. He’d beat on his mandolin case for rhythms. We just did anything we felt like. Whatever we felt like, we did it. I created the band name one night when Joey and I were out cruising through the country drinking beer. We were drinking [Budweiser] ponies. I hate Bud ponies. I only drink microbrews and imports. I like really like porters and stouts.

At that time, I was just drinking Bud ponies because that’s what I had. I was drunk and I was listening to a Doc Watson song that says, “Rations on the table and the coffee’s getting cold, and some dirty rounder stole my jelly roll.” [everyone laughing] I was like, “That’s it Joey. We’re the Dirty Rounders.” We had a pretty good following. Cats were coming in from Bowling Green and everywhere else to check us out. But we’d always promised ourselves that the minute it stopped being fun we’d quit. One night, we were playing at CP Shootstraights in Madisonville back when it was open and it just hit us all. We just decided that was it. None of us were having fun anymore. That was the end of The Dirty Rounders.

Jess - Why is music so important to you? What is it about music that drives you through life?

JT - Music is what I am. I’m an instrument for my muse. I had to put the time in to learn to play the way I play so that I can translate what I hear from my muses. I don’t do a dang thing. It’s all something else and every musician needs to realize that and open themselves up to it. Let whatever it is—your muse, if you want to call it God, whatever it is, that spirit that comes through true musicians—break through. The true musicians need to open up, because it’s totally spiritual. If you don’t open yourself up to it, then you’re just not going to be as good as you could be. If you think too much about it, get onstage, and you remember everything you hit, then you didn’t do it. You didn’t let your muse go.

I make music because I’m supposed to do it. For some reason, I’ve been picked to be able to translate what the muses want to say. So, I totally give it up to that. I can’t do anything else. If I’m doing anything else, music will continuously claw at my thoughts. I was an engineer in the automotive industry and I’m good at math. Music is math. But at the same time, I’m just an instrument. I don’t take credit for the music I make. I know some people think I have an ego, but I really don’t. I’m actually a pretty quiet person. I talk a lot at times, when I’m comfortable. If I’m not that comfortable, I won’t talk at all. Sometimes that gets mistaken as me being stuck up or a jerk. It’s really not like that. And I constantly have melodies running through my head. Sometimes people speak musical notes in my dreams. It’s just what I am, so I surrender myself.

"credit" Jessi Smith
Jess - Why do you think music is so important to a community and the people in it, collectively?

JT - Music reflects community. The music industry is pumping out stuff right now to sell records and it’s not reflecting our community. It’s not reflecting the hardships, the unemployment, or the drug abuse. It’s out of touch, you know? People will listen to songs that do address those issues and it bothers them because they don’t like seeing it or thinking about it. It’s a reflection of society. Well, you know what? We are society. A lot of the time, people turn a blind eye to these things, but that’s the truth. I can only relate what I see, you know? A lot of the songs that bother people are nonfiction, whether they like it or not. That’s what bothers them—music, not corporate music, but real music by real musicians that actually reflect community and what transpires in our day to day lives. If you don’t like it, you can change it, you know? Music is a mirror for what’s going on right now. Too many people right now are ate up with fame. Everyone wants to be famous. Yeah, money would be nice, but what would fame get you if you don’t have the money? What is fame?

Jess - A lack of privacy. [laughs]

JT - Yeah! A lack of privacy. I don’t want fame. I want to see the scene continue, but I want people to know about the ones before us who made it possible for us to do what we’re doing now. I want to pay homage to them. At the same time though, I have to make music in a different way, because, otherwise, they won’t relate. You have to make old-world stuff relatable. Music is everything to me. Music is it. I can’t imagine my life without music. I’d be in bad trouble. I’d be in jail or something. I was heading that direction before I found music. Once I found music, I poured everything into it and I’ve had a great life since. It’s not for everybody. You can’t be materialistic. You can’t be obsessed with money. You can’t care what other people think about you. Compliments and scolding are the same thing—vibrations on your eardrums. And they’re just present for a moment. In everybody’s mind, you are what you are right at that second. So, if you’re doing well at that second, you’re great. You’ve always been a great guy. The next minute, if you do something bad, you’re a bad person who has been a bad person his whole life. Who cares? If they praise you, that’s great. If they scold you, that’s great. A musician’s job is to move people. If you get done with a show and all they are doing is clapping mildly, then you’ve failed. If they are flipping you off, you’ve succeeded. If they are cheering for you, you’ve succeeded.

Jess - How do you think the local music scene could be improved?

JT - The local scene could be majorly improved. All lot of local musicians, whether they want to realize it or not, are trying to be commercial. They are all trying to get on the radio. They all want to be rock stars. Sometimes it feels like nobody cares about making good music—music that is real. I’ve gone into too many studios and heard, “Oh, that’s too long. We need to cut that down, otherwise it won’t make radio.” I’m like, “That’s not going on the radio. That’s not why I’m making it.” I think the older musicians should be teaching the younger musicians. I also think that the younger musicians should be paying more attention to what they are saying. Bands from this area should be trying hard to make the scene. They should be stirring people up and inspiring them. They should be paying homage to the ones who came before them. I think we need to pay more homage to our community’s history. Be proud of it! I’m so tired of hearing people say, “This is just Madisonville. This is just Hopkins County. This place sucks. We can’t do anything in Hopkins County.”

Jess - Oh, I hate that. That’s part of the reason we started Sugg Street Post.

JT - I started that whole LLKM thing.

Luke - Yeah. Talk a little bit about that.

JT - There are a lot of people who take credit for starting it, but if you look back at my old videos on YouTube, you’ll see where I put LLKM at the end of them a lot of times. I started that as a joke. It was a total joke. I was playing a festival down in Tennessee and a buddy of mine was there with his bluegrass band. I was like, “You don’t know a damn thing about bluegrass. You’re not from Kentucky.” And they were kidding me about being from Kentucky. So I took a sharpie and wrote LLKM on my shirt. I was like, “That means, long live Kentucky music—not from Tennessee.” Well, from there, I started writing LLKM on everything. People should be proud of where they’re from. I’m tired of hearing people down themselves. Everybody, including my wife, was trying to get me to trademark LLKM and sell shirts and stuff. I was like, “I don’t want it to be that. I want it to be something for the people.”

Since then, people have claimed ownership of LLKM. But I will swear on anything you want me to. I started that back in the day and the proof is on my old YouTube videos. Now everybody has a slogan they can hold onto to. Be proud of being from Kentucky. At the end of all of my gigs, I always shout out LLKM, “Long Live Kentucky Music.” We should be preserving our heritage and preserving our music. I really pushed it and it caught on. Long live Kentucky Music.

"credit" Jessi Smith
JT Oglesby currently contributes "On the Frets," a weekly guitar lesson video column, to the Sugg Street Post. Click here to check it out.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Photos by Jessi Smith

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  • Published in Art

Barbie Hunt - Living Out Loud

"credit" Jeff HarpHOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/28/13) – If you live in or around Madisonville, then you’ve probably heard the name Barbie Hunt, which has become synonymous with creativity, spirituality, and brilliant color. Barbie has been embellishing the world with her distinctive artistic flair her entire life, of which, timeframe-wise, she refuses to release specific information about.

“If a woman tells you her age, she’ll tell you anything,” laughs Barbie.

Well-known in Hopkins County for her unique and imaginative style, Barbie is a staple in our area. In turn, many follow her work and any new projects she becomes involved in. Barbie’s art is becoming highly sought after and collected both locally and around the world.

Some of the unique treasures Barbie brings into existence include ceramic pottery, brightly painted silk scarves, collage work, mixed media pieces, and paintings of all mediums. Aside from her studio, which is located at 37 South Main Street in downtown Madisonville, you can see Barbie’s work in various places around town, such as McCoy & McCoy Laboratories and The Crowded House/Green Dragon Tavern.

"credit" Jeff Harp
I was introduced to Barbie Hunt at a young age by my grandmother, Beverly Dockrey, who belonged to a book club that Barbie was a part of. My grandmother, knowing my love of art and painting, took me into Barbie’s studio where we were introduced. It wasn’t long before I was completely inspired by this woman, her unbelievable talents, and her friendly disposition.

Since then, I have kept up with Barbie’s work and recently had the pleasure of sitting down with her in her studio to talk about her life, her great accomplishments thus far, and her hopes for the future.

Barbie grew up in Barlow, KY, a small town on the west side of Ballard County. Her father, Gayle Perry, was an agriculture teacher at the local high school; her mother, Adeline Perry, was a stay-at-home-mom, as were many others at that time.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“My parents were World War II people,” explains Barbie. “I think my mother was a frustrated artist. She was a very creative person. We always had projects going on around the house. Later in her life, she took some classes and she became a very good painter. I have a few of her paintings. My mother wanted to be creative, but the culture was to stay at home and take care of your kids. I have a brother and a sister, so there were three of us. I’m the middle child. We lived in a nice neighborhood and we had the run of the town. We rode our bikes and walked everywhere. It was a very, I guess, common childhood for people who grew up in small towns like that. There were lots of thriving small towns at that time.”

Barbie’s father was a talented musician from Dawson Springs who also put his creative talents on hold while he provided for his family and focused on family life.

“My dad played all kinds of instruments. He could play the fiddle, guitar, banjo, anything,” says Barbie. “He sort of set that aside, however, because he didn’t think that was very important. He played in a band and stuff like that during the war, but, afterwards, I would say that generation—when they got home—really settled into family life in a way that we don’t really see now. They put aside things that they shouldn’t have, like my mother who spoke two languages. We’re Americans and we don’t speak German. Of course, German wouldn’t have been a good language to speak at that time. My mother’s parents came over from Germany and my mother grew up in North Dakota. Her mother was from Denmark. She had a working knowledge of both German and Dutch, but none of that was something that carried down to us kids.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Barbie says that her father’s musical career really started taking off as she grew older.

“I was around 10 or 12 when he really started getting into it because of new worship songs that were coming out. That’s when ‘How Great Thou Art’ was a new song,” laughs Barbie. “These songs started coming out with guitar, which was brand new to the church. Well, he got into that and started to learn all these songs. He just loved playing worship music on his guitar. In fact, before he died of cancer, he planned his own funeral and he invited all these friends of his that he’d been pickin’ with in different worship settings. We had like eight guitarists in this traditional Methodist church doing all this music that these people had never really heard. Are you familiar with the Great Banquet in Madisonville? Well, we helped to start it. We also helped to start the Walk to Emmaus in Murray, KY. My dad got involved in that and that’s when his musical talents really started showing up. After we were teenagers, he really started enjoying music and pickin’ with other people.”

Barbie’s father tried showing her how to play the guitar, but she claims her left-handed approach made it difficult for him to teach her. She got frustrated with it early on and, although she says she isn’t musically talented, she does have a dulcimer that a friend, Warren May,  made for her that she wants to learn how to play.

"credit" Jeff Harp
Although Barbie’s father’s musical talents weren’t directly passed on to her, her mother’s creative edge influenced her greatly.

“I got to paint a lot as a kid,” says Barbie. “Other kids would come to my house because we had stuff and that wasn’t normal. The schools didn’t teach art at all. Even the high schools didn’t have art classes. So, I got to do stuff with my mom at home. We did lots of paint by numbers. I learned a lot about color doing paint by numbers, which was, I think, a really good base for learning.”

Barbie’s childhood was spent roaming around in woods near her house, playing in mud, and helping her mother in a big garden outside the home. She thought, growing up, that she’d end up becoming an elementary teacher or a nurse.

“I really thought those were the only two things you could be when you grew up,” laughs Barbie. “Then I went to college at Murray State University and found out that you could study art as a subject. I took one class and I was hooked. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, and I’m sure I won’t ever make any money at it, but I’ve got to do it.’ Then I took a pottery class and realized that you could really do something. I used to make mud pies as a kid and here I was making real, professional mud pies. So it kind of evolved really. I can’t say that I always wanted to be an artist and I really never even knew one. I mean, it wasn’t until I left home that my mother really started painting.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Barbie left Murray State University with more than an education. It was there that she met her husband, Rush Hunt.

“We got married and then Rush went to law school in Louisville,” says Barbie. “I finished college there at Spaulding University. Spaulding had a great program at that time. You could take classes at any school in the city and get credit at Spaulding, so I took a pottery class under Tom Marsh. He was a great potter and teacher at that time at the University of Louisville. After that, we moved to Madisonville and Rush started practicing law here.”

Upon moving to Hopkins County, Barbie started dabbling in commercial art. She designed logos for businesses, painted, and raised Lee and Lara, their two children.

“I really wanted to go back to school,” says Barbie. “I thought that if I could really learn to make pots then that would be a legitimate way to make income as an artist. Plus, I really liked making pots. So, I went to the University of Evansville and they allowed me in the master’s program even though I’d only had one class in clay and really didn’t have a background in it. They kind of took me in on a tentative basis to see how I did.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Barbie did very well in the program and came away from the University of Evansville with a master’s in ceramics.

“I did most of my master work in gas-fired kilns and developed a lot of glazes. All the glazes I have, I’ve made myself,” says Barbie. “When I finished that, I started working as a fulltime production potter. At that time, Martha Layne Collins was governor. During that era, there was a lot of support for the Kentucky craft market. Well, I got involved in the crafts market and I eventually had about 15 ‘mom and pop’ craft shops and gift shops in the state carrying my pottery. I really got into production works. I did that for about eight years and, at the same time, I started teaching part-time at the college.”

Barbie taught art history, studio classes, and developmental English classes at Madisonville Community College (MCC). In an attempt to score a fulltime teaching job at MCC, Barbie commuted to Murray State University until she acquired a master’s degree in English literature.

"credit" Jeff Harp
“I really enjoyed it. I had a couple of professors that were just wonderful,” says Barbie. “Plus, I love reading, which is another family pastime. We had lots of books and we were always reading, so I had already read a lot of the classics. I was particularly interested in the early part of the 20th Century in America and England—T.S. Elliot and that whole group of guys.”

Although Barbie obtained her master’s in English literature and was working towards her PHD, she was denied a fulltime position with the college. She says it was a definite turning point in her life. She wondered whether or not teaching was the path she was supposed to be on. She resigned from her part-time teaching job and turned to her art, deciding once again to try making art her fulltime job.

“The craft market changed a lot, quickly. It was hard, solitary work, and I really prefer to be with people. I was really disappointed when I didn’t get the fulltime teaching job, because I had been given a lot of ‘green lights’ on it. I thought I had been doing everything to get myself into the right position to land that job.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Shortly after resigning from her teaching position, Barbie received a phone call from the president of MCC offering her a much different job on campus. She was offered the position of director over the newly built Glema Mahr Center for the Arts, which, at that time, was called the Madisonville Fine Arts Center.

“Rush had been on the Community Improvement Foundation for years and years,” says Barbie. “We had watched the building go up. It had been a hard building to build because it had been completed in phases as they had the money. I wasn’t involved in any of it. I saw it all go up as I was driving back and forth teaching all the time. The president wanted me to consider being the first director of this new thing. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no! I’m not the least bit interested in that,’” laughs Barbie. “It just looked like a lot of work. So we talked a lot about what his vision was and what his hopes were. It was the first performing arts center on a community college campus in Kentucky. It broke a lot of ground in many areas. I didn’t want to just say no if it was something I was supposed to do, but gosh, it didn’t seem like something I was supposed to do.”

Although she wasn’t very interested in taking on such a large project, she decided to ask if she could see the inside of the building and was quickly taken on a tour of the new facility.

“I’d never even seen the inside of it,” says Barbie. “They had a ribbon cutting ceremony at one point and then they closed it up. They couldn’t leave it open unless they had a person running it, so it was just locked up. It was finished, unfinished really, but finished as far as what they’d had the money for. So we walked through the building. It had seats, no curtains, no lighting, and a very small sound system. There wasn’t any furniture in the office. It had a great big coatroom and a little bitty box office. It had dressing rooms with nothing in them at all—just concrete block rooms. It had another concrete block room that was supposed to be a green room someday. It had a sound booth with absolutely nothing in it except a counter, and it had no money. It had no operating money whatsoever. They had set aside a small budgeted amount to run it and they had gotten approval from the community college system to hire a director and a secretary.”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Barbie was shocked at what it truly could be and what an outrageous amount of work would have to go into it. Yet, it was in that empty building that she had an epiphany that would change not only her life, but the lives of so many others in our community.

“I knew all these wonderful women who had dreamed and raised money for 20 years to build this thing,” explains Barbie. “I saw that it was either lemon or lemonade, and right now it was just this great big lemon. These women had dreamed a really big dream and some crazy person needed to dream just as big to pull it off. Then I realized that I was that crazy person.”

Even though Barbie knew nothing about performing arts leadership, she accepted the position and was immediately overwhelmed by the project she had taken on.

“It was an insane job. God was really with me,” says Barbie. “They already had 30 events booked in a building with no lights, no sound, no money, no desk, no computer, and no paperclips. I started meeting with all these guys, because there was a punch list and all this unfinished work. One of them told me about a man named Larry Teal who lived outside of Chicago. Larry had a performing arts center very similar to mine. He told me I needed to get to know him. Well, I called him up. I was desperate. I needed help.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

Barbie made fast friends with Larry Teal. He had taken on the job of running a performing arts center on a community college campus and had already plowed the same ground that Barbie had just set foot on.

“Every detail, from getting a very structured system to adjust to the arts, maintenance, cutting a check for an artist, intermission—stuff that had never ever been done before,” says Barbie. “Larry took me under his wing. I met him at a presenters booking conference. He got me in with William Morris and some of the big boys. I got to sit in on booking meetings with all the big presenters from Florida. They treated me like one of the guys, and here I was, a young mom that didn’t know what I was doing.”

With help from her newfound friends, Barbie was able to book incredible artists right off the bat and continued to do so season after season. Barbie was also able to develop a volunteer program quickly.

“We had over 100 people within a year helping to do everything from sound and lights to seating,” says Barbie. “Larry came and helped me to develop a ticketing program as well.”

For ten years, Barbie kept the ball rolling at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts. It was during that time she says she realized that, while she loves starting projects, she really doesn’t think she is good at maintaining them.

"credit" Jessi Smith

“I loved setting it all up,” says Barbie. “When I left, they were in good shape financially, had a large endowment, and I had gotten Glema’s name on the building, which was a dream of mine. And then, I realized it was just work. It had become work. It wasn’t a challenge anymore. I missed making art and a lot of things had changed in our lives. Our kids were in law school and they were grown. We had bought this building, Rush’s law office was in here, and we had been renting out the other side and decided not to rent it anymore. So, I started renovating it to be a little pottery shop. In 1999, I moved in and started making pots.”

Both of Barbie’s children, Lara and Lee, eventually became attorneys and moved off to fulfill their dreams. Neither was particularly into creating art, but Barbie says they both appreciate art and that they are by far her biggest fans.

“We had the most fun this past December. Our son and his wife, Kristi, finally got their dream home in Santé Fe, New Mexico. They’ve lived in Santé Fe for over ten years and they recently bought this new, huge, awesome house there. They’re both amazing people, but they have not one decorating gene between them,” laughs Barbie. “They have no interest in that, so they asked Lara and I to come to New Mexico to help them. They bought our plane tickets to come and spend the week decorating their house. We spent 15 hours the first day shopping and then we had all the furniture trucked in. We decorated the whole house in five days. It was amazing.”

During the home makeover, Barbie produced a large painting to place on a wall of the house. She was inspired early one morning while watching the sun rise up over Santé Fe. Barbie wanted to paint it, so she did.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“It got me thinking about working big," says Barbie. “I live in this little studio and it keeps me from thinking big, but in New Mexico, everything is so big. The sky is so big. So anyways, I came home and I was inspired. I could do it. I wanted to work big.”

Barbie has recently completed several large-scale pieces that are currently on display at The Crowded House restaurant in Madisonville. Up to this point, she has been creating art on a much smaller scale, but she has found her creative energies renewed after stepping outside of her usual comfort levels and working big.

Some of her most popular sellers, however, are her hand-painted silks, which she learned to do with a friend.

“We’d get together and play—make art together. She’s a wonderful painter,” says Barbie. “She painted silk for fun, so we’d get together and do silk. It became a great way for me to do color studies. The color you put on it is what stays. And mixing colors and seeing what happens when they run together and all of that helped. I really got to where I liked doing silk more than I liked doing watercolor. I still do watercolor every once in a while. I have some girlfriends and we used to go to Maine and paint landscapes. I love taking watercolors and doing that, but I don’t really see myself as a watercolor painter. It’s very structured. I’m not structured enough to be a good water colorist. You’ve got to like order and staying within the lines that you’ve created. I always want to bust out of my own lines.”

Painting silk became such a fun creative outlet for Barbie that she even developed her own method for working with silk.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“Most silk painters stretch their silks and it’s a wonderful way to work. It’s very structured,” says Barbie. “I lay out plastic on the floor or on a table. I use the real thin, almost drycleaner plastic that you get your clothes in, scrunch it, and then put the silk on that. The silk picks up all these things that are going on in the plastic underneath it. So you can control where it goes and what it does with water, dye, salt, and even sugar. Salt and sugar create texture in the dye. Do all that, lay it out flat, and let it sit. I am doing the same thing with acrylics—building up color, letting it run, stopping, seeing where it ends, going back, and layering more color on. Of course, the difference with silk would be that silk is transparent. The colors are all transparent, so you can’t totally get rid of something. With acrylics, you can just go ahead and start over if it’s a terrible painting,” laughs Barbie. “But with silk, it’s only a piece of silk. How bad could it be?”

Like most artists, Barbie is often inspired by a certain medium, running with it until she discovers something else that pulls her in a different direction. In turn, her artwork is usually made in phases.

Barbie says she is just now getting back into making pots, which she hasn’t done over the past seven years.

“My kiln died and I didn’t get a new one,” says Barbie. “Life got busy and Rush and I opened the [Main Street] Prayer Center [aka, Healing Rooms of Hopkins County] in the middle of all that. With painting, you can paint and then come back to it a week later and pick up where you left off. Pots don’t give you that freedom. I wasn’t sure I would go back to making clay, but a friend has loaned me her kiln. I’ll probably buy a new one now, but I have a kiln that I’m using and its firing fine. So, I got all my glazes back out. In the midst of all that, this wonderful young woman, Bree Jene Campbell, came to help me and she’s interested in becoming a potter. Bree is apprenticing. Having somebody here to help me do some of the work, Facebook it, and help with marketing has invigorated me to get excited about clay again. The same thing has happened with the large scale work. To have done that in New Mexico—I enjoyed the process and finished three paintings in a day. That kind of got me going, ‘Oh my gosh. I can do this. This is fun.’”

"credit" Jeff Harp
Another style of art that Barbie has an affinity for is collage. Collage is a technique where the artwork is made from an assemblage of different forms, which create a new piece altogether. She is very well known for her collage pieces.

“I really love doing collage,” says Barbie. “I think you have to have a respect for it to purchase it, so it’s been a harder sell. Regardless, I’ve sold a lot of work and I have people now who collect my work and really appreciate it. I’m very grateful for that. Collage is a slower process. I’ve been doing it for a long time now and it’s been a very good way to force me to deal with design, color, texture, and all the areas that you might kind of become lazy with. Working small with collage has been really good. So, I’m taking some of the things I’ve been doing small and kind of blowing them up. I’ve done some larger scale pieces with collected metal and wood. I’ve sold quite a few. I have quite a few right now that I’m working on. I just collect parts, get ideas, and put them together. They come together pretty quickly once I have all the parts. There is a show in Henderson [Kentucky] that I participate in every other year. It’s a recycled art exhibit. So that’s always a goal of mine, to get a bunch of new works done for the exhibit. It’s coming up this fall, so I’m gearing up and thinking through new ideas. I used to do a lot of shows. I don’t do that many anymore. It’s a lot of trouble to haul your stuff around. But the recycled art exhibit, I really enjoy doing that one.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

Barbie considers one of her greatest artistic accomplishments a collage series that she created for McCoy & McCoy Laboratories, Inc. She was commissioned to create the series by Barclay McCoy, the president and owner of the company.

“It was such a fun project,” gushes Barbie. “The project was to do these pieces of collage using leaves and construction pieces from their old site and their new site when they were building their new building. I developed all these works that were going to be given as gifts to all the different contract companies that participated in the construction of the building. Then, I went out with Barclay and we picked out the colors for the interior of the new building. We chose all these primary colors and I just happened to be working with all these primary colors in my collages as well. When they were all finished, Barclay liked them so much she decided to keep them. So now, they are on the wall inside of the building honoring all of these companies who worked together to create it. I love that McCoy & McCoy, a local company, supports local artists. I would love to see other local businesses really take local art seriously.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

For the most part, Barbie thinks that Madisonville and Hopkins County are moving in the right direction when it comes to appreciating the arts and surrounding ourselves with it.

“I’m always striving for excellence, so there is always more to improve upon, but I think we’re doing great,” says Barbie. “What Sugg Street Post is doing is awesome. We’re getting an art gallery open on Sugg Street and Amanda’s on Main is doing well. We had our fourth Gallery Hop this year, which is amazing. That’s starting to build up steam. At the first one I didn’t sell hardly anything. The second one I sold more. The third one I sold a lot. I think it’s because people started coming expecting to buy. They saw it as what it is intended to be. Not just to go look at art, but to come, shop, and to find work that catches your heart and that you want to live with. I was in a home recently and the couple that lived there was displaying one of my pieces. It is really exciting to see people starting to own and appreciate work by local artists. I think the desire that we have to see the Dulin and Woolworth buildings become important, active buildings in the downtown is significant. I love the idea of having upstairs apartments throughout the downtown area, because it puts people living in the downtown district. Those are the people that are going to be a part of whatever scene is going on. Those are the people who will help make our downtown area an active arts community. Hopefully, we can even put studios or businesses in those buildings that will support the arts or become part of the arts scene. It would be awesome to bring other artists to live and work here. I think that is the goal that we’re moving towards and I think that’s wonderful. I think we’re going there.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

Barbie not only has a passion for art, but she also has a passion for prayer. Barbie and her husband Rush are responsible for opening the Main Street Prayer Center which is located at 35 North Main Street in downtown Madisonville.

“Rush had been at a conference learning about Healing Rooms Ministries and it was clear that God wanted us to open a prayer center,” says Barbie. “So we started one in my shop where Rush’s office space used to be before he moved to a new location, and we continued to run it in this building for almost two years. We had two prayer rooms, an intersession room, and a reception area. However, this space just wasn’t really big enough for the ministry, which grew quickly. We had more and more people coming for prayer and they had to wait a long time. We needed a bigger building, and we had a lot of wonderful, prophetic people telling us that God had a bigger plan and for us. They told us to keep our eyes open. So we got the building that we have now at an auction and moved the prayer center down the street next to Ferrell’s. We moved in May of 2011.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
The prayer center does not offer Sunday services. Barbie tells me that the center isn’t a church either; it’s a ministry.

“Healing Rooms is an international association. There are over 2,500 in the world and, since we’ve opened ours, there are now ten in Kentucky. It’s just bringing Christians together to pray, primarily for the sick, but for people that have needs of all kinds. We are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have had some pretty amazing things happen. Lots of people have gotten healed. We have gotten reports recently that four different people we have been praying over are now cancer free. We see God heal people on a regular basis. It’s a cool ministry.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Recently, the ministry created a kids healing team and have received a very good response.

“After we started our healing room, the kids wanted to pray for the sick because they had been in experiences where they had seen God heal people,” says Barbie. “So we put a structure together, tried it, and that next year the lead administrator of Healing Rooms came to Madisonville and held a conference with us. They got to see what our kids were doing and how it was progressing. Shortly after that they invited us to come and talk about it at a conference in Spokane [Washington]. So I put a manual together and that has put us in the frontline of being the go-to people if you want to have a kids’ team. Recently, we received a grant from the National Christian Foundation to help us build a website and to develop our material. So that’s something I’ve been involved in lately.”

Something else that has been consuming Barbie’s thoughts lately has been the Dulin and Woolworth buildings, which are located right next to her art studio. The buildings have been a hot topic of conversation around town as their ultimate fates are uncertain at this point in time.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I’m really hoping that the building next door gets taken good care of, because it’s scary right now not knowing what the outcome will be,” says Barbie. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the big looming buildings next door. If they get torn down, I don’t know what will happen to my studio. At one point, we were asked if we would sell our building. I can’t say that I want to, but if that would improve the downtown, and if I could find a good alternate space, I would consider it. But, I’ve spent a lot of years moving in here and it’s hard to set up a studio. It’s a lot of work. I want to make art, I don’t want to move or renovate. I’m happy where I am.”

Barbie and I also talked about her favorite themes, colors, and symbols that frequently appear in her work.

“Over the last ten years, I have worked on this series on the cross. It’ll probably be a book at some point, because I’ve written devotions that go with each piece,” says Barbie. “I was honing in on two concepts with this series. There is obviously the cross that Jesus died on, which is the central image of the Christian faith, but then Jesus said, ‘Pick up your cross,’ so there’s more to it than the obvious image. So I did my own in-depth study of that, and so many of my collages have come out of that study. I always keep going back to that, because it’s still an ongoing observation in my life.”

“Leaves are another theme I’m drawn to,” says Barbie. “I honed in on the scripture in revelations that says that the leaves of the trees are going to heal nations and that leaves had some significance in the kingdom of God as a symbol of healing. So leaves became, for me, a symbol of healing and a Christian symbol. I have used leaves a lot. I believe that God is calling Christians to pray for the nations, not against them, and to believe that God wants to heal not just individuals, but nations.”

"credit" Jeff Harp

“Now I’ve got this new series, which is based on a concept that I’m really just starting to explore, and that is that the atmosphere that we see is only part of the atmosphere that we live in,” explains Barbie. “There is a spiritual atmosphere and it parallels, because God is a creator and he loves all of it. He loves the stars, he loves nature, and he loves diversity. He’s big. He created big. So I’m working with this series that’s big for me, but also big in concept, because I have to have something that I can see way out there. It keeps me motivated, like the cross. The more I know about it, the more I want to know and there’s more depth to it—vertical and horizontal. Our lives are supposed to be vertical and horizontal, not one way or another. But the new series is about the atmosphere. We’re under atmospheric pressure that we can’t see. Some days you just feel like there’s this cloud over you, like the Pink Panther. Well, there really is. It’s an atmospheric thing. There is pressure on you that you didn’t create. It isn’t you. You feel guilty or your feel bad about yourself or whatever—well, that wasn’t you. That’s something that happened that’s going on around you and we joke about the full moon, but there are atmospheric things that are natural and that are supernatural. So I’m pursuing that right now.”

“As far as favorite colors go, I don’t really have a favorite,” admits Barbie. “I go in stages of color. I love the river. I love fire. I love all the warm colors. I love all the cool colors. I had a black and white phase for a while. I am also fascinated by colors I can’t create. There are colors that I can’t make. We don’t have the spectrum for it. Ultimately, it’s really what God is doing in me and around me that motivates me. I wish I was more motivated by money, but I’m not. [laughs] I am motivated by these things that I see that God shows me—things that I can’t really articulate in words. I want to visually articulate them.”

Every piece that Barbie creates also has its own write up. Barbie likes to write about the piece, what inspired her to create it, and what it means to her.

“People are interested,” says Barbie. “They don’t need to know it and you can’t really say that art is something people need, but I believe your spirit needs art. I think people really enjoy knowing what was in the brain that caused you to do what you did, especially with work that is like mine. I mean, I can paint very realistically, but I just don’t want to. I value the camera. I studied photography a whole lot in college. I value the camera as a way to create art. So why would I want to do something it can do? I really value photo realistic painters and I have friends that are amazing at it. That just isn’t who I am. I don’t think like that. I just think in a different direction. So, my work has become more and more abstract, but it has meaning. It isn’t just throwing paint on a canvas. I want to communicate meaning in the process of what I’m doing. If there is anything happening in the 21st Century it’s that people are living out loud. Language is becoming a medium of communication in a new way, and so the written language is valuable to people. That’s how we are communicating. It’s not necessarily a good thing, because you can’t tell if I really like you by how I text you. You could tell by looking at me, but you have to add hugs, a smiley face, or ‘lol’ so that someone else takes it right. As an artist, I see artists as prophets on paper. We’re giving road signs of what’s going on around us and maybe reflecting culture as much as we’re directing it.”

"credit" Jeff Harp

Barbie is helping to direct the future of Madisonville in a variety of ways. She stays heavily involved with the city, although she admits that she wasn’t always a participating activist.

“As far as the city goes, I wasn’t involved,” says Barbie. “I attended a meeting where they were presenting the new city’s book. I was invited because I was on the Madisonville Historic District Commission. I was helping them start that, but I wasn’t involved in anything. I was trying to make art and helping with grandkids. It was another true epiphany in my life, honestly. I was sitting in that meeting and I was president of the Community Improvement Foundation [CIF], but CIF was not particularly involved in the community at that time. I saw that I needed to be actively involved in the community. There is so much potential for Hopkins County and this community. I decided that I wouldn’t be passive any longer. I became an activist. I do believe the Margaret Mead quote, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ I believe that. I know that’s true and, as a Christian, I know that’s true as well. That’s how Christianity grew. So, I became actively involved. CIF became actively involved. I’m not involved with the CIF anymore, but I am involved in the Downtown Turnaround Project.”

In the midst of all of that, Barbie became like family to the late community leader and local visionary, Glema Mahr.

“I had a great loss in my life. I felt like I lost my mother again when she passed away. I buried my mother and then Glema died,” says Barbie. “I became trustee of her estate and spent a year going through all of her things, having an auction, and doing all of that. Now we’re on the verge of turning her land into a real park, and it is incredible land. There are 260 acres of gorgeous rolling hills. Her and Merle dreamed of it being a city park, and my job is to do everything I can to help carry out their vision within the constraints of an economy that has shifted and all it takes to make that happen.”

Barbie and Glema dreamed about what would happen with that land quite a bit. They shared ideas and concepts together and had a great shared vision for what it would someday become.

"credit" Jeff Harp
“At one point, I thought she was going to get involved in doing it and we discussed it,” says Barbie, “but she didn’t like looking back. She was a wonderful visionary person that just enjoyed life and living fully today—living in the present. That is why she was able to live so long. For Glema, to talk about the park and to start planning it was really more like looking at your own mortality a little too much. I, of course, understood that completely. We had a lot of things cooking and then we just sat them on the table and stopped. So, now we’re moving in that direction. The Mahr Park Planning Committee is very committed to carrying out her wishes. The city leadership right now is doing a good job of working towards carrying it out and doing it very methodically. We can’t open the park until you have an entrance and a parking lot. So, the park isn’t open. I know it looks like we’re doing nothing, but the biggest thing that will ever happen to that park will be the entrance and the parking lot. We can’t have a park without it. It’s still going to be awhile, but it will be an awesome park when we get it open.”

But what is in the cards for Barbie and what is she planning for the future? How does this highly successful local artist measure her success?

“How would you know if you were successful? What would be the ultimate success measure? To have a piece in a museum of modern art or something? I am on a mission. I want to see a community of artists and craftsman that I want to be a part of created—a community of artists and craftsman who work together to create good work and support ourselves financially. To me, success is really that people value what you do at any level. Ultimately, that would mean that they would value it so much that they would be willing to pay a fair price for it. To me, success is when people start to value what you do, and not just what you’re doing, but why. It happens when they value the heart behind it, because they got it—whatever it is, whether it’s a pot, painting, or silk. I sell a lot of silk, and that has been one of the things that has encouraged me the most. People will come in wanting to buy one for a sick friend, because we name them and we pray over them. They value the meaning. They value that it’s created out of worship and out of the environment that we have here. That is success. I am very successful,” laughs Barbie. “You know what I mean? I’m not looking at the check book. I have money in the check book. I’m not making tons of money, but, as an artist, I feel successful because I’m getting to do meaningful work and there are a lot of people finding it meaningful.”

Barbie would like to find more local galleries interested in carrying her work, but, right now, she says she is very focused on her city.

"credit" Jeff Harp
“I believe in my city and I’m not one of those people that think the big city is better. I chose to live in Madisonville. We had opportunities to leave, but we chose not to. We chose to stay here, not just because it’s Rush’s hometown, but because we believe this is a good town and we’re going to invest our lives here. Part of being hugely successful is that we all make money doing what we love doing, and I think we’re headed in the right direction. We are making our downtown a destination. You can come, eat, shop, be challenged, get a tattoo, and get prayer,” laughs Barbie. “You can do it all.”

How does Barbie tie the importance of art in her life and her love of community together? Quite simply, she wants to create work that reflects her relationship with God.

“When I started growing as an artist, I didn’t even know of any other Christian artists. I was not trained that way,” says Barbie. “I know that God really loves places and I believe he wants to see cities thrive and everybody in them thrive. I think, as a Christian, I want to see transformed cities where everybody is working good jobs, living in nice homes, and doing valuable work while loving their families. I believe that everything you do to improve a city moves you toward that, and I believe the arts help, because I think God is a creative God. When we value creativity, we’re valuing him in us. It is all really out of my core belief that God said, ‘Stay in Madisonville. I’m going to use you here.’ That means every part of everything. Be involved in everything that you can make a difference in. I love starting stuff. I love working with people and seeing creative people working together. If committed people start believing in their city and start caring about their corner, then we will have a city that people will come to see. If we believe in our city and we believe that this is a good place to live—we have great schools, good jobs, and a wonderful environment—if we start inviting people to come and be a part of something wonderful, they will. That’s how people get to different cities after all.”

“Community matters. People matter. Rush and I want to know people. I want to know my neighbors and I want to know people. I want to care about people. That’s really why we started our ministry. We just want to make a place for that and I think small towns are the perfect set-up. I think that people are looking for that in a high-tech world, and we have it. We have a great city and it’s getting better.”

For more information about Barbie Hunt and her artwork visit her website at http://www.barbiehunt.com/.

For more information about Main Street Prayer Center visit their website at http://www.mainstreetprayer.org/.

You can also find Barbie Hunt Studios on Facebook

Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Photos by Jessi Smith and Jeff Harp

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