Tag Archives: Chris Sullivan

Arts

Scene&Heard: This Was What They Wanted

I was 18 when I bought my first Leonard Cohen tape and slid it into the car stereo of my Dad’s old Buick. Was This What You Wanted? began to play, and the whole world of one naïve Catholic Italian girl from Buffalo changed.

Music has that power, and that whole tape of the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony had a powerful influence on me as an audiophile. Lyrics suddenly became the most important part of a song, and Cohen was certainly one of the great sages of lyrical construction.

On the night of the election when I opened my newsfeed and learned that the great poet had gone to his reward, as my mother says, I felt an immense grief. I had to do something.

My simple Facebook suggestion to put on a show in tribute to Cohen resulted in a rapid response from musicians in town interested in getting involved. Clearly, so many of the local musicians I admire were as brokenhearted as me over the loss of this great, influential artist.

So, I found myself organizing a Leonard Cohen Tribute at The Burl, where my friend Bryan Minks gave us a Monday night to simply have a stage where we could pay tribute to a man to whom we all felt a strong musical connection. We decided to pass the hat for donations, and someone suggested we send anything collected to Standing Rock to help the water protectors in their struggle. The event began to take form.

The 28th of November was a damp and dreary night in Lexington, Kentucky, and the UK Wildcats were playing on tv. I wasn’t sure what to expect for turnout, but the room was already filling at 7:30. I placed candles on the tables as promised, and the first band began setting up. The intent was simply for each singer or group to choose two Cohen songs, perform them in their own way, and we would hopefully move smoothly from one set to the next, working Nolan Dunn too hard as he skillfully modified the soundboard for each different performer.

The Northside Sheiks (photo above) started the night with their signature blues vibe, Willie Eames giving his style to Almost Like the Blues and Slow with Lee Carroll on accordion, Smith Donaldson on Bass, Robert Frahm on guitar and David White on drums. From there, the packed house listened to a steady stream of great Lexington area musicians: Chris Sullivan, Warren Byrom, Brian Combs, Bryan Minks, Keith Rowland, Doc Feldman (with a little bit of help from yours truly), Eric Cummins, Chelsea Nolan, Josh Nolan, Derek Spencer, Ben Aubrey with Trinity Curtsinger, Rob Rawlings and Alex Parkansky. And then came a duet on strings with Elias Gross on viola and vocals and Richard Young on Bass, which grew into a trio that added Anna Hess on violin to back Kevin Holm-Hudson on keys when he led the entire group in Cohen’s Hallelujah to end the evening.

The night proceeded exactly as I had imagined it: candles flickered, people in quiet conversations between sets. When each performer began, the entire room hushed, even with the game on mute back at the bar. With the two songs they had chosen, each artist blended Cohen’s brilliant poetry with their own style and instrument to make it theirs.

“I’m always pleased when somebody sings a song of mine. In fact, I never get over that initial rush of happiness when someone says they are going to sing a song of mine. I always like it,” the late Cohen once noted in an interview on Pacifica Radio. “That song enters the world, and it gets changed, like everything else — that’s OK as long as there are more authentic versions. But a good song, I think, will get changed.”

He knew, of course, that his songs would live on. He even told us so in Tower of Song. Each artist or group of artists paid homage to Cohen that night, as candle flames flickered and the rain spattered against the windows. The Roll n’ Smoke food truck was parked outside, and the tangy aroma of barbecue floated through the Burl blending nicely with the fragrance of candles.

The audience was treated to a wide variety of genres as each artist individualized Cohen’s songs, piecing together the entire crazy quilt of the evening. From the Sheik’s blues interpretation to Bryan Mink’s Tower of Song with that country metal edge he has, to Chelsea Nolan’s booming vocals to Alex Parkansky’s drone metal guitar lifting Cohen’s music to surreal levels. Then the night went to strings, and the room, still nearly full even at 11:30 p.m. on a dark, wet Monday night, melted with the candles as all the singers took the stage once more to back Kevin Holm-Hudson in Hallelujah.

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We all sang along, barely able to hold back during the verses as we harmonized into the chorus. I felt like I was in church again, the candle light blurring past the strings in front of us, the keys played perfectly as each of the seven verses guided us along. The crowd joined in too – everyone knows the words to this iconic song – and that room full of gorgeous wood and candles and people who simply love great musical poetry, that room rang with the collection of those voices. No voice was distinguishable from another. And then the last chorus was sung, and Kevin paused for just a moment of silence, and ended the night with those two words that took all our breath away: “Goodnight, Leonard.”

We raised a total of $700 for the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock. My friend Psera Newman, Direct Action Trainer for the Lexington Chapter of Greenpeace, took the stage twice and spoke to the audience about her time at Standing Rock, and why she chose Sacred Stone Camp as the appropriate recipient of contributions, describing it as the beating heart of the body that is the Standing Rock resistance.

Folks were unbelievably generous all night long, and the money order to Sacred Stone is en route, along with a letter I wrote to the leader of the camp, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard.

I am so proud of Lexington. I am so proud of all the musicians who took the stage that night, who took the time out of their lives to learn new songs and perform them and support each other simply to do it. For the love of the music. To show respect to someone who devoted their life to creating beauty and art for others to love. And to share the effort in the form of charity, for others who really need some help right now.

Goodnight, Leonard Cohen. Thanks for the beauty, sir.

(Credit: Derek Feldman, all photos and video.)


The Set List:

1. The Northside Sheiks- Almost like the Blues, Slow

2. Chris Sullivan- Famous Blue Raincoat

3. Warren Byrom and Chris Sullivan- Suzanne

4. Brian Combs- The Butcher, Heart with no Companion

5. Bryan Minks- Tower of Song, Is this what you wanted

6. Keith Rowland- The Stranger Song, Bird on the Wire

7. Derek Feldman w/ Cara Blake Coppola- You Want it Darker, There is a War, If It Be Your Will

8. Eric Cummins- Tonight Will Be Fine, Darkness

9. Chelsea Nolan- On the Level, One Of Us Can’t Be Wrong

10. Josh Nolan- Alexandra Leaving, Diamonds in the Mine

11. Derek Spencer- So Long, Marianne, Steer Your Way

12. Ben Aubrey- Dance Me to the End of Love, Here it Is

13. Rob Rawlings- Iodine, Paper Thin Hotel

14. Alex Parkansky- The Future, Waiting for the Miracle

15. Elias Aaron Irving Gross- Chelsea Hotel

16. Kevin Holm-Hudson-the Runaway Horse, Hallelujah

Arts

Homage to a Hot Burrito

I cried. Big old alligator tears. A few songs into the Hot Burrito Show, a Sunday afternoon mainstay for scores of Lexingtonians, former Lexingtonians and others who somehow or another heard about this great radio show broadcast by WRFL from the University of Kentucky campus, John Fogle mentioned that the Hot Burrito Show would air its final program at the end of August.

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Like a number of other listeners who cherished our Sunday afternoon twang, alt-country, and Americana music, I scrambled for my phone and called the station as soon as John played the next song. Nothing but a busy signal. Tried again with the same result. The Burritoid nation was blitzing the station with calls to learn whether we had heard correctly. Turning to social media, I began seeing the posts expressing grief and sadness that the show was coming to an end, that Sunday afternoons would never be the same, that one of the best radio programs to ever hit the air would be no more.

For many it felt like a dear friend had announced a terminal disease with a scant month to live.

The remaining shows were to be cherished, celebrated through a veil of tears – both of sorrow at what would soon end, and of joy at the music that had been shared for twenty-five years.

The Hot Burrito Show had weathered many changes, disc jockeys who had shared the microphone with Rob Franklin prior to John Fogle had moved on as their lives and careers took them outside the Bluegrass and far from WRFL’s reach. The show had nearly been cancelled in 2004, but an outcry from dedicated listeners had kept the program in its usual slot even though it was reduced from a three hour slot to two. But those two hours were pure gold.

Needless to say listeners tuned in to the Hot Burrito Show noon to 2 PM for the following three weeks while some visited the WRFL studios bearing gifts, warm wishes, and fond farewells.

I recently had the pleasure of sharing a beer and conversation with Rob and John at Break Room in the Pepper Distillery campus after they had both had a week to decompress from all of the emotional farewells and fond wishes.

As an avid Burritoid, a term coined by John shortly after he began co-hosting the show, it was surprising to learn that the Hot Burrito grew out of the White Lightning Show hosted by Steve Holland, a former professor of economics at UK.

Just prior to Steve leaving around 1990, Rob showed up with a crate full of records and a love for music. The name was changed, and the Hot Burrito Show hit the Lexington airwaves, or at least the airwaves inside “the Circle,” the area bounded by New Circle Road, which was about as far as WRFL’s broadcast reached.

Some notable DJ’s shared the microphone with Rob, including Matt Renfro, Bobby Ray, and Michael Campbell. When Michael retired from the show, John likes to tell folks he “won the coveted co-host position over 50+ applicants by playing up the fact that George Jones’ bass player brought me a PBR from the tour bus back when I was the soundman for a honky-tonk in Richmond, Kentucky.” Rob adds, “I had a few people interested but John was my first pick and the only guy for the job! John has a great appreciation for folk, bluegrass and of course-sludge rawk! Nice counterpoint to my affection for country, soul, R&B and pub rock.” They were partners for the next eleven years.

Rob and John have a great rapport, and both are quick to say they’ve never argued or had any bitterness towards one another even though their tastes in music vary dramatically. Rob leans heavily towards Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, and NRBQ while John openly professes his love for Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who, and Shaver. In addition, while Rob went with the flow and felt comfortable with the microphone, John obsessed with preparing the music he played and labored over the details so that he kept to a firm plan and set list. In the end, though, they both appreciate one another and have had a great partnership.

WRFL

Rob and John both hail from Kentucky and grew up listening to country music of the 60’s and 70’s, but at points in their young lives left country music behind and primarily listened to rock until they returned to familiar sounds of home.

One of the linchpins of the Hot Burrito Show has been the music of Gram Parsons, a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Byrds. The show’s tagline, identifying the genre of music played, is a Gram Parson’s quote, “cosmic American music.” Two of Parsons’s most well know songs are titled “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2” for reasons unknown to either John or Rob, but the name clearly evokes a style of music that combines country, rock, soul, and even gospel, much like a burrito includes a variety of ingredients that once combined create a delicious meal. On any given Sunday, listeners might hear anything from Billy Joe Shaver to old REM to Drive-By Truckers to Nick Lowe and all points in between, almost always with the most requested artist John Prine in the mix. Rob’s song list for the last show and John’s song list for his last solo show represent what once captivated dedicated listeners.

Over the years they say they have had great fun, taking requests from “Larry on the Deck” and a host of regular listeners like me, jamming to Shaver, hosting artists like Hayes Carll in studio, and eating pies fans brought to them.

When they turned the tables and asked whose music I liked, I rattled off a couple of mainstay country and Americana or alt-country artists, to which they nodded affirmation, but when I mentioned Jimbo Mathus, they both laughed and said, “You’re the Jimbo Mathus guy!” They also knew me as the Slobberbone guy, the “Bloody Mary Morning” guy, and the “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music” guy. For many listeners calling in a request, talking with Rob and/or John, and hearing their favorite songs played validated tastes in music and built a sense of communion.

During one of their shows years ago, a caller requested that they play a track off of a Sunday Valley album. When they told the caller they didn’t have the album, Sunday Valley’s bass player drove to the studio and gave them a copy. They played the request. At the time few had heard of Sturgill Simpson, the front man for Sunday Valley. The Americana Music Association just awarded him as Best Artist.

Without a doubt the living, breathing DJ’s like Rob and John who love music and appreciate other music fans earned the Hot Burrito Show a loyal following who placed Rob on a “Best DJ of Lexington” list when their broadcast was basically limited to downtown Lexington.

Now that they have left the airwaves they say they look forward to continuing to listen to local bands, especially the likes of Warren Byrom, Chris Sullivan, Bear Medicine, and Rebel Without a Cause, as well as tuning in to WRFL’s Honky Tonk Happy Hour, Asleep at the Wheel, Neverland Ballroom, and the Pacobilly Hour (WRFL Broadcast Schedule). They also sing the praises of Steve Holland’s Rolling with the Flow on uwave.fm saying that he is the one that started it all and never ceases to satisfy. In fact, Steve has enlisted Rob to be his new music consultant.

In many ways dedicated listeners of the Hot Burrito Show regret that Sundays now seem a little less like Sunday and miss the music that brought joy into their lives, but like me, and like John and Rob, they will seek out “cosmic American music” whether old or new and wish John and Rob the best. Now that the curtains have closed, I’d like to dedicate “Plastic Silver Nine Volt Heart” to Rob and John and all of the other Hot Burrito Show DJ’s for being our friends on the air.