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  • Published in Music

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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We All Float On – Canoeing and Kayaking in Dawson Springs

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/22/13)—If you live in or around the Hopkins County, KY region, adventure is right outside your doorstep (or at least a few miles down the road). From acres of sprawling forests, unique rock formations, and trail-laden parks, to immense waterways, scenic back roads, massive cave systems, and beyond, the western Kentucky region—and the state itself—is brimming with a variety of outdoors opportunities.

Yet, for all of the adrenaline-based activities at our disposal—mountain-biking, rock wall repelling, ATV/dirt bike riding, and jet-skiing, which is to name only a few—there are just as many options for relaxation, nature observation, family-friendly fun, and even a little light exercise.

Case in point: canoeing, kayaking, or boating on Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park’s Pennyrile Lake or Dawson Springs’ nearby Tradewater River.

Though many in our area are familiar with both locations, there may be less who are aware of their canoeing, kayaking, or boating possibilities.

Don’t own a canoe or kayak? While there are even more options at your disposal in Hopkins County if you do, don’t worry—both Pennyrile Lake and the Tradewater River have rentals available for reasonable prices. Worried about the upcoming shift into the fall and winter seasons? Don’t be. Both locations are accessible well into the later months of the year (and sometimes further).

Pennyrile Lake
A decades-old, 56 acre, reservoir-style body of water that stretches well over 3,300 foot from north to south, Pennyrile Lake is located amongst more than 14,000 acres of majestic woodlands. Though Pennyrile Lake’s size could be considered small in comparison to other nearby sites, such as Lake Beshear and Kentucky Lake, its diversity lends itself to a variety of pursuits. Take a few hours to soak up the indigenous wildlife amongst untainted shorelines, varied inlets, and a dense lily-pad “field”; examine the intricacies of sheer rock facings and outcroppings that border the lake’s edge, which are common to the Dawson Springs area; cast your fishing lure into fallen brush piles, beneath overhanging trees, and around the perimeter of adjoining docks; bring your camera and capture a variety of intriguing photographs; or simply take a fresh look at Pennyrile Lake’s historic dam from the water level. And that’s just scratching the surface. The pathway and approach you take to explore this striking setting is up to you and yours. What’s more, Pennyrile State Forest Resort Park offers lodging, camping, fresh food, golfing, swimming, and a bevy of other services/outdoors entertainment.

Here’s the lowdown on pricing and boating options, as well as times/dates that the lake is open to visitors:

• Paddleboats - $5/30 minutes; $8/hour; $25/day
• Canoes - $8/hour; $30/day
• Jon Boat (no motor) - $10/hour; $35/day
• Jon Boat (with motor) - $20/hour; $45/day; $86/two days

All rentals include boat paddles and life-jackets at no additional charge. Rentals are available from 10am – 5pm every day of the week until October 31st. For more information on Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, such as boat availability, call (270) 797-3421 or visit http://parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/pennyrile-forest/. Detailed directions to the park are also available at the aforementioned link.

Tradewater River
Named for the oftentimes “neutral” trade interactions it fostered between various native American tribes and white settlers in the early-to-mid-1800’s, the Tradewater River is a truly historic tributary of the Ohio River that meanders across western Kentucky and parts of Indiana for well over 100 miles. Though portions of the relatively slow-moving, yet tranquil and naturally picturesque, river are difficult or impossible to traverse by boat, canoe, or kayak due to large, sporadic deposits of fallen debris, local outdoors enthusiast and Dawson Springs resident, Hank Mills, offers regional adventure seekers and nature lovers a chance to experience between two and five unobstructed miles of the relaxing waterway through his personal, riverside business, Tradewater Canoes and Kayaks.

Below is a list of canoeing and kayaking options, as well as times/date and methods of scheduling a rental.

• Lower River (approx. two miles/one-and-a-half hours)—$20 per boat OR $15 per boat for groups renting three or more boats
• Upper River (approx. five miles/three to four hours)—$30 per boat OR $25 per boat for groups renting three or more boats

Rental fees include paddles, life-jackets, and onsite transportation to and from your launch/arrival site (if applicable). While walk-ins are acceptable from 9am to 5pm up until Labor Day (September 2nd, 2013), calling ahead of time to schedule a rental is strongly encouraged for those traveling into Dawson Springs from out of town. After Labor Day, pre-scheduling trips and rentals by phone will be mandatory. To set up an appointment, to find out more information, or to get specific directions, please call (270) 871-9475. Leave a voicemail if you don’t get an answer and someone will call you back as soon as possible. You can also find Tradewater Canoes and Kayaks on Facebook.

While the two aforementioned options are ideal for a relaxing daytrip by yourself, with friends, or with the whole family, Tradewater Canoes and Kayaks will also be hosting an exciting, adrenaline-pumping fitness challenge on Saturday, August 24th. In addition to a two mile kayak portion, the event will also host a 4K run and a 16.5 mile bike ride. If you’re interested in participating in the challenge, visit the following link for information on registration, locations, and more:
http://www.dawsonspringsky.com/trails/2013%20Brochure%20.pdf.

You may also find the Tradewater River Fitness Challenge on Facebook.

In the end, taking time out of our busy schedules and modern, fast-paced routines can oftentimes remind of us of what we are: adventure-seeking beings that have a natural drive to explore the world around us. We are nomadic at heart. And why not go and smell the roses from time-to-time? Immersing one’s self in the natural world can soothe and relax the mind, body, and perhaps the very essence of our being. Floating and swaying along on a serene waterway lightens our sense of immediacy, giving us a feeling of buoyancy and weightlessness, while provoking our ancestral instincts. 

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos by Luke Short and Tradewater Canoes and Kayaks

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  • Published in Art

Community Collage: 2013 Spring Gallery Hop

MADISONVILLE, KY (5/2/13)—Since the inaugural event back in October 2011, Madisonville’s biannual downtown Gallery Hop has developed into something very special for our close-knit community. It offers the public a chance to physically interact with the astonishing amount of creative talent our region produces and calls home; it provides a platform for artists and local business owners to merge in a very unique, mutually beneficial manner; and, above all, it provides a great evening of fun and entertainment for everyone involved.

Though this year’s spring Gallery Hop, which was held on Saturday, April 27th, faced a potential downturn in attendance due to rainy weather, a surprising number of patrons from our area took to the historic district’s sidewalks to peruse and purchase a variety of pieces created by approximately 30 different artists.

Moreover, those in attendance also had the relatively rare opportunity to witness several spontaneous street performances courtesy of talented local musicians, to taste some delicious food, desserts, and fine wine produced by locally owned-and-operated businesses, and to speak directly with the artists whose work was on display.

While the collaborative event won’t take place again until October, we at the Sugg Street Post would like to recap a few of the spring Gallery Hop’s highlights through images and words. Please take note of the artists, businesses, and organizations displayed and mentioned in the following captions and photos, because they deserve our support and appreciation.

Area resident Amy Harvey pays a visit to Madisonville's decades-old train depot during last Saturday's downtown Gallery Hop. Known as "The Center" today, the historic structure serves as the Hopkins County Art League's official headquarters and gallery space. The HDR photo work Harvey is analyzing was created by longtime city employee and HCAL member, Gina Munger. Munger's work was part of an exhibit on Saturday that included more than 200 pieces made by over 10 other Art League members. 

While primarily known for his talents on piano, bass guitar, and vocals, local musician Johnny Keyz put a rough-edged, albeit original, twist on a bygone style by way of a performance on a '30s-era accordion. The performance took place in front of the soon-to-be Sugg Street Post, ARTcycle Inc., and Big City Coffee Shop location. Passersby braved light, intermittent sprinkles to capture this unique moment both in memory and in photos. As this was the first year musicians were invited to "busk" during the Gallery Hop, other talented performers, which included Pat Ballard, Mike Cartwright, and Ray Ligon, performed on the sidewalk in front of the location. Other photos, as well as a video, of these performances can be found via the official Sugg Street Post Facebook page.

The singular, environment-friendly, and abstract sculpture work of Indiana artist Bob Zasadny eternalizes fluidity and motion in various physical forms. In the photo, Bob and I discuss his fiberglass and recycling-based approach, which he first adopted as his main medium in the early 1960s. Since his humble, yet capable, beginnings, Zasadny has garnered acclaim from noted colleagues in the art world, area media outlets, and a variety of respected institutions. Zasadny's exhibit was one of several on display at the Madisonville-Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce's headquarters at 15 East Center Street. 

The concept of cyclical time and repetition, which is represented in much of Tim Corum's metal sculpture work, gains added depth with a piece created from a range of discarded bicycle parts. Based out of Earlington, KY, Corum's art is on display for the public on a daily basis in Madisonville via his various, brightly-colored "ARTcan" creations, each of which are peppered throughout the downtown district. The piece displayed above was one of several works of art on display at 25 Sugg Street during the Gallery Hop. 


Steeped in faith and spirituality, the multi-sided artwork of Madisonville-based artist and gallery owner Barbie Hunt, which includes pottery, customized silks, collages, and water-based media (as seen in the above photo), has prompted attention from a wide range of audiences over the years. Not only does her ever-growing catalog of work continue to inspire local audiences, but it has helped to put downtown Madisonville in a national, art-tinged spotlight. 

Defining Carl Berges' colorful, large-scale oil paintings is a tricky pony. While the pieces may at first seem abstract, upon closer inspection one realizes that a vivid and seemingly motion-filled shot of life has materialized. Further examples of Berges' vibrant works can been seen enlivening the background of other photos found in the this "community collage." 

Producing fine wine is, itself, a painstaking, centuries-old artform worthy of praise and appreciation - especially when done correctly. Medicine Man Wines of Eddy Gove Winery, LLC (Princeton, KY), were onsite at the Madisonville-Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce during the "hop" showing patrons how this historic skill could manifest locally. From selling samples to full bottles, co-owners Jenny Franke and David Hall were happy to share the award-winning fruits of their labor with the general public. 

A talented country musician with over 40 years of playing experience under his belt, Ray Ligon is a staple of our local music community and has helped to support a variety of benevolent civic organizations. His notable mantra, "It's all about touching people with the music," has remained a fixture in both his approach to fans and his unique songwriting style over the years. 25 Sugg Street, which will be the eventual home of the Sugg Street Post, ARTcycle Inc., and Big City Coffee Shop, was privileged to have Ray perform among a bevy of eye-catching art pieces during the Gallery Hop. 

Woodworking practices date back to the dawn of human civilizations both in China and Egypt. Yet, it's a relatively safe bet that those practicing the art form in its infancy would have never imagined how the trade would evolve, let alone that the skill would even practiced some 6,000 years later. Fortunately, talented craftsmen like Charles Beal, whose original woodturnings were up for sale at the Chamber of Commerce office, are keeping this rich tradition alive and well. 

 The varied artwork of the Sugg Street Post's own Jessica Dockrey adds a bright artistic backdrop to a conversation between Hopkins County Art League members and painters Pat Harvey (left) and Rik Woosley (right), as well as myself. The lower, labyrinth-like level of the HCAL's HQ at "The Center" was host to several other artists' work, including the oftentimes bejeweled pieces produced by fellow league member Faye Dennison. 

The brainchild of local textile artist Maria Lee, the Black Dog Fiber Studio at 11 North Main St. in downtown Madisonville offers art-lovers a contemporary touch on a well-established tradition. The weaving loom pictured above showcases one of many intricate skills required to fashion Lee's various, cloth-based works. In addition to Lee's pieces, the studio was also host to several handmade soaps courtesy of  Bicycle Botanicals' Kim Hardesty.

Proud supporters of the area arts and music scene, Henderson, KY's Ruby Moon Vineyard & Winery owners Jamie Like and Anita Frazer offered Gallery Hop attendants a variety of exquisite, locally-grown flavors, as well as full bottles, from the 25 Sugg Street location. In addition to luscious dessert wines and flavorful blushes, Ruby Moon also offers drier reds that compliment meats wonderfully. Particularly, the Sugg Street Post crew was a big fan of the winery's "Chambourcin" flavor, which is pictured above. 

As 6-year-old Emma Rea Gibson will attest, artwork isn't just for the adults. Her 11" X 14" untitled finger painting piece is direct evidence. Though her mother, Jenny Gibson - who is also the founder of the Downtown Turnaround Project, ARTcycle Inc., and Big City Coffee Shop, as well as a member of the Sugg Street Post - was happy to have Emma's artwork adorning the wall at 25 Sugg Street, she knows a good piece when she see's it. In turn, rather than trying to put a number on the work, both Jenny and Emma agreed on a more apt cost: priceless. 

A current resident of southern Indiana, Nick Kredier spends much of his time restoring and repurposing "lost and found" furniture. From adding vintage-inspired touches, to a few dashes of color and text for good measure, Kreider has an obvious knack for turning many men's trash into what most anyone would consider real treasure. 

Another photo of Johnny Keyz "busking"  the sidewalks of Sugg St. on his antique accordion receives a classy monochromatic makeover. 

Though Madisonville's Gallery Hop won't be back until October this year, everyone at the Sugg Street Post is sure it will be another entertaining and successful event. A huge thanks goes out to everyone who makes the occasion such a unique and enjoyable time year after year. See you in the fall!

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos by Jessi Smith

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Jessi Smith—Life Behind the Lens

"credit" Jessi SmithHOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/2/13)—When looking at life through a camera lens, the world offers an entirely new perspective on the possibilities and treasures existence actually holds. A photographer has the ability to capture and create moments in time that can be reflected on for an eternity. These moments might conjure up thoughts of grief, delight, confusion, solitude, or brilliance—the possibilities are endless and they are brought into existence by the artist manipulating the shutter and playing with the light.

Photos inspire, and local photographer Jessi Smith, who recently joined the Sugg Street Post team, is inspired by the likes of acclaimed rock photographers Autumn de Wilde and Jo McCaughey. De Wilde’s work has been featured on the cover of Spin Magazine, and in the pages of Rolling Stone, Filter Nylon, Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times. McCaughey is the house photographer for Third Man Records, which was founded by the eclectic White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather rocker—and now solo performer—Jack White.

You might have noticed Jessi’s photos cropping up on the Sugg Street Post recently, both in articles and as our ‘Daily Shot from the Street.’ But who is Jessi Smith and how did the Sugg Street Post come across her and her work? Allow me to enlighten you.

"credit" Jessi Smith
Jessi Smith was born in Madisonville, KY in 1980, but grew up living in Nebo, KY surrounded warmly by immediate and extended family.

“My immediate family was just me, my brother, and my mom, but I have a massive extended family. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ with all my cousins and had a ton of aunts and uncles. It was always really hectic,” laughs Jessi, “but it was fun.”

Early in life, Jessi recognized her creative leanings and honed her skills in any way that she could. As early as second grade, she was discovering new and fascinating means to amuse herself while creating a solid artistic foundation that would serve her for many years to come. A large part of her time growing up was spent trying to expose her niche.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I used to make art out of crayon shavings. I would sharpen crayons and I’d make little pictures out of the shavings and sell them to my classmates,” remembers Jessi. “Anything creative, I loved to do it. I was never very good at drawing, though. I was pretty good at music. I took guitar lessons and things like that. At first, in terms of creative stuff, I was good at a lot of things, but I never really mastered any one thing. I never found that one thing that I could just latch onto and do really well at until I started taking pictures. But yeah, I loved creative things. It might have just been because everything else seemed so boring.”

Jessi took classes at Nebo Elementary School, went to West Hopkins School for a year, and then attended Hopkins County Central High School where she was among some of the first students to ever take classes.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I took art classes at Central, but I wasn’t able to take photography class,” says Jessi. “I tried. I remember being so jealous, because they had that brand new cool dark room and I never got to use it. I’ve never gotten an opportunity to do traditional stuff in a dark room, although, I have all the supplies I need with the exception of an enlarger. One year, for my birthday, everybody got me chemicals, photo paper, tongs, and trays. I think I could make a darkroom pretty easily. Even though there aren’t a lot of artists in my family, my support system is fantastic. All my friends and family support everything I do.”

Jessi’s family continued to support her as she strove to find her calling after high school. Once she’d graduated in 1998, Jessi, not fully knowing what direction she wanted to go in career-wise, became a full-time nanny.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I was babysitting every day, all day. That’s what got me started taking pictures. You get bored and just try to do something to keep your brain from turning into mush from watching kids’ shows all day,” laughs Jessi. “I just started taking pictures and I always had willing models with the kiddos. Plus, the parents loved their pictures. I took a lot of Christmas card pictures and stuff like that.”

At that time, Jessi was using an old point-and-shoot Nikon brand camera her aunt had given to her.

“That was before digital had really taken off. Digital was still really expensive,” says Jessi. “Regardless, I was spending a ton of money just developing pictures.”

It wasn’t until Jessi turned 18 that she got her first digital camera. That is when her love of photography was taken to a whole new level.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“My first digital camera was an Epson,” says Jessi. “They didn’t even tell you how many megapixels it was. They just went by the dimensions of the pictures. I loved it so much. It was so cheap. I could take hundreds of pictures and just pick out the ones I liked. It was so much fun. It was with that camera that I started really realizing that photography was what I wanted to do with my life.”

Realizing her love of photography was an exhilarating point in Jessi’s life, but, at the same time, she felt as if her goals would be impossible to reach. The life of an artist is by no means an easy one, and the pressure society puts on you to accept regularly paying blue-collar jobs is ever-present.

“At that point, it was kind of a pipe dream. Deciding to take an art career on is intimidating. You feel like you need to be a nurse or something—something steady,” Jessi admits.

"credit" Jessi Smith
In the meantime, Jessi was subscribing to a variety of photography catalogs and magazines. One of her favorites was called Exposures.

“It was like a Pottery Barn for picture frames and displays,” explains Jessi. “They had a section where you could submit your pictures to the magazine. Then, they would put your pictures in the frames and displays, and they would put them in the catalogs. One day, I finally submitted about ten pictures of the kids that I’d taken. I remember wanting that so bad. That was going to be my sign. If I can just get them to pick one picture, then maybe I can actually make a living doing photography. That can be my sign. If I get one picture in, I can be a photographer.”

If one of your photos was selected to be in the magazine, Exposures would send you five dollars by mail. The photo would then be placed in an archive, and if it got used in an issue of the magazine they would then send you 50 dollars for being chosen.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I got an envelope one day in the mail with five dollars in it,” says Jessi. “They picked one of my pictures. A week later, they sent me a big envelope with a catalog in it and a fifty dollar check. My picture was in the magazine! I was so excited I just cried. I had only asked for one picture and they used one. That was my sign. I did it! One of my uncles told me, ‘Well, you’ve been paid for your services. You’re actually a photographer now.’ That was the first time I’d ever been paid for a picture.”

After receiving her “sign” from the great beyond, it was still a few more years before Jessi seriously looked into photography school. The kids Jessi had been watching were getting older and, for a short stint, Jessi considered going into political science at Berea College, although she now admits she isn’t certain why.

“I don’t know where that came from or where that went,” laughs Jessi. “I was going to be President or something. Maybe I’ll just be the presidential photographer. How cool would that be?”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Eventually, in 2008, after doing plenty of research online, Jessi came across the Academy of Art University, which was founded in San Francisco, CA in 1929. It was an accredited online art school that she could work easily into her schedule.

“My main thing was that I wanted an accredited school where I could get an actual degree. I didn’t want something that was obtainable purely by profit. You have to make the grades, or else you fail and get the boot,” says Jessi. “I wanted a real school, and that was the best one that I could find. At first, the Academy of Art seemed out of reach too, because it’s fairly expensive, but they have a good financial aid program, which made it feasible.”

The Academy of Art ultimately changed Jessi’s life and photography style.

"credit" Jessi Smith
For years, she had wanted to veer away from doing only family portraits and senior pictures. She was looking to amp up the artistic side of her style so that she could grow and flourish more as a visual artist. At that time, Jessi was taking four classes each semester so she would still have time to work her third-shift job at a local hotel chain. Each week she was challenged to complete photo assignments and weekly quizzes.

“It was the best thing ever. I loved it. I was exposed to new ideas and it completely changed my style,” says Jessi. “You would log in, get your assignments, and then you’d go take your pictures. You would submit your pictures and the instructor would look at it, critique it, and you would get audio-visual feedback. It was like watching a movie. The instructor would pull your photo up and he would point out areas that needed improvement. An area in a photo might be underexposed. Composition on one side might need to be a little less symmetrical. It was like you were getting one-on-one time with the professor. You also had to participate in discussions and interact with your classmates. You were required to critique other people’s work and I always hated that. I hated telling people what I thought about their pictures. You want to be honest, but you don’t want to discourage another photographer. That was a big aspect of the online classes. You had to critique everyone’s work because it helps you in the end. If you see what you don’t like in pictures, that, in turn, helps you with yours.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
The Academy of Art provided Jessi with the Adobe Creative Suite, Lightroom, and Photoshop—necessary computer programs for the modern photographer.

“I was so happy to get Photoshop, because it is so expensive. The Academy of Art also requires you to get a Mac, which turned me into an Apple freak, so I appreciate that as well,” laughs Jessi.

While talking to Jessi about her experiences in school, she humorously recounted a couple stories regarding some of her first photography assignments at the University.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“In the fundamentals class, the first thing they make you do is take pictures of strangers,” laughs Jessi. “You would have to go out and take pictures of ten strangers, and I hated that assignment. It was so embarrassing. I’m still shy now, but I was super shy then. It was awful. Half of my photographs looked like ‘stalker pics’ because they didn’t know I was photographing them—like paparazzi stuff.”

“Since graduating in May last year, I have really missed having assignments,” admits Jessi. “I don’t have someone telling me what to take pictures of. Before, it was like having a license to go take weird pictures. Otherwise, if I’m just going to take weird pictures, that’s all me. I don’t have any excuses. Nobody is making me take pictures of my friends in their underwear covered in blood,” laughs Jessi. “That’s how I actually made friends with some of the people I hang out with now. I started working at the hotel and I ended up asking one of my coworkers if I could take his picture for an assignment. I barely knew him and there he was, in his underwear, dripping in Karo syrup.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Throughout school, Jessi made excellent grades and did well at the Academy. She thoroughly enjoyed her theory class as well, which focused a lot on painting with light (using light to illuminate what you are photographing). Her theory class wasn’t as assignment-heavy as her fundamentals classes, but she was able to learn about the classics, the masters, and the history of photography. Street photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus, were among some of her favorites, as well as the widely popular Annie Leibovitz.

“I just really like the rock photographer scene,” says Jessi. “I love Annie Leibovitz’s old, rock star, Rolling Stone stuff. I really love her old stuff. I love rock star pictures. That’s my favorite genre right now. That’s what I want to do—concert photography, album covers, band promos, and other stuff like that. But my goal right now is just to try to marry moneymaking and what I want to take pictures of, because that has been a tough one.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
“That’s been one of the frustrating parts since graduating,” says Jessi. “You are conditioned to think you go to college, you graduate, and you get a job. That just isn’t the case with art careers.”

Right now, Jessi is simply trying to turn her passion into something that can sustain her living so that she has the time to keep doing what she loves. Thus is the plight of the artist.

Meanwhile, Jessi has been receiving recognition for her photography on multiple fronts. For one of her school assignments, she snuck her camera into a Black Keys concert and got some stunning shots of singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney that ended up going viral on the internet.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“You’re not allowed to take professional-grade cameras to rock concerts. That whole ‘detachable lens thing’ has screwed me out of so many pictures. Up to this point, I haven’t been able to get passes as a freelancer, so I have smuggled my cameras in—in my pants,” laughs Jessi. “It’s uncomfortable, because I wait in line for a long time so I can get close to the stage if possible.”

“With the Black Keys pictures, the Black Keys were starting to get famous, but they weren’t near the level they are at now,” says Jessi. “I snuck my camera in and it was so weird, because I had bought a fast-pass and we just walked right in. We passed the whole line and just walked right in there. We stood there, right against the barrier, right in the middle. I just took pictures through the whole concert. Nobody tried to stop me. Nobody cared. Security didn’t ever try to stand in front of me or anything. It was so satisfying. You take all the pictures and then you go home and you get to look at them. I just loved them all.”

"credit" Jessi Smith

“So, I sent some of my photos to a music blog—one of the Black Keys fan lounges that are our there—and they really liked them. They used a couple of them. They used them for their mast head and they got me in touch with another girl out of Ohio who runs some music blogs. She’s actually friends with Dan Auerbach’s uncle. She had me write a review of the concert and told me she would help me get passes at their next concert, but the next concert I saw them at was a music festival they couldn’t get passes for. At festivals, the bands don’t have as much say-so when it comes to media passes. Right after that, they blew up and got so famous that there was no way I could get passes. So, now I’ve got to start from the bottom and claw my way up. At one point, I was on Tumblr and I saw my pictures on there, but I hadn’t posted them. It was just so neat seeing my work. I screen capped it.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Jessi’s enthusiasm for photography and music was apparent from the first moment I met her. I actually met Jessi Smith during the interview for this article. A mutual friend and talented local painter, Travis Shanks, introduced us because he thought that she was an insanely talented artist from the area that deserved more recognition for her work. Quite frankly, the Sugg Street Post couldn’t have agreed more.

"credit" Jessi Smith
We ended up developing a friendship and, after seeing her collection of work, asked her if she would like to help the Sugg Street Post out with a few photo shoots with the promise that we could definitely get her some rock photography opportunities in the area.

For Jessie’s first Sugg Street Post adventure, I took her with me to interview Kaitlyn Maue, a young emerging artist from Madisonville, KY.

"credit" Jessi Smith
“Doing photo shoots for Sugg Street Post has been fun. I’ve never done that sort of photojournalism before, so it’s been really interesting. It’s new territory for me. When we did the Kaitlyn Maue shoot, I was really nervous because it was the first one, and I was going into a stranger’s house and setting up. In that kind of situation, sometimes I do really well on the spot and sometimes I blank. I don’t know what to do and I forget how to work my camera,” laughs Jessi. “But she was sweet and I could tell she was kind of shy too, so that put me at ease. Sometimes, going into a photo shoot blind messes me up, because I already have a certain vision in mind. Then I walk in and it’ll look completely different from what I thought it was going to. That’s when I have to go with a different game plan.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
“I think that’s what happened when we did the shoot with [local musician] James Michael Harris. In my head, when you said cabin with no running water, I was thinking of an old, bluesy, wooden cabin on the river. So that’s what I had in my head. I had him all reared back in a rocking chair with his leg kicked up, you know? So I had to re-plan that whole thing when we got there and that wasn’t the case,” laughs Jessi. “The easiest one, was the second one with [local musician] J.T. Oglesby. I had actually wanted to take pictures at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts for a while. Even with that one, I had a slightly different vision in my head. I had the spotlight, dark theatre, just him, and all the empty chairs around him. It was still fun. I enjoyed that one a lot. That was the coolest situation—the way he just sang the whole time—because that’s what I envision it would be like taking pictures of rock stars. They are just doing their thing and you get to hear them play this music, this version that nobody else gets to hear. You become part of that world and I think that’s what’s so appealing, because I just love music so much.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Above all, art is an escape for Jessi. Without photography, her creative outlet, she feels confined by all that is around her. For Jessi, capturing life on film opens the world up in new and exciting ways.

“I think it [art] just keeps me from feeling trapped,” explains Jessi. “We’re in a small town. We’re in a good location, potentially to be a hub. We’re so close to Nashville and all that stuff.  When you look at a picture, listen to a piece of music, or gaze at a painting, you’re there. You’re out. It’s like reading books—you just don’t feel like you’re here. Or, you make it more bearable to be wherever you are. You’re making it prettier. I hate being bored. If I’m bored, I can go take pictures. Having that escape keeps me sane. Otherwise, life would feel so routine. You have to wake up, you have to go to work, you have to clean your house, you have to do laundry, you have to go to sleep, and then you have to wake up, you have to go to work, and clean your house, and do laundry. I would absolutely go mad. I don’t do well with normal things and normal jobs. It’s been risky, especially financially. I took the insurance off my car to put insurance on my camera. As soon as I took the insurance off my car, I hit a deer with it,” laughs Jessi. “Priorities. My camera is safe, but I have to bum a ride now. That part is challenging, but I think it’s worth it because I have the potential to make a career out of something that I love. Not a lot of people get to do that, to find the job they like. That’s my goal. I just want to be happy at my job. I don’t want to have to ever feel like I want to kill myself because I’m stuck at a job just because it pays my insurance or something. I just don’t want that.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
Why does Jessi think art is important to the community? She believes it keeps the community alive.

“Art gives life vibrancy. Otherwise, you get all these mopey people going through the motions. You’ve got to throw a little spark and a splash of color in there and just keep people alert,” says Jessi. “Art exposes you to new ideas, and I think it promotes intelligence and tolerance. You don’t get a lot of close-minded artists. It just opens you up to all these ideas and you become accepting to everybody, and I just think it makes you a better person. You don’t judge people as an artist, because you don’t want that to come back to you, that negativity. Good art can help you work through dark things inside yourself. You can use it to make you happy. If there was more art, it would be a better place, easily. In prisons, if they would teach them to paint instead of lift weights all they time, maybe they wouldn’t be so violent.”

"credit" Jessi Smith
You can follow Jessi’s work by keeping up with her here on the Sugg Street Post.

To see some more of Jessi’s work, click the article links below:

Emerging Artist Hits the Scene

James Michael Harris – Old Songs Can Set You Free

Gear Guide—J.T. Oglesby’s Historic ‘Playtime’

Creating Community with Electric Synergy

Bowl For Kids’ Sake Fundraiser—Little Hands Give Big

Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Photos by Jessi Smith

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2013 Bowl For Kids’ Sake Fundraiser—Little Hands Give Big

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (4/29/13)—While the definition of “community” refers to a group of people living in or near the same area, most would agree that a genuine sense of the word is defined by how well that same group of people can collaborate and what they can achieve when they pull together toward a common, benevolent goal.

This past Saturday, April 27th, this sense of regional unity was on display in Madisonville’s Melody Lanes bowling alley as approximately 80 teams composed of over 400 local business owners, industry employees, regional officials, law enforcement agencies, and a host of other compassionate area residents raised over $100,000 for our local Big Brothers Big Sisters’ (BBBS) annual “Bowl For Kids’ Sake” fundraiser.

Held for over 25 years, the organization’s yearly event has become a cherished staple of our community—and for good reason. Not only do area residents get to show their support for a nationally recognized cause, but they also get to have a great time doing it.

Whereas companies and organizations such as Carhartt, Warrior Coal, Armstrong Coal, and G.E. were among the top donators this year, contributing a very generous combined total of well over $40,000, the fundraiser’s still-growing sum was made possible by many quite literally “smaller” hands as well.

In particular, my daughter, Lucy Short, 6 (see main photo), chose to support BBBS of her own accord this year—a fact that I’m very proud of.

While she could have easily chose to spend money she’d been saving from her last birthday and from the holidays on a new toy or game, she asked me if it was okay to give it to a charity. As you can imagine, I was more than willing to tell her about the organizations she could support. In the end, though, she really liked what BBBS is all about: working with children and teens.

As we were already in the process of forming a Sugg Street Post team for the 2013 fundraiser, we asked if Lucy could be a member. After BBBS gave us the green light, telling us that her age was not a factor, the “Sugg Street Strikers” were born.

Though three of our team members couldn’t make it to this past weekend’s bowling event due to time constraints, we had some much appreciated assistance from another “small” helper: Jessica Dockrey’s daughter, Veda Cook, 3, whose unique “technique” was captured by photographer Jim Pearson on the front page of The Messenger newspaper’s Sunday edition.

And while the “Strikers” all bowled right at (or under) 100, it wasn’t all about the points for us—or for anyone else it seemed. It was about the cause the fundraiser supported and the pleasant sense of community we were able to share.

“This year’s Bowl For Kids’ Sake fundraiser was very exciting and it was organized very well thanks to the army of volunteers who helped out,” said 14-year BBBS member and local director, Sandra Aiken. “It takes a lot of people to make the event a success year after year, and this time was no exception. I’m very thankful for all the support we have received.”

Other than the top four donators listed above, other participants that received awards and prizes at the event included G.E. member and BBBS board member, Gary Wheat (individual who raised the most); Wayne Fuller (iPad winner); Pam Wheat (television winner); Eugene Summers (winner of a black diamond necklace donated by Rogers Jewelers); Teresa Lambdin (Gutter Ball winner); and Ray Baumeister (Strike Winner). Other awards will be announced by BBBS in the very near future.

To learn more about our local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, which serves both Hopkins and Muhlenberg Counties, check out two past Sugg Street Post articles listed below:

You’ve Got a Friend in Me
Bowl for Kids’ Sake 2013—Sign Up Today!

You may also visit our area’s BBBS website for additional donation info by clicking here.

Additional photos by Sugg Street photographer Jessi Smith taken during the 2013 Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraiser can be found below.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos by Jessi Smith

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Madisonville's Historic District - Happy's

MADISONVILLE, KY (3/25/13) - The historical, research-based article found below was provided to the Sugg Street Post and written by Hopkins County Genealogical Society President, Jane Anne Jackson. Jackson's research was made possible by the Hopkins County Genealogical Society and Historical Society of Hopkins County. The image that accompanies this article was taken by area photographer, Tom Wortham. Additional installments regarding historic buildings in Madisonville's historic downtown district will be released on a weekly to bi-weekly basis via the Sugg Street Post's "Days of Yore" section, so check back often for updates.

Happy’s of Madisonville currently occupies the historic building at 62 South Main Street, which was originally constructed in 1905.

Over the past 104 years, the building has been home to a number of businesses, a few of which were Brasher’s Company Store, the Madisonville Journal, the J.D. Ligon Harness Store, The Messenger Job Shop, the office of Southern States, Eades Appliance Store and Sears, Roebuck & Company.

The property, on which the building was constructed, fronts 50 feet on Main Street and runs back to Union Street. It was purchased by Chesley Williams and Thomas Hibbs in 1899 from Minnie Speed and her husband, Ernest Speed, for $2,500. Mrs. Speed had inherited the property from her father, William A. Morton.

In 1903, Thomas Hibbs sold his interest in the property to Chesley Williams. Mr. Williams had the building constructed in 1905.

Chesley Williams, a native of Illinois, had come to Hopkins County in 1868 after having lived in Christian County for 20+ years. At the time he purchased this property, he also owned several thousand acres of land in Madisonville and Hopkins County, and, in 1885, had been a partner in Williams & Dulin Mill.

He married Ms. Niah Jane. Davis, a Hopkins County native, in 1864 and they became the parents of three children: Mary M., Martha E., and Chesley S. Williams. In his Will, Mr. Williams provided that, at his death, this building would pass to his son, Chesley S., and daughter, Mary, for their lifetimes and, at their deaths, to their heirs.

In 1971, Happy’s moved to this location after being located at 11 West Center Street for 18 years. At that time, the owners of the business were C. B. & Lynn Utley. The Utleys sold Happy’s in 1993 to Barry & Ronnie Vaughn who had both been employees of the Utleys for 25 years.

In 2001, the property, after having remained in the Williams Family for over a century, was also purchased by the Vaughns, who have maintained the historic integrity of the building.

Want to do some research yourself? If so, take a moment to visit the Hopkins County Genealogical Society's official website by clicking here. You may locate the Historical Society of Hopkins County's official website by clicking here.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Hopkins County Genealogical Society President, Jane Ann Jackson
Photo by Tom Wortham

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  • Published in Music

Area Musician Helps to Put Paducah Scene in KET Spotlight

PADUCAH, KY (3/17/13)—Western Kentucky, as well as the surrounding region and state of Kentucky itself, is brimming with talented artists and musicians working in a variety of genres—and it has been this way for decades. Yet, regardless of the raw talent an area may hold, the growth and success of a community’s arts, history, entertainment, and music scene depends largely on the support of appreciative, like-minded individuals. Taking this idea to heart, the downtown arts and entertainment district in Paducah, KY has truly flourished over the last 15 to 20 years thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers, fervent patrons, ambitious non-profit organizations, and a bevy of talented artists. Today, the shining example they have set, as well as the close-knit society of creative minds that has pulled together as a result, stands as a beacon to other area’s looking to reinvent and connect their own local cultures.

Knowing this truth from many memorable firsthand experiences over the last decade, acclaimed regional musician and award-winning thumbpicker, J.T. Oglesby (pictured to the left), set out to get Paducah’s thriving, multi-faceted music scene recognized on a broader scale. Specifically, he wanted to see Paducah musicians, their fans, and their inspiring reverence for the roots of Kentucky music featured on Kentucky Educational Television (KET).

So, what did he do? He called KET and told them it was a good idea.

“It was really just a lack of shyness and curiosity just to see if I could do it,” says J.T. candidly. “I called up KET and said, ‘Give me somebody in charge.’ They asked what I meant and I told them, ‘Give me somebody who can make me a TV show.’ [laughs] They connected me with [producer] Brandon Wickey. Once we got to talking, I pitched the idea of promoting some of my friends and the Paducah scene on a TV show...I wanted to promote Paducah because they are advancing music, but still promote indigenous Kentucky music. They are moving forward, but are honoring and respecting the musicians that came before all of us in the process.”

While J.T. felt that the initial reaction he got from Wickey was positive, over two years passed without any further contact. As a result, J.T. assumed that his idea had been brushed off. Avoiding too much heartache over what he thought was a great but forgotten idea, J.T. forged ahead, playing music for regional audiences, promoting Kentucky’s rich musical lineage, and spending time with his family.

Then, several weeks ago, J.T.’s phone rang. It was Wickey, and he was ready to discuss details.

“A few years had passed and then, out of nowhere, Brandon [Wickey] called me up and asked if I still wanted to do the show. I told him I did,” says J.T. of the unexpected call. “He said that he wanted to get [former Bawn in the Mash member] Nathan Blake Lynn, the Solid Rock’it Boosters, and JD Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers on board for the show.”

Having played both with and alongside each of the locally-based groups and musicians Wickey wanted to feature on the show, contacting them and garnering their interest was a relatively easy task for J.T..

From there, Matt Grimm—one of KET’s various contributing producers for their ongoing weekly magazine program, Kentucky Life—was assigned to the project and things really started to move.

In fact, it was no time before KET and J.T., as well as several others, were helping to organize a full-on community-based concert featuring each of the aforementioned artists. What’s more, Paducah’s premiere arts, music, and film venue, The Maiden Alley Cinema, agreed to host the show on March 1st.

It was at this point that the upcoming event looked to be a “perfect storm” for showcasing the talents and culture of Paducah that J.T. sought so diligently to exhibit—there was a non-profit arts and community-based venue, a handful of fine Paducah area musicians, and a respected statewide television network ready to lend their hand in making the show a success. And if that weren’t enough, a mere week or so before the show, J.T. was fortunate enough to access a true piece of west Kentucky music history: Mose Rager’s ‘50s-‘60s era Gibson ES-225T electric guitar.

Revered by many as the forefather of thumbpicking—an intricate style of guitar playing that originated in west Kentucky where the thumb plays rhythm and the forefingers play the melody simultaneously—Mose Rager is truly a musical legend and an inspiration to many area artists. In fact, when searching out information on the talented innovator in a face-to-face context, one may find that Rager’s history carries with it a sense of indefinable colloquial mythos rivaled only by his ability to play. To really put his prowess in perspective, consider this: Rager is oftentimes credited with teaching the thumbpicking style to internationally recognized musician and country legend, Merle Travis.

Deeply inspired by both Mose, the man, and the style he imparted to our region, J.T. decided he would also give a very special nod to our area’s musical roots by playing the storied vintage instrument alongside his longtime friends and band-mates, the Solid Rock’it Boosters, during the Paducah concert.

While J.T. had started—and currently still is—working with a number of other outlets to document the historic Gibson, which include the Folk Studies Department at Western Kentucky University (WKU), local musician Patrick “Patson” Richardson, photographer Amy Hourigan, members of the Sugg Street Post, and others, he knew performing with it during the soon-to-be-aired concert would be an invaluable way to get it out there in the public’s eye even more.

With everything in place, J.T. contacted the Sugg Street Post crew and asked us if we’d like to come down and check out the show with him. In addition to KET’s presence, he noted that an accomplished student photographer/videographer from WKU, Mike Rivera, would also be in attendance gathering footage for a documentary on the guitar.

Having missed out on much of Paducah’s musical flavor thus far, we jumped at the chance to check out the concert, as well as a portion of Paducah’s thriving cultural tapestry—and are we ever glad we did.

After arriving in Paducah’s historic, riverside arts and entertainment district about two hours before the show was scheduled to start, photographer Jeff Harp, J.T., and I made our way under an illuminated arch-style Maiden Alley Cinema sign near the main roadway, walked down a widened brick alley, and arrived at the side entrance of the venue.

Once inside the roomy location, we made our rounds with J.T., meeting with several of the musicians that were to perform that night, speaking with producer Matt Grimm, and catching an impromptu, multi-artist jam session that broke out in the hallway adjacent to the quaint auditorium-style stage/theatre area. And it was the latter—listening to the foot stompin’, historic folk and blues-tinged rockabilly sounds coming from the intermingling group of performers in the hall, which included the likes of J.D. and Jessica Wilkes, Josh Coffey, Eddie Coffey, Nathan Blake Lynn, Nathan Brown, and Todd Anderson—that made us realize these performers were part of something special. This unplanned, corridor-bound display of comradery was a microcosm of what their scene was all about: unity, spontaneity, and a love for creativity.

With only minutes to go before the doors were opened to the public, Grimm and other members of KET’s crew made last minute adjustments to their cameras, the sound was checked one final time, and the Maiden Alley Cinema/Paducah Film Society’s Executive Director, Landee W. Bryant, informed us that the show was sold out. It was undoubtedly going to be a memorable night.

And so it ensued. Patrons of all ages flooded into the theatre, filling nearly every seat.

However, before the music began, Landee came before the crowd and explained that the non-profit, community-based theatre, art, and music venue was facing a potentially threatening situation: digital conversion. While the Maiden Alley Cinema currently utilizes 35mm film in their projectors, Landee made note that studios are quickly converting to digital formats exclusively, which leaves longstanding, film-based theatres with two choices: convert to digital projectors at a cost of approximately $50-80,000 or close down. While major theatre franchises will likely have little problem making the sweeping change, the Maiden Alley Cinema is a locally-operated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As a result, completing this process will depend largely on the support of regional donations. In expanding upon this concept, members and supporters of the cinema presented a short, comedic film explaining the process and its potential pitfalls before the musicians took to the stage. So, if you love the arts and would like to show your support for Paducah’s Maiden Alley Cinema, please take a moment to check out the “About Us” section on their official website by clicking here.

Following soon after, the lights were dimmed and the music kicked-off with the traditional folk and “sluegrass” sounds of The Wheelhouse Rousters. Composed of Nathan Blake Lynn, Josh Coffey, and Eddie Coffey, the trio performed a variety of historic and original acoustic tunes, and even took the time to illuminate some of Paducah’s more interesting musical history between songs to the delight of the audience. Making for an even more interesting set, each member took on different instruments. From the use of tenor, acoustic, and resophonic guitars, to the sweet, high-end strumming of a mandolin, the low-end thump of an upright bass, and the engaging bite of the fiddle—not to mention the alternation of vocals—their set was well-rounded and charming in an old-world sense. In honesty, sitting back and simply enjoying their roots-based style was much like stepping back in time.

After a hardy round of applause for The Wheelhouse Rousters, the Solid Rock’it Boosters took to the stage with their energetic and raucous blend of celebrated country and rockabilly. On this particular night, the band consisted of Nathan Brown on vocals, rhythm guitar, and kazoo, John Wurth on drums, J.T. Oglesby on lead guitar, Josh Coffey on fiddle, and Todd Anderson on the upright bass. Standout performances from their set included a solid rendition of Merle Travis and Tex Williams’ classic western tune, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)”—during which J.T. performed on Mose Rager’s legendary Gibson ES-225T—and a stirring version Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons” (which was later made even more famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford). And while these may have been some of their more memorable tunes, the intense fiddle playing of Josh Coffey, J.T.’s fast-paced thumbpicking, and Todd’s intricate bass solos were tremendous parts of their overall performance.

And here’s the only bad news of the night…

Due to some unfortunate time constraints, we missed the final performance by swamp-blues and rock-infused Paducah music scene mainstay, J.D. Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers, which is composed of J.D. and Jessica Wilkes, Rod Hamdallah, and Preston Corn. However, several follow-up conversations with those in attendance confirmed that their set rocked the house quite thoroughly.

Luckily, even though we missed out on the final act, KET captured much of the three performances on film for an installment of their aforementioned series, Kentucky Life, which will be airing on May 11th at 7pm (CT) and May 12th at 4pm (CT). In addition, the segment will also be available for viewing on the series’ official website: http://www.ket.org/kentuckylife/. Fans of the show are encouraged to interact with host Dave Shuffett and the producers of Kentucky Life via their Facebook site at facebook.com/kentuckylife.

As Grimm explained to us several days after the concert, “We are producing a segment featuring the Paducah music scene for our weekly magazine program, Kentucky Life. Now in its 18th season, this year the show has had a music emphasis. We are excited about the opportunity to feature the breadth of talent and different styles you can find in Kentucky.”

Regarding the general details and intention of the series, Grimm says that, “Kentucky Life is an award-winning weekly program that aims to document Kentucky’s great diversity. While individual stories focus on local communities, the Kentucky Life crew strives to connect each one to the state at large—to help Kentuckians celebrate their unique regional characters and cultures while bringing them closer together through stories of the rich heritage we all share.”

Other music/history scenes, areas of the state, and performers featured on the acclaimed KET series thus far, include Cumberland River of Harlan County, a “Chitlin’ Circuit” retrospective that focuses on the history of African American musicians (based in Christian County), Tin Can Buddha from Jefferson County, Paul Gilley from Morgan County, Renfro Valley of Rockcastle County, Billy Harlan of Muhlenberg County, a retrospective piece centered on 1950’s hills music via John Cohen’s photography (based in Knott County), and Coralee & the Townies of Fayette County.

While it may at first seem somewhat peculiar that a simple suggestion on J.T.’s behalf helped to spark such a distinctive show and overall experience, as well as KET’s interest, Grimm says it’s really not that uncommon. In fact, many of the show’s story ideas come from faithful viewers of the program.

Overall, however, it was a deeply collaborative effort spawned and made possible by many hands both at KET and in the Paducah community. And, in the end, that’s what the entire night was all about: showcasing a portion of what the Paducah music scene has to offer and the sense of appreciation for creativity the community shares.

Though the growth of a scene like Paducah’s takes a notable amount time and effort to create and successfully maintain, they show that it is not only possible, but that it’s also enjoyable and fun—and the example we witnessed that Friday night was inspiring to say the least. If anything, we should all take note of the possibilities that await our own communities here in Hopkins County. While we, as a whole, have made strides in the realm of promoting arts and entertainment over the last decade, there is still plenty of work to be done.

To check out a live performance from the Solid Rock'it Boosters, which took place during the Maiden Alley Cinema's 2nd Annual Oktoberfest in 2012, click the video player attached below.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos by Jeff Harp

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