Tag Archives: Eric Bolander

Arts

Scene&Heard at the Master Musicians Festival

The Master Musicians Festival 2018 sprawled over the sunbaked rolling hills of the Somerset Community College Campus. Food truck aromas followed the nose through booths offering crafts and tie dye t-shirts.  Good humored folks laughed and danced and sweated in the sun while an incredible line-up of musicians poured out hearts, souls and talents from the festival’s pair of stages.

The Eastwood Stage stage, nestled in the trees down a slight hill from the big main stage where headliner John Prine would play later that Saturday, was home to the local acts that were performing between main stage sets. Hosted by Eastwood Records, the second stage gave “the little guys a spot down here in the valley,” musician John Clay quipped when he opened his set.

Click on image for Cara’s chat with John Clay | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Since 1994, The Master Musicians Festival has hosted big names in Americana music on its stages for folks to enjoy. This year brought one of Kentucky’s legends as headliner John Prine shared his bill with the likes of Amanda Shires, JD McPherson, The Dead South, Dawg Yawp, and many more. Some hot local bands shared the big stage with those names, including Joslyn and the Sweet Compression and Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound.

But our attention was drawn to the second stage, a brilliant festival strategy of providing local artists opportunities to call attention to their offerings as set changes happen on the main stage.

This year’s second stage hosted several Eastwood Records bands in addition to John Clay and the Boxwine Prophets. The lineup included Dave Ernst and the Early Favorites and Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters. They shared the stage with other local favorites, including John R. Miller, Coby Langham and the Citizen’s Band, Eric Bolander Trio, Luna & the Mountain Jets, Bee Taylor, Magnolia Boulevard and the last night closed out after John Prine left the stage post encore with Reverend John & the Backsliders.

Wesley Allen founded Eastwood Records in Louisville four years ago, to honor his father, nicknamed “Eastwood” from his hometown of Eastwood, KY. In that time, he has come to represent some up and coming names in Americana within the mostly Louisville scene. Having a fond love for Louisville and Kentucky music, Allen “felt like it doesn’t get enough attention and I wanted to be the guy who changed that and put that out there.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Wesley Allen

Allen’s good friend Nathan Paul Isaac works in both camps, so the connection between the Festival and Eastwood Records was a natural fit. “I owe that dude a lot,” Allen laughs. The opportunity to put his musicians on a bill with such a remarkable Americana line-up was a great choice to make. “It brings an amount of exposure that you would have to pay thousands of dollars for anywhere else. The fan base that comes to this festival is heavily Americana, so to have three of my top Americana bands get to play here and get represented at festival with somebody like Amanda Shires or John Prine, you would have to beg for it, they literally just offered it to me. It’s a no brainer.”

John Clay, who plays on Eastwood Records as a lead act but also plays drums for several other bands on the bill, has been with Wesley since 2016. He’s been on tour for awhile playing drums with Colter Wall, and Nick Dittmeier before him, but is finishing working on two albums with Eastwood Records to be released soon.

John Clay and the Boxwine Prophets | Video by Cara Blake Coppola

John Clay sings with a soft warble to his voice, only to send his voice sailing loudly out over the hills in the next note. It’s an authentic voice that is powerful and feels like it belongs in those hills. He starts one song with a booming a capella that has a touch of twang and a load of truth. When he covers a TVZ song, folks get up and start dancing, despite the heavy July heat. His rocking honky tonk songs make people leave the cool comfort of the shade to move in the sunshine.

Asked how it feels to share the bill with John Prine, Clay searched for an answer. “It’s very shocking. A lot of my friends are on this bill. Most have been directly inspired by his music. To see your name on a bill with someone like that, it’s hard to explain.”

That seemed to be the sentiment of all the musicians I had the opportunity to talk with that day. It is surreal to be at home in such a friendly community as Somerset, nestled in the hills you walk daily, and to be doing what you love so much, in such astounding company. Everyone I talked with that day was walking in a sunshine- filled daydream.

Dave Ernst, who opened the Eastwood Stage that Saturday, was still reeling in the completion of his set with his band The Early Favorites. “It’s Amazing, my first time to the event. Blown away with how cool and friendly it is down here. It means alot. This place is amazing, stages are great, setting is wonderful.”

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Dave Ernst

Coby Langham was the next to play the Eastwood stage after Grayson Jenkins of Lexington finished his set on the main stage. Coby and the Citizens Band, named for Langham’s truck driving career, filled the stage as the day was still getting moving.

Cara chats with Coby Langham

Coby and the band nailed their set, singing solid Americana songs into the hot afternoon. Some songs were more playful, getting folks to tap their feet and move in spite of the heat, others more heavy like with lyrics like “a mountain of pills to swallow these hills.” His song “Sober Bible” was a sad, mournful tune about loving someone with an addiction. His songs sing of truth and life and the real poetry of real life. The harmonies were sweet, even pretty to contrast the dark lyrics that hit home to too many.

Coby Langham and the Citizens Band performing at the 2018 Master Musicians Festival | Video by Cara Blake Coppola

The parking lots were filling and people were setting up their chairs for a day in the shade. You could hear the music of the main stage from the second stage, so many settled in for the day amid the hammocks and children’s games thoughtfully constructed by the Festival. Golf carts whizzed by all day providing rides to and from the parking lots for everyone. Hot wooden benches were covered in soft woven blankets for comfort. Free water was given out everywhere. The festival felt very comfortable and welcoming, something mentioned by all of the musicians we interviewed.

After his set at the merch table Wesley Allen manned steadfast all day long in the heat, Coby and his band were happy and sweaty and enjoying their part in the festival. “This is the biggest thing we’ve done yet. It was the easiest ‘yes’ I’ve ever said to anything. To be here with John Prine, we’re going bonkers. It’s a real big deal for us.”

Later that night, John Prine took the stage and every musician mentioned was in the crowd. Prine’s music rang out over those hills to the love and adoration of everyone in the crowd. It was a great set, he played his classics “Dear Abby” and “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore,” along with several songs from his new CD Tree of Forgiveness. He started and ended his whole set with “Paradise” while the crowd joined in with nostalgic love. The musicians who were so grateful to share the bill with him joined in.

Like Coby Langham said, “It’s a real big deal for us.”

Arts

Scene&Heard: Eric Bolander and Band, The Wooks at MMH

Manchester Music Hall, formerly Buster’s, is the largest venue in Lexington next to Rupp Arena; the vast space holds up to 1100 concert-goers. As such, the venue attracts regional and touring bands such as Lucero, Sundy Best and Friday night’s headliner, The Steeldrivers.

Formerly the backing band to Chris Stapleton, the Steeldrivers are big; so big they can sell out MMH, including the VIP seating for those willing to pay a bit more for a photo with the band.  They are a big group with a big following and a big crowd to fill every room in every city they play.

But that’s not what this article is about.

This is about what that means for Lexington’s local music scene.  It means that two excellent local bands are able to fill in the bill and open up for this big touring act providing some of our beloved local musicians the opportunity to play in front of 1100 happy-to-be-there folks who may never have heard their music before. These bands get the chance to sell their sound and songs as well as their merchandise and CD’s to the eager crowd as they warm up for the headliner they came to see.

Eric Bolander and his band, and the local bluegrass sensation The Wooks, did exactly that.  They took the chance to ride the wave the night promised, and man did they deliver.

CROWD

Photo by Derek Feldman

By 7pm, the VIP seats in front are filling in, the standing room area is slowly filling with an eager audience, the drinks are flowing and the fried goods out on the food truck are warming up the cold night.  MMH has blocked off an area outside with barricades and filled it kindly with outdoor space heaters for their customers, who gather around like cows to a shade tree in the deepening cold, waiting for their food to cook while they smoke outside. 

It’s time for Eric Bolander to warm up the crowd musically.

ERIC2

Photo by Derek Feldman

Taking the stage with Seth Murphy on cello, Trenton Jenkins on banjo and Ben Caldwell on backing vocals, Eric led his band into a fun, very welcoming intro set. “You kinda thrive on it. It’s nice to see when you get several hundred folks in front of you”, says Bolander of the vast crowd he faced. He previously opened the night for Sundy Best at MMH as well.

That’s the burden of the opening act; to work the room, warm them up, make them happy they are there and hopefully make them happy you are there.  He was successful.  That crowd was ready to love some good music, and Eric entertained them with his original songs, as well as a great cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain”, performed with the right amount blues and twang to make the song his own.

Using Murphy’s cello instead of a lead guitarist, the sound mixed with Jenkin’s banjo to create a unique blend with Bolander’s voice.  Perhaps surprising, coming from his large frame and presence, the art teacher and ten-year veteran of the KY National Guard has a beautiful, sweet voice that owns both ends of his vocal range.  He sang of wooing his now wife, mama to his new little girl, and opened the night with his tune “Honeysuckle” with its notions of protection and love.

Between songs, Bolander warmed the crowd up proper, getting them excited for the two acts yet to come, helping them remember they are so happy to be there, and thanking them with sincere gratitude for their enjoyment of his music, “great folk, bluegrass music with kind of a bluesy spin,” as Bolander describes his sound. Then smoothly, they ended their set and welcomed to the stage, band number two, Lexington’s rising bluegrass phenoms, The Wooks.

Listen to more of Cara’s conversation with Eric Bolander:

Still riding their own wave after winning the Band Contest last summer out at Colorado’s RockyGrass, The Wooks have been actively playing and touring ever since.  Consisting of Morehead’s Jesse Wells on fiddle, Roddy Puckett on bass, Arthur Hancock on banjo, CJ Cain on guitar and Galen Green on mandolin, the bluegrass group mixes originals with some standard covers their fans have come to love, including Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and Robert Earl Keene’s “The Road Goes On Forever”.  Winning the band contest opened many doors for the Wooks as Jesse Wells’ commented, “I personally didn’t realize what a connection that was, evidently a very prestigious thing.”

Photo by Derek Feldman

Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks have a tightness on stage, the evidence of seasoned musicians who have played together on the road for some time now, with a mutual passion for music that makes their instruments dance.

The Wooks are something of a powerhouse of Lexington musicians, and they all contribute to the songs, both vocally and lyrically.  They brag on each other on stage, Arthur introducing CJ’s songs, CJ introducing Arthur.  They dance around each other as they play, clearly having as much fun on stage as the crowd is down below.  Each song brings hoots of celebration as the fans in the crowd recognize it and thank them for playing it.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Jesse Wells:

The growing crowd is slowly soaking up more merchandise from the local folks, Wooks t-shirts and koozies, Eric Bolander’s trademark mason jar insignia on his shirts and CD’s.  The opening bands were successful.  By the time the Steeldrivers take the stage, the room is packed full, the audience satiated with good food, cold drinks, loaded down with Merch from two excellent opening acts that satisfactorily filled them with quality music they loved.

Many of the members of the crowd had not come to see Eric Bolander or The Wooks. Some did, but most were there for the headliner.  However, Lexington musicians like these thrive on quality and good musical talent, and their gifts filled that large room, recently remodeled to give the large warehouse space a warm, comfortable and clean feel with great acoustics.

When folks pay up to see these larger regional or national acts when they come to town, they are supporting local musicians as well. “A lot of people are coming here who are fans of the Steeldrivers, fans of them who don’t necessarily follow local music or our music” say The Wooks.  Yet, they are fans now. 

Eric Bolander and band, and the Wooks now have planted their musical seeds in 1100 sets of ears, many for the first time.  Two local bands were able to ride the wave of the bigger band, and the gift of music was shared with a grateful crowd.  All good, all around.

Eric Bolander & Band - Photo by Derek Feldman

Eric Bolander & Band – Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks - Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks – Photo by Derek Feldman